The opening screen for id Software's Mairo Bros 3 port.
Ars Technica/Andrew Borman/Strong Museum of Play

Three years before id Software released Doom, the company began work on a Super Mario Bros. 3 port for MS-DOS PCs. It didn’t work out. But now the Strong Museum of Play says that it’s obtained a demo of the Mario Bros. 3 port, and it’s probably the same demo that id Software showed to Nintendo execs in 1990.

Made over the course of a single week, id Software’s Mario Bros. 3 port is an unfinished, early demo made to impress Nintendo. The goal was to secure a lucrative licensing deal—id Software (then IFD) could release a faithful Mario Bros. 3 port for MS-DOS, and Nintendo could reap the benefits without putting in much work.

Nintendo declined to license its IP, of course, but its executives were impressed by the demo. And yes, the demo is genuinely impressive—PCs really couldn’t keep up with arcade machines or home consoles in 1990, and many of the graphics effects seen in Mario Bros. 3 (screen scrolling, vignette transitions, etc) had not yet found their way to MS-DOS titles.

Another impressive part of the Mario DOS port is its controls. While most PC platforms at this time have clunky controls, id Software’s port supposedly matches the slightly loose, slightly tight feel of a proper Mario game. Of course, we can’t exactly confirm this, as only a handful of people have played it.

Everything that id Software learned from the Mario Bros. 3 port eventually found its way to Commander Keen, arguably one of the most iconic PC gaming franchises. But up until David Kushner released a biography in 2003, very few people knew about id Software’s interaction with Nintendo. Gamers didn’t even know what the demo looked like until John Romero posted a teaser video in 2015.

So how did this Mario demo end up in a museum? According to Andrew Borman, digital games curator at Strong Museum of Play, it came in a bin full of other software from an old developer. In a statement to Ars Technica, Borman clarifies that this developer did not work at id Software, so there’s no way of knowing how he got his hands on the demo.

Unfortunately, the Mario Bros. 3 MS-DOS port isn’t available online—the Strong Museum will probably never distribute it. But at least we know that the game is secured somewhere, and that it may at one point go on display for people to try in person.

Source: Ars Technica

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