How F-Zero Introduced Mode 7 and Psuedo 3D Gaming
Games that have a purpose of pushing technology are always in a precarious position. On one hand, if the game succeeds, then it stands a chance of being a trendsetter in the advancements it introduces to the industry as a whole. On the other hand, if it failed, it stands a chance of ruining the technology and deterring others from trying their hand at an idea that may have just been poorly executed. As far as the F-Zero series had gone in Nintendo’s long lineup of titles and franchises, it’s crazy to think that this futuristic racer started in that exact way. It was today that North Americans got their crack at this title that was meant to sell the technology of a new era.
In 1990, Nintendo was ready to launch their next gaming console. They would be going up against the Sega Genesis, which had already had two years on the market in Japan by the time the Super Famicom was about to launch. Their hardware was cutting edge, particularly in its ability to take a graphical plane, rotate it and scale it freely to create pseudo 3D visual effects. This effect was known as Mode 7 and Nintendo wanted to push it as a selling point right out of the gate. To this end, Shigeru Miyamoto and artist Takaya Imamura began creating a game that would almost exclusively rely on Mode 7.
Truly, it seems the game could have been any number of things as long as it was purely reliant on Mode 7. Imamura recalled in an IGN interview that he was given enormous creative freedom in designing the tracks, characters and world, despite the fact that F-Zero was the very first game he had worked on. This might partially explain the outlandish setting and the ultra-colorful and varying characters, a few of which would become iconic characters for the Nintendo brand. Nonetheless, these artistic qualities served as a vibrant co-star to the technology around which they were centered.
F-Zero begin the franchise story in the year 2560. Humanity has moved far beyond its planetary boundaries and formed trade networks with other worlds. Searching for entertainment, multibillionaires invested in a new form of raced based on those of Formula One, using superfast hovering vehicles. These Grand Prix races became known as F-Zero (a play on Formula One and the zero gravity nature of the vehicles). It was here that we were first introduced to iconic characters such as Captain Falcon and Samurai Goroh. Falcon even had a small comic in the Super Nintendo manual detailing his exploits as a bounty hunter.
The F-Zero games have always maintained a focus on speed and control. Even the first F-Zero represented one of the fastest, most fluid and fun to control racing experiences out there at the time of its release. Players race against one to three opponents on colorful futuristic tracks. Besides series staples like the characters, tracks like Mute City and their catchy themes composed by Yumiko Kanki and Naoto Ishida, the game also featured the key mechanic of boost strips and jump pads. In addition, slips zones, magnets and land mines supplied numerous hazards to race progression, ensuring that players needed to be sharp on their reflexes to remain in pole position.
Even in its most primitive form, it’s easy to see where F-Zero caught on. Even before Mario Kart was winning hearts with its silly shell-chucking antics, F-Zero was pushing the possibility of what Mode 7 could do with sheer adrenaline pumping racing action. It was this initial introduction that would position F-Zero as Nintendo’s more “serious” racer in comparison to Mario Kart. F-Zero may not get near as much play as the Mario Kart series for that very reason, but from its very incarnation, it was trendsetter and pretty much continued to be with every iteration.