Back in the early 1990’s was an exciting time for PC games. For one thing the PC had moved from being a strictly IBM platform that was overpriced and essentially used just a monochrome monitor to an open system with many companies making graphics cards and color monitors. Also, the processors had gone from the 8086 through 286, 386 and to the 486 which could handle enough memory to make games viable. So around about 1991 or so we saw a bunch of great games, many of which are still classics. We had Civilization, Master Of Orion, RPG’s and a funky game that was sold as shareware called Castle Wulfenstein, which the very first first person shooter. That game, though and all the others that followed it may never have existed except for a Mario port that was never sold.
In 1990, id Software, the game company behind the Doom and Wolfenstein franchises and the forefathers of the first-person shooter genre, struck a deal with Nintendo’s then-president Shigeru Miyamoto.
id Software had recreated the immensely popular side-scrolling platformer Super Mario Bros. 3, but for MS-DOS. It took them just one week, working on the project after hours and full-time on weekends. They were looking to see if they could get Nintendo to license their PC port. You can see the first few levels of ported version of SMB3 in the video above.
If you’re a details person, you’ll notice a couple things are off: infinite flight, sprites, and music to name a few. Mario’s a little chubbier, the sounds effects aren’t exactly the same, and Mario can fly without a running start when he gets his leaf power up. Those imperfections exist because the team had to recreate pretty much everything from scratch: They had a tile editor onto which they’d redraw sprites, recreate enemy programming, and recompose maps and music.
“The timeframe was short because we already had the scrolling engine and some player code. Using a 4-head VCR we recorded gameplay so Tom could freeze frame the tape and copy the graphics perfectly,” John Romero told me in an email.
The team sent the port out to Nintendo of America, then got sent up the ladder to Japan. The port, unfortunately, wasn’t released to the general public. It had been rejected.
“The head guys in Japan headquarters decided they would keep the IP on their own consoles. We were told no-go and decided to make Commander Keen instead,” he said. “There was no reason at all to [make the port] it if we didn’t send it to them.”
Later, the company was picked up by Apogee Software (now 3D Realms), a video game publisher that advanced id $2,000 to develop Commander Keen, the side-scrolling episodic platformer game that really brought id out of obscurity.
So, instead of a Nintendo PC game empire, the game industry got the shareware games, Commander Keen, Castle Wulfenstein and finally, Doom. History has strange twists and nothing is a straight path.