Before id Software became famous for its angry, action-packed shooters such as Doom, Quake, and Rage, the company produced a series of colorful, cartoony side-scrolling platformers starring the galaxy's greatest hero, Commander Keen. Keen's been missing in action for a while now, but he made his home on the PC in the early 1990s in seven adventures that approached and occasionally rivaled what the king of platformers, Nintendo, was doing at the time. As it turns out, id wasn't just trying to compete with Nintendo. For a brief while, id's John Romero had hoped to do business with the Japanese company and produce an official licensed port of Super Mario Bros. 3 for the PC market. Romero reminisces about the unlikely situation and how it all began in 1990 with a tech demo called Dangerous Dave in "Copyright Infringement".
Things moved fast that day. I showed the demo to a few other coders at Softdisk whose attitudes were mostly just “Yeah? So what?”.
They didn’t understand.
When John and Tom came in, I got them in the office and we closed the door. I told them how utterly destroyed I was after running DDICI. I told them it was a golden ticket OUT OF THERE. Softdisk wouldn’t take advantage of the technology, we weren’t allowed to use EGA in our games unless the game supported CGA already, anything we release at Softdisk will never be seen by the mass market and This Had To Be Seen.
A lot of things happened very, very quickly after that day. I had known Jay Wilbur since 1986 when he started publishing my games on his UpTime Disk Monthly (Apple II version), so I knew he could be trusted. Jay soon became our part-time biz guy. We decided to create a real, polished Super Mario 3 demo and send it to Nintendo Of America to see if we could do the PC port of the game. The SM3 demo made it to Nintendo of Japan and Shigeru Miyamoto specifically. They were very impressed with the demo but their corporate plan was to never release their IP on a platform other than their own.
While we were waiting to hear back from Nintendo, Scott Miller of Apogee Software had been trying to contact me about writing shareware games for his fledgling company. But that’s the story of Commander Keen and will have to wait for another day…
The original Dangerous Dave demo is available for download on the Planet Romero site for your curiosity needs. It's an interesting piece of foundational history from id and a slice of what-could-have-been for Nintendo. I wonder how the gaming landscape would have been different had Nintendo taken id up on its offer to bring Mario to the PC in an official capacity. Nintendo sold a lot of hardware just on the Super Mario brand. Splintering that brand into a platform it didn't own wouldn't have done it any favors on the hardware front, but could have brought in new revenue from the PC market (minus a share of the spoils to id). In the end, I think everything turned out for the best, however.
Here's a look at the "Copyright Infringement" demo. It's certainly impressive for its time, but still kind of rough around the edges when it comes to matching the visual level of Super Mario Bros. 3. I'd like to get a look at the completed, polished demo that was pitched to Nintendo, but I suppose that's history for another time.