If you were to make a list of the greatest video games ever made, the original Super Mario Bros. made for the Nintendo System would have to be towards the top of that list. Thanks to original game mechanics and challenging level designs, Super Mario Bros. was an instant classic and remains popular today—30 years later. But retro-gaming enthusiasts aren’t the only ones still playing Super Mario Bros. As it turns out, the classic video game is a huge hit with artificial intelligence developers. That’s because they often use the video game to test the intelligence of their systems.
How the test works
Artificial intelligence researchers use Super Mario Bros. to test AI in a couple of different ways. The first is that they attempt to program an AI system to successfully beat the game from beginning to end. To do this, the AI system needs to learn the nuances of the game in order to time jumps perfectly, avoid enemies, and successfully reach the end of each level before time expires. From 2009 to 2012, AI researchers even held a Mario AI competition to where competitors tried to design AI that could complete the game in the fastest time.
AI researchers are also programming artificial intelligence to design playable levels that will provide players with a challenge without being too difficult. Researchers believe that artificial intelligence may soon be used to assist humans with level design.
Why Super Mario Bros.
You may be wondering, out of all the ways to test an AI system, why use a video game. As it turns out, video games are an ideal way to test artificial intelligence because they require the use of logic, creativity, situational awareness, and decision-making skills to successfully beat the game. All of these skills are necessary in the quest for true artificial intelligence. But of the tens of thousands of video games to choose from, why Super Mario Bros.? AI researchers cite two primary reasons: first, they just love to play the game like the rest of us and second, the classic platformer game’s perfect mix of complexity and simplicity combined with finely-tuned mechanics make it an ideal game for artificial intelligence testing.
While early AI systems used Atari games for testing, it’s too simplistic today thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence. But side-scrolling games like Super Mario Bros. present a bit more of a challenge because a good percentage of the level design can’t be observed by AI at any given time.