Without thinking too much about it, what is the maximum number of pieces you can eliminate from multi-piece blocks in the original Super Mario Bros..? Did you say 10? Well, you’re wrong, but it’s not your fault. You just haven’t delved deep into the nearly 37-year-old game code like a complete weirdo.
We now know that the Super Mario Bros. the blocks have a time limit rather than a coin limit, allowing players to repeatedly smack Mario’s head against their stomach over the course of a few seconds to grab as many coins as possible. But this has not always been common knowledge. Smashing the buttons under these blocks usually nets 10 coins, after all, and even the official strategy guides of the time. called them 10 piece blocks.
Kosmic, a high level Super Mario Bros. player who currently holds once in the top 10 in the most popular speedrunning category of the classic Nintendo game, recently shared a fascinating video about coin blocks. It is apparently possible to get up to 16 pieces from these blocks, but of course such a feat requires both in-depth knowledge of game programming and multiple perfect inputs.
If you are somewhat familiar with Super Mario Bros. speedrunning, chances are you’ve heard of the ‘frame rule’, a ubiquitous mathematical constant in game code that also affects coin blocks.
A frame rule is a repeating cycle of 21 frames that Super Mario Bros. uses to dictate various aspects of the game. Level transitions, for example, don’t happen until the framerule counter rolls over six times, but the current framerule when a step is complete doesn’t need to fully pass to be counted. It can be anywhere from its first frame to its twenty-first frame, meaning level transitions range from 106 frames (about 1.8 seconds) to 126 frames (about 2.1 seconds).
Learn more about framework rules and their impact Super Mario Bros. world records, be sure to watch the video below by Bismuth, another speedrunner. He is much smarter than me.
Coin blocks, as Kosmic explains, can only be touched during the 11 ticks of the frame rules counter immediately after Mario’s first interaction with said block. Optimizing the pieces you can pop out of the block therefore follows the inverse principle of reducing the time between level transitions. Instead of trying to complete a stage at to finish of a frame ruler to record frames, you want to hit the coin block at the start a frame ruler to give Mario more time to jump.
Kosmic calculates that the maximum time to hit a coin block is 230 frames (about 3.8 seconds) after the first hit. Divide that by the 16 frames, Mario has to wait for the block animation to play before he can be hit again, and you get 14 hits. Add that to the single free coin you get at the start and end of this whole sequence (the block stays active until you hit it one more time after its timer expires), and the result is a grand total of 16 pieces.
Go ahead and take a break if you found all those calculations overwhelming. The rest of this blog will be waiting for you when you return.
Perhaps more incredible is the fact that Super Mario Bros.. players can sometimes do this without a visible frame ruler counter. Some examples include Kosmic itself getting a 16 piece block in the middle of a Super Mario Bros. 35 match (rest in peace) and legendary speedrunner AndrewG doing it during a high score race back in 2016.
Super Mario Bros. is a fascinating example of how games that seem simplistic and ancient can hide incredibly technical secrets beneath their pixelated facades. It may be the most recognizable game in history, but three decades and countless playthroughs still haven’t laid bare all of its intricacies for the common player. We’re very lucky to have knowledgeable folks like Kosmic here to provide these fun and informative lessons on how Nintendo developed one of the greatest video games of all time.