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Stephen Radosh: A Q&A with the Creator of Hotel Mario

Hotel Mario is one of the most popular, infamous, and memorable video games of the 1990’s. Initially released in 1993 to positive reviews, it has since become a cult classic among gamers for its iconic soundtrack, voice acting, animated sequences, and gameplay. It was released on April 5, 1994 on the Phillips CD-I as part of a licensing agreement where Phillips would design Super NES’s CD-ROM add-on. I had the privilege of speaking with Stephen Radosh, who was the designer and executor producer of Hotel Mario. He lives in Palm Springs, California, where he is active in theatre and journalism.

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Q: How did you get involved with the production of Hotel Mario?

A: I was employed at a Vice President at Phillips Media Interactive. I did various things for the company that included teambuilding, budgeting, and storytelling.

Q: What was your role in Hotel Mario?

A: I essentially created it. I wrote the concepts and the storyline. I had an idea about a video game that took place in a hotel with various stages that I had brainstormed moths prior, so I decided to incorporate that idea into Hotel Mario. I was proud of it, and so was the team.

Q: Did you have experience in the industry prior to being employed by Phillips Interactive Media?

A: Of course. I was with Atari for years when they were successful with their consoles. I was employed with Sega as well. I played a lot of video games, but I also had a background in acting which is important when creating video games. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theater at Franklin & Marshall College in 1971, and I began producing television series in the 1980’s. I switched industries after being hired by Atari, as it gave me an opportunity to be creative.

Q: How was the overall production of Hotel Mario

A: We worked diligently to ensure that the game was as good as it could be. Sometimes we’d stay in the office overnight. We had several engineers employed with Phillips, so we didn’t have any delays. We didn’t have a lot of animators, so we had to outsource a lot of that through other companies. It ended up being a positive though, as we were fortunate enough to get some great people. One of our animators, Kathleen [Swain] had previously worked at Walt Disney Studios, so it felt like we were winning the lottery when we had her on staff. We had talented people, but we were also unified. I can honestly say that nobody on our team had any tension or animosity during the production. It was unbelievable actually.

Q: How were the actors cast?

A: We hired Marc Graue through an agency that represents voice actors. He spent roughly two hours recording the characters. He played Mario, Luigi, and Bowser. He was great because he was able to adjust his voice to do multiple characters. We were going to cast Princess Peach through the same agency, but one of our recently-hired engineers suggested a woman named Jocelyn [Benford]. He was a good friend of hers. He did a lot of convincing to get us to hire her, saying “Oh you’ll like her. She’s a great actress. She didn’t have a lot of dialogue, but she did well. She later married one of the producers and moved to New York.

Q: What’s an interesting story about Hotel Mario that readers would be surprised by?

A: Unlike other Mario titles, jumping wasn’t going to be a feature on Hotel Mario. We didn’t feel that it was essential to the gameplay. One of our engineers brought his daughter, Hollie [Lohff] to the studio, so we had her try out the game. She told us that it was strange playing a Mario game that didn’t allow jumping. We took her advice and retooled it so that Mario could jump. It was a good idea, and we added her to the credits because of it.

Q: How involved was Nintendo?

A: I had to get approval from Nintendo with a lot of the things that we did. They wanted to be sure the world that we created looked like it belonged to the franchise, as anything portrayed in Hotel Mario was a reflection on them. A manager at Nintendo named Cammy [Budd] was our main contact. They were pleased as far as I knew. In fact, there were rumour that Nintendo wanted to bring Hotel Mario to their platforms.

Q: What did Nintendo think of Hotel Mario after its release?

A: Their comment was that they didn’t have a comment. Publicly, they were very neutral about it. Our staff loved it though. Everyone was proud of it. The technology of the CD-I wasn’t meant for such interactive gaming, but we overcame that obstacle.

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Q: Were you pleased with the reviews and sales of Hotel Mario.

A: It did a lot better in Europe, but we had respectable sales here too. The CD-I didn’t sell well overall, but Hotel Mario itself was a financial success. It was a critical success too. Electronic Gaming Monthly, GamePro, and Joystick praised the visuals. Obviously graphics and gameplay have improved since then, but you gotta compare Hotel Mario to other video games of that era to understand the significance of it.

Q: Trici Venola -one of the animators- did an interview years ago with The Black Moon Project where she said that a lot of the difficulties with Hotel Mario stemmed from near-retirement engineers who had slower reflexes. What’s your opinion on that?

A: That could be a bit of an exaggeration. We did have some older engineers, but they weren’t elderly. I don’t think that the ages of the engineers made a difference in the quality of the finished product.

Q: Do you keep in touch with anyone in Hotel Mario?

A: Not really. I spoke with Rosalyn [Bugg] and Janice [Convery] two years ago. I worked closely with them at Phillips.

Q: Is there anything that you would do differently if you were given the opportunity to recreate Hotel Mario?

A: I would’ve added more complexity, but the hardware wouldn’t allow for it. I wanted to add bonus rounds and other features to really get the gamers’ minds running. I sometimes wonder how much better Hotel Mario would be if we remade it in the 21st century. They technology has advanced a lot, and we can do the things that we wanted to do with it.

Written by Samuel Clemens on July 2, 2022