by Matt Bates
I love videogames, and I have done since the first time I managed to successfully stomp on a Goomba’s head in Super Mario Bros circa 1989 (which isn’t particularly early on in the history of videogames).
Videogames have defined a lot of what I have done and choose to do with my life. I wouldn’t have become a software engineer if I didn’t have to know how these 2 & 3 dimensional worlds were created. Of course videogames are some of the most complex pieces of software around right now, the largest of which take hundreds of people across many disciplines years to complete, and even then they still break.
Tools to enable small teams and single developers or artists to create videogames have been around for a long time, the first entry in the RPG Maker series was released in 1992 and Lode Runner included its own editor in 1983. Tools like RPG Maker, Game Maker, etc promised to turn anyone into a game developer and they largely succeeded in this almost impossible task. Obviously without any experience in software development or even knowing what a variable is you wouldn’t be creating the next Super Mario or Final Fantasy but the feeling of accomplishment with something as simple as being able to move a square around a screen cannot be understated.
With each iteration of these tools they become more intuitive and faster to use whilst at the same time increasing the amount of features available and the depth to which you can dive into the bottomless pit of making videogames.
Last September Nintendo released Super Mario Maker which provided planet Earth an infinite amount of Super Mario levels to play and perhaps one of the best software making tools ever made. Performing just one of those feats would have been unique, doing both at the same time is kind of amazing.
The Super Mario Maker level editor is so good in so many ways that the tutorial takes seconds and has almost no text or instructions. My Wife didn’t even play the tutorial and within 15 minutes had created a level that I, a seasoned Mario player, couldn’t beat easily.
Some of my favourite bits of the editor include:
- Editing a level feels like playing a level
- It sings the name of the item that you are placing in the world to the tune of the Mario level music
- Entities in the editor behave like they do in the game e.g. if you want to make something bigger you “feed” it a mushroom
- A fake hand is rendered on the TV when you touch the touch screen on the gamepad, this makes editing levels collaborative and weirdly one of the best couch co-op games of last year
- Every action has a sound effect creating a really great tactile feeling
- The time between editing and testing is zero seconds, Mario even leaves a trail so you can perfectly position platforms (I’m pretty sure someone at Nintendo watched Brett Victors talk: https://youtu.be/PUv66718DII?t=643)
- Switching editing modes (copy, delete, multiselect) is instantaneous and works if you’re left or right handed
- To reset the canvas you have to touch a button for 3 seconds. So it’s a Rocket with an audible countdown, somehow that makes perfect sense.
- The undo button is a Dog
Super Mario Maker has a lot of advantages over more “generic” making tools. You’re only making 2D side scrolling Mario levels, everyone knows how all the things in a Mario game behaves as they have been around for 30 years, the WiiU has the perfect input device etc.
This should not take away from what the wizards at Nintendo have managed to achieve though, we should all take notice and realize that there are ideas outside of Salesforce, Vizio, etc that are worth exploring.
At ManyWho we are currently re-designing our tooling to make it more friendly & intuitive. A beta is coming soon, which may include mushrooms to make things bigger and a Dog as the undo button.