By now you’ve likely heard of Nintendo’s upcoming stage builder game set in the Mario universe. For those of you who don’t manage to get Wi-Fi through that rock you live under, Super Mario Maker—formerly just “Mario Maker—is a 2D level building game where gamers can make their own Super Mario levels and share them online. (Think Little Big Planet but with controls that don’t suck.)
What excites me most about Super Mario Maker is not making ridiculous and complex levels, or aligning items into a purposefully phallic shape, but the potential this has to open up gamers to the wide and exciting world of developing games.
Right now, in pretty much every artistic medium but gaming, there is a cheap, simple way to get in on the ground floor. You want to be a drummer? Buy a coffee can and start with that. You want to be a filmmaker? Whip out your phone, get some friends together, and make a movie. You want to be a photographer? Whip out your phone, again, and take pictures right now! You want to be an artist? Grab some pencil and paper and draw for hours. You won’t become the artist you dream of over night, and as your skills improve you’ll need to buy better equipment, but you can start right now if you want. Games are a tricky beast though.
There isn’t yet a tool and platform for young aspiring game makers with zero skill to get started like you can do with a phone camera, outside of getting some kind of education or buying expensive software. And that software has a lot more of a front loaded learning curve than a coffee can.
But Super Mario Maker allows an easy, and more importantly familiar, space for young minds to test their creative abilities. Super Mario Maker provides a simple drag and drop interface. No complicated connections, no faulty tethering, no items that sometimes work like you want and sometimes don’t. (All of the above, I’m looking at you Little Big Planet.)
But like I said, what’s really important about this game is that it is familiar. Everyone has played Mario, everyone knows the momentum, the jump height, the areas that give them trouble, the enemies you can expect players to beat, the enemies you expect to give players trouble, what items are advantageous everywhere vs. what items are advantageous in some places—the list goes on. Everyone understands how a Mario game should work. Even if you don’t understand the first thing about game design, when you play your Mario level, you will understand whether or not this is how a Mario game should play. Young gamers can hold themselves to a certain standard and can reliably grade their levels based on what quality Mario has. At all times, even if their level plays terribly, it looks like a Mario game.
I doubt this will create a tsunami of new game makers and bring about a glorious golden age of game making, but it provides an introduction to the field of game design without a high price, well super high price anyway, and with a low skill barrier to entry.