E3 2014: I'm Unreasonably Excited About Mario Maker [Updated]

Is the fun-but-limited Mario Maker demo on the E3 show floor all we can expect of it? We asked producer Takashi Tezuka.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

Over the past 24 hours, the games industry has collectively shown off a huge number of never-before-announced games. It's a flood of content that game-starved fans have been clamoring for over the past few years, and finally the companies who control the floodgates have opened them wide.

And yet, the single game I may be most excited to own coming out of this week's press conferences is barely even a game, more like a toy: Mario Maker. While it's kind of a Mario game, it's really more of a tool to let fans create their own Mario levels and swap them back and forth. Heck, it's not even a particularly new or novel toy. Level editors and ROM hacking tools for manipulating Mario games to the point of unrecognizability have existed for years; the original Super Mario Bros. may actually be the most hacked and reassembled game ever made. I'm sure Nintendo's tool set will be far more limited than the ones you can download for free, giving you fewer editing features and imposing more severe restrictions on sharing options.

So be it. I'm OK with that, because Mario Maker has the benefit of being a legitimate, publisher-approved tool for remixing Mario -- a real rarity outside of the world of PC shooters and role-playing games. In fairness, Sony beat Nintendo to the punch here with Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet series, but -- with all due respect to Media Molecule -- the physics and control features in LBP are absolutely awful. I love the idea of editing and creating and sharing platformer challenges with friends, but LBP just isn't fun to play, because it lacks the spot-on physics I prefer in the genre. You know, like the ones in Super Mario Bros.

The last time I was this enthusiastic about built-in editing features was nearly a decade ago with Mega Man: Powered Up for PlayStation Portable. The editing mode in that sadly overlooked and undersold game built its framework around the crisp mechanics of the original 8-bit Mega Man and, while simple, allowed for quite a bit of free expression. I got totally wrapped up in that game's feature, even running a level design contest for fans (much of which resulted in hideously masochistic designs, because video gamers are cruel monsters).

Mario Maker covers much of the same ground -— a console-friendly level editor built on the framework of a time-tested 2D classic -- but in what appears to be a more robust fashion. In fact, Mario Maker looks like nothing so much as a spiritual successor to Mario Paint and WarioWare D.I.Y: a hybrid of sorts. Mario Paint has gone on to become a sort of timeless classic in its own right, with its stripped down musical editor having become a favorite remix tool. There are tens of thousands of Mario Paint remixes on YouTube! And they're wonderful.

That's what has me intrigued by Mario Maker: The potential for creative expression beyond the intended bounds laid down by the creators. I've always felt that creativity thrives most within limitations, and Nintendo has a tendency to create restrictive tools for expression that offer just the right kind of options to foster imagination.

Lately, I've been on a kick of looking into Nintendo's early history and the influence the company's legacy as a toy designer and manufacturer had on its approach to video games. Even after all these years as a game developer, Nintendo's toymaker perspective still shades its work, whether it's in the sort of aimless whimsy found in Tomodachi Life or a more overt expression like Mario Maker. This lateral approach to game design is what keeps me interested in the company's products, even in tough times.

Of all the do-it-yourself game tools presented at this year's E3 -- Project Spark, Mario Maker, and LittleBigPlanet 3 -- Mario Maker looks the most focused and the most fun. I mean, sure, it doesn't have a Conker mod, but what can you do? I'm sure I'll spend entirely too much time with it regardless.

Update: I spoke with producer Takashi Tezuka about Mario Maker today. Speficially, I asked if the two art styles available in the show floor demo — the original Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. U — would be the extent of the looks available for level design. Will we see Super Mario Bros. 3? Super Mario World?

"Obviously, there will be other graphical styles included," Tezuka said. "And nothing's been decided yet, but I'd also like to include other graphics that aren't Mario." Would that mean that if Legend of Zelda graphics were included, the game would let you design top-down stages, I asked?

"No, it won't be top-down," he said. "It's always going to be a 2D platformer." However, players can expect more level design elements than those included on the show floor. Tezuka said he plans to integrate more enemy and object types than what appeared in the E3 demo, though he doesn't want the palette of options to become overwhelming.

Tezuka also emphasized the inspiration Mario Maker draws from Mario Paint and says that he hopes to include features similar to those of that Super NES classic, including a music composition feature. As for Internet sharing and Miiverse integration, Tezuka admits those details are still being worked out as well, but that he's mindful of players' desire to show off their level designs to friends.

"Sharing with friends is really the whole point of making levels," he said.

We'll have more of Tezuka's thoughts next week in our extended hands-on Mario Maker preview and interview.

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Comments 17

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  • Avatar for Daikaiju #1 Daikaiju 4 years ago
    Be excited Jeremy. I'm happy for you.
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  • Avatar for jmroo #2 jmroo 4 years ago
    On one hand, this game makes me sad that I'll struggle to make anything cool when I get it. On the other hand, I'm very excited to play what other people make!!
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  • Avatar for Thad #3 Thad 4 years ago
    AND a solid, legit use for the Wii U pad.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #4 jeffcorry 4 years ago
    I am really going to try and dig up my old designs for Mario levels from when I was a kid...
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  • Avatar for SebastianNebula #5 SebastianNebula 4 years ago
    I pray that this is the starting point that eventually brings us The Legend of Zelda Maker.
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  • Avatar for iamasickman #6 iamasickman 4 years ago
    I'd like to be exited about Mario Maker, but it just looks so limited. There is no verticality to the levels, and no inclined planes. You're restricted to placing simple blocks on a horizontally scrolling level in the style of Super Mario Bros 1. There is only so much creative level design one can do inside of those restrictions, and most of that was already explored in The Lost Levels. I would love to see a Mario editor that incorporated sprites and elements from Mario 1,2,3, and World, with vertical scrolling, slopes, water, etc. The game doesn't come out til 2015 so maybe these are elements which are planned and just haven't been shown yet. Or they might be included in DLC or a sequel.
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  • Avatar for Zomby-Woof #7 Zomby-Woof 4 years ago
    I remember checking that contest page back on 1up to see who the winner was. I don't remember it ever concluding...

    I'm super stoked for this. After flailing around in LittleBigPlanet's boring slow-motion world, I yearned for an official make-your-levels Mario game. An official level-editor for THE platforming series. It's a dream come true. Already, we can see some odd things that weren't possible in the original or its Japanese sequel. I just hope we can also use elements from later games in the series, but Nintendo's gotta save something for DLC, I guess. I mean, DLC that allowed us to play with elements from spin-off series, like Yoshi and Wario... would make this just about the best thing ever on Wii U.
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #8 Critical_Hit 4 years ago
    Reminds me of Mega Man Powered Up's editor.

    So it makes me angry that MMPU was just buried & forgotten on the PSP, and Capcom foolishly never made a PSN/XBLA version of that amazing game. >:(
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  • Avatar for Pacario #9 Pacario 4 years ago
    I've been waiting for something like this from Nintendo for years, but now I question how elaborate the editor will be. Can only one level be shared at a time, or can entire levels be strung together to create an entire game? What about bosses? Can a story be added? Without these features, Mario Maker is little more than the sum of its parts, which may not add up to much.

    Which is why I love Little Big Planet's creator. Wonky physics aside, almost anything could be created using its tools.

    I don't need Mario Maker to be that elaborate, of course, but how I would love to create that Mario sequel that Nintendo never gave me...
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  • Avatar for Pacario #10 Pacario 4 years ago
    @Critical_Hit Yeah, I'm shocked the game never resurfaced on Xbox Live or PSN. Guess Mega Man Universe is to blame there.
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #11 Critical_Hit 4 years ago
    @Pacario: Urrgh. I forgot about that :(

    That ugly, ugly, unfocused, horrible imposter of a Mega Man game. Glad it got canned, but you're right - that was probably instrumental in helping to tank the Blue Bomber over at Capcom back then. Any future plans for the adorable would-be Powered Up series probably were scuttled because they would've hinged their plans on Universe.

    I'm sad now.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #12 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 years ago
    I'm definitely interested in this, though I wonder if it will have some "genuine" Nintendo-made levels thrown in. Having something to study and go by to know what works and what won't seems like it would be an asset.
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #13 ShadowTheSecond 4 years ago
    Definitely thankful for the update! I could see Kirby or Zelda 2's Link fitting in fairly well--or even Zero Suit Samus's bizarre heels smashing Goombas...

    Though the software looks great, I'm curious what their final price will be. $60 seems a bit much for just sidescroller Mario editing (even with the other features like music editing) for it to be a big seller, not that I wouldn't still be interested
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  • Avatar for mganai #14 mganai 4 years ago
    Super Mario X gave me hopes of Zelda II esque levels. I hope that type of thing will be possible someday, even if they'd need to make a wholly different character subset to make it happen.
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  • Avatar for deffalo #15 deffalo 4 years ago
    Mario Maker will surely foster creativity, but not beyond the intended bounds laid down by the creators. Sorry, but it's true. Mario Paint certainly did no such thing, and especially not in the manner implied here.

    The impressive Gusty Garden Galaxy remix video linked here, offered up as the "proof" of what wonderful things can happen inside limitations, simply doesn't apply because it wasn't made in Mario Paint. Neither were the tens of thousands of others like it. They all exist because of Mario Paint Composer, an unlicensed third-party program created specifically to break outside the boundaries of Mario Paint's novel but extremely limited composition tool.

    Mario Paint wouldn't allow you to have more than 24 bars of music. Mario Paint wouldn't allow you to have more than 3 notes on a single beat. Mario Paint wouldn't allow you to harmonize by playing two or more instruments on the same note at the same time. And Mario Paint wouldn't allow you to use sharps or flats. The Gusty Garden remix exploits all of these hacks, and absolutely could not have ever been made in Mario Paint.

    So creativity can thrive all it wants, but there's a stark difference between creativity and creations. Mario Paint inspired plenty of creativity, I'm sure, but no meaningful creations were ever made within its extremely strict boundaries.

    Creations can only become noteworthy when the creator is given the proper tools or has the power to make his own tools. The Gusty Garden Galaxy remix is an example of the former; Mario Paint Composer is an example of the latter. Mario Paint itself is an example of neither. (Which in fairness, is at least partly owed to limitations of its day. This isn't intended as a criticism of Mario Paint; you just can't rightfully call it a creation platform, directly or indirectly.)

    In any case, we know Mario Maker won't provide the ability for users to create their own tools, so whether it ends up as a novelty toy or a bonafide platform for creation depends on what tools Nintendo provides. What we saw at E3 was more novelty than creation platform, but that may only be because it was a sneak peek at a product still in development. All of us wanting more should be hopeful and expectant that there will be much more to see when it's finished. Otherwise, we'll only get what we saw at E3: a bunch of silly levels with stacks of enemies and floaty platforms everywhere so that players don't actually have to contend with them.
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  • Avatar for Daikaiju #16 Daikaiju 4 years ago
    Man that is a meaty update! I hope SMB2 (aka SMB USA) and the SNES All-Stars palettes are being considered!
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  • Avatar for ngocmai #17 ngocmai A year ago
    I don't need Mario Maker to be that elaborate, of course, but how I would love to create that Mario sequel that Nintendo never gave me...
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