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Super Mario Maker's Content Rollout is Nintendo's Design Discipline In Action

You won't be able to access every tool in Mario Maker's toolbox at launch... and that's a good thing.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

Nintendo managed to infuriate just about the entire Internet yesterday when it announced the fact that Super Mario Maker will feature time-gated unlockable content. In order the gain access to the full suite of goodies available in the DIY platform design tool, players will have to spend a full nine days with Mario Maker as items slowly unlock on a daily basis.

This news resulted in an almost universal outcry against Nintendo and the concept of artificial restrictions on in-game content. But eventually, players will have access to the full breadth of Mario Maker's features without paying an extra dime; this is a far cry from some expensive on-disc DLC scheme. On the contrary, Super Mario Maker's timed content simply show Nintendo doing what it's always done: Nudge players through their creations through careful design.

Honestly, it would be weird to see Nintendo doing anything else. Super Mario Maker, after all, serves as a celebration of a milestone anniversary for Super Mario Bros., which debuted on Sept. 13, 1985 — meaning Mario Maker's launch arrives two days shy of the game's 30th anniversary. Mario Maker features content and visuals from that NES classic; the entire point of the package is to allow players to make their own renditions of classic Mario platformers.

Super Mario Bros. just might be the canonical example of teaching players the rules of a game through careful level design. World 1-1 of the game has been dissected, analyzed, and critiqued by countless designers and enthusiasts alike, and even the game's creators — director Shigeru Miyamoto and designer (and Mario Maker producer) Takashi Tezuka — have spoken at length about what they tried to accomplish when they were laying out the Mushroom Kingdom's environments. Super Mario became one of the most influential games of all time not because it was the first side-scroller (it wasn't) but rather because its creators took the time to consider the best way to induct players into the elaborate, complex work they were creating.

And I hate to say it, but you're not as good a designer as Miyamoto and Tezuka. Neither am I. You're not going to sit down with Mario Maker and think, "How can I make this game as fair as possible? How can I communicate the player's objective? How can I introduce a steady rise in difficulty by iterating a challenge or task through progressively more demanding permutations?" No, you're going to build a bunch of levels that actively frustrate and annoy people. You're going to see what you can possibly get away with in the Mario Maker engine, which looks to be just about anything you can imagine, and you're not going to spend much time fretting over how playable the end result is. You will measure your success in the number of tears spilled by your victims.

That's fine! Go ahead and be terrible to your fellow man. But even as you're reveling in your inhumanity, Nintendo is determined to make sure that you at least have a firm grasp on how, precisely, you can best going about exulting in your hatefulness. How do you teach people to play a game that's about making games? You could just hit them with an endless series of dry tutorials, but that's not really Nintendo's style. (OK, except in Zelda.) Even cutesy tutorials aren't really their thing.

Rather, the solution they've gone with is this series of progressive unlocks. You'll begin with the basic building blocks — literally, blocks — on day one, with ever-more-exotic items unrolling as you play, giving you the ability to create more intricate setups as you come to terms with the rules and mechanics of the construction process. The unlock sequence revealed in yesterday's video teaser is Mario Maker's equivalent of World 1-1's meticulously arranged hazards and challenges. Fittingly, the day-one items are almost exactly what you would need to make a replica of World 1-1, minus 1UPs and any power-up more potent than a Super Mushroom (and with the addition of Piranha Plants and the wing modifier that allows you to make practically any object into a flying version of itself). By the time you gain access to the good stuff, you'll actually have the functional, practical skill to use them effectively... in theory, anyway.

I understand that many people will chafe at the restrictions, but this, too, is a kind of game design — one that's defined Nintendo's approach for 30 years. It certainly eases many of the concerns I've had about Super Mario Maker: Consumer-level game-design tool software is hardly a new invention (Mario dabbled in it way back in Wrecking Crew, which predates Super Mario Bros. by a year), but it's rarely intuitive or fun to use. Mario's legacy, however, deserves one that's a cut above the competition, and now I can see how Tezuka and crew intent to differentiate Mario Maker. They can't force you to make good levels or train you to be as disciplined a designer as they are, but they can at least ease you into the process. Super Mario Maker launches in slightly less than a month, at which point countless Wii U owners will learn the meaning of truly terrible level design... but at least it won't be Nintendo's fault.

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Comments 35

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  • Avatar for boatie #1 boatie 3 years ago
    I get what you're saying, and agree with you to some extent. It's great that they are thinking about how to get the player to think about level design, but having to wait 24 hours NINE times is stretching my ability to agree with it as a good choice.

    It just smacks of lazy design to me, 3 or 4 days seems much more palatable, but on day 6 of 9 when you've been playign the game a while and you STILL can't do everything, you're saying that you'll still think it's a great idea?

    I just think there was a better way to impliment this, something that does gatekeep but relies on user imput: Build 5 levels that you can complete, build a level each on several design principles (one for speed, one for jumping, one for challenge, etc.).

    Instead they slapped on a more-than-a-week long wait and called it a day.Edited August 2015 by boatie
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #2 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @boatie I don't think there is any criticism in the world that I find as disingenuous as "lazy." Yes, I'm sure that after two years of development, the SMM team got to the question of introducing content to users, sighed, plopped onto the sofa with a tub of ice cream, and said, "Whatever, screw it, let's just ship" while flipping to find something on cable.
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  • Avatar for Thumbscar #3 Thumbscar 3 years ago
    Yes! 100 yeses. Well... 60 yeses. This actually addresses one of my own concerns about the game. I was dreading being dumped in an editor tool and fussing around with a bunch of quirky objects, only to play it for 20 minutes and hope that some good stages would get uploaded later. Given this announcement, I now know that I will get several play sessions out of it in which I will likely improve as a creator. This doesn't ensure that Mario Maker will have a long tail in terms of community talent or fun, but now I'm confident that I'm buying more than 60 stages and an editor I might not have used.
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  • Avatar for boatie #4 boatie 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish It's a lazy cliche to use, and you're right to call me out on it.

    But you can substitute cheap/dumb/aggrivating/bad

    I'm not saying all this as a dumb internet troll who criticizes everything, I love Nintendo and am honestly disappointed at this. Nine days into playing the game it will no longer matter and I'll forget about it, but I still think it's a poor design choice before forgetting about it.Edited August 2015 by boatie
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  • Avatar for Compeau #5 Compeau 3 years ago
    To me this feels a bit like the Splatoon rollout: that game started out with a very limited set of maps and only one mode, and then Nintendo slowly rolled out more maps/modes over the next few months as people became more familiar with the game.

    I already have some levels mapped out for Mario Maker. They don't use a bunch of crazy stuff (I think the most "unusual" features are vines and invisible blocks). As long as I can make those levels that first weekend, I'm good. I don't mind waiting for clown cars or chain chomps.
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #6 KaiserWarrior 3 years ago
    Or you could just boot the game up and then immediately close it, every day for over a week, until you actually get access to the game you paid for. Which would sort of highlight this scheme as being exactly what it is: a pointless waste of everyone's time.

    Look, I get the idea of wanting to teach "players" of Mario Maker some decent level design skills. I applaud it, even! I have absolutely zero tolerance for "kaizo"-style levels. But the way to do that is by actually teaching them, not by arbitrarily time-gating tools. Give them some direction, have an optional "designer tips" mode that maybe, I dunno, steps through a level and explains the elements of it and why it's doing what it's doing. Maybe be really creative and develop a rudimentary AI that simulates a player by running and jumping when it gets within X units of a pit or obstruction, then challenge the player to create a level that meets some sort of "challenge balance" criteria -- presents some measure of difficulty for the AI in terms of how much it has to deviate from "hold right", but doesn't completely stump the AI and kill it.

    Nintendo's designers are better than this. They could have come up with an innovative way to help teach players how to use the tools available to them, gated the tools behind some sort of accomplishment or other demonstration of "worthiness". Simple, rote time-gating helps no one and achieves nothing other than upsetting those of us that would rather dig in to the tools.

    "People will still make awful levels, but at least they'll be making awful levels 9 days from now instead of right now" is just wrong-headed. There's no other word for it.
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  • Avatar for ojinnvoltz #7 ojinnvoltz 3 years ago
    This is classic Nintendo in that they think little of players' intelligence. They're assuming that players need this roll out because they're underestimating players' ability to learn, to pace things out and progress at their own rate.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #8 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    Mixed thoughts on this. Its classic Nintendo really - a more nanny-ish approach to game design (I mean that in a positive way). I can see that its annoying for some people, but I don't think it would bother me in the slightest.
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  • Avatar for Joefus2256 #9 Joefus2256 3 years ago
    Not totally on topic, but I wanted to say that I really appreciate how you all at US Gamer write more in depth pieces on current news items. It's much more interesting to read a full article discussing a topic than read a snarky headline and a few sentences recapping a press release or video.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #10 CK20XX 3 years ago
    For me, this seems like more confirmation about how trust in Nintendo is at an all-time low. They still produce fine-quality software, but have been battling a host of other problems that have had them trailing in third place yet again. If it wasn't for that, people might be forgiving of quirks like this one, but instead it just looks like yet another thing wrong with the company, an indicator that something still isn't quite right among their philosophies.

    For all their problems with third party developers and controlling YouTube content, it may not be entirely Nintendo's fault either. We simply live in an age where businesses pay to control everything, and in doing so, they lose in the court of public opinion every time they win in a court of law. Why should you trust any corporation nowadays? They're like the first rogue robots, bent on self-preservation through any means.
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  • Avatar for roundthewheel #11 roundthewheel 3 years ago
    Methinks the people commenting negatively here have never seriously tried their hand at level editing. Let me tell you about a little fanmade program called Super Mario Bros. X. SMBX was created in 2009 by a guy named Andrew Spinks. You might know him as Redigit, aka the guy who created Terraria.

    SMBX is a lot like Mario Maker. You get to make your own levels and you can use a ton of elements from all the 8- and 16-bit mainline Mario games, and there are even a few limited Zelda and Metroid sets. It's all thrown in a big blender and it's awesome to see so many disparate elements from different games commingling. You can also import custom graphics that replace the bundled ones within a single level, though because of the hardcoded nature of the engine, it's difficult to change actual sprite behaviors.

    You can access everything in SMBX from the start, but you're stuck with an ultra-steep learning curve and only the barest skeleton of a readme file. Many of the functions are not intuitive, because people who cracked it open claim Redigit's code looks like it was written by a drunken chimpanzee. Having access to everything right away also engenders the single greatest flaw in the majority of SMBX levels I've seen and played: a lack of restraint.

    What people either forget or never realized is that the best levels of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World could often beaten in only a minute or two. There was always a straight and quick path to the exit, but there were also plenty of secrets and bonus rooms and cool setpieces and hidden gems in-between. The levels could be appreciated by both someone who romps through levels and a more deliberate exploratory-type. Many SMBX levels are often one or the other, to their detriment. Either levels are entirely lacking in any sort of interesting activity, or they're these long, boring slogs with enemy spam and sparse power-up distribution and poor midpoint placement that take ten minutes to beat even on a quick run. Mario Maker is going to be much the same, I suspect, except probably far worse in this regard.

    In 2011, Redigit abruptly halted updating and working on SMBX. He claimed to have received a cease-and-desist order from Nintendo, though this is considered anecdotal, as he never produced any evidence of it. If it's true, however, it's easy to see the throughline: Nintendo saw what he was working on, saw the potential, thought "we can do better", and set about improving on it by suffusing it with all their decades of design expertise and user-friendliness. I'm super-psyched for Mario Maker, and given what I've seen of many fan efforts, I'd say they know what they're doing with this time-gating thing.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #12 The-Challenger 3 years ago
    OK, but when will we get the dlc pack that enables the abilities found in super mario bros 2? If I remember correctly they don't plan on adding those textures at launch(or within the 9 day countdown period), but that doesn't preclude them from adding in those abilities later on. I would love to play as a Mario that can hover like peach(via a power up), or jump as high as Luigi. Did someone at Nintendo already mention this? Maybe they did and I just glazed over that bit of info.
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  • Avatar for Mikki-Saturn #13 Mikki-Saturn 3 years ago
    @roundthewheel I agree. I think for people who take it seriously this may actually help them learn how to design a good level.

    Let's say on the first day you make a handful of basic levels. Then on the second day you embellish those levels. Then on the third day you add some secret side areas, etc. And so on and so forth. By the end of the ninth day you have a variety of levels with a variety of strange features, but they are built on a foundation that is fundamentally simple. That's the right way to design a level anyway. A lack of restraint and a lack of understanding how to use the different features and tools at your disposal successfully are the hallmark of most user generated content. It's possible Nintendo has just come up with a clever way to avoid that problem.

    Also, reading the comments here and elsewhere, I am reminded of how differently some people approach games. Because of my age and lifestyle I play every game in the way that this game basically requires. An hour today, 30 minutes tomorrow, etc. It's been a decade since I had the kind of free time that would allow me to sit down and really binge on a game. But the comments I've seen remind me that many people do play that way. 9 days then would be enough time to fully complete most games. So although I am not personally bothered (or much affected honestly) by Nintendo's decision, I'll play devil's advocate for a moment and ask if it might not have been better to lock this away behind actual play time? Say, 9 hours, with an additional set of tools unlocking each hour. That way people who were looking forward to playing this game all weekend could still get access to the full range of content.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #14 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @boatie "Poor design choice" is a better criticism. Fair enough!
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #15 KaiserWarrior 3 years ago
    @roundthewheel Not really. The argument isn't that there shouldn't be some form of restraint. It's that arbitrary time-gating is not the correct form of restraint.

    Again, you could just boot up the game and immediately close it, every day for nine days, until you have all of the tools.

    How does that solve the problem of bad level design through lack of restraint? In what way does arbitrarily locking tools out until nine days have passed help teach people how to make good levels?

    Sure, you could design levels with a gimped toolset until you actually have the other tools available. You could also design levels while purposely only using the basic tools without Big Nanny Nintendo putting a childgate in front of the more advanced ones. Hey, here's an idea -- maybe have stickers or whatever the achievement-replacement-du-jour is for Nintendo games, and tie them to challenges like "Make a level using only the following tools".

    Literally any other method would be better than just arbitrarily time-gating it.
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  • Avatar for Lord-Bob-Bree #16 Lord-Bob-Bree 3 years ago
    Is this "216 hours of play" nine days, or "play some amount of time on nine different days"? Both seem like they could discourage people from really getting into this, but the former seems especially bad.
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #17 Monkey-Tamer 3 years ago
    I've played a lot of mario rom hacks and I agree with the principle, but not with the implementation. Too much winds up being spaghetti thrown at the wall if everything is there at the first boot up. Making people pay for it via DLC has become the norm, unfortunately. I'm glad to see anything these days use delayed gratification, even if it is in a non-traditional game.
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  • Avatar for hiptanaka #18 hiptanaka 3 years ago
    I'm completely dumbfounded by the outrage against the slow unlocking of things. At worst it's a minor annoyance. At the same time, I think the scheme is a bit lazy. I'd much rather see some kind of gamification, like "create a level with at least one pit, and beat it", as the unlock conditions. Preferably more interesting stuff that force you to think about and combine parts.

    Update: I just read Jeremy's criticism of the word "lazy" so I'd like to change it to "uncreative" or maybe just "not fun". :)Edited 3 times. Last edited August 2015 by hiptanaka
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #19 Mega_Matt 3 years ago
    I'm completely ok with this. I wouldn't even know where to begin creating levels anyways.
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  • Avatar for Namevah #20 Namevah 3 years ago
    @Lord-Bob-Bree Five minutes in the editor a day is all that's required for the next day's unlocks. Most people will probably exceed that just checking out that day's new options.

    I'm indifferent. I agree that it's an annoyance and Nintendo could've implemented a better method to unlock these additional options, but... This is an industry that gives the internet something to complain about almost every other day. Compared to all that other crap, this feels like small potatoes, and I can't will myself to care.Edited August 2015 by Namevah
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  • Avatar for Tomatoboxer #21 Tomatoboxer 3 years ago
    @Compeau This is why I'm so baffled by the negative response. Splatoon just went through the same process, but over a much longer period, and it worked really well.
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  • Avatar for roomtemperature #22 roomtemperature 3 years ago
    I wonder if there is a way to game the system by taking it off line and changing the clock to the next day
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  • Avatar for catstronaut #23 catstronaut 3 years ago
    I think the nine-day drip is a great way to nurture intelligent content-creation. As long as the basic tileset has a few different blocks, goombas, koopas, mushrooms, and fire flowers, I'm all there. It's much more interesting seeing what players can make with a limited toolset, rather than letting them go bonkers right from the start.

    I'd be willing to bet that a lot of the most fun levels will be made within the first few days—after all, the original Super Mario Bros. didn't have the zillions of enemies that Super Mario World did. Plus, Mario Maker seems like it offers a lot of freedom for combining elements that hasn't been seen before in a Mario title.
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  • Avatar for SanguineSymphony #24 SanguineSymphony 3 years ago
    As an on the fence customer for the game the subtext of condescension is enough to make me disregard the product. LBP had plenty of decent levels with a more even handed approach in unlocking content.

    It's a good thing N saved me $60.
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  • Avatar for sergeantd #25 sergeantd 3 years ago
    @Joefus2256 couldn't agree more. this is exactly the kind of stuff that makes USG #1 in my book!
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  • Avatar for docexe #26 docexe 3 years ago
    @KaiserWarrior Mmm... The problem with your argument is the same with the criticism that tended to be aimed at the “Super Guide” feature in some of the recent Mario games. Paraphrasing: “What prevents me from entering a level and killing myself 8 times straight in order to get the Super Guide to complete it for me. It kills the challenge of the game completely!”

    Yeah, nothing prevents you from exploiting the system in that way so it could have been a poor feature... Except for the fact that the vast majority of people wouldn’t actually do that because it is completely unfun and more tedious than merely playing the game normally.

    It’s the same in this case: Who would actually go as far as to start a session one day, keep it active for 5 minutes, close it, then repeat the same process for 9 days straight without actually playing the game at all during that period? Seriously, only fringe cases would go to those lengths in order to unlock the content.

    Now, I do believe that they could probably have implemented a more elegant solution rather than a 24 hour time gate (completing a set of challenges with the design tools available for example) and I can imagine that some people with experience on level editors and/or with the spare time to play games daily for more than an hour or two (unlike people like me -_-) will get bored with the basic tools during the first couple of days. But ultimately I don’t really see it as a big deal. For 9 days straight people will be unlocking new content without paying a cent, and if the level editor is robust enough, most people would probably not mind the gated content as they learn the ropes of the tools already available. So I think it’s ultimately a minor inconvenience at most and I assume Nintendo knows that as well, hence the implementation.

    Not going to lie, the outrage about this looks... well, really pointless to me. It seems like another case of the Internet hive mind jumping into anger and hyperbole without first thinking things through from a practical point of view.
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  • Avatar for Daryoon #27 Daryoon 3 years ago
    Anyone who has worked in the creative arts will know that enforced limitations actively promote creativity, rather than stifle it. When learning to paint, you don't start with access to every type and colour. In fact, you're more likely to start with pencils and black-and-white studies before you even touch a paintbrush.

    This is much the same, and hopefully it will encourage better level design than what we would have seen had everything been made available at once.
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  • Avatar for Xemus80 #28 Xemus80 3 years ago
    I'm quite alright with this approach and wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if the best stages are created with the "simpler" toolsets. Less is more, folks.
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  • Avatar for seanmitchell #29 seanmitchell 3 years ago
    this is stupid. theres no two ways about it. ill probably just wait the 9 days before i even play it now

    edit: oh i guess i cant even do that. i don't need these fake restrictions imposed on me. if you people want to impose them on yourselfs for the sake of learning it go ahead. i don't need my hand heldEdited August 2015 by seanmitchell
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  • Avatar for InsertTokenz #30 InsertTokenz 3 years ago
    @Daryoon Exactly.

    When it comes to the creative output I've seen out of various mediums (in this case, video game design), the most impressive displays of it were always those that came as a result of the creator(s) managing to surpass the limitations imposed on them by the tool sets they were working with. Such feats showed true innovative and creative thinking, which in turn always defied your expectations of what that given form of media was truly capable of. Those are the examples that people remember in the long run.

    I get the impression that Nintendo is trying to promote a similar creative process here with Super Mario Maker in getting people to try and get the most out of the basic building blocks first to encourage better creative design on the ground floor, then provide additional elements later to supplement that ever-stronger foundation.

    It's funny so many people are getting worked up over this despite the fact none of them have even played the game yet. For all they know, they could be caught up in just using the initial building tools and options the game has to the point where a day has already passed by and they can start using the next batch of tools/options with no hassle. At worst it's a minor annoyance if anything, at best it's a non-issue. :)Edited August 2015 by InsertTokenz
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  • Avatar for AlltheNeSWorldCups #31 AlltheNeSWorldCups 3 years ago
    I actually was glad about this too for some reason I like the thought of easing into the mechanics and having to be creative at the early stages while being limited in my toolset
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  • Avatar for metalangel #32 metalangel 3 years ago
    This chafes against me a bit like the slow drip feed of features you've long been used in the GTA games of yore. The end result was that I rushed through the early segments trying to unlick something I actually wanted like the vehicle tuning shop or airfield in San Andreas, or just the entire landmass in every game up to the GTA IV episodes which removed the travel restrictions on new games.

    I can totally understand why they've done it here, though. You'll grit your teeth and try to make do with what you've got, and by the time you unlock more, the use and placement of the first set of objects will be second nature.
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  • Avatar for IPA #33 IPA 3 years ago
    This article typifies why, for me, Parish is the best in the biz:

    - Articulates a non-hysterical take on a weirdly hot-button issue

    - Leverages gaming's rich past to clarify its present reality

    - Draws clear and sensible parallels between Nintendo's design history and SMM's roll out strategy

    - Avoids the histrionic rage of the average gaming forum theorist

    Well done, as always. This game looks wonderful.
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  • Avatar for benwatson41 #34 benwatson41 3 years ago
    What about those of us who have made Mario fan games before? So lame. I hate spending days trying to figure out code in someone's Mario engine or through Gamemaker written in languages I barely understand after one semester if C++, but I've done it and made my own Mario games, with painstaking detail on both coding and sprites/background and level design. Just coding paralax was tricky for me.

    I say this because these things are EXACTLY why I was so excited for this game. Point and click with an already complete engine sounded so much easier. But now, because of all the Mario fan game making noobs, I have to wait almost two weeks to get everything. So freaking lame. I promise this will be 100 times easier than screwing with C# looking through poorly defined functions/variables in order to adjust aspects of a game engine. Not everyone needs to be baby walked through this game. Smh.
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