For some time I’ve been looking forward to a new “Game” that Nintendo announced some time ago- Mario Maker, which is now titled Super Mario Maker. I put “Game” in quotes because what it is is perhaps not that straightforward. Effectively, it allows you to create your own levels; but further, it allows you to share your levels via the online community and play levels created by others. One could think of it almost like a Mario game that you can change, while also having crowd-sources levels.
Opinions on the product are, of course, varied. Some consider it a “Little big planet” rip off. this is an odd descriptor since that game hardly trademarked the idea of having an online community for sharing levels. Others say it is nothing more than a glorified ROM hacking tool. That is an interesting argument, one that I rather disagree with.
What is ROM Hacking
For those unfamiliar, “ROM hacking” is effectively taking the ROM data of a Console video game and fiddling with the innards; this could involve changing graphics, code, or level information. In this context, most are comparing Super Mario Maker to Level editing tools such as Lunar Magic and Mario 3 Workshop; These programs provide something of a more graphical and easier approach to editing level information in Super Mario World and Super Mario Brothers 3 ROM files. I don’t think such comparisons are particularly valid; the primary issue is that neither of those tools is nearly as intuitive and obvious; both require some knowledge of the game engine, particularly how they deal with pointers and exits/entrances. Another consideration is that when it comes to ROM hacking, the typical distribution method is patches. the purpose being to circumvent/avoid copyright infringement. Effectively the person who creates a hack distributes a patch file, which describes the changes that are to be made to the ROM of the game in order to create their hacked version. this way the patch file being distributed only distributes the changes, and doesn’t distribute copyright content by Nintendo. This means that while there are communities and websites covering, reviewing, and featuring these hacked ROMs, in order to try such a hack one needs to download the patch file and apply the patch to the appropriate ROM file and load it in an emulator (or, run it on the original console using something like an Everdrive N8/Super Everdrive or an SD2SNES). The communities are also typically rather niche; while there is excellent help to be found in the community for creating, editing, and working with ROM hacking tools, these tools and the methods used are rather involved. It also requires that the user skirt the law; Unless you dump a ROM file from a cartridge yourself, you have to download it from the Internet which means breaking copyright law. of course, whether something is illegal and whether the laws prohibiting it will be enforced is another question, but it is still something that may scare many away
Super Mario Maker avoids all of these problems. That said, despite it allowing you to play/create levels that look similar to Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario Brothers 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Brothers U, it is very much a different game. Many elements from the originals are changed; new things are added; features are revised, limitations are removed, new limitations are added; etc. I like to think of it as a new game that merely provides skins that approximate some of the original titles, myself. And I look forward to experimenting with many of the new capabilities that the revised engine allows. For example, in the original titles, enemies didn’t bounce off of note blocks or springboards. Only Mario could interact with them, and enemies just walked on them like normal blocks (or passed right through them); With Super Mario Maker enemies and various other entities will interact with Springboards and noteblocks; things like bob-omb’s will explode and damage the level, by destroying things like bricks; you can make large sized koopas and their shells can destroy otherwise indestructible blocks that are in the level; Koopa’s and other enemies and objects will interact with objects like platforms where previously they simply fell through them like they weren’t there. This provides a wealth of capabilities when it comes to designing unique levels which simply aren’t possible with ROM hacking tools, while providing the capabilities using an easy-to-use interface that requires no technical knowledge of pointers or object data or anything like that.
Super Mario Maker is going to be released next Friday (September 11th) a day chosen to approximate the 20th anniversary of the original Super Mario Bros. game, which, in Japan, was September 13th, 1985. Since in 2015 it falls on a Sunday, the date was selected as the Friday before it. Some have pointed out the unfortunate coincidence, and even referred to it as tasteless. However I’m of the mind that the world cannot simply stop on the Anniversary of such events, and any memoriam or sombre attitude associated with a date isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive with other activities, anyway. Who among us can claim to have never played a Video Game on November 11th, for example?