Note from racketboy: I’d like to thanks our newest contributor, Zen Albatross, for his personal, yet entertaining look into one of the most influential games in his life, Mario Paint. I’m guessing he is not the only one that was impacted by this gem from the 16-bit era, so I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did.
Long ago, before the thought of becoming a professional artist had ever entered my addled young brain, I drew Mario. I drew Mario a lot. I drew him with crayons. I drew him with colored markers. I drew him at times when I wasn’t allowed to draw him, such as Story Time in my Kindergarten classroom – And even late at night, using the hallway light for illumination, quickly feigning unconsciousness whenever my parents came up the stairs. To me, Mario was an enigma – An endless vortex of creative energy. You see, I never had an NES growing up. Crayons and colored markers were all well and good, but with this burning passion to create, what’s a kid with a hyperactive imagination and an unyielding fascination with video games to do?
Then, on my 8th birthday, I got a Super Nintendo.
It was a gift beyond gifts. It was the highlight of my young life. But accompanying that magical gray box was another gift; A gift that had far more importance than I originally gave it credit for:
I remember not being too enthused about the game at first. After all, at the time I had the seemingly endless adventures of Super Mario World and Zelda 3 to keep me busy. The gift almost immediately made me think to myself, “Oh. So this is suppose to encourage me to keep drawing, right? I see what you did there, Mom & Dad.” Little did I know that this 5.5” cartridge (and the mouse peripheral that came with it) would essentially be the foundation of my creative career. Before Photoshop, before Paint, before I had ever even used a computer, Mario Paint became the very first time where my creativity and my love for video games came together in sweet, 16-bit harmony.
Right off the bat, let’s kick it off with one of my favorite features: The Music Composer.
I grew up in a musical family. My mother has a degree in Music Ed, my father is a professional Trumpet player who also teaches Elementary School Concert Band and my brother plays Alto Sax and just finished his first year at Crane School of Music. Under my father’s tutelage, I started playing Trumpet and learning to read music at around the same time that I got my Super Nintendo. It almost goes without saying, but yes: The first piece of music I ever wrote was made in Mario Paint. Here I was – 8 years old, writing music using a video game. Needless to say, this resulted in a bit of culture shock for my father, who was nevertheless pleased with my musical endeavors. Looking back from the year 2008, I think that one of the greatest testaments to the Mario Paint music tool is that, well… people are still using it. The charming simplicity of the feature was even valued enough to warrant some people remaking it for home computer use as well.
That is not to say I spent all of my time in Mario Paint using the music tool. In fact, I probably clocked in the most hours using the Stamp Creator.
This would be my very first experience with pixel art. I simply can’t express how elated I was, as a kid, being able to actually create the very same graphics that are used for the console on which I was playing. Mario Paint took my appreciation for video games to a whole new level by giving me control over the very building blocks of the SNES itself.
Ah, and what a fine time for me to mention just how awesome the strategy guide was:
I just have to say that I don’t know a single SNES strategy guide that was more comprehensive than this one. Seriously, they didn’t really NEED to show you the sprite breakdown for all those characters from all of your favorite Nintendo games. But they did. There’s even a whole mess of pages with characters from Street Fighter 2, which isn’t even a 1st-party Nintendo game. On top of that, there’s pages and pages of project ideas, lessons on animation basics, tips on composing music… They even explain how you can create animated music videos for your favorite songs by hooking up your stereo and two VCR’s:
Unlike some other creativity-based games, Mario Paint did far more than give you a couple templates and leave you on your merry way – It encouraged you to be creative and make your own unique compositions. This proactive and encouraging attitude toward creative freedom is something that I find to be, for the most part, severely lacking in the games of today.
So what does the future hold for creativity-based games? To be perfectly honest, it’s hard to imagine Mario Paint making a comeback nowadays. Especially considering the evolving face of today’s games industry, where creativity is continually squelched in lieu of mainstream titles that easily generate mass-appeal. Still, games like LittleBigPlanet and Banjo Kazooie Nuts & Bolts both focus on a strong foundation of user-generated content, giving us hope that perhaps developers aren’t entirely opposed to the idea of putting the tools back into the hands of the consumer. Now that I think of it, wouldn’t these kinds of games be perfect for the DS platform? As another one of my favorite games always says, ‘YA GOTTA BELIEVE!’
Like many games of its kind, some say that Mario Paint isn’t really a game. I won’t say that this is completely false, but nevertheless, I still maintain that there should always be a place for creativity-centric software within the realm of video games. Mario Paint came along at the perfect time and did something for me that I can say of no other game: It catapulted both my passion for art and my lifelong love for video games — And if 30 years from now a young kid can play a game on his Playstation 7, Xbox 1080 or Nintendo VirtualRealityMachine that influences him or her to adopt a creative lifestyle, I’ll be a happy camper.
Fast-forward 15 years to the present day. I’m now 23 and a recent graduate SUNY Fredonia’s Media Arts program. But before I left, my senior thesis project brought everything full-circle:
So now after a decade and a half, I’m back to making pixel art. Even though it’s not with Mario Paint this time around, everything makes a bit more sense to me. I’m now an artist and a gamer, and I realize that all of this might not have happened if it hadn’t been for that 16-bit brick of gray plastic.