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That Marvelous Mario Paint

Mario PaintNintendo's Mario Paint for the Super NES is, as it turns out in retrospect, one of the company's first casual products released during its core gaming dominance.  Less a game and more of a toy, this 1992 animation program allowed creative players to craft simple little images set to rudimentary music and served as a springboard to get the Super NES mouse into homes (of course you need a mouse for your Super NES; like, all future games are going to require it!).  Over at GameSpite, Tomm lays out a convincing case for Mario Paint and escalates it beyond a mere creativity program and into something much more.

From the title screen, it’s clear Mario Paint is less art studio and more “creative playground.” Its first lesson: Yoshi’s unique sound was created by adding a channel of “clip clop” bongos on top of the pre-existing track. Lesson two came shortly after players had screwed around for about 20 minutes: Drawing with the SNES mouse was kind of crap, so use the stamp tool. Additional lessons came fast and furious from that point: Nine frames of animation is nowhere near enough for fluid cartoons, and far too similar to the limitation placed…on…game…characters… wait. (Now the player looks at the stamp editor) -- those big dots look exactly like the tiny dots that comprise Mario if you press your face against the screen. And there’s the “a-ha!” moment: Those aren’t “stamps” at all, they’re “tiles” and “sprites.” Nintendo stealthily sold players a rudimentary version of the graphics program used to make SNES games. Mario Paint was a rare peek behind the curtain, into the inner workings of video games! Almost like breaking into R&D to mess with Shigeru Miyamoto’s computer, with none of the foreign incarceration. Why, even the “screen clear” commands were just clever Mode 7 demonstrations!

As Nintendo's chosen major release for that holiday season, I had to have Mario Paint.  I was a creative kid and got a lot of mileage out of the program's stamp editor and music composer.  Thanks to the strategy guide (sold separately), I created all kinds of animations starring Nintendo's famous cast of characters.  It was all kinds of pointless creative fun.  Today we have much more advanced ways to create content, but I wouldn't be surprised if many of today's Internet animators in their twenties and thirties started their craft with Mario Paint.  Of course, it's sadly worth noting that everyone that I knew back in school who owned Mario Paint used it to create crude little perverted cartoons, so like any tool, Mario Paint is only as useful as the person controlling it.

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