Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
If you’ve played video games extensively, chances are you’ve at least briefly entertained the idea of learning about game design, perhaps even as a potential career.
Anybody who has ever had such thoughts should strongly consider “WarioWare D.I.Y.” for the Nintendo DS.
You might be familiar with the “WarioWare” series already. The games have entertained gamers from the GameBoy Advance to the Wii with frantic, extremely crazy “microgames,” which typically last between three and five seconds. The games usually involve things such as pressing a button at the right time or using your reflexes in some other way. This might mean quickly tugging at your Wii Remote as if you’re pulling sword out of a stone, or it might mean tapping your DS screen to pick a person’s nose.
To put it simply, the series has banked on absolute insanity, and that’s OK with most gamers.
In “WarioWare D.I.Y.” however, there are only a relative handful of microgames to play (compared to hundreds in previous titles). Instead, you’re supposed to make them yourself.
This may sound daunting to a lot of people, but Nintendo has somehow managed to make an incredibly in-depth system incredibly simple. This might be helped in part by the fact that the games you create will only last a few seconds, but through the creation process you still touch on major, crucial elements of game design.
You start by drawing the art that will go into your game. This was by far the trickiest part for me because I’m a terrible graphic artist in every conceivable way. However, the game’s tools are easy to use, and you can also use assets from other sources, including pre-made games and a variety of stamps. Besides, the sort of half-assed look of my art fit in well with the “WarioWare” vibe.
Using “D.I.Y.’s” graphic tools, you end up creating the background and all objects that the game uses. This includes drawing separate frames for any animation you might require.
Again, the tools make this a simple enough process, and if you’re artistically inclined, you can probably make some really cool stuff.
Next, you’ll probably want to design how the game is actually played, which can be complex, yet easy to understand. Everything operates on if-then statements. For instance, you can tell the game, “If the balloon object is tapped, display the balloon popping animation.” Then, “If all balloons are popped, the player wins the game.”
It’s really that simple, but it still leaves a lot of room open for creativity. Perhaps more importantly, it teaches the basics of programming techniques that are really used in game design.
You’ll probably also want to fill you game with music and sound effects. Like art, I’m not terribly great when it comes to composing music. Thankfully, the in-game composer will auto-generate tunes for you if you tell it what you’re looking for. For example, you can say you want something that sounds 8-bit and frantic, and you’ll hopefully get something that fits. If not, you can keep trying until you like the result.
While the bulk of the game is definitely focused on building microgames from scratch, there’s a little more to do as well. In addition to playing the games that come pre-made on the game card (all made with the same game creation tools you’re given), there are several games that come mostly made, but just need you to create new art for them. For example, you might be tasked with designing enemy spaceships for a game that is already programmed and almost finished.
The game also boasts online features. After you finish a game, you can “ship” it out and either keep it to yourself, or post it online. If your friends have the game and your friend code, they can download and play your masterpiece. You can also download new games weekly, some by other users and some by esteemed game developers, such as one of the creators of “World of Goo” or one of the minds behind “Scribblenauts.”
The only real downside to this package is the online features should be more involved. Other than the featured weekly games, it’s extremely difficult to find new user-generated content, as it requires having friends with the game or searching message boards for people to exchange friend codes with. It would be much nicer if there was an in-game browser where every piece of content is displayed, and users can vote on their favorites. A system similar to that of “LittleBigPlanet” on the PS3 would work great.
This aside, “WarioWare D.I.Y.” is an extremely inventive and addictive piece of software. It’s a lot of fun to simply mess around with casually, but it could also be a fantastic primer on game design if that’s something that interests you at all.