Super Mario Maker has been a real treat to play over the last couple of weeks since its release. The game excelles in a lot of areas, but I think the thing that stands out the most for my musician brain is the little touches in the audio design that make playing the game a joyful musical experience. These are things that create gameplay out of music where other games just put dumpy sound effects. I’m not talking about the compositions in the game. As Super Mario Maker is able to draw on the best tracks from some of the best game music ever created the pedigree of the music is indisputable. I’m talking about the audio design.
The thing that’s great sounding that I want to talk about here is the pitch tracking in the game’s editor. Simply put the game auto tunes the names of each game element you place T Pain style. The game matches the pitch of the melody to the sound cue every time you place a game element. The result is identical to the thing that jazz musicians with minds addled by too many hours in the practice room do, sing the name of instrumental tunes to their melodies. I’ll post some audio of me singing a song in this way soon.
Honestly this goofy way of singing to a tune is a sort of folk game musicians play to keep their spirits up, to find another route into understanding the songs through the tongue twisters the “lyrics” often create, and to create a sense of community with the other musicians who do this silly thing. Super Mario Maker manages to encapsulate this whole other game within one aspect of the audio of its level editor. This is on par with the emergence of tower defence and MOBA games from the Warcraft 3 editing tools. In short, Nintendo has created tools that are as much a fun game as the game its self.
Here’s what happens when I’m building a course. I place a game element and I like the way it sounds. As I place more I start to try to line up the syllables of the game element’s name to phrase musically with the melody in interesting ways. Maybe I’m laying out the back beat more, maybe I’m trying to place elements with long names so that they phrase over the bar line, maybe I’m changing course elements to try to match syllables to the melody’s intended phrasing. What’s important is that the a mini feature of a feature is allowing me to do manny of the creative things I do when I compose music as just a tangent of playing the main game.
There’s plenty more fine touches in the game. The height of the note blocks determines their pitch when jumped on. The game allows you to record your own sound effects to be triggered during play. The list goes on. I can’t wait to see what the Super Mario Maker community manages to come up with in this audio rich environment. I’m so pleased to have my hands on a game that sounds as good as it plays.
Here are some codes that will let you access levels I’ve designed:
I Ran Contra: 9B67-0000-0043-DED6
Dog Fightin’ Aces: ADC3-0000-48F6
What Are They Up To?: 936A-0000-004D-A65E