People get introduced into the world of video game design, music and art in different ways. But I’ve been surprised to discover how many people got into it the same way I did; through a little Super Nintendo cart called Mario Paint, released back in 1992. This was my first introduction into the world of tracker programs for making synthesized music as well as learning how the pixel artwork of early video game systems was created.
It turns out, I’m not alone. Lots of well-known flash animators – including the Chapman brothers of Homestar Runner fame – got their start making little derpy animations in Mario Paint. The program features a pixel-level editor, tiling system, basic animation functions and most importantly, a tracker-like song creation program that let you put together a basic piece of music using provided samples. It came with a mouse, which was just a weird thing to have with a console game at that time. Continue Reading…
I won’t lie, Mario Paint’s music sounds awful. Instead of giving you realistic instruments or decent chiptune sounds, you got samples of dog’s barking, babies squeaking and car horns, each represented by a cartoony icon. Perhaps foreshadowing the entire chiptune scene, the most useful sound was represented by a little Gameboy, which made a basic little 8-bit pulse noise. I remember thinking, why can’t I just make like NES sounds with this thing? It’d be better than pitch bending the Yoshi sound from Super Mario World.
Nintendo Power released a huge feature that showed how to create the entire tile set and several animations from the original Metroid, Megaman and Super Mario, a large-sized Dr Wily sprite and music for various game themes including the Metroid Brinstar theme. They also show you how to use a VCR to record your limited creations and make works that go beyond the basics.
This totally unleashed some sort of dormant creative potential inside me. I was making full-blown movies with the VCR and my SNES and orchestrating crazy songs made up of car horns and Gameboy bleeps. What was most important was it made me realize making music and animation was not impossible, even though I was only 13 years old. One day I was playing with the stereo’s EQ while playing one of my Mario Paint songs and created something similar to a resonant filter. I knew there had to be a way to do this in the computer.
This lead me to early MIDI composers and digital audio workstations. My first was Noteworth composer. It was limited to cheap sounding MIDI, but I could create pitch bent notes, echoes and even flange with a little creativity. I actually managed to crash my soundcard a few times by creating insane MIDIs. In an interview with Computer Music magazine, Dom Kane, a well-known house/electro producer, described his introduction to music in a similar way. Starting with a little MIDI tracker, he realized just what you could do with a computer when it came to music, it was a revelation for him just as it was for me. Years later, I was putting a obligatory automated filter on a techno track in Logic Pro and thinking back about that old stereo system EQ. It was amazing how all this stuff I am doing now goes all the way back to Mario Paint and fiddling with knobs on a 1980’s stereo.
I’m almost embarrassed to say, I still use Noteworthy Composer sometimes when I have to create a really complex and delicate MIDI part. The way you can write notes and copy and paste just like you would with text makes it a lot better than point and click composers like Syllabus.
You can still play Mario Paint on some emulators and even with a specially designed emulator that lets you export and save your works so you can make more than the game’s limited memory originally allowed. Aparently, people are still using it since I found a DragonForce song redone in Mario Paint’s tracker. It’s epic…Really..The Heart and Mushroom solo destroys.
Nintendo probably had no idea they would be introducing a whole new generation of creative people to music, animation and production with this little app, but I’m sure glad they did. Now, treat yourself to an epic video game montage done completely in Mario Paint. Your ears, do they bleed? No?