Oftentimes, Nintendo loves to tease its new releases, slowly revealing titles, gameplay elements, and features so as to entice the audience. Other times, a new game reveal drops seemingly out of nowhere—sans all that deliberate buildup. Such was the case with Game Builder Garage, a name I’d never so much as heard of before an unceremonious PR blast found its way into my inbox earlier this month. Still, Nintendo being Nintendo, there was a virtual demo session set up last week. And, me being me, I was excited to attend.
As the title implies, Game Builder Garage is a video game creation tool complete with a series of pre-determined tutorials projects—some seven in all—to teach you the ropes. The session I attended starting with project number three, a left-to-right space shmup in which a playable ship blasted aliens while avoiding obstacles.
Elements like its space-themed background image and adjustable environmental gravity had already been configured prior to the start of my Zoom call, but in short order, I was introduced to the play screen, the game’s playable WYSIWIG front-end, and its program screen, where your humble host, Bob the Blue Dot, instructs newbie programmers in the finer points of game creation—Nintendo style!
This is done largely by connecting and manipulating Nodons, specialty pieces of code—represented as wacky on-screen characters, naturally—that can easily be placed, dragged, and joined in nigh-endless permutations to change the resulting gameplay experience. In this first example, Bob (and our helpful friends from Nintendo Treehouse) showed us how to connect “Constant,” “Counter,” and “Map” Nodons to create a smooth auto-scroll effect in the aforementioned space shooter.
But that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Game Builder Garage‘s interactive lessons are also paired with free programming opportunities, letting players customize existing games and, using the skills they’ve developed through various tutorials, create wholly original projects of their own. These games can then be shared locally or via an online interface, providing both the playable game and its source programming, and thus allowing others to peek under the hood at what makes these novel new ideas tick.
The program screen is an expansive playground where the sky’s the limit, consisting of a clearly marked area for onscreen elements and a surrounding off-screen programming environment. With 64 save slots, there’s plenty of room for individual ideas and progressive iterations, and with a ceiling of 512 Nodons per project (with 1024 available connections) each represents a particularly sizable workspace. It’s even possible to daisy-chain out to other programs, making a singular, massive unified gameplay experience, if you feel so inclined.
While the lesson projects hit all the classic game types—platformer, shooter, racing, physics-based, 3D action, and the like—I was assured that the full capabilities of the Switch and its Joy-Con controllers are at the disposal of shade-tree programmers. This includes not only the various face, shoulder, and rail buttons, but also gyroscopic movement and even the IR camera!
It’s hard not to see the fingerprints of previous Nintendo-helmed creation software all over Game Builder Garage. There’s the easy, breezy tutorial system of the Super Mario Maker franchise, and though the Labo branding (and its requisite cardboard) is conspicuously absent, the drag-and-drop programming interface of that property bears a striking resemblance to GMG‘s gridded program screen. Old-timers like yours truly will even notice a striking element of SNES classic Mario Paint also makes an appearance, that being external mouse support. However, this time, any old USB mouse should suffice.
Still, though each of those titles was important and groundbreaking in its own way, Game Builder Garage represents an even broader toolkit for those who are as interested in understanding how games function as they are in playing them. And that, it seems, has roots going back even further into Nintendo’s corporate culture than the 1990s 16-bit era.
Game Builder Garage is a love letter to the age-old practice of video game prototyping and collective development. To conceiving wild ideas and sharing them with your friends, family, and coworkers. To inviting feedback and building upon the designs and concepts of others.
Game Maker Garage combines STEAM education, creativity, and community in a way that only Nintendo can. And you and your family can join that community when Game Builder Garage launches on June 11th for the bargain-basement price of a mere $29.99.
Invite-only access to this early look at Game Builder Garage was provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. I genuinely can’t wait to see all the amazing game ideas y’all come up with!