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Make Your Own Mario Kart

Why I Love: Playtonic studio director Gavin Price explains how the Super Nintendo classic got him into game dev in the first place

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This column was contributed by Gavin Price, managing director and creative lead for Playtonic, the studio behind Yooka-Laylee.

Guess the game from the boot-up and start sequence: "Da-ring!.....Da dadlla dah da da dah da der da dun dah da dah der dla da". Yep, you nailed it: it's Super Mario Kart on the SNES! A game that hit me square in my pubescent face. I love this game. 13-year-old me shifting 250 free newspapers around for an average weekly income of 4.18 meant that I chose what I spent it on very carefully. Purchasing Super Mario Kart off the back of that toil simply could not have gone any better.

Straight away the start-up sequence injects joy into your life as the cast scrolls on (to reassuringly chirpy music) and subtly show you a tutorial for what you're in for. The reimagining of those amazing Super Mario World locations and cast was inspired and surprising. ("Lakitu is helping start the races? 5 minutes ago he was a right little shit dropping spiny red things on my head!") This game helped set a precedent for taking Mario and the gang in so many directions outside of "just" running and jumping which is reason alone for loving it… but it's not my reason.

"I'd done it all; I knew where to drop bananas to grief the AI, how to take Ghost Valley 1's shortcut with a mushroom... My time trial scores were now the thing of legend. I feared I'd consumed too much"

Only this year (via a very interesting Retro Gamer article) I discovered how SMK (as it lets me call it 'cos we're such good friends) was a solution to a problem. It's amazing to think this game wasn't predetermined, designed from the ground up to always be how it is, but like many other great games it's the evolution of a series of problems being solved with opportunistic design choices as it went along. I wish I had time to approach game dev this way… maybe one day. But back then I didn't even know I wanted to make games for a living… until after playing this game!

I took to the game straight away. It's one of those games I felt was made for me. It was full of tough challenges and humiliating multiplayer experiences (giving and receiving). I tore through its speed classes and cups with all my new found and confusing hormonal energy, becoming a master of the tracks before forcing friends in to prolonged battle mode sessions whenever I could. Actually, I'd like to thank my best friend around this time for breaking my leg whilst playing footie, the pain--though excruciating--was well worth it for bringing me many weeks of being unable to do anything but hold a control pad, and the parents wouldn't stop me out of sympathy.

My friends and I bonded more over this game than any other before, we were well addicted and it was an awesome summer holiday. But then they had to go to school… and that left me alone with SMK and my thoughts. Should I… stop playing? I'd done it all; I knew where to drop bananas to grief the AI, how to take Ghost Valley 1's shortcut with a mushroom by either speed-hopping the gap or hitting the previous ramp mid-boost. My time trial scores were now the thing of legend. I feared I'd consumed too much. Was this the end of me and SMK? (Pause for drama.)

Luckily, I played it anyway even though there was no one else physically there to admire my skill… and something fantastic happened. My imagination kicked in. What if I invented my own rules and challenges that I had to abide by and tried to impress myself? Over the weeks I'd noticed many quirks with the game such as how the wonderfully cheat-y AI always tried to create pre-determined placements for the CPU characters that would be different depending on your character of choice. I remember early on how playing as Toad, Princess Peach would grief me for 5 tortuous laps of dodging her bloody 'shrink mushrooms'.

"I was a game designer (with a little help from the SMK dev team) and others were enjoying my work, lauding my work, and suffering my work… WHAT A FEELING!"

"Right," I thought. "She's not making the podium this time and sharing a view of my giant Cheap-cheap, champagne-cork-popping glory."

I set about making her races a misery. Taking her down was tougher than I thought thanks to that no longer so wonderfully cheat-y AI that dragged her back up to 2nd if given the time. Eventually, mastering all knowledge of the CPU racing lines and spamming them with bananas and green shells, I found a way of not only forcing her into 4th each race but eventually mid-Grand Prix, the game's very own AI routines turned on her and said, "We're giving DK a shot at the title." And from that point she didn't even attempt to change the newly established pecking order.

An all-new wave of satisfaction hit me. I'd created my own extremely difficult, self-governed challenge and beat it. Not realising it at the time, I just designed my first ever videogame: Loser Princess. And I designed many more soon after… Lapperoo (lap every racer), Turtle Power (Can I help Koopa Trooper come second?), Shrinking Feeling (Can I activate the self-shrink cheat and still win the GP?). I set tons of my own rules and created stories around all this and imagined the CPU characters attending secret meetings in Bowser's Castle: "What's to be done with this player? He's breaking everything!"

Friends dropped in to pass me homework and I responded in kind with some SMK-based homework for them based on the new challenges I'd created. I watched in delight how their faces expressed all the emotions under the 'bow. I was a game designer (with a little help from the SMK dev team) and others were enjoying my work, lauding my work, and suffering my work… WHAT A FEELING! It's that same feeling that drives me today.

Super Mario Kart…thank you. You taught me that I love making games as much as playing them. That's why I love you. x

Upcoming Why I Love columns:

  • BONUS COLUMN Thursday, October 26 - The Oliver Twins on the Spectrum ZX
  • Tuesday, November 7 - Wasteland 3's Brian Fargo on Inside
  • Tuesday, November 21 - Voyageur's Bruno Dias on Magic: The Gathering
  • Tuesday, December 5 - Lightseekers' Ana Steiner on World of Warcraft
  • Tuesday, December 19 - Last Day of June's Massimo Guarini on ICO

Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at news@gamesindustry.biz.

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