The Super Nintendo Mouse as My First Mouse: Designing for Fun from MarioPaint

By Anamary Leal

The Super Nintendo Mouse. Courtesy of Giantbomb.com

The Super Nintendo Mouse. Courtesy of Giantbomb.com

The Super Nintendo Mouse was bundled with the video game entertainment system in the 1990′s, and was one of my first forays into technology. Think about it – a mouse in 1991. Most people didn’t have a computer in their homes back then. Computers were starting to get into offices. Why would a mouse, which was then in offices, be welcome in living rooms, in a game console of all places?There was only one game I had that worked with the Super Nintendo mouse: MarioPaint. MarioPaint is a full art application – it was far more of more of an application than a game because the only task was to make art.It was a full suite to paint, make music, and animations. The game gave you many palates to choose from, including sprites from other Nintendo games, gave you a palate for your own custom paints, sprites and stamps.

You also had animation features where you could animate an area, outline a path for the animation, and run the animation in your painting.

You can make music by placing notes that sounded like various objects like horns, cats, on a music scale. You could pick between 3/4 or 4/4 time, change the tempo and loop.

Undoing anything was done by clicking on a dog button that barked. To go back to a menu, you click on a bomb icon that exploded.

Many of these silly details and interactions helped introduce the mouse, an office device, into an art tool. As I revisited the console, here are my observations that really made this application shine.

Mario Paint composer

Mario Paint composer

Designing for fun

When you first load the screen, you see a running happy Mario. As an easter egg, if you clicked on him, you could make him do various things. You can also click on any of the letters of “MARIOPAINT” to change the running Mario in various silly ways, as shown in this youtube video. Then there’s a run loading animation of a guy doing sit-ups and rolling into a hand-stand.

When you clicked on various pallates, it would play a note as though you were ascending a musical scale. If your mouse was idle for more than some odd seconds, an icon on the upper right hand  of the screen would jump, dance and be happy.

Even deleting your artwork became fun. There were at least 6 different animations to clear out a drawing. We spent time just seeing what the “clear all” animations did. Some of which were fun to see!

The key functionality of being able to paint, stamp, animate or even make music was there, but exploring these details seemed to encourage me to try everything in the suite to make something cool, just by the fact that there was some fun little result from it.

The (training) game

Even their training game leveraged the notion of fun. There is one little game in the art suite, where the goal was to swat at flying bugs before they stung you. You had to hit all bugs, including the menacing ugly boss, before you lose all your lives.

I didn’t realize this until reading the manual just recently, after more than a decade of enjoying this game, that the little game was actually a training application. It was supposed to be a training exercise for the player to get used to using a mouse, which was the, uncommon. But it was designed with so much fun in mind, I didn’t even notice it.

This game only allows you to save one painting. (and  the manual even gave you instructions on how to save your art by recording on a VHS tape!)

The SNES mouse is a good example of how to design with fun in mind. The fun music, the random animations that happen, the little easter eggs in the application, just made the whole experience more fun. Nintendo took a peripheral that never visited a living room before, designed a fun training game to get users to get better at it, and did a fantastic job making a fun art application, for a gaming console.

Anamary Leal is a doctoral candidate at the Computer Science program at Virginia Tech. Ms. Leal develops and designs 3D interactions in DIY contexts, such as hacking, sewing, and crafting. Some of her projects are available here.

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