For those who read my blog way back in the day, you’ll know that I’ve tried my hand at making games. Even if I haven’t done much on that front in the past little while, my desire to make games hasn’t faded in the slightest. So when I saw that there was a way to gamify learning how to make games, I pounced on it right away.
Wario Ware D.I.Y. for Nintendo DS was exactly what I needed. It’s based off the main series in that the games you make are simple minigames, with only one type of input and maybe one or two goals to achieve in a few seconds before the time runs out. The minigames might not look like much, but that’s part of the reason why D.I.Y. is such an effective teaching tool.
There’s a lot of features in the game, many of which are sort of extraneous, non-programming elements of game-making. Things like background music and static art can be fun to mess around with but they aren’t really what I came for. The real learning experience comes with the lessons on animations and Action Instructions (which conveniently abbreviates as A.I.).
“Before you’re asked to draw anything, Wario jumps in and does a terrible job, thereby setting the bar pretty low for you to do a good job.”
Art was definitely never my forté and animations even less so. In fact, I always planned to hire an artist for any assets in a game I might make. What’s nice about D.I.Y. is that it doesn’t want you to be an artist, it just wants you to know how to use art to your advantage.
To drive home how little the game cares about the quality of your art, the tutorials are run by your instructor, a young “scientist” type woman, as well as Wario, who is boisterous, impatient and, well, Wario. Before you’re asked to draw anything, Wario jumps in and does a terrible job, thereby setting the bar pretty low for you to do a good job. This is a small thing, but I really loved it.
As for the actual instruction on how to make animation sequences, the game does a fantastic job of simplifying the necessary concepts. For example, the first thing you learn is how to do a “resting” animation, which is basically the subtle movement characters/objects do when nothing is happening to them/around them (read: the “breathing” characters do in JRPGs, etc).
You’re tasked with drawing a ladybug in two slightly different ways, then sequencing one after the other so that the bug looks like it’s “wiggling” even though it’s not really GOING anywhere. The end result is a ladybug that looks like it’s actually alive instead of just a stamp on a page (caution: these types of animations are very reminiscent of Stickin’ Around so if you’re not a fan, be warned).
There are limits, obviously. You can only have up to four different pieces of art in one animation, and each object can only have up to four animation cycles (giving you a total of sixteen individual pieces of possible art). Even though there’s a lot you can do with this, don’t expect anything near Saturday-morning-cartoon quality animation.
Still, as someone who had basically no idea how video game animations worked, this was a eye-opener for me. Just watching that ladybug squiggle made me giddy and that was only the first animation tutorial.
“You can make games without having to sift through all the background noise of learning C# syntax or having to research the best Java linters.”
The second great thing about D.I.Y. was how it teaches you scripting (or Action Instructions). The steps make the complicated “if-then” system into something that’s actually digestible at first glance.
You start by describing what activates the script (tapping an object with the stylus, for example), then you go on to describe what the object does afterwards. Of course, the list of possible actions is pretty small compared to an fully-fleshed-out game and the amount of “if-then/if-else” statements you can nest is also limited.
With that said, the basic logic that’s needed for complex games is there. That’s what’s so great about this: without knowing any programming languages, you can easily get into making things move and interact with each other. In other words, you can make games without having to sift through all the background noise of learning C# syntax or having to research the best Java linters.
I know there are plenty of other programs out there for easily making games. RPG Maker, Twine, Inform, even GameMaker are all great ways to get started, but if you want an easy and fun way of starting to understand game theory and what makes a game work, Wario War D.I.Y. is a pretty safe bet.