NESmaker is like Unity for making NES games

When I was a kid, the idea of my own game for the Nintendo Entertainment System was fantastical. But it actually seems even more impossible now that I understand what it takes. Nintendo’s first home console uses a programming language called 6502 Assembly language, which I’m not going to learn. But developer The New 8-Bit Heroes has made it so I don’t have to learn 6502. Instead, I can just use the developer’s toolkit to build in a graphical interface.

The democratization of game development has gone retro. NESmaker is available for $36 on the company’s website.

NESmaker is like or GameMaker, which are modern engines that enable people to begin making modern games without coding. This kit comes with a number of modules to begin making platformers, shooters, and action adventures. But you have full power over everything in your game. You can create your own art, adjust the physics, and even dive into the code if you need to. And NESmaker games run on actual hardware.

“Our goal is to give aspiring NES developers a new access point,” NESmaker creative director Joe Granato said. “Video games are no longer just an outlet for programmers. Today, they are a widespread creative language for artists of all types. But for non-programmers, systems like the NES have an almost impossible barrier for entry. NESmaker opens up development for this system for artists and creatives of all types.”

And Granato knows about the NES first hand. As an adult, he designed Mystic Searches for the console after dreaming up the idea as a kid. You can see that story in The New 8-Bit Heroes documentary.

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I think I want to make an NES game

NESmaker is an ideal tool for hobbyists. But the software development kit also seems easy enough to attract an even broader audience. In one tutorial video, Granatos shows how to make a platformer in 20 minutes. That could open up NES game development to almost anyone.

The New 8-Bit Heroes are already seeing that.

“To add to the legacy of the NES by not just creating a game that looks like an NES game but actually is a hardware-playable game is a dream that I didn’t know I even had,” says NESmaker user Matt Robinson.  “Having a cartridge with my game on it on the shelf next to Super Mario and Legend of Zelda was almost as fulfilling as watching my 5 year old son playing it.”

Since NESmaker games are playable on real hardware, I’m imagining a future where I make games for people as gifts. How cool would it be to give someone a custom NES cartridge that has them on the cover and as the star of the gameplay?

This could also serve as an excellent introduction to game development. Parents could work with their kids on making games together. And they would have something physical to hold that works if they put it into a friend’s (parent’s) NES.

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