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A Time to Build: Excitebike

4:55 PM on 11.26.2008

[Editor's note: Jackal27 takes a look at one of the first console games that had a level editor for his Monthly Musing piece.  -- CTZ]

I really didn't think I was going to have anything write about for this month's topic. For whatever reason, I couldn't think of a creative game or experience that I felt was worthy of writing about. That is until today when I began trying to figure out what the first game I ever played was and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Excitebike.

The memory seems as clear as day now, my parents had just gotten divorced and now shared custody of me and my two brothers. I had just moved into a new neighborhood with my mom and it wasn't one of the nicer ones in town. I was in third grade, but had been home-schooled up until now so I didn't have many friends at my new school except for Scott, a kid who lived across the street. Scott had always hung out at my house (his was loud and smelled like cigarettes), but one day he invited me over to play Nintendo. I may have had previous experiences with videogames, but this is the first one I can remember and it's where my topic for month's theme begins.

Scott's family wasn't too well off. So even though it was 1996, the only system Scott owned was an NES. The only games of his that I remember were Super Mario Bros. 2, Batman, Metroid, Ms. Pac Man, and Excitebike. Out of all these the one we played the most was definitely Excitebike. However, it wasn't the thought of racing dirt bikes or jumping off of huge ramps that kept us coming back. No, almost always, the default mode of gameplay that we chose was the third option sitting directly below "Selection B".

I feel like this very often overlooked feature was way ahead of it's time. I'm guessing that many of you didn't even know it existed or possibly even forgot about it. For those who don't know, the Design option allowed players to create their own tracks and race on them! Pretty simple right? Keep in mind that this was an NES game and a very early one at that.

Creation was simple. You moved your little racer forward with the A-button, selected a part from the bottom of the screen with the D-Pad, and pressed the B-button to place it on the track. Scott and I would often make it our goal to make the most impossible track or we would see how fast we could make our racers go by laying down tons of speed boosts, only to be followed by a huge ramp that sure to cause the little Excitebike man to crash and burn. We would force each other to race on the other one's track and see how long it would take us to finish the race. Hours of fun.

Later on, Scott received an Nintendo 64 for Christmas and gave me his NES since I didn't have a game console of my own. I would continue to create tracks alone in my room, but it simply wasn't as fun without my friend there to test them out. Unfortunately, because of this, Excitebike faded into obscurity and I rarely played it, opting instead to play Super Mario Bros. 2 or Batman.

In hind sight though, it amazes me how truly ahead of it's time Excitebike really was. For an NES game to give the player that much creative freedom is almost unheard of. Did I mention that it also let you save and load your tracks? Then why is it that Zelda is always credited as the first game to include the saving and loading of game data? Excitebike was released three years before Zelda I'm pretty sure.

Either way, the Stage Creator in Excitebike was one of my earliest exposures to gaming and probably formed the foundation for some of the things I like best in creative games. If you haven't ever toyed around with the Design option in Excitebike, I would implore you to at least give a shot. I believe this game along with this highly innovative feature, deserve a lot more credit than they typically get.

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