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Game Builder Garage: Essential Tips & Tricks for Beginners

Level editors and leveling editing modes in games have never been more popular among gamers interested in sharing their creations with friends and practicing their game development skills. From classics like the Little Big Planet series to the Super Mario Maker 2 to indie apps like Levelhead, choices abound … and now there’s a particularly powerful title on Switch called Game Builder Garage.

The premise of Game Builder Garage is simple: It teaches gamers — in a form that’s fit for older kids and beyond — the basics of game design and how tools work, then sets them loose to program their own platformers, interactions, and player goals. However, learning how the tools interact with each other and build into a programming suite can quickly grow complex, and if you aren’t prepared, you may get mired in the details. These tips will help you improve, innovate, and master Garage so you can get on to planning your next incredible creation.

Play the Interactive Lessons

One of the first options you’ll see in Game Builder Garage is starting the Interactive Lessons for the game, which are seven tutorials (plus small quizzes at the end) that walk you through how to use the game’s various tools and link them together to create gaming scenarios. You absolutely need to begin here. Garage is simply too complex to skip the tutorials and strike out on your own, even if you’ve played level editors before.

In fact, we recommend quickly taking a lesson again if there is anything that you missed or found confusing the first time around. These are the building blocks that make the whole game work, so it’s important to master them. Spend as much time as you need. If you’re really serious, you may even want to take notes.

Master the Nodons

Image of introduction to Nodons.

No actual code is involved in Game Builder Garage. Instead, players are given a set of a bit more than 80 different “Nodons,” each color-branded, that perform different functions. These functions, separated in Input, Middle, Output, and Objects, can be anything from creating objects and movement patterns to setting up Boolean operators or repositioning the game camera. The first step to becoming a master at building games here is to master this list of Nodons and how they interact. Each Nodon has a building screen allowing you to see what it does, make notes about a specific Nodon’s purpose, and set a wide variety of conditions for how the Nodon will behave in-game. Again, don’t be afraid to take your time.

A single game can hold more than 500 Nodons, but that won’t be enough for the more ambitious players. Fortunately, there’s a swapping Nodon that can move players to a new game (think of it like entering a new area or level as a player).

Start out in 2D

Image of a 2d game in Game Builder Garage.

Technically, you can use Nodons to create a complex 3D game environment, but it’s a much better idea to start out on the 2D level first. This will give you enough time to master the mechanics of the Nodons before exploring more complex game designs.

Fortunately, you can still create plenty with a 2D world, including a wide variety of platformers. You can get creative by mapping out your own jumps, drops, and enemies to dodge, or you can practice by picking something like a classic stretch of Super Mario Bros. and replicating it in Garage.

Get used to the edit screen

Several nodons form a game in Game Builder Garage.

There are two primary ways to view your game in Garage – either the game screen, where you see how the game looks in real time, or the edit screen, the programming side where you see a view of all your Nodons and how they are linked.

At first glance, the edit screen can seem a little unintuitive, but we highly suggest getting very comfortable with this mode. This is where the math and mapping of Game Builder Garage take place, and it’s vital to be able to “see” the game you are building even while you are in the edit screen. Try to avoid the temptation to keep switching back to game mode after every step.

There are also handy controls in the edit screen that can help you build more quickly. L + ZL will undo your last move, and R+ ZR will redo a previous, for example. Hold down ZL or ZR + A, and you can use the left stick to drag across multiple Nodons at once to move or change them, which can be a big time-saver. Copying and pasting, either singly or as a group, is possible here, too. You can also lock a Nodon when it’s just how you want it to avoid unwanted changes.

Trying using a mouse

Image of a mouse on a desk.

The Switch does support mice via its USB slot. For serious players who are trying to build more complex gaming mechanisms, the Switch controls and touchscreen themselves will probably be too slow. We suggest switching to a mouse when possible once you have covered the basics and then moving deeper into creation. The mouse-based controls are quick, intuitive, and generally just better when editing.

Use Nodopedia — all the time

Image of the Nodopedia guide on Game Builder Garage.

You can access Nodopedia from the menu screen, or from any Nodon’s settings with the book-and-magnifying-glass icon. This will take you to a large guide that gives an in-depth explanation of the Nodon, what it can be used for, and what settings options you can work with. It’s a great way to cycle through the Nodons when you are first learning, and refer back to as needed when planning your next level. There are also additional guides, like the in-game character Alice’s Guide, to refer back to when understanding a particular concept.

Publish your game for the world to try (and try someone else’s)

Image of a racing game in Game Builder Garage.

Once you have a game complete, you can share it only with other players to experiment with and give the details to your friends so they can try it out. These shared games won’t exist online forever: If they go 12 months without activity, they’ll be automatically deleted, so you don’t really have to worry about curating them.

It’s also an excellent idea to try out some of the games other players are making. This is an effective way to get new ideas, find out new combinations of Nodons, and get lightbulb moments about how certain mechanics are supposed to work!

Editors’ Choice




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Game Builder Garage Makes Good Use of Nintendo’s Strengths

Last weekend may have been loaded with all the latest info on exciting new games, but it was also one of the busiest launch periods of the year so far. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Final Fantasy VII Remake: Intergrade both launched on PlayStation 5, while indie title Chicory: A Colorful Tale became a surprise critical darling. Nintendo put its own stamp on the weekend, too, with the delightful Game Builder Garage.

The new Switch release is less of a game and more of a design tool. It allows players to create their own games, while learning the basics of programming. It’s all represented through “nodons,” colorful creatures who put a literal face to tricky concepts like physics and button mapping.

As far as game design projects go, Game Builder Garage is one of the most accessible and easy to understand programs out there. That’s thanks to something that’s long been one of Nintendo’s weakest design strengths: iIs tendency to overexplain things to players.

Hand-holding

When a new first-party Nintendo game comes out, there’s usually a common criticism from fans. The company tends to lean heavy on tutorials in its games. Play an RPG like Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam and you’ll spend what feels like hours getting told how to perform the most basic actions imaginable.

There’s a good reason for that, though. Nintendo games appeal to players of all ages, which includes kids. While adults may not need a tutorial on how to make Mario jump, the company’s youngest players do. That’s always created a tricky tension where older players can end up feeling exhausted by overbearing explainers. Nintendo doesn’t always do a great job of finding a middle ground between all of its players, which can spark frustration in its aging fan base.

Game Builder Garage, on the other hand, makes perfect use of Nintendo’s tendency toward hand-holding. The game is essentially a series of tutorials. Players learn how to build a handful of microgames from scratch. Each game is split up into simple steps that introduce new concepts gradually. Players will start by learning how to make a character move, but within a few hours, they’ll know how to create an end goal that only activates when blowing up the right number of enemies in a level.

Game design is incredibly tricky, but Nintendo makes it somewhat foolproof here. That’s because it overexplains every single concept until it becomes second nature. By the time I got to the third set of tutorials, I had no confusion about how to make sure an enemy could be turned into a destructible object that ticked a score counter up. It’s hard to forget when the game shows you exactly what settings to check every step of the way.

Nintendo’s curse becomes a gift here. Other programming games can often feel next to impossible to parse due to complicated systems that aren’t explained clearly. PlayStation 4 title Dreams is an incredibly powerful tool that lets players create incredible art. It’s also as complicated as an actual game design program. Why spend time learning a program so complex when you could just spend that time learning something like Unity?

A checkpoint screen in Game Builder Garage.

Teaching the fundamentals

Game Builder Garage doesn’t run into that problem. It’s strictly an educational tool that’s designed to teach players the fundamentals of game design. It teaches concepts and gives players an easy way to explore them with tactile controls and cute visuals. It’s unlikely someone is going to make the next great video game in Game Builder Garage, but it offers the kind of thorough lessons that might inspire confidence in someone who wants to get into programming.

As far as left-field Nintendo projects go, Game Builder Garage is a lovely tool for kids and adults alike. It takes a daunting profession and makes it approachable with the playfulness of a Mario game. If even one person feels inspired to create the next great indie game after toying around with it, Nintendo has effectively accomplished its job here.

Game Builder Garage is available now on the Nintendo Switch.

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Nintendo’s ‘Game Builder Garage’ taught this comp sci dropout how to make games

Like a lot of gamers, I would love to be able to make a game of my own someday. And it’s not as simple as “learn to code” — for one thing, I actually did learn coding in junior high and high school, and even took a college course which resulted in the hardest C- I’ve ever worked for. I have the basics down, but my skills aren’t up to the task of doing it for a living… or making the game of my dreams. Lots of STEM programs and products have been released to try to make the process a little bit easier and I’ve tried quite a few of them during my time at Engadget. Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage might be the one I finally stick with.

Nintendo / Engadget

Some coding kits are very dry, walking users through the basics of putting together text strings to do specific things. Others jazz it up a bit by making each function into a colorful block, instructing users to stack them together like LEGO. Garage is even further along the playfulness spectrum, making each function, called a Nodon, into a living block with a personality — there’s even a small storyline buried into them, as they greet you like an old friend after you’ve already used them a few times and they’ll have friendly chats with each other. It’s half ReBoot, and half Adventure Time in style.

Nintendo / Engadget

That candy-coding extends to the lessons themselves, which are friendly, encouraging and even a bit patronizing. Game Builder Garage is a tool that will hold your hand every step of the way, even telling you when it’s time to close a window. People with any kind of game making experience will probably hate how much the Interactive Lessons babysit you, but the good news is that you can skip them completely. The game has a Free Programming mode available from the start, you don’t have to unlock anything, as all the different functions are there to experiment with to your heart’s content.

Nintendo / Engadget

I love how easy it is in both the Interactive Lessons and Free Programming to switch between the game and coding screens — just a press of the “+” button will toggle between the two, letting you see how it’s laid out under the hood or what the game currently looks and plays like with the existing coding. I’m a hands-on learner, so being able to experiment helps me understand how something works better than simply being told — though the game will do plenty of that. 

Game Builder Garage knows you aren’t going to get everything right away, so it repeats itself a lot, telling you exactly what to do even when it’s already told you before. Maybe you forgot, or maybe you just weren’t paying attention the first time. It’s okay, you got this.

Nintendo / Engadget

After an initial tutorial there are seven titles that Game Builder Garage will walk you through, in different genres and with mechanics that build on what you’ve learned before. But it doesn’t really expect you to remember everything until around lesson four, so don’t worry about being thrown into the pool without a life ring. Each lesson consists of a number of smaller steps, so you can start a project and finish it later if you choose. One nice touch is that the game tells you how many minutes each lesson will take — completing all of the lessons will take about eight hours in total, not counting the mandatory checkpoints, which are puzzles that you might figure out right away or struggle with for a while.

Checkpoint 1 - All Clear!

Nintendo / Engadget

As a Duolingo user, the checkpoint system in Game Builder Garage made me nervous at first, but it’s designed to be really hard to fail. You’re given a board with a person and an apple, and you must “grab” the apple to proceed. There’s always something in your way or something that doesn’t work right, forcing you to delve into the code screen and “fix” the problem. There might be multiple solutions, but Game Builder Garage has one right answer it wants you to use. 

To guide you, all the functions you don’t need will be locked down and the Nodons you do need will have little thought bubbles above their heads to hint at what you should be doing. Sometimes all it takes is a little trial and error and, once I figured that out, the checkpoints became incredibly easy. I don’t dread the checkpoints in Garage the way I dread them in Duolingo. But the two educational programs have a lot of other things in common, like the use of repetition and of course, the cute, colorful characters.

Input - Middle - Output - Obects menu

Nintendo / Engadget

As a game engine, Game Builder Garage can be pretty robust. All of your functions are broken up by type: input, middle, output and objects. Each Nodon has a settings window which is where a lot of the magic happens… and the math. I’ve been told repeatedly that you don’t need to be good at math to code, but I found myself drawing on a lot of the lessons I learned my first year of high school-level mathematics, including logic (like AND, OR and NOT functions) and Cartesian coordinates (X, Y and Z). Maybe you don’t need full-on calculus, but having these basics down will be a big help in mastering the game engine.

Settings - World

Nintendo / Engadget

If you want to put together a platformer or racing game, Game Builder Garage can manage that just fine — and with some creativity you can even dabble in genres like hidden object games. But you’ll find that it’s best suited for action titles, and players who prefer something more cerebral would be better off with an engine like RPG Maker. As would anyone who wants a game they can actually sell in a store, as Game Builder Garage is a sealed ecosystem and people who want to play your creations must own their own copy of the Switch title. 

To share games players must exchange codes, as there is no central repository for user-generated content. For this reason Nintendo isn’t particularly worried about copyright infringement, since it means people are still buying its product. But it also means the company has no control over any communities that may arise.

Lesson 3 - Game Complete!

Nintendo / Engadget

And hopefully plenty will, unlike previous efforts like the Labo Toy-Con Garage. The big advantage here is that the Game Builder Garage is so much cheaper than any Labo at $30. (You may still be able to find select Labo kits for as little as $25 — I personally recommend the VR Blaster set.) Sure, there are plenty of cheap programming tools available that will help you make and publish a full game to put on Steam or itch.io, but none of them will be as patient or forgiving as Game Builder Garage — or let you play around with the full Swiss Army knife selection of features on the Switch. Which might be Nintendo’s real endgame here; not to just create more potential game designers, but ones who are used to working with Nintendo’s unique hardware.

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Nintendo Switch Game Builder Garage turns making games into a game

Although the PlayStation 5 has broken a few records last month, Nintendo’s Switch still continues to hold a special place in the market and gamers’ hearts. That’s despite that admittedly aged hardware that shouldn’t be able to compete with heavyweights like the Xbox or PlayStation. Part of the Switch’s appeal is its portability and flexibility but another part is the unique experiences it offers, like this new game that practically gamifies game-making.

Most gamers have probably dreamt of making their own adventures but few would ever consider having the knowledge or skills to make that happen. Younger dreamers might even be frightened by the prospects of programming just to make blocks move around. There are, of course, “no programming” platforms these days, and the new Game Builder Garage is one such experience made specifically for the Nintendo Switch.

Unlike something with a predefined set of themes and mechanics like Super Mario Maker 2, Game Builder Garage is more free-form and flexible. It revolves around the concept of connecting nodes called “Nodon” that are presented as creatures with different personalities. Grownups might recognize this as a node-based game maker, just presented in a more playful manner.

Game Builder Garage lands on the Nintendo Switch on June 11 for $29.99. While the game-making game is perfectly usable with the Joy-Cons, Nintendo recommends connecting a mouse to the Switch’s USB-C port. It would probably be easier if it connected via Bluetooth, though.

This isn’t the first game maker for the Switch that you run on the Switch. That distinction belongs to FUZE4, though this experience is closer to the traditional concept of programming where you get to type code using a special version of the beginner-friendly BASIC language.

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Nintendo announces Game Builder Garage, an easy way to make your own games

In something of a surprise reveal, Nintendo today announced Game Builder Garage, a Switch title that aims to make it easy to create your own games.

Somewhat like the PS4’s Dreams, Game Builder Garage lets you create games without having to write any code. Instead, it uses visual programming, allowing you to connect and interact with creatures calls ‘Nodons’ — a play on a ‘node‘ in the programming sense, one assumes.

Each Nodon has unique abilities, including a Person Nodon that functions as your controllable character. Other Nodons include controls for the analog stick, buttons, in-game objects, timers, background music, counters, effects, textures, and more.

The game contains interactive lessons, with Nodons offering advice along the way. There are also ‘Checkpoints’ that offer programming challenges for the player to solve.

Nintendo says you’ll be able to create a variety of game types, including side-scrolling platformers, kart racers, mazes, and space blasters. In the spirit of titles like Super Mario Maker, you’ll be able to download and share your creations with others too.

Game Builder Garage even supports a custom accessory: a good old mouse. You can connect a ‘compatible mouse’ into the Switch Dock’s USB port to make it easier to navigate the interface. Hopefully, that means any regular old USB mouse will work.

As someone who knows next to nothing about making games, I can see this being a fun and accessible way to learn some of the basics. Game Builder Garage arrives on June 11 for $29.99; you can read more over at Nintendo’s page for the game.

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Microsoft Garage Group Transcribe tries to make meeting notes obsolete

AI-powered transcription services have been around for quite some time now but the transition to online meetings of late have almost made them less useful. More and more businesses, however, are moving back to in-person meetings but with safeguards in place, like masks and physical distancing. That can make automatic transcription harder, forcing some to take notes and lose the flow of the conversation. Microsoft Garage’s latest project, however, tries to address that with seemingly magical AI, as long as everyone in the meeting has an iPhone and the Group Transcribe app installed.

To be clear, Group Transcribe is designed for in-person meetings, not for online ones. While it can still be used for remote or virtual meetings, its efficacy could drop considerably. That’s because the app harnesses the collective audio input of all phones connected in a meeting to create a “highly accurate transcript” that also includes who said what.

This “live” requirement also powers Group Transcribe’s real-time translation capabilities. That means that participants can speak comfortably in their own languages and others will be able to follow along with a live translated transcript. Group Transcribe supports more than 80 languages, Microsoft Garage boasts, but its seemingly magical power doesn’t come without its costs.

Like any AI-based transcription and translation system, Group Transcribe improves and grows according to the data it is fed. While Microsoft promises it doesn’t store audio recordings or transcribed text on its servers, the Garage research team is appealing to users to donate some of that data to help improve the system. It’s an opt-in condition, thankfully, and requires all participants to actually agree to the donation.

Recordings and transcripts will be “de-identified” and split up into snippets that will then be distributed to reviewers. That said, Microsoft Garage does make it clear that humans will actually be involved in processing those snippets, perhaps bringing back the nightmares around smart voice assistants and third-party contractors a few years back.

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