Super Mario Maker has been a smash hit for Nintendo, and has finally given players the chance to create their own unique Super Mario experiences. However, if a 1994 patent is anything to go by, Nintendo has been thinking about this kind of user-generated approach for quite some time.

Described as a "Video game/videographics program editing apparatus with program halt and data transfer features", patent US 6115036 A is focused on a proposed hardware platform which would allow players to pause the gameplay and edit parts of the game using a streamlined UI and no programming experience - very much like Super Mario Maker, in fact:

This invention relates generally to a method and apparatus for generating unique videographic computer programs. More particularly, the present invention relates to a video game fabricating system designed primarily for users who are unfamiliar with computer program or video game creating methodology. Such users may conveniently create a unique video game through an icon driven, interactive computing system that permits a video game to be executed, stopped, edited and resumed from the point where the editing began with the editorial changes persisting throughout the remainder of game play.

Billed as a stand-alone hardware system, this device would have been pretty ground-breaking for its time. Players would essentially be able to pause the game and edit how it plays, changing how many items they have or the behaviour of certain enemies. Level designs could also be tinkered with, and once changes were made, players could resume gameplay as normal as well as save their revised game.

On paper it sounds like an extension of the Game Genie concept, a special pass-through cartridge which allowed users to input special codes which would tamper with the in-game code, gaining access to cheats and hacks. The difference here is that developers would be able to specify which elements of the game the user could alter at the programming stage to ensure a pleasurable experience and the player could retain their own work.

It is also suggested that given the right tools, anyone could potentially create their own unique video game with this system:

In accordance with the present invention, unique video games may be simply created by users ranging from a relatively unsophisticated elementary school students to sophisticated game developers. A unique hardware and software platform enables users to create original games by selecting icons which access more detailed editor screens permitting the user to directly change a wide variety of game display characteristics concerning moving objects and game backgrounds.

Even more exciting is that Nintendo was thinking about how users could share their creations with other players - something which is possible in Super Mario Maker thanks to its code system. In the patent, it is proposed that user-generated content is send over a telephone line:

The "user file" is the portion of the video game that a user can change. In the system shown in FIG. 4, the user file may be transmitted via the network to the house of a friend having a game processor system to permit interactive game play between users or to permit a friend to play a modified version of a newly designed game.

Like so many patents, this one didn't appear to really go anywhere, but its influence can be felt in Super Mario Maker, which provides a software-based alternative to the proposal. Interestingly, the 1994 filing date - and the use of the SNES cartridge and controller in the patent illustrations - suggests that Nintendo was possibly looking to release this as a SNES successor, or at the very least side-by-side with the N64.

Thanks to Ekurisona for the tip!