I have been playing a couple of rounds of Pilotwings the last two days. It is a game I remember fondly from the times I was a kid. I never owned a SNES it but I played it a lot on department store test stations. This is the first time I’m attempting at making some serious progress in it. At some point it struck me that this game must be a launch title. And indeed, it looks like Pilotwings was released just a month after the launch of the SNES in Japan a was launch title in the U.S.

The game is basically a couple of flight-themed mini-games. They are very loosely connected by a points system. Even the selection screen where you chose the different mini-games is as bare-bones as it gets.

Pilotwings Selection Screen

The selection screen: Timeless. As in “We didn’t have much time to put this thing together”.

The mini-games all depend heavily on the Mode 7 capabilities of the SNES. In fact, the heritage of the game as a pure SNES tech demo is blatantly obvious. Also, it’s interesting to consider the game’s theme: flight simulator. It’s almost as if Nintendo was aspiring to present the SNES as capable of running software not unlike the “serious”, heavy duty flight simulators at the PC of that time. Back in the days, the flight simulators were pretty much the pinnacle of computer graphics. They had 3D graphics even before there were accelerators. They were impossibly complex too. So a vast majority only bought them to marvel at the graphics. I remember just taking off and landing was almost impossible and required some hard-core research into the various instruments. On the other hand, once you managed this, the old simulators didn’t really offer any challenges. There was no feedback, no goals, no progress. Just flying.

So Pilotwings is a game designed to showcase the system’s graphic capabilities and establish the SNES as a high-performance graphics machine. But of course, Pilotwings is nothing like the old flight simulators. It’s short, quirky and quite entertaining. I mean, they even have a JETPACK for crying out loud. It’s quite challenging too. I presume that they had to make the game so difficult in order to get more play time out of it. There is not much there otherwise.

I’m enjoying the game a lot. I’m looking forward to the 3DS version. It will be a launch title once again. :)

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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