When it comes to content creation tools, Nintendo has published a fair few in their time. There was Mario Paint on the SNES, whose music composer is still popular to this day. There were various Mario Artist games for the N64DD, which were originally meant to let you make everything from games to 3D models, but never left Japan. And then in recent years there was Game Builder Garage, which provided a simple (albeit limited) way to make games for the Nintendo Switch.
Yet despite all this competition, one of the best of the bunch was WarioWare DIY. Released in 2010, the game let you make things like microgames, songs and comics in its own engine, with easy to use editors for each and every one of them. It was a pretty big deal at the time, and one which ended up becoming the basis for a whole community of creators that continues to this very day.
And a large part of this enduring success can be credited to a site called DoujinSoft. Created by an individual known as Difegue after Nintendo’s own official Wifi services shut down in 2014, it quickly expanded from a mere list of microgames to a full on database, complete with features that let you search for games, browse works by a certain creator and much more besides.
So today, we’re gonna learn all about it. To interview Difegue about his work on DoujinSoft, and see for ourselves exactly what went into making it the site it is today. You ready? Let’s start the interview!
With the first port of call being a bit of personal background. So first things first, who are you? Who is Difegue?
👋 Hey there! Thanks for having me.
I’m just your standard run-of-the-mill programmer, mostly! I spend a fair amount of time building open-source projects to practice/keep learning, and DoujinSoft is one of the things I built as a result.
I tend to get suckered into archival/digital preservation projects a lot; I recently released an interactive archive of the 2000s McDonalds Sonic LCD games, which are kinda microgames in a way when you think about it. 😅
And where did that username come from anyway?
That’s a secret! 🌠
How about the name for DoujinSoft as a website/service? I guess it’s after the Japanese word for indie creations?
That’s an interesting one – You’re right in that it comes from the doujinshi term, but I wasn’t the one who came up with the name!
The VixyNyan collection of DIY content (http://vixynya.blog.2nt.com/) that I used as a base to build the website used this term internally to distinguish fanmade content from the ninsoft and theme software games.
Being an anime pro™️, I knew what the name meant and thought it sounded cool, so I ran with it.
Regardless, how did you get into gaming? What was your first game?
I am fairly sure it was Sonic the Hedgehog 1 at some relatives’ house, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you if it was the MegaDrive or the Master System version. That was a long time ago!
I got a MegaDrive of my own and a GBC in 2000 or so and the rest is history.
I consider myself a Sega kid overall, but truth be told they were basically already out of the console market when I started seriously getting into gaming…
What about current ones? What games are you playing at the moment?
I’ve been mostly playing Xenoblade Chronicles 3 recently: The combat system is the best the series has been up to this point so I’ve sunk a ton of time into it…
The Team Fortress 2 Halloween update just dropped as well, so I’m probably going to be playing that for the rest of the month too. 🎃
Did you like WarioWare Get It Together for Switch?
…I actually barely played it!
I did a few rounds with a friend at one point and I quite enjoyed it. I think the focus on different playable characters with their own way of getting through the microgames was pretty cool and a nice fresh take on the series.
Not sure how it holds up in solo play though? 😅
Heck, what are your opinions on the WarioWare series in general? Are you a huge fan of those games?
It’s an awesome series! Like probably most people, I got into it with Touched! back then.
They’re games that allow their dev team to really mess around and freely experiment with a variety of art styles and gameplay concepts, which really shows in the end product and makes it so you never really know what to expect.
Which is an aspect that really shone through when DIY gave the keys to the players themselves!
Even though DIY was far more restrained due to being stylus-only.
What was your experience with WarioWare DIY like back in the olden days?
As you might expect I was quite into it; I was dipping my toes into programming around 2008-2009 trying to make fangames and stuff already, but most of the time I’d fall into the classic beginner trap of feature-bloating to oblivion and never finishing anything…
So I was pretty excited when DIY came out and seemed like a perfect game-making tool in that regard: The microgame format forces you to keep it simple!
DIY Showcase on WiiWare was also a great move by Nintendo and I feel people tend to forget about it: Being able to move your games to the Wii and play them on the big screen made you feel like a real game dev!
I remember spending a fair amount of time on GameFAQs adding friend codes and trading games around; The main way to get your game added to that VixyNyan collection I mentioned above was to add one of her friend codes and just send games away.
Did you make many microgames yourself?
I made around 20 overall, from 2010 to 2011. I didn’t put them in a dedicated collection on DoujinSoft since that’d have been a bit too egocentric, but you can check them here!
DIY’s art tools meant you’d usually gravitate towards pixel art, and I guess I was pretty good at copying art from other games back then! 😅
The limited color palette required you to use dithering a lot however, and while my games aren’t the best example of that, there’s some truly incredible stuff made by Japanese players that pretty much end up looking like PC-98 games.
And that somewhat carried on to Miiverse drawings, and then Splatoon on Switch! Even with only black and white you just can’t keep the man down.
Do you think there’s a chance we’ll get another WarioWare DIY type game in future?
Well we technically did, that’s Game Builder Garage!
DIY is very much a game of another time (the indie game revolution was barely a thing back then!), and would-be gamedevs have many more tools at their disposal now.
Although in a way, stuff like Dreams and GBG are magnitudes more complex and powerful than what DIY allowed you to do on the Nintendo DS. (Not to speak of actual game engines!)
Maybe there’s still a spot for a simple, easy to pick up content creation game like this.
The reverse side of user-generated content is moderation though, and considering how Nintendo handled Miiverse I’m not sure we’ll see DIY 2 from them any time soon.
Still, onto DoujinSoft now. What inspired you to work on the site?
Back when I was really into DIY I wished you could store more content – While the NDS cart obviously had a fixed storage limit, there was no real reason to not allow the Wii version to store content directly on a SD Card instead of arbitrarily limiting it…
Once Nintendo WFC shut down, Wimmfi had quite bare-bones support for DIY, and there wasn’t really a preservation community forming around it like what happened with Flipnote/Sudomemo or MKWii.
While I personally don’t have the reverse engineering chops required to interface with the game like both these projects do, I figured I could still bring something to the table in the form of an archive with limitless storage, which ended up being DoujinSoft 1.0.
And how did you code it? The blog post says it was done with Java, can you give more details on that?
There’s actually a pretty good story to tell there as well.
The best tool you can use to extract content from DIY saves to this day is still bobmcjr’s DIYEdit, a Desktop program also written in Java.
It can pretty much do anything related to the .mio file format.
One of the advantages of Java programs is that it’s quite easy to hook into them and call some of their code – As long as you’re doing it from another Java program.
I’m simplifying a bit here, but I pretty much wrote DoujinSoft in Java just so that I could embed DIYEdit in it, effectively using a Desktop app as the beating heart of a Web server. 😛
DoujinSoft still uses DIYEdit as the base for all its .mio reading/manipulation, although these days bobmcjr released the source code for it so I’ve been using that instead of the desktop app.
Apart from that, the rest of the server is a fairly basic stack, using Apache Tomcat, a SQLite database, and a nice CSS library taking cues from Material Design.
What was the marketing like? How did you get creators to use it at first?
Well, at first in 2017 there was no marketing! The archive was very static, I mostly talked about it on GBATemp and that was it.
I’d get a few emails with .mio files every now and then and would just add those in manually.
In 2019 I got contacted by RiiConnect24 and we brainstormed support for DIY Showcase’s send/receive mechanic on the Wii, and how it could be used to provide a cooler service 🔥
This ended up in the release of DoujinSoft 2.0 in July of that year, with full Wii integration. I wrote a few blogposts on the subject if you haven’t found those.
The Showcase integration + allowing people to submit .mio files to the site through a form started kicking things up a notch, and the Studio 21 Discord server also brought in quite a few people.
And now with the recent 3.5 update, I guess we can say we finally made it!
I might have to buy a bigger server at this point…
Are you happy how popular it’s become since?
Considering we made it all the way to playable games in the browser, yes! Very!
I certainly didn’t have the skills to make that happen in 2017 (and I still don’t have them now), but I’d always hoped that with enough time and popularity, people would get interested and pitch in to help.
I’d once again like to thank everyone who contributed to the current DoujinSoft experience, whether by helping with code or pitching in games and content.
What are your favourite WarioWare DIY games, comics and covers?
This game inspired by Vanillaware’s Oboro Muramasa is one of my all-time favorites from back then due to the sheer quality of the art.
As far as more recent games go, I really like Dead Mansion for the sheer technical achievement; There’s a surprising amount of stuff you can do in this game!
When it comes to comics, this is the first one that popped up in my mind – make of that what you will. (I still think it’s pretty damn funny.)
(Also, can you believe the among us epidemic spread out to comics too? https://diy.tvc-16.science/comics?id=933b33367aa3bf9866116ea9b42dd1b4 )
Any creators you want to give a shout out to for their awesome work here?
You wouldn’t have playable microgames without it!
What’s it like seeing the WarioWare DIY community so active all these years later? Are you surprised that people are still making this content more than a decade after the game launched?
I was expecting people that grew up with the game like me to keep going a bit for sure, but there’s a surprising amount of younger people actually picking up the game and making stuff with it!
I guess that’s a testament to the quality of the tools the game gives you.
I suppose DoujinSoft plays a part in keeping the community active as well? I feel like if I hadn’t made that accursed collection there would be far less Among Us microgames.
(I’m not sorry)
One of the most interesting features is how you can experience microgames, covers and comics in the browser on the DoujinSoft site. How did you and your team code this feature?
DIYEdit allows you to export Records to .midi files and Comics to .pngs; And since DIYEdit is enslaved in the DoujinSoft basement I’m just asking him to do the conversions for me.
If that sounds horribly clunky and inaccurate, well you’re absolutely right! That’s programming baby!
The website only offered previews for Comics and Games for a long time, since that was all I could really do on my own – For games, I teamed up with yeahross to integrate his mio-micro player, as mentioned above.
Were there any technical challenges related to getting parts of a DS game working in a browser?
Quite a few as you might imagine! While DoujinSoft doesn’t use any code from the DS game itself, reverse-engineering the .mio file format took a fairly long time.
Accuracy is certainly not 100% as you might imagine, but it can only get better from here on. 😉
The RiiConnect24/Wii integration also came with its own set of little challenges, with figuring out the format and compression of the messages used when sending/receiving content to Wii consoles.
(And I spent some extra time making them look nice! If you receive a Wii message from DoujinSoft it’ll come in a custom envelope you won’t find anywhere else.)
Any other features you want to add to the site in future?
With the new webplayer, I added a WarioWare facsimile to the Collections pages, so you can play the games at random with lives and score; This is an area I’d like to improve on in the future, in both small (adding speedups) and larger (allowing users to create their own collections/playlists of games and share them) ways.
Apart from that, playable games in the browser, while not 100% accurate yet kinda felt like the final frontier for me; The only thing left would be a collab setup with Wimmfi of some sorts?
I think it’d be really cool to revive the actual Ninsoft Store in the games and start putting some new content in there: New contests with results uploaded to the website and graded, new big name games from community members, etc.
One thing we found interesting here was how much more ‘advanced’ many fan made sites and revivals for old Nintendo services were, with things like DoujinSoft and the Mario Kart servers on Wiimmfi having tons of things the original games did not. Are you excited to see the possibilities these things can bring in future?
The MkWii stuff on Wiimmfi is absolutely bonkers – Goes to show that as long as enough people are interested you can get a lot of extra mileage out of reviving old games’ internet services.
I’m quite excited by the work being done on Pretendo Network personally; They’re basically redoing both the work of Wimmfi and RiiConnect24 on the next generation of consoles so the workload is titanic, but I hope to get to re-experience Miiverse again someday thanks to them.
Do you think something similar to DoujinSoft could be possible for Mario Maker as well? Like a way to play those levels in the browser?
I think SMM would be far easier considering you don’t have to bother about custom music, artwork or logic – I had a lot of fun with Mario Maker 1 and the Bookmark site back in the Wii U days, so I’d love to see that make a comeback.
Speaking of Mario Maker, I took quite a lot of design cues from said Bookmark site when I was creating the initial version of DoujinSoft – I wonder if people can sort of feel that “Nintendo web service touch” when browsing the archive as a result.
It’s unlikely now, but have you ever been worried that Nintendo would try and get the site taken down?
I’d say I’m actually more worried about it now that it’s well-known and that I’m here answering questions about it!
We’re not hosting any Nintendo-made content per-se, just stuff made by other individuals. So I don’t think legal complaints would actually hold, but then again I wouldn’t go and pay lawyer fees to defend myself if I were to get C&D’d!
I blame Disney for everything that went wrong with Copyright.
What’s the backup option if that happens, to preserve the games and songs hosted there for future players?
The full DoujinSoft database is backed up and mirrored daily, and with that in hand it is very easy to spin up a new instance of the store somewhere else. 😉
I also did upload a snapshot of the database to archive.org at some point, but it’s a bit outdated by now; I’d certainly do another one if the website was about to shut down.
Finally, what advice do you have for someone wanting to get into web development and why?
Don’t! There are too many people doing it already and everything changes every two years!
I’m not actually a web developer by trade (I mostly write C# apps!), so most of my knowledge is antiquated and you can certainly see it if you look at the DoujinSoft codebase. 👀💦
Seriously speaking now, a more generic advice I’d like to give is to never feel like you’re inadequate/not good enough to start a project;
When looking at game preservation projects like DoujinSoft, Sudomemo or others, it often feels like those must require tons of knowledge and that you might never be able to make something similar…But at the same time, if nobody has done it yet for your favorite game, that means whatever you create will be the de-facto best version of it! 😎
Making something is better than not making anything after all; And even if you don’t succeed, you’ll surely have learned something out of it.
It always feels like there’s too much stuff going on in October, but if you feel like starting out programming, why not give Hacktoberfest a try as well?
Thanks Difegue! That’s some excellent advice right there.
And it also reminds us of a related point that needs saying: all those complex systems you think are too difficult to recreate didn’t start out that way at all.
Seriously, they really didn’t. Breath of the Wild didn’t start out as this super complex sandbox game with a ton of interactions from the get go, it started out as a basic 2D demo that ended up being extended and refactored as Nintendo figured out how the game should work best. WordPress didn’t start out with a block editor, multiple post types, formats and theme customisation system. Those things were added in later releases and updates, with the first version being a fairly basic one with posts alone.
Same goes for everything else you can imagine. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, search engines like Google, hell even remade online services like Wiimmfi and DoujinSoft. What you see now wasn’t what was there when they started out, it’s the result of thousands if not millions of hours of work by any number of talented people.
So don’t worry. Don’t feel overwhelmed, and don’t feel like you’re not good enough to be a programmer just because you don’t understand what goes into a complex app or program.
Take things as they go, give your dream projects a shot and try and create things. They may not be as flashy as the multi million dollar products you’re used to, but they’ll be a start, and provide a base for learning more and more over time. The first version of your app or game will likely be terrible, but the tenth? Fiftieth? One hundredth? Well that could be a whole different story!
Regardless, we hope you enjoyed the interview, and learnt a bit more about the work that goes into a service like DoujinSoft. It was a pleasure talking to Difegue about this, and we’re excited to see what the future holds for the WarioWare DIY community as a whole.
But did you think? Did you enjoy the interview? What do you think about DoujinSoft, and WarioWare DIY as a whole?
Leave your thoughts on the matter in the comments below, on social media, or on our Discord server today!