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1986: Dazzle Draw

The reason Mazeguy Smilies exists is probably due to Dazzle Draw, a painting program released by Broderbund Software in 1985. My family had an Apple IIe computer at the time, and I believe we bought Dazzle Draw the following year. I was eight years old at the time.

Back in those days, I didn't have a Wacom tablet, and drawing freehand was difficult. I figured out that the best way to create the curved lines and details I wanted was to zoom in and draw one dot at a time. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was learning the basics of what would later be called "pixel art". Today, I create smilies using the exact same technique.

My siblings and I had a lot of fun with Dazzle Draw, filling fifteen floppy disks (the ones that actually WERE floppy) with over 100 paintings. Unfortunately, only one has survived to this day. This portrait of Bowser was converted to black and white for my junior high school's newspaper.

1992: Mario Paint

My next drawing program was Mario Paint for the Super Nintendo. I loved the fact that you could combine art, animation and music to create multimedia. I still have my copy of Nintendo's Official Mario Paint Player's Guide, even though it's quite worn out from reproducing video game sprites and songs.

Mario Paint included several "stamps", small pictures that you could paste onto the canvas or use as a paintbrush. A Stamp Editor tool let you edit existing stamps or design new ones on a large, 16x16 grid. Sound familiar? Thanks to Mario Paint, my pixel art skills were refined a little further.

So, what kind of videos did I make using Mario Paint? Well... Um... Stuff like this...

Yeah. I'll try to explain myself, someday.

1994: Game-Maker

Game-Maker was developed by Recreational Software Designs. It's a collection of design tools that allows users to create their own DOS games. To test out the software, I made a simple game in which a guy tries to get through a maze. Yes, this is where "mazeguy" came from. Somehow, it became my nickname, then the name of my website.

Mazeguy grew in complexity, and eventually morphed into Invasion of the Blobs, which later got a sequel. Both games required drawing and animating backgrounds, enemies, and heroes. Title cards, level intros, and cutscenes were also illustrated pixel by pixel.

2001: Flash Kit and Tripod

At the beginning of the new millennium, I started using Flash for the first time. I needed help learning how accomplish certain tasks, and discovered many helpful tutorials at FlashKit.com. I joined the forums, and found a thread titled "Smiley Award Winners". A user named ThundaChunk, a.k.a. JohnnySix, was awarding a small banner to the best smilies submitted in an earlier thread.

It was too late for me to participate, but after fifteen years of creating pixel art, the idea of making smilies intrigued me. I made a whole bunch and put them on my Tripod website. While I was having fun seeing how many emoticons I could come up with, I was also secretly hoping that another smiley contest would be held in the future, and I'd get my own Smiley Award.

Then, on March 29th, 2001, The all new FK members smiley thread appeared. I quickly posted a link to my collection (The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine captured what it looked like just two weeks later). Here are a few relevant posts from that thread:

And so, after a little prodding, I got my Smiley Award. However, ThundaChunk's warnings about the need for a new server would prove to be correct. Over the next two years, my website would get more traffic, and suggestions from visitors helped make my smiley collection grow. Both of these factors caused the site to routinely go over Tripod's bandwidth limit. My free web hosting service was no longer sufficient; I needed my own domain name.

2003: Mazeguy.net

Mazeguy.net was registered on October 25th, 2003. I wrote this article shortly after the site's tenth anniversary, and published it on my 36th birthday, nearly three decades after a drawing program on the Apple IIe set everything in motion.

I have no plans to stop making smilies any time soon. I certainly don't make as many these days as I used to, but once you represent many of the most common nouns, verbs, and adjectives, you start to run out of ideas. Visitors like you have helped keep the site expanding, and on page one when you search Google for "smilies". Once again, thanks for your support!

2005: Hoagie's Revenge

My brother and some of his friends formed a film group, and they needed an animator for one of their short films. It's about a man challenged by his roommate to complete a brutally difficult video game. My job was to build an original Nintendo game that is so unfair, so impossible to beat, that the programmers didn't even bother creating a second level.

The game within the movie is called Hoagie's Revenge. The hero is a deli owner who battles the forces of evil with an endless supply of hoagies. I made original sprites for each of the twenty-five animations sprinkled throughout the film.

You can find full sprite sheets for the deli owner, enemies, and scenery here. Maybe someone will use them to create a real game...

2013: Wordlock

Fifteen years after completing Invasion of the Blobs II, I revisited Game-Maker and made a puzzle game containing 100 riddles. The graphics weren't particularly complex, but I think the sci-fi font I designed was pretty neat. You can use it too just by visiting the Alphabet page.

You can learn more about Wordlock and find instructions on how to play it here.

2021: Twenty Year Anniversary

I made this collage the commemorate the twenty year anniversary of the day I shared my smilies with the world:

This year also means I've been making pixel art for about 35 years. Sadly, the introduction of emoji has pretty much made smilies obsolete. One avenue that might be worth pursuing is Twitch Emotes, but I've kind of moved away from creating pixel icons. These days, I spend most of my free time working on my webcomic, Chuck's Devils. Sometimes I depict the main characters in pixel form:

While the series is nowhere near as popular as my smilies were, or even my domino toppling videos (which is a story for another day), I like the process of creating wacky misadventures for Candace, Yu-Ri, and Lily. I hope you'll check out the comic and follow along. :)