From the moment Super Mario Maker was announced, I knew that I was bound to spend a ton of time with it. Despite my initial worries about sharing options and amount of content, its appearance at E3 2015 made it seem like the game was really going to be everything I wanted it to be. At that show, I did something I've never done before by returning to the booth for a second demo just because I couldn't stop thinking about it. The game came out in September, and sure enough, I immediately loved it. It would take a few weeks for me to really understand the potential for Super Mario Maker, however. Once I realized that I could use it to combine two of my life's greatest loves (Mario games and pretending to be a giant asshole), it became more than just my favorite game of 2015. Engaging in an internet feud with Patrick Klepek over a series of Mario levels is without a doubt one of the most rewarding and entertaining things I've ever done in video gaming.
None of this was intended at the beginning. My first level (Perilous Pits) was pretty straightforward, but with one super-jerky trick just shy of the flagpole. The second was built around the requirement of keeping your raccoon tail until the very end. After those, I created some more traditional levels like Wood Zeppelin and Mario's Jailbreak. These levels had a much higher clear rate and received more stars than their more difficult predecessors, but I didn't get the thrill of watching YouTube clips and streams of people falling prey to any devious traps.
As I became more interested in the idea of insane levels, I approached Jeff with an idea. Let's do a live stream in which we get Mario Maker set up, but create a level based solely on random ideas from the chat. We did just that, and it resulted in a pretty bonkers level:
Prior to making this, I had seen former Giant Bomb editor Patrick Klepek's YouTube series in which he plays Mario Maker every morning. I got some kicks out of seeing him die repeatedly on my previous levels, but watching him play through the first official Giant Bomb level really made me laugh. There were so many dicky little moments in that level, and I couldn't wait to see whenever he encountered one for the first time.
With that in mind, I went into the editor with the intention of making a really hard level. That resulted in Yoshi's Many Sacrifices, which was somewhat difficult but relied way too heavily on blind jumps. Patrick played it on his show, and while it was still fun to watch him die, the deaths felt cheap. I wanted to feel like his deaths were due to me outsmarting him or presenting hard platforming challenges, not due to me hiding elements of the course from his view. As a result, I made Spikeshoe Plains. It's a fairly straightforward platforming level, but requires a lot of precise timing and unpredictable jigsaw bounces. For the first time, it took him several episodes to beat one of my levels. I found myself looking forward to each day's new attempts like I would after a cliffhanger on an episodic TV series that I was really into. The moment that really locked me in was when I saw him die mere pixels away from the flagpole after finally navigating the entirety of the stage.
He eventually conquered the level, but not before saying something that would greatly influence my biggest stage yet: "You wanna make me angry right off the bat? Just make a level filled with music notes." With that idea, I started laying the groundwork for what would become The Ryckoning. This stage eventually grew to be a lot more than I initially intended, but the first idea was just "I'm going to put music blocks everywhere." After I thoroughly littered the stage with these annoying blocks, I thought "what if you had to go back and forth across these a bunch before you beat the level?". The answer to how I would do that came to me while we made the second official Giant Bomb level:
As I taunted Patrick by wearing a t-shirt with his image on it, we once again took suggestions from the chat regarding what elements to include in the stage. One user recommended that we use a POW block as a key of sorts, requiring you to stand on it in order to reach a door that was hovering one space above the ground. I had never considered this concept, as it's never been used in an official Mario game (utilizing familiar elements to create brand new mechanics is one of the greatest joys of Mario Maker). With this trick in mind, I knew how I'd make The Ryckoning a nightmare for Patrick. Not only would he have to navigate a ton of music blocks, he'd have to go back and forth numerous times, often while carrying a POW block. I kept thinking about ways to make this level more and more devious, and I even sketched out some early plans for the level layout so I could show Jeff.
When I got home from work that day, I started refining these ideas and testing them for possible exploits. With every new element and puzzle, I got more and more excited to see Patrick tackle it. I eventually got so confident about its impending upload that I challenged Patrick to a bet via YouTube. While the original bet involved the loser giving $100 to a charity of the winner's choosing, we started texting each other about making this bigger than that. We decided to raise money for charity during the three-day attempt, and wound up raising over $13,000 in the process ($12,905 from viewers plus the $200 from Patrick and myself).
Before we could begin the process of raising money and actually playing the level, I had to finish creating it. I spent a crazy amount of time tweaking elements and testing for exploits before I felt confident that it was time to upload. The first upload involved a ton of required elements, so many that I needed to make a Google Doc for myself to ensure that I did everything correctly when it was time to upload it.
Several things changed between me making that document and uploading the version of the level that's available today. One of my favorites was a suggestion from my girlfriend, which was to replace a trampoline with a Goomba. That way, instead of just passively carrying a trampoline across half the level, you'd have to constantly kick the Goomba up in the air and catch it again to prevent it from coming back to life and hurting you.
After several days of hovering over a GamePad, I felt confident that it was time to upload the level. I stayed up late into the night, racking up hundreds of failed attempts. I tweaked some elements that I felt caused random deaths, but I almost started tweaking elements in an effort to make it easier. It was close to four in the morning and my reflexes were shot, and I just wanted to be done with it. Every time I went into the editor to erase a spike block or make a jump easier, however, my girlfriend reminded me that I'd be disappointed in myself if I did. It sucked to die over and over on elements that I knew I could technically beat, but I knew it would be worth it if I could just upload the damn thing. It's extremely rare that a video game can actually make my heart race, but it felt like it was going to burst out of my chest as I got closer and closer to the end on my final upload attempt. Crossing the finish line and seeing the level code pop up on the screen rivaled any thrill a video game has ever given me, and I tweeted the code and went to bed feeling like I made a level that no one would beat (especially Patrick).
Fully anticipating that I'd wake up to see "zero clears out of X attempts" on the level when I booted up my GamePad, I was disappointed to see that it had been cleared 13 times while I was sleeping. I couldn't imagine how that happened, so I went to Twitter and saw that someone had uploaded a video of their clear. It had never occurred to me that by grabbing Yoshi early in the level and eating the POW block (which was guarded by spikes that Yoshi's tongue can bypass), it's possible to skip a good 80% of the course's intended obstacles. It was heartbreaking, but I knew I had to upload it again if I wanted this level to live up to the hype. After making some changes and spending more hours trying to upload it, I posted the level again. Sure enough, more exploits were found and I had to go back to the drawing board. This happened two more times, and I eventually spent my entire weekend uploading the level on four separate occasions so it would be ready and exploit-free before Patrick's three-day attempt began.
During those three days, he streamed himself playing the stage for almost nine hours before finally defeating it on the third day. I genuinely thought there was no chance in hell he'd be able to finish it, but he chipped away at it and made progress every time he streamed. By the third day, I had accepted that I had likely lost the bet. We wound up both donating to each other's charities (the American Heart Association and the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation), and split the total proceeds between the two.
I accepted my defeat in this battle but was far from conceding the war, so I knew I'd be following The Ryckoning with another nightmare of a level. It came sooner than I expected, as I went into our 2015 Extra Life marathon planning on doing another chat suggestion level (from a "quarantine room" separate from the studio since I was sick). As I started taking a few suggestions from viewers, I eventually spun off and just started adding a ton of my ideas and taking out chat suggestions until it eventually became my own creation (a couple of chat suggestions, like the "REDUCED FAT" in coins remained in the final level). I felt its difficulty was high enough to be the next official Klepek challenge, so I named it The Klepokalypse. It took me hours to upload, which wasn't helped by the pressure of doing it live on camera.
It didn't have the insane puzzle elements of The Ryckoning, but it required more in terms of platforming. Patrick would have to perform some obscure tricks like spin-jumping across Spiny tracks while holding a P-switch, and I didn't think he'd have the chops to pull it off. Sure enough, he did.
In retrospect, this one was too easy considering he had proven that he was capable of beating something like The Ryckoning. The Klepokalypse was pure platforming, and anyone can get better at hard platforming sections if they're persistent enough. Patrick had proven himself to be extremely persistent by this point, so I shouldn't have been surprised that he was able to best this attempt.
It was time to go back to puzzle elements. I wanted to put him away for good this time, as these hours-long marathons of trying to upload my own awful levels were stressful as hell. Like The Ryckoning, I wanted this next stage to involve navigating its obstacles numerous times in one run. Ideally, the player would have to repeatedly run through the stage, find a warp to the beginning of the level, receive a new item there, and be able to get a little further the next time before having to do it all again. A final section at the end would require four items (Yoshi, a cape, a spike helmet, and a spring) to pass through, and a restart would be necessary if you lost any of them. Once again, the process was complex enough for me to write myself a set of instructions, complete with my best times at reaching certain checkpoints.
The initial upload of this stage (I named it The Armageddan) proved to be even more stressful and lengthy than my late night with The Ryckoning. For eight straight hours, I banged my head against this stage only to fail thanks to its "get hit once and you have to start over" nature. At some point around four in the morning, I reached the final area only to die a few blocks away from the goalpost. I was absolutely crushed, but I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep with this level sitting unfinished on my Wii U. After a few more half-asleep attempts, I was finally able to cross the finish line and upload the level.
While I didn't experience the immediate disappointment of The Ryckoning's exploits, I did learn on the next day that some people had been beating the level thanks to a P-switch trick that I hadn't thought of. I removed the offending coins and sat back down, ready for another marathon upload session. Luckily, I was able to do it again with only a handful of attempts now that I was well-rested and confident thanks to my prior upload.
There was no predetermined time limit for Patrick to beat The Armageddan, but I was confident that he'd eventually tire of its unforgiving nature and obscure puzzles and throw in the towel. After his first day of streaming the stage, I taunted him with a parody of George W. Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech.
He took a break from streaming The Armageddan for the holidays, and I went back to Kansas City for a few days. On Christmas night, I was at a bar with my father when a Giant Bomb fan approached me. We drank with him all night and he eventually mentioned that he had connections with the Kansas City Chiefs, and I should let him know if I had any interest in "taking over the Jumbotron at Arrowhead or anything." Considering the timing, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
I love seeing villains get their comeuppance, so I loved the idea of talking (very) big in these pre-victory speeches, only to eventually fall to Patrick once again. After Christmas, he got back to his usual streaming schedule with more attempts.
On New Year's Eve, Patrick made his fatal mistake. He went to Twitter and introduced the idea of a time limit, which is something I had no intention of doing.
It should be noted that the image of Clint Eastwood is actually an animated GIF of him nodding, which is a legally binding confirmation if I've ever seen one. With the new cutoff point being midnight, I settled in to watch him play until 2016. Unfortunately, he had apparently forgotten that he had New Year's plans with his wife, so he had to end his stream almost five hours before his self-imposed deadline.
He still refused to quit, even though he had failed to meet the time limit that he had set for himself. He asked me to up the ante, giving him a nearly five-hour extension to make up for his inability to finish the fight on New Year's Eve. In exchange, he'd have some consequences if he lost. If he failed to complete The Armageddan under the new time limit, he'd have to attend a live WWE Monday Night Raw or pay-per-view, pay for me to tag along, write a ten-page handwritten book report about the experience and post it online, and allow me (or a WWE superstar of my choosing) to shave his goatee and film the process.
With nothing to lose on my end, I wasted no time in accepting. On January 3rd, the war was set to end during a five-hour stream.
Patrick Klepek was ultimately unable to defeat The Armageddan, and he finally said the words I've been waiting to hear this entire time (click here to skip to that beautiful moment). He even posted a written concession over at Kotaku.
Between the two of us, this Mario Maker war has probably taken up over a hundred hours of creating, uploading, attempting, watching, and taunting. I can't think of another game that's given me so many different thrills, laughs, and ups and downs as Super Mario Maker, and this war is where most of them came from. Despite all of the heel-y videos and jabs that I've thrown his way, I can't thank Patrick enough for being such a persistent and entertaining foil during all of this. It's been an absolute blast.
It's officially over, and I can spend my time making "nice" levels like If The Boo Fits (it even has a checkpoint!). Going forward, I look forward to attending Patrick's first WWE event with him, shaving that thing off his face, and continuing to check out other players' levels via the 100-Mario Challenge on a near-nightly basis.
And Patrick...if you ever get around to making your own levels, send them my way!