Mario Maker design talk - What makes a good (or bad) level?

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#1 Edited by Wraithtek (426 posts) -
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There's been a lot of discussion about the quality of user-created levels presented in the 100 Mario Challenge, so I'll ask:

  • What do you think makes a good Mario Maker level?
  • What makes a bad level? What makes you skip a level?

Even if you aren't interested in making your own levels (yet), let the makers here know what you love/hate about the levels you've played.

I'll add my own thoughts in a separate reply, but I'll start with a couple good articles from BoingBoing's Offworld:

If you'd like to post codes for your own levels, please see the Super Mario Maker Showcase Thread.

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#2 Posted by TwoLines (3654 posts) -

Overabundance of flashy stuff. Even if the level is challenging, it's a waste of time since most of the stuff has been placed there to look cool.

Artistically cool looking levels are the bane of SMM, they look cool, but they're a pain to play.

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#3 Posted by Wraithtek (426 posts) -

The levels I've enjoyed playing are challenging, and require learning the level through trial and error, but don't require pinpoint accuracy/timing or luck on every attempt.

When you die and your only tactic for the next run is "play better," it's frustrating. If you die because of something in the level you haven't seen yet, you've learned something and can remember that for your next run.

One of the BoingBoing articles discusses having safe places before/after obstacles. You shouldn't be in constant danger throughout the whole level. It's stressful. It may be fun to make a level that's insanely hard, but can still be completed (that's a challenge in itself). But a player who doesn't have your knowledge of what went into the level may just be lost. If the player doesn't have a little time to try things out, to learn the level, they're more likely to just quit.

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#4 Edited by KaneRobot (2776 posts) -

BAD: Enemy dumps just for the sake of enemy dumps. If you're making a majestic pyramid of Goombas that looks cool as you're going through the level, or the glut of enemies is thought out and makes sense in terms of a unique challenge, that's fine (the end of Ryckert's Perilous Pits level is a good example of that). But just creating a small space with flying Koopas and Bloopers and 3 Bowsers and one giant Bowser just because lol it's hard, get the hell out of here. Don't waste my time.

GOOD: I don't know. I kind of suck at making levels.

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#5 Posted by jacksukeru (6781 posts) -

Don't spam erratically attacking enemies like Lakitu and Hammer Bros. Use them sparingly.

Communicate clearly where you need to go using coins or other parts of the level design and try to not have the camera obscure your path or enemies.

No leap of faiths. (Generally I haven't come across any jumps with a coin trail that was straight-up lying about where to go, so that's good.)

Don't put a Lakitu in a place where I can just steal its cloud and subvert the rest of the level. Well unless you like that sort of thing, I guess.

Playtest your level and, while I haven't done this myself yet, I feel like waiting a day before uploading a level you completed would let you come back to it with a fresh perspective and iron out some kinks, if there are any.

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#6 Edited by MoonwalkSA (649 posts) -

What makes a bad level:

Spam. Huge stacks of enemies or lots of pipe/bill enemy launchers that don't exist for any interesting purpose other than to demand perfect platforming or luck.

"Trolling" the player. If I select it from a list and know in advance that it's going to be a lot of Syobon Action-style rudeness and unexpected traps then that's fine, but if I find it through 100 Mario Challenge (as many people will), I'm just going to skip immediately.

Invincibility "puzzles" (too braindead to count as proper puzzles). Giving someone a star and then making them run across a flat bridge of enemies or a bridge of Munchers, or making them do the same using the blinking invulnerability upon getting hit, is really boring. It probably won't make me skip a level on its own because that kind of level is usually quite easy and gives plenty of 1UPs, but it's still lame unless you change it up somehow. This is a million times worse when the required star is inside of an invisible block or other secret area.

Obviously don't force leaps of faith. Full-momentum bouncing jumps are pretty normal and expected, but if you are going to make the player land somewhere that isn't yet on screen, make sure to use a leading coin trail to tell them where they should be shooting for. Even just three coins to mark the expected apex of a jump arc is usually enough.

Unless you're able to use the mechanic really creatively or you need to take away a powerup at a certain point, don't force the player to get hit in order to complete the stage.

What makes a good level:

So many things it's hard to even put them all into words, but I'd say probably the most important is to always be conscious of your screen space. In other words, playtest and keep in mind at all times what the player can or can't see coming. If the player is supposed to travel in a certain direction besides just running to the right, make sure you give them a visual reason to try going that way. Consider what the player will see and experience if they take their time to analyze each obstacle as they get to it. Consider what the player will see and experience if they're trying to move through your level at max speed (unless you want to specifically prevent this, it's a good idea to allow an elegant path for a full sprint run. don't make a level that can be run quickly for most of it and then 3/4 of the way through add an enemy/hazard placement that unavoidably fucks over somebody who was making a jump at full momentum). Have friends play your level in person and observe them, or try to learn how to play your own levels in the ways that a new player might attempt to.

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#7 Edited by TheMasterDS (2981 posts) -

Iteration, testing and time.

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#8 Edited by AShottInTheDark (5 posts) -

I agree with most of what has been said on here already, but have a couple additional thoughts.

-Have safe zones

-Don't spam enemies

-Be aware of screen space and where the player can move. (Hitting your head on ceiling while jumping gaps can be annoying for example)

-Nothing is sacred. Don't be afraid to to delete entire parts of a level that don't work or people are having fun with.

-Try to focus on one, maybe two concepts and see how far you can stretch them. I know people are frustrated by the fact the game releases only a few items at a time, but I took this upon myself to force myself to work with less and it forced me to think more about how I would make each element fun and interesting. So even if you have unlocked everything, maybe try this approach and pick something in the editor you like and try to fully explore it.

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#9 Posted by StompboxRebel (13 posts) -

Good=tight jumps. Bad=leaps of faith

Good=multiple paths/heights. Bad=flat straight level

Good=tough but fair enemy placement. Bad=spammed giant everything

Good=out of the way secret spots. Bad=invisible question blocks that trap you forcing you to quit out

Good=safe spaces. Bad=Thwomps on the start line.

Overall just don't be a troll and making things hard just to be hard is different than making a challenging level.

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#10 Edited by Turtlebird95 (3618 posts) -

I agree with a lot of what has already been said. I hate the stupidly hard levels. I like the "Don't press anything" stages where the game's physics do everything but they're getting a bit tiresome. Most of my favorite levels are ones I think are cleverly made with hidden secrets, as well as ones that generally feel like they could have been ripped out of an actual Mario title.

Also the levels that make use of assets not in the original games like the random flashiness stuff... I ran into the worst fucking level ever that has a bunch of ladies dancing around Mario while a telephone sound is constantly ringing and I think there were fireworks too... all while you very slowly make your way up like 10 layers of the level. (There are no enemies, but there are drop points that can undo all of your progress and take you back the beginning.)

Oh, and "1up" levels.

Glad I saw some of the feedback in this thread. Going to put some of this towards future stages!

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#11 Posted by Jpope (148 posts) -

Good Ideas

  • Hidden blocks that give mushrooms/powerups.
  • Secret areas.
  • Shortcuts.

Bad Ideas

  • Having to react to enemies/traps the moment the level starts.
  • Enemies Cluttering the screen.
  • Multiple pixel perfect jumps over death pits.
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#12 Posted by csl316 (14967 posts) -

Nothing pisses me off more than hidden blocks leading to a cheap death.

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#13 Posted by BradBrains (2269 posts) -

No hidden blocks, enemy spam, or leaps of faith

Less is more and I think some people are starting to get that.A level with a hundred enemies were you can only get through via luck or pinpoint accuracy aren't fun.

Add safe zones to seperate challenges

Use power ups in place of checkpoints.

Also auto play levels are done,

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#14 Posted by Oscar__Explosion (2980 posts) -

Levels that have a fair amount of challenge without over doing it or making it totally unfair. I just played a level in which like a dark souls, you have to take things in slowly and learn how the level works then ends in a very nerve wracking fight with Bowser.

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#15 Posted by Phoenix654 (515 posts) -

These are just my gripes, having played SMM for most of the weekend. I give some (hopefully helpful) advice at the end.

Bad: Making every enemy huge. I get it, it's a new toy. There's something terrifying about humungous turtles and goombas, but at least in SMB3, there was only one world that kind of applied that (world 4) and it made for a neat detour before giving you a different kind of challenge.

Bad: Stacking enemies. Again, new toy, something to try out, but when you do this, you occasionally make enemies invincible, unless there is a turtle shell or fire flower to hand.

Bad: Infinite lives generators. We can take three 1-Ups with us. Three. Bear that in mind when making a level with a starman section that lets you collect 27 lives. 24 of them are going to waste.

Bad: Using Lakitu ever. Because of the mechanics of SMM, every time there is a Lakitu within jumping height, you give your players a free ride through most of your level (unless it is exceptionally well designed).

Bad: Every level ending with Bowser. I'm really getting tired of dodging random fireballs. It's fine in castle levels and the occasional airship, but I'd say 75% of levels I play have a Bowser in it somewhere. It's just irritating.

Good: If you can make a level that makes me stop and think, "Wow, did they just copy a level I've never played? This could fit easily into [insert name of game style here]." Imitation is how we learn. Start by making a level and comparing it to other Mario levels you've played. Not saying that all levels need to feel like Nintendo designed levels (the auto levels and little sketches of challenges are very interesting and can be fun in spurts), but if you're making a level you expect people to complete, here are some questions that should run through your head...

Is it too challenging? Is there too much going on on screen to follow? Is there a fair number of power ups so people who don't feel comfortable making risky jumps as tiny Mario will actually try things? Is death just random chance or is an actual pattern to be noticed? Can you actually see where to jump to (coins help tremendously here since you can't control the camera pitch at all times)?

Finally, if possible, have someone else play your level before you clear it to upload it or, better yet, have someone else clear it to upload it. If they struggle too much or it seems unfair or they get lost too easily, go back to the drawing board and try fixing it. You're not always going to be the best judge of your own work. After all, you've created a level based on your play style; Other people might miss what you think is obvious. I'm not saying that all levels need to be simple, but they should be fair. Yes, putting a huge goomba or a circle of ghosts in a question box is funny once, but it's not exactly fair.

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#16 Posted by Dourin (295 posts) -

Don't spam erratically attacking enemies like Lakitu and Hammer Bros. Use them sparingly.

Communicate clearly where you need to go using coins or other parts of the level design and try to not have the camera obscure your path or enemies.

No leap of faiths. (Generally I haven't come across any jumps with a coin trail that was straight-up lying about where to go, so that's good.)

Don't put a Lakitu in a place where I can just steal its cloud and subvert the rest of the level. Well unless you like that sort of thing, I guess.

Playtest your level and, while I haven't done this myself yet, I feel like waiting a day before uploading a level you completed would let you come back to it with a fresh perspective and iron out some kinks, if there are any.

Specifically speaking to the bolded, I've actually been thinking about this recently regarding the jumping fireballs. In the original games, I'm pretty sure the lava under them would bubble for a second before the fireball would emerge, right? Since we can't do that, I'm thinking a good indicator that something might be there would be to place a stone block in the lava on the spots where the fireballs come from. It's not something super obvious (I think people are marking things a bit too much and too obviously with coins), but if the player is paying attention, they will catch on and know where to avoid, especially when on a skull platform or a track.

Regarding playtesting, I would also say if you live with someone who is not completely incompetent at video games, have them playtest your level and watch them as they do. You have an idea of how your level should ideally be played, but I guarantee that if there is a way to exploit it in any way, someone else will find it.

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#18 Posted by Ronald (1551 posts) -

For me there are two things, and Dan and Jeff both mentioned oneof these on the last UPF so I'm thinking this isn't just me.

1. Adding difficulty to the level by forcing players to use trampolines over and over. For some reason, the trampolines (and music note blocks) just don't feel as responsive as they should. You hit jump and then hope that you get the jumping bounce. It might be the Wii U controller or something else, but you can hit a bounce perfectly 3 times in a row and then the third time pressing at the same time, you have a small bounce and die. And since you have to bounce full height and full distance, there is no way out.

2. This is slightly different and is not as bad, but when you have a level with precision wall jumps in New, you have to realize the wall jumps are also finicky. Sometimes you start sliding down the wall, sometimes you just fall against the wall, and sometimes you hit the jump. And maybe it's because Super Meat Boy has already came out but they feel so much worse in comparison. In fact, just don't make a level using New. Everything about it just feels so bad compared to the other games you can make a level in.

Also, if you are creating difficulty by hiding invisible blocks in weird locations that are the only way to get through the level you are doing it wrong. Your level should be beatable with what the people can easily get to. You want invisible blocks? They need to be in a place you would jump. Remember, CastleVania 2 sucked.

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#19 Posted by Wraithtek (426 posts) -

I agree, if an invisible block is required, it should be easy to find at the point you need it.

I try to use invisible blocks to either impede progress (you have to find another way), or for bonus items that aren't required to finish the level, but might make it easier (or more interesting).

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#20 Posted by xGumby (26 posts) -

Definitely great points made here.

Something ive been messing around with more and more is intelligent coin placement. Coins should feel like collectible rewards. They should be used as insentives. Too many levels just have coins for the sake of coins.

Its a shame the game doesnt have a system for a 100% stat or something for collecting all coins and 1ups in a level. I give my levels exactly 100 coins and one hidden 1up and the true spirit of the levels are in collecticting everything.

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#21 Edited by robin_smith (155 posts) -

I agree with most of what has been said on here already, but have a couple additional thoughts.

-Have safe zones

-Don't spam enemies

-Be aware of screen space and where the player can move. (Hitting your head on ceiling while jumping gaps can be annoying for example)

-Nothing is sacred. Don't be afraid to to delete entire parts of a level that don't work or people are having fun with.

-Try to focus on one, maybe two concepts and see how far you can stretch them. I know people are frustrated by the fact the game releases only a few items at a time, but I took this upon myself to force myself to work with less and it forced me to think more about how I would make each element fun and interesting. So even if you have unlocked everything, maybe try this approach and pick something in the editor you like and try to fully explore it.

I deliberately put in a couple of places where you have to hit your head to make some jumps. These levels ere intended to be about pure jump-man / mario skill though, so test the players knowledge of everything base mario can do.

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#22 Edited by paulmako (1958 posts) -

Here are some bad things:

-Star-runs. Getting a star and running through 30 large goombas is the 'turret section' of Mario Maker.

-Half-assed auto levels/sound effects. If you're doing an auto level or spamming sound effects, it needs to be all or nothing. Either make it completely insane and complex or don't bother. I played a slow auto level and wanted to weep.

-Levels that are just 1-1 with some slight variations. Boo.

-Levels where it looks like someone has just dragged the stylus across the screen a few times.

Sometimes I see level and think 'this looks like a child made this' and then have to remember that maybe a child literally did make this.

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#23 Posted by freakin9 (1226 posts) -

I hope we aren't really going to rag on the levels clearly made by people just messing around. Since that will never stop. I personally find a charm in just going through the newly uploaded levels and taking them for what they sometimes are, people that just got the game and this is what they came up with. I will probably make a video series for my channel of that.

The only thing on my "hate this" category is when Mario jumps off screen, and you are left going... well, I have no idea where he's going to land now, great.

The good levels I've found usually work one specific mechanic very well. Whether it's don't touch mushrooms, or carry a koopa shell through the whole level, or the mirrored worlds concept. Easy-ish Mario style levels with lots of powerups just make me realize why I like this game more than some Mario games Nintendo is putting out. This would suck if it was nothing but kaizo dick levels, but the variety of everything is very appealing. If you want a challenge it's there, if you want to just sit there and let the level do everything for you, that's there too.

Another thing I really enjoy are people that make a level fun with just one screen of real estate.

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#24 Posted by robin_smith (155 posts) -
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