Hello! In case you missed it, I'm making a Giant Bomb level set in LittleBigPlanet 3. While I do that, I've decided to make a series of blog posts related to LittleBigPlanet. This one's about what I think makes a user-creation game successful and what I think is today's best example of that. Perrhaps it's too good of an example?
For all the games out there that have some sort of level creation tool, very few of them have outed such a feature as a significant main portion of the game. Mario Maker is the latest such game, and it should be pretty evident just in the game's title. You could theoretically never touch the creation toolset and just play user-created levels, but Mario Maker's tools are just begging to be used.
Other games of this ilk have done great jobs at this respect: LittleBigPlanet, Garry's Mod, Minecraft, Starcraft, and so on make user creation a high priority and a major selling point, but I think Nintendo has finally hit the Goldilocks spot of user-generated content. They've managed to find the formula for the most democratized, most accessible, and most gratifying system where players are able to make and play each others' levels/games, because what is a game based on user-generated content if you don't have as many players creating content as possible? In that regard, Mario Maker may be the perfect example of this genre. Now, the game itself isn't perfect; there's some limitations that are annoying; however, it's perfect in a way that I don't think another game of this type could ever replicate such success, get so many people involved in the meat and butter of the game, and I think the overarching reason behind that is because Mario Maker is so simple.
Part of that refers to the formatting of the levels themselves, in that they are short and have standardized rules entailing what can be created. This might sound like a point against Mario Maker at first. Wouldn't complexity be favored more because the possibilities seems much more endless? True, but complexity involves a creative mind, and the average person isn't going to want to put in the time and energy to make something amazing if they don't have a direction. With Mario Maker, that direction is already provided: you're making a Mario level!
Which relates to another reason Mario Maker has so much potential in the creative space: it's fucking Mario. I think it's a reasonable thing to say that everybody who plays games knows what Mario is. They probably know what a Mario level looks like, and maybe they know what makes Mario levels fun, or maybe not, but they do know that they are fun even if they don't know all the reasons why.
With that, it's easy to imagine that anybody could make a Mario level. The components are obvious. There's a start, a ground, pits, blocks, enemies, items, maybe some secrets, and a goal. There's not much more than that in essence. It's easy to get started too. Just whip up a combination of those things, and you'll have a level pretty soon. In the video Giantbomb did where Dan made a level, it took him about an hour to make a completed rough design. I can speak from experience in LittleBigPlanet that it can take an hour just to get a certain section working properly, if you're lucky. And in Garry's Mod? Minecraft? Making something in those games takes incredible amounts of effort more. You really need to know what you're getting into before you can commit on making a level on your own, and Mario Maker makes it less painful to make that commitment.
It's a combination of many things, perhaps a perfect combination, that make Mario Maker's success ensured that don't involve the high quality of the game itself. The familiarity of Mario is enough to draw you in, the simplicity of the toolset encourages you to start, and the mechanics and structure of a general Mario level make it take less time to go from start to finish. That combination ensures that as many people as possible make as many levels as possible, and I believe the grand hallmark of a user-creation game is how many levels are people able to put out. In that respect, Mario Maker exceeds more than any other game.
And I'm not just making up a bunch of flowery prose here. Mario Maker has sold over a million copies, and almost 2.5 million levels have been created. This is within a few weeks of launch. It took about 9 months for LittleBigPlanet to reach just one million, and many other games have never reached even a million creations. Mario Maker has a long life ahead of it and millions more levels, and maybe even millions of players can get to enjoy making levels instead of just playing them. Maybe one day, we'll have a bunch of awesome video games made by people who were first inspired to create via Mario Maker. With so many people making levels, that reality is much more likely than with similar games past.
The thing I'm worried about is that this is the best that could possibly be done to a game like this. I honestly don't think a Maker game of a different Nintendo series would have the same appeal or ease of creation, and I'm not sure if Nintendo's ready to commit to a sequel that let you do some weird shit to Mario, kind of like how LittleBigPlanet 2 allowed you to make levels that weren't platformers. (That's the scenario I'm hoping for with Mario Maker, btw.) After all, how do you do better than perfect? I could just say this is the reason why I'm not working for Nintendo and leave it at that, but I imagine that they must have some sort of plans for more games of this kind because Mario Maker was such a success, even if those plans are ill-fated. Will the players tire out, or ask for more? If they don't ask for more, then what's next for this genre of games?
Maybe when it's far into the future, when AI is an integral tool in helping us design games, will something surpass Mario Maker in ease and joy in creating levels and games. I know that the main idea of this blog post essay thing will someday become moot and obsolete, but I'm hoping that it does sooner than later.
Also, A Giant Bomb level update!
It's been three weeks since my last update, but don't worry. This thing's still on track for an end of the year release. I just haven't been spending every day on this because I'm a normal person who has other things to do.
I've now finished the second level--thank God--and have moved on to the fourth level (decided it'd be cooler to work on). That level's seen major changes. I decided to redo the visuals on the level and turn it into a synthwave nightmare, complete with pink and blue neon, scan lines, and lasers everywhere. I may change the song in the level for it to match the aesthetic...
In addition, the boss battle for this level has been entirely rebuilt into a much more friendly fashion. The old system was last built many months ago, and it was a mess, and I forgot how it even worked, so I redid it in a cleaner format. I've gotten far enough on it so that it knows who's turn it is and what state its in between turns. I just have the dirty work to go on it: compiling the animations and health bars that go into each attack.
Also, I added an instrumental of Where the Hood At to the game. Also, in the credits level, I've gotten Hatsune Miku to “sing” custom inspired lyrics to the song. This may be the dumbest fucking thing I've ever done.