Welcome back to our ongoing Super Nindie Maker 2 series where game developers create Super Mario Maker 2 levels for the pleasure of you lovely people. In the previous feature we received a bumper crop of crafty courses from Playtonic Games and before that we had a tight autoscroll Airship course from the level designer of Shovel Knight.
Next to accept the challenge is Teddy Lee, co-founder of Cellar Door Games and lead designer on the excellent Rogue Legacy and also-excellent Full Metal Furies. As detailed below, this was Teddy's first brush with Mario Maker (not that you'd know from the result!), so massive props to him for taking the time and sharing his first ever course with us. It's puzzle-themed and he's been kind enough to provide solutions and some design notes (scroll to the bottom of the page), so there's help at hand if you get stuck.
We'd advise you to only peek if you're totally foxed, though. This one's a head-scratcher in the best possible way. Without further ado, over to Teddy...
Teddy Lee, Lead Designer, Cellar Door Games
I've never played Mario Maker 1, and for this one I just jumped right into stage development. So I skipped the tutorials, and didn't play any stages, which might've been a mistake. I didn't know about undo, or even how to save for the longest time, and I only found out about copy paste, undo, and moving large sections of real-estate at the very end of development... So that was interesting...
Anyhoo, I think it took me about 2 - 2.5 hours over the course of 3 weeks to make the stage (been a busy few months), and there's a lack of polish, because I didn't know how to do things like change the music, add background elements (can you?), or other mundane things, so I apologize.
Oh, and I didn't know about the 1 checkpoint rule thing. If I made this stage for real, there'd be checkpoints EVERYWHERE. I didn't know about that restriction until the end.
Anyways ONTO the stage...
I'm a big fan of puzzle games, and I thought it'd be an interesting challenge if I could make a puzzle stage in a Mario game instead of a typical platforming one. There's still platforming sequences, because it's inevitable with the genre, but I tried to keep it light and unobtrusive. I wrote down the solution to beating this stage below, with some additional thoughts on what I did.
What was the thought process behind the creation of your level?
No thought process. I went in and decided to wing it. I tried to go with stuff that I knew the rules for. So I originally wanted to build a stage using Pblocks, but they don't seem to work at ALL with how I originally remembered them. I ended up using POW blocks because my first room design I accidentally placed a bunch of POWS instead of Pblocks because they looked the same.
How have your design experiences at Cellar Door helped or hindered you in this process?
I don't know. Cellar Door was originally me and my brother so I've never really gained any experiences from working here aside from just... Y'know making a bunch of games, and learning from past mistakes. I never went to school for game design because it was too expensive, so everything I do is self-taught. I will say that working with my brother has helped me be much more critical about everything I do though which I think is immensely helpful in game design (and probably for life in general as well).
Is there a stage from a 2D Mario game that’s a particular favourite of yours? What makes it so memorable?
The big small world in Mario Bros 3. I loved that stage as a kid, especially because on our version of Mario, if we flew on that stage the game would freeze, so we had to be extra careful on how we went about bypassing it.
The other two most memorable stages is the sun stage in Mario Bros 3 because it was awful, and this cloud stage where you jumped on flying shell enemies because it was legit impossible but Nintendo let you skip it. I really appreciated that skip... But yeah, most of the things that stick in my head are from MB3 just because I played it the most, not because it was the best designed. Oh and the boots stage. I loved the boot. That is actually my favorite stage.
Is there any feature you’d love to see added to Super Mario Maker 2?
A mouse and keyboard honestly. When it comes to level design, having flexibility is amazing, but iteration speed is king. I need to be able to drag entire sections around, fix layers, have hotkeys bound to separate buttons, etc. Because the faster you can iterate, the better stages you'll end up making.
Solution & Design Notes
1. Enter Door.
First door here sets up the thematic. In one of the original designs, the level was going to be more Metroidvania-y, and you had to come you had to come back to the starting room to solve a puzzle but I scrapped it.
2. Bounce off Thwomp to top.
When the thwomp "Surprise" crunches you, I did that both to help me speed run the stage (don't have to kite the drop), and to solve the issue of the thwomp being offscreen (necessary for the bounce upwards elevator bit). It's 2 units high so that if you come back as tall mario you don't get grunked.
3. Bounce off side dashing thwomp to grab POW block.
This section was redesigned like 4 times to get everything to fit. I needed this section to be perfectly framed so that players look around and really take notice of the door to the right under the yellow blocks. This was one of the old metroidvania shticks I had in mind, and I liked it enough to keep it.
4. Bring pow block down and use as a platform into next room. This puzzle was the first one I had.
Originally I wanted the POW you first picked up to be multi-purpose. Like, you killed a thwomp to enter a door, then you had to have the insight to know that you could still use that POW to enter ANOTHER door if you used it as a platform, etc etc. It was too meta off the bat, so I scrapped it.
Also, this room is also an INTRODUCTION mechanic room. You now know POWS can be used as platforms for doors, so I wanted to keep it somewhat simple.
5. Take springy and bring it to the top right. Place two springies on eachother to get to the top.
First springy pulls attention because it's obviously unnecessary. This is another intro puzzle to show the player they can stack objects on Springies.
6. Grab mushroom and all springies down to the bottom.
People forget about the mushroom bit here. If they restart, they'll get back to the Thwomp and have that AH HA where they understand they need to somehow backtrack.
7. Stack springies to get to the to left, and bring the POW back down.
I wanted this to be a multi-puzzle room. So it's pretty crunched down mechanically. Also of note, I pushed in the vertical wall so that when the player is throwing the springies down it'll bounce on top of each other so that players who MIGHT not have solved what to do next, will probably do so involuntarily.
8. Unstack the springies and leave only 1. Place the POW block on top of it, and use as a platform to enter door.
I liked this because in a very small room I was able to do.
- Single Stack bouncies intro.
- Multi Bouncy stack puzzle.
- Single stack springy with pow block.
9. Climb back up the thwomp, then break the blocks.
The original Metroidvania shtick that survived.
10. Use thwomps to get up, then jump on the last one, and shrink to use him as a platform to enter the door.
Originally you had to die if you failed this bit. I really hated that and was able to rejigger the room with to have an infinite spawning mushroom bit. It also let me create a safespace with the thwomp so players could think the solution through.
Also if you do a bounce off the top most thwomp, I made a small hole so you fit perfectly. That's just nice feel.
Also the door is flush so that it's really easy to enter the door during your few seconds of invulnerability.
11. Build a staircase from the POWs to enter the door.
Easiest I could make this puzzle.
I'm not a huge fan of the layout, because it's so tight, but I was getting pretty tired with the tools at this point. (I didn't know about multi grab and fill, so just making the walls was really exhausting for me).
12. Duck and jump to reveal the hidden blocks.
This is a "simple twist room".
I've played with POWS for so long most people here will think about how to get a pow in here, or if they've screwed themselves. It was critical that this room be as small and inornate as possible.
13. Take the springy back to the original room.
Intro mechanic to "carry items into another room".
14. Put springy in the right, then place a pow to make a bouncy platform. Grab the other pow and take it through the door.
The real puzzle here is taking the POW into the next room. If you don't it's super frustrating, but I couldn't fix this with checkpoints. If I had more time I'd clean this bit up.
15. Use the pow to kill a thwomp to enter the door below.
This room had thwomps all over, but POWS were wonky as sin in this room. Some thwomps would die, others would be invincible, it had no rhyme or reason. This was the most stable version I could create in the end.
16. Small bounce across the thwomps.
First bit is designed specifically so you could see the yellow blocks. If I could I'd have highlighted it better.
I force the player to do small bounces purposefully here because it makes the second section easier. Completing it doing high bounces is possible when you're below, but it's much harder.
17. Do a small bounce across the thwomps from below to get across and smash the blocks covering the pipe.
Room was designed to have music playing but I couldn't change the song, so whatever. 5 second ditty. Also I do the multi spring bouncy thingy as a riff off of how newer Mario games keep making it a shtick on how you cross the end platformy bit.
A huge thank you to Teddy for taking the time to make this level for us and detail his process. Let us know how you got on - did you sneak a peak at the solution or did you conquer Teddy's creation on your own? Don't forget, you can share your levels and play courses from the Nintendo Life community on our own Mario Maker 2 Course page. Enjoy!