As you may have seen by now, we really want you all to share Super Mario Maker levels with each other; to achieve that we've set up a special level sharing page with some neat features - just for you.
We're also teaming up with some 'Nindies' to share some levels from established and highly respected developers. To start off we have a creation by Markus Månsson, who is a level designer from Image & Form, the studio behind SteamWorld Dig and the upcoming SteamWorld Heist.
While Super Mario Maker makes us all game creators, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at levels from those within the development community, so we can understand the thought processes behind their designs. While many of us will slap down items in Super Mario Maker in a haphazard way and tweak them on the fly to make something fun, a level designer may well approach things in a more methodical fashion.
So Månsson, in his own words, explains how he created his Ghostly Mushroom stage.
What was the thought process behind the creation of your level?
I'll go through the steps that define this level and talk about what I was aiming to achieve. When designing levels for Mario I try to keep the level focused on a couple of objects. Each level I create is based on one core idea that will be the focus throughout the whole level.
My core idea with this level was to convince the player they know what they are up against. Then they feel comfortable.
I do this by initially showing the finish line and the obstacle blocking the path towards the finish. In this level it is a single yellow block that prevents the player from getting to the finish line; the player needs to become big Mario to finish this level. And how convenient, there is a red mushroom on the other side of a wall.
Then I turn the tables.
The player takes the pipe that "obviously" leads to the mushroom area but they show up on another place. Either they arrive in a place that looks exactly like they thought it would, but without the mushroom, or in a place that is totally different. Both help to confuse the player. Then they take the very same pipe back and show up in yet another area. I do this repeatedly.
This is done by building multiple identical rooms connected with warp pipes, shaking up the perception of what they should be.
But there is a fine line between confusing the player and just being evil. I'm not saying I nailed the exact spot regarding that, but I think arrived not too far away. I made sure to throw in some rewards every now and then to not discourage the player from continuing. Sure, they feel lost, but at least lost & rewarded instead of lost & punished. Also, during all this time at least they know what they are supposed to do. They simply need to get a mushroom and then return to the finish line.
And yet, when they finally manage their way back to the finish line, as big Mario, to crush the single yellow block that is in their way I tossed in another surprise. Hidden blocks to block the player's way. Whoops. Most of the players rather quickly find the real way to the finish after that though; they have already been shown another path, albeit subtly.
This map relies on the spin-jump Mario can do in Super Mario World to crush blocks beneath him after becoming big Mario.
To make sure that the player actually knows about this jump I decided to do a mini-tutorial in the beginning of the level. The player won't get past the first room before they manage to crush the blocks with a spin jump.
I aimed for an easy difficulty, overall. I wanted everyone to be able to finish this level. Based on my perception while browsing maps and comparing their success rate I'd say that the majority of 100 Mario Challenge players do not want to fail over and over. If they die too much they just skip the level. So I tried to make the level interesting in other ways than to challenge their Mario skill; to satisfy the really hardcore players I added secret areas and additional exits. Perhaps they are too well hidden to ever be found. I realised that no one will probably find the feather without downloading the level and examining it in the editor, and I'm sure no one will ever find Yoshi. Poor Yoshi, he will be forever alone.
How have your experiences designing levels at Image & Form helped/hindered you in this process?
The game we are working on, Steamworld Heist, is a completely different kind of game. But spending 8 hours a day at creating levels for ANY game will help you to get into the mindset needed for efficiently creating a level. One thing you learn by creating a lot of levels is how to scale up a level's intensity throughout the course without making the level totally crazy. Start out by introducing some simple obstacles and then later in the level use the same kind of obstacles but in a more complex set up. That's an easy way of creating something that appears to be very well designed.
Another thing I get to practice a lot is the ability to detect errors in the design as early as possible, to avoid putting too much effort on things that don't really work out well.
And that brings me to the last thing that came to mind for now. Realise the value of testing your level. A lot. Both yourself but preferably on anyone that is willing to give it a go. To observe other people playing your level is the best way to detect both big and small design problems.
As a special bonus, here is another level from Ulf Hartelius at Image & Form which promises a sterner challenge.
Be sure to try out Markus' Super Mario Maker level for yourself (and Ulf's too!) and let us know what you think with a comment below. Do you feel his design choices paid off?