Next up in our Super Nindie Maker 2 series, we're lucky enough to have a bumper offering from Playtonic Games. Following on from the opening gambit courtesy of Shovel Knight designer Mike Herbster, the developers behind Yooka-Laylee and its upcoming 2.5D sequel Yooka-Laylee and The Impossible Lair have cooked up a crop of no fewer than four Super Mario Maker 2 courses for your enjoyment.

Kindly taking time from their hectic schedule readying the next chapter of Yooka and Laylee's adventures, these levels have been crafted by Hamish Lockwood (Designer), Daley Johnson (Engagement Director), Karl Roe (Programmer) and Matt Griffin (Audio Designer). Proceeding in that order, we'll begin with Hamish's pun-tastic offering, 'A Crate Job'...

Hamish Lockwood (Designer) - Username: PlaytonicH

What was the thought process behind the creation of your level?

I started this level the same way I normally would at work - by experimenting with some mechanics to find a gameplay theme I think will give me a lot of mileage. This is the first level I've made in Mario Maker 2 but I have about half a dozen "sketch" levels/ideas that didn't work out before I found one I liked enough.

It's interesting - I found the crates and doors combo surprisingly limiting after working with them for a while. You can't have too many crates (I suspect because they're physics objects?) and you can only have 4 pairs of doors per scene. It turns out there were just enough to make what I wanted but like I say, it was a surprisingly strict challenge! But this sort of thing encourages creative thinking so it’s quite fun to work around it.

Anyway once I got going I created a series of rooms/puzzles that slowly increased in challenge or introduced a new idea. For example:

  1. The first room makes you move crates out of the way.
  2. The second room makes you move crates but to a specific location.
  3. The third room forces you to learn to break open the crates to find things inside.
  4. The fourth room is a celebration of that (it’s fun to break a lot of crates at once!) but there’s also a tempting risk/reward challenge if you choose.
  5. The fifth room used to be more challenging but I required the checkpoints elsewhere so I removed the hazards so it didn’t feel unfair or frustrating.
  6. Let’s come back to the sixth room…!
  7. The seventh room is the final “big puzzle” that tests what you’ve learned so far, but introduces a couple of new elements. I actually didn’t think it was clear enough that you can throw crates through pipes and have them land somewhere convenient. So I went back and made an extra room – room six!
  8. The sixth room was designed to force the player to learn throwing crates through pipes.
  9. The eighth room is a reward room, but it also highlights the players goal in the seventh room. You can see all those coins early which makes you want to enter the correct door in the “big puzzle room.”
  10. The final room is a very easy flag challenge with a secret coin at the top!

To be honest I think I could have cut the fifth room and I definitely think the big puzzle room is messily designed. These things would normally be addressed if making levels for a real game… But that’s the nice thing about Mario Maker – I can stop whenever I feel like it, haha!

How have your design experiences helped or hindered you in this process?

Making levels is my job so obviously that experience has helped! After making a bunch of levels you acquire a mental list of do's and don't's which I think can help to speed things up. Just small things like "don't use too many ingredients", "don't let the player get killed after respawning", "don't ask the player to kill themselves if the puzzle becomes unsolvable", etc.

It can be quite hard to forget these things and as a result I found myself wanting to spend loads of time on this level. It took about a week or so and in the end, even though I'm not perfectly happy with it, I decided it was good enough. This isn't the best attitude to have as a level designer but I didn't want to spend months on a single level like I might if it were for a professional game!

Is there a stage from a 2D Mario game that’s a particular favourite of yours? What makes it so memorable?

If I think back to the most memorable levels for me in 2D Mario games I think of things like the Kuribo's Shoe level in Mario Bros. 3, the Giant Land in Mario Bros. 3, or the first level in World 7 (I had to look it up) in Mario Bros. 3 where you scale up a level made entirely of pipes. These levels all have a really cool, strong theme (the shoe item, the giant enemies, the visual theme) that makes them extra memorable for me. I think levels become memorable if you can easily finish the sentence “This is the level where you…”

Also pretty much anything in Yoshi's Island - I don't know how they made something so good, so long ago!

Is there any feature you’d love to see added to Super Mario Maker 2?

I spoke of the limitations I worked around but I do understand why those are the way they are. I also really appreciate how Nintendo seemed to prioritise accessibility in this game. I think the way they implemented the locked cameras (by drawing a straight line) is very clever, although unfortunately I found I wasn't able to lock the cameras on all my rooms, mostly due to the flag at the end. You can't really have a line drawn through that! I would love a more robust camera system but that then moves away from keeping the game accessible because with more functionality comes more complexity. So I personally would like that, but at the same time I don’t think it’s a good fit for the game! So I suppose I'll instead request the skinny Mario costume to make a return!

Next up we have Daley Johnson, Engagement Director at Playtonic with her level 'Treetop Arcade'...