5 Things Super Mario Maker Taught Me About Level Design

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On the 11th of September, 2015, Super Mario Maker marked 30 years since Mario first came into our lives in all his pixelated glory. It was the first time we got to see Super Mario Bros from a different angle: as a level designer, not just a player.

Despite it’s undeniable awesomeness, Super Mario is pretty simple as a gaming concept, right? One button to sprint, one to jump. Get power-ups, don’t fall down holes or get hit by enemies. Yet with the release of Super Mario Maker, it looks like there is still a few things we could learn about this gaming classic after all…

1. Designing levels is harder than it looks.

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A few blocks here… fifty Goombas here. What’s the problem? Oh, that’s right, this is now the worst level ever! It’s very easy to underestimate the immense level of thinking, creativity and planning that goes into even the most simplistic of levels. Take Level 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. for example. Think about pacing, breadcrumbs and how the level introduces you to scenarios and mechanics that will help you later on in the level. If your Super Mario Maker level has all of these elements, then you’re probably on the right track!

2. You can use the exact same elements to make wildly different things.

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All you have to do is go to the popular levels section of Super Mario Maker to find some of the weirdest and bizarrely amazing levels ever created on the Super Mario platform. Yet, they’re all made of the same elements you’ve become familiar with over many years of Mario – it’s amazing what you can do with a few blocks and springs!

3. People won’t necessarily play your level how you intended it to be played.

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Bear this in mind when creating your masterpiece on Super Mario Maker as not everyone will approach your level from the same angle. How easy is it to ‘break’ your level? Are there accidental hidden paths that allow you to skip most of the level? In short, make sure your level is fool proof! Consider giving players a few safe ‘practice’ sections of the level before you bring on the real danger so that they understand the concept.

4. Creating a level that’s challenging (but not impossible) ain’t easy.

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Well, jumping over this small gap seems too easy so let’s make it a 100-ft chasm with fire flying out of it. Or how about 50 Lakitus throwing flying Goombas? Balancing the fine line between a level being fun yet challenging or just simply challenging the player’s will to live ain’t an easy task. If you’re gonna give the player a few tough challenges, try and make sure they’re separated by little breathing space.

5. None of us should work designing levels for Nintendo.

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Let’s be honest, if some of the levels I’ve played were on the original Super Mario Bros., I don’t think Nintendo would have even survived past the 1980’s. I mean, when it comes to level design, we’re literally crazy. That being said, if anybody needs a new level designer, I’m totally available…

So there you have it Super Mario Maker fans! All in all, it’s easy to overlook the ridiculous amount of thought that goes into even some of the most subtle game mechanics. But at the same time, the fact that these things are fairly invisible to us just goes to show how great the traditional Super Mario Bros level design truly is. We hope you’ve been enjoying playing the levels we made on our playthrough of Super Mario Maker over on our YouTube channel! Keep sending your level codes to us and wow us with your genius!

Cheers,

Mark & Becky xxx