If you own Super Mario Maker you’ve probably seen some things, some really bad things, things that will haunt your sleep at night every night until your last… Ok maybe not quite that bad, but you will have come across a few cluttered, confusing, and frustrating levels that you chose to swipe right on past. Here’s a few simple and easy tips to help make sure your levels don’t receive the same treatment.
Know the Flow: Good level design doesn’t tend to happen by accident. Placing platforms, objects and enemies randomly will almost always end up with a messy and unenjoyable gameplay experience with awkward jumps, cheap difficulty spikes and a broken controller. Every level has a natural flow and that flow is set from the moment you place set the height of your starting platform. For your first few levels you should probably keep things simply with one path to the end but once you grow in confidence you may want to start trying levels with multiple paths to success. Get good enough and you can actually offer two entirely different levels in one. Perhaps you’ll have a lower path that’s relatively free of enemies but requires a lot of tough precision jumps, while an upper path offers more simple platforming but puts more hazards in your way. What you want to do is up to you but the height of that starting platform could end up with your very clever multi-route level becoming a one trick pony. It’s a simple part of our nature that the majority of us will choose the path that catches our eye first and if you haven’t given both an equal footing on screen by setting your starting platform at a middle of the line height then chances are nobody is going to bother and half of your hard work has just gone down the drain.
Here’s a few simple tips to help get your level flowing;
1: When a running jump is needed try to give the player just enough open space to make it comfortably. Too much flat empty space will make the level seem less interesting. Too little will force the player to stop and backtrack to be sure of the clean jump.
2: On the opposite end of the scale you may sometimes want to create a precision jumping section. With a sidescrolling platformer it can sometimes be hard to tell what is coming next and react in good time if you’re running flat out. Placing a few enemies or a pipe with a piranha plant is a great way to slow people down and get them thinking about what may be ahead of them.
3: Always pay attention to visibility. This is one of the key differences between true challenge and cheap tricks. Thwomps falling from a height that is offscreen, enemies that fly just above the screen level while Mario is doing a series of ascending platform jumps. These sort of placements will only irritate a player, they require luck not skill. Initially it can be hard to tell what will and will not be visible at certain times during play so always be sure to check them out as you go and make sure the player can see them before having the do anything in their vicinity.
4: Use coins to help players understand your level. No I don’t mean spell out long instructions using coins (Although you can do so if you wish). Unless you’re a very mean person you’ll probably be placing coins in accessible places. Using this logic most players will follow the coins so if at any point you want to give the player a little guidance as to a certain jump pattern then this is the easiest and least intrusive way to do so.
5: No doubt you’ve heard the saying “less is more”. This can be very true in Mario Maker. A cluttered level even if it has been carefully planned can incite a negative reaction. When there’s two dozen flying goombas soaring through the air and you can’t jump without hitting a question block you’re not likely to be able to focus on what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Place your enemies and power ups carefully. Having a wacky over the top level is fine and I doubt there’s a single person who hasn’t made a level by just throwing everything in the one pot and seeing what happens. Just don’t expect this level to have any lasting value outside of its wackiness.
Keep it Simple: Super Mario Maker starts off slow. It gives you a few simple tools to work with and will slowly introduce more and more toys to play with. Although it is very tempting to simply skip the time by tampering with the Wii U’s clock this slow pace works wonders for encouraging you to think up new ways to use the items currently at your disposal. It also encourages you not to try and add too many elements into a single level. The majority of great levels in Mario Maker stick to one tow two key elements and use them in all manners of new and creative ways. By picking 4 or 5 different mechanics you want to use in your level you will stop yourself getting overwhelmed with options, stop your level from getting overly cluttered and convoluted and allow the player to understand your aim while still being pleasantly surprised by it. This of course feeds nicely into the idea of flow.
Play the Game: Coming up with ideas is hard. There are very few people out there who can come up with an idea entirely their own without a little inspiration from previous work. That’s why playing other people’s levels is every bit as important to the creation experience as actually creating your own. Super Mario Maker allows you to create some very odd combinations that you might never think of by yourself. Very often these combinations are what will give you your best idea yet but only if you happen to discover them somehow. Whether you’re playing user created content or one of Nintendo’s professional levels you will find certain concepts and mechanics you like. Pretty soon you’ll be looking at them and thinking “what if…”. Mario Maker is all about taking a tried and tested formula and twisting it to your own devices. Withe every passing day that formula is evolving in the hands of passionate gamers who continue to create new uses for old items. The game has a constant flow of new content and in that new content their are new ideas and new sources of inspiration. Make use of it.
If possible you should also take the time to actually watch somebody play through your levels. You’d be amazed at the different ways people will attempt what may seem like the most straightforward level imaginable. Chances are the way you see your level is not the same as how a friend or family member may see it.
Reward: Once you have a good handle on the basics (and trust me that will be faster than you think) you can start thinking about how to make your levels stand out from the crowd. One of the greatest downsides of Mario Maker is the lack of consequence. Collecting coins and lives mean nothing in this unconnected sequence of levels and because of this most people will run right through most levels never taking the time to fully explore them. You need to give them other reasons to explore. Hidden power ups, secret rooms, multiple paths etc are a great alternative reward system.
Check the e-Manual: Before Mario Maker I hadn’t looked at game manual for about 15 years but the Mario Maker e-Manual is well worth a view. It’s packed with useful tips and actually manages to be quite entertaining. Try inputting the codes you’ll find in the free art book for some bonus extras.
If you want to play the levels I created while working on our review (which you can find here) then you can search for the following level IDs.
0F9F-0000-0016-FC65 , a simple design requiring a precision jump and wall bounce.
4FA2-0000-0021-A8C5 , a level about a question block questioning his value in a world full of question blocks (or whatever deep meaning you want to attribute to it).
6D2A-0000-002D-7F17 , this level shows off how to create a busy scene but keep it easy to follow and understand.F005-0000-0038-B7A3 , a water level that won’t make you tear your hair out.
4258-0000-0051-2693 , the most popular level on this list so far, this one shows off how to create a level with two different paths offering to different play styles.
0945-0000-0057-48F8 , not the most exciting Ghost House in the world but this one has a secret that will let you win with ease.
I have no doubt that before long you’ll be able to make levels that put these to shame so why not share your own creations with the 4-One community in our dedicated Super Mario Maker level thread over in the forums.