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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Super Mario Maker Experience

Super Mario Maker has been out for over a week now (and doing not too shabby in the sales charts I might add), which means I've had enough time to play around with the game and I can honestly say I've put more time in this game than any others before it. 

The game is simply addicting, especially if you have a creative spirit. I've spent more time making levels than playing them. Though to be fair, considering the amount of "crap" I come across when I do play, it's hard to argue against just wanting to create levels instead of playing them. 

To be fair, a lot of kids are also playing this game, as well as people who are.... less artistically inclined... to put it nicely. But the one thing that ruins the game for me is the extremely hard levels that don't tell you what to do and result in more insta-death than anything else. 

It's not fun. It's annoying. 

It might not be completely fair to criticise others, especially when I have noticed people playing my own levels "not getting it" or feeling some parts to be completely unfair. 

In my "the Plumber Games" level, I tried to re-tell a few beats from the first Hunger Games movie. It opens with the "girl on fire" parade, before showering the player in wealth and then training before the "ship" with all the "weapons" appears. After that it's a trek through a nasty cave, a dangerous forest, which is then set "ablaze" before the final confrontation with your foes. 

the Plumber Games: 39CA-0000-0021-1949

After seeing others play, and subsequently fail, at that level multiple times over (though to be fair, some players kept rushing and doing stupid things) I was wondering what the problem was. It certainly wasn't THAT difficult? Then I realized for the first time that the vision of a level and being able to complete that level with hands tied behind my back simply because I MADE IT, doesn't mean anything for someone who is just trying the level for the first time. 

Miyamoto's words came to mind as he once said that he likes to let others play his levels to see what their reactions are and sometimes that leads to them not enjoying the vision of a level at all. 

So what does a good level make? 

If it's easy, it's just easy. If it's automatic, it might be tons of fun, but so is watching a video. You also do nothing but watch. Whilst the design of automatic levels is impressive and I mean no disrespect to anyone creating them (I dabbled a bit myself, resulting in the less impressive but hopefully still fun "Surfer Mario" 0E37-0000-004E-E90B), but seeing those types of levels high in the charts, also resulting in any other levels made by the same users get a LOT of stars, seems to be unfair.

Unfair in the sense that their levels get rated higher and higher, so people play the other levels they made and star those levels as well (regardless of their quality). 

That's not to say I regard my levels to be of the UTMOST quality, but I do try and make them fun, challenging and different. In some levels I've spent SO much time "dressing  up" the level, because I just want to evoke a feeling of quality. I like to think about what I place where and why. 

Especially on my "the Hidden Haunted Railroad" level (BE0B-0000-0039-25DF), I took a LOT of time to dress it up. It started out as a bit of a troll level (or as I'd like to call it, a teasing puzzle level ^^), but one little hidden platform suddenly grew out to be the focus of the entire level. I play test a LOT and if I feel the difficulty is too high, I'll change it up to make the level a bit easier. An extra power-up here or another platform there or even deleting this enemy here. Regardless of the intention of the level, it should also be fun.

Personally I think my Star Wars: the Battle of Hoth level nails that. It tells a story, you need to be on your toes on occasion, it has some puzzle elements but it's also a lot of fun to play through, especially if you're a Star Wars fan. See: FF9A-0000-0055-B78E

But again, whatever one envisions for a level, is not always how the level is experienced. I even had to point out a few visual cues of "Hotel Mario" to friends, because they "didn't get" why those blocks and those clouds were there. "Those are...beds.." I replied, resulting in a lot of laughter. From them. -.- .... (if you want to laugh at me too, check the level here: 210C-0000-004A-E82E)

Playtesting your own level might iron out most of the kinks, however, nothing prepares you for OTHER players. An area you think is beautifully done, they rush through. A secret path, they miss and don't bother with. That clever puzzle? They hate. And the path you want them to take, they skip because they've found a shortcut that mostly skips the level and that can leave you bewildered, because this was YOUR level, your plan and they just ruined it. 

I have more respect for game creators now. Whereas as humans we always seem to want to find the fastest, easiest way out of things, but as creators you really want them to experience your creation, your level, your intentions for them (be they good, fun, bad or downright evil) and seeing everyone poke and prod at your level almost makes you want to yell "NO, NOT THAT WAY, GO THERE!" or "Sigh, really? There's a hidden mushroom there, use it, or you die", "oh you died. HOW DID YOU DIE THERE?!" 

If anything, Super Mario Maker makes you experience game playing and creating to the extreme. I've never felt this way about games before. Actually getting upset when people skip that beautifully created Ghost Train or just standing in wait until bombs detonate, when the fun part is actually running through all of the explosions and making it out aive. But also feeling joy when people really, REALLY, like your level. 

My levels might not be the cream of the crop, they might not earn me stars by the bucketload, but I have fun making them, playing them and sharing them. Whereas this post might be interpreted as a shameless promotion for my levels, it's more about what my experience with Super Mario Maker has been so far and I am curious about yours. 

I only hope we'll get more items, more themes and level templates, because my ideas are starting to grow beyond what Super Mario Maker offers now. Though so far, it has already been the gaming experience of a lifetime. 

- Alex

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Do The Mario!

It's been awhile since MPN was updated. And what better week to do some... remodeling? Y'know, with the upcoming release of Super Mario Maker for Wii U?

I'll keep this post short, as I'm hoping to update MPN more regularly, especially with this little game coming. As you can see on the "Art" page above, I have a few ideas for an "ultimate" version of Super Mario Bros, called Ultimate Mario Bros. 

I haven't been able to find the time to completely draw that particular take on the famous brothers, but I might try and create a few levels to tell the story. 

We'll see what happens when I get the game next friday. Happy creating to all of you and hope to see what you guys will be able to cook up for me. 

- Alex