Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Super Mario Maker - Bully Bill

Bully Bill

We’re finally getting to levels that I feel are pretty good! Here, I wanted to have a very high-up level, with multiple paths, and I wanted to focus on another one of my favorite enemies: Bullet Bill.

Bullet Bills are great. They shoot bullets at a regular interval in a straight, horizontal line, and Mario can jump off a bullet not only to knock it down but also to extend Mario’s jump, a mechanic used in lots of other levels. Unlike fire piranha plants, which breathe unkillable fireballs at an angle, bullets are more predictable and manageable. But even though Bullet Bills’ firing rate and pattern are simple, they’re still ripe for increasingly complex formations, especially when bullets fired rightward are allowed to linger on-screen as Mario progresses through a level. Each bullet only denies Mario a little horizontal space, so having multiple bullets looks worse than it actually is.

By taking away a little horizontal space at a time, I built a level with a slow burn. At first, the bullets just fly over or under you. Then they directly intersect your path. Bullets then come at you from both directions, and finally you’re forced to navigate multiple bullets coming from either side of the screen, denying you the ability to jump on any bullet except the topmost one.

The vertical aspect is mostly used to create a separate path in case you aren’t good at staying on platforms. I won’t say it’s the most interesting or well-executed part of this level, but it seemed like a better alternative to me than just letting the player die as soon as they miss a single jump. Similarly, I used spikes to block off the gaps between solid platforms. Using spikes instead of open pits still signals “danger,” but spikes won’t kill Mario instantly if he’s not Small Mario, and let the player quickly dash back onto a platform. Using spikes therefore allows me to avoid excessively punishing the player. As a bonus, using spikes also makes it pretty clear there are no secret “fall down here for a bonus” pits.

This level might not be perfect, but I feel pretty good about it. I have fun trying to stay on the upper platforms while dodging bullets, and I think I did a good job ramping up the difficulty while avoiding excessive punishment. I also think the use of verticality makes for an interesting and memorable level. (I even got a Let’s Play video of my level, which is thrilling! They also liked it!)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Super Mario Maker - Steamed Cheep Cheep

Steamed cheep cheep

There are two elements of Mario games that I despise: the sluggish, difficult nature of water levels, and the rounded, cartoony look and sound of New Super Mario Bros. This level is the first time I tried these two elementsbecause sometimes I feel the need to rip off the proverbial Band-Aid and push outside my comfort zone.

Underwater levels prevent you from bopping most enemies on the head to clear them, so fire flowers end up being one of the only ways to clear enemies when you’re underwater. I find this incredibly frustrating because when I think “Mario” I think “jumping on enemies’ heads.” As a result, I wanted to create a sense of catharsis by giving the player a fire flower and a ton of enemies to wipe out with fireballs.

This level is wide open, and features increasingly complex formations of Cheep Cheeps. My idea was to introduce a fire flower about halfway through and turn it into a fish fry. Having the fire flower show up halfway through should create some tension, in contrast to the sense of relief you get after arming yourself with fireballs. Unfortunately, my inexperience at making water levels really shined through when I played through this level again recently.

My first mistake was making the water level wide open. You can see from the screenshot that it’s a little too easy to just swim up to the top and pass over all the enemies. If you go back and look at any other Mario game’s water levels, they tend to be less of a straight shot, and more “twisty”. The fact that you can freely move up and down opens up way more possibilities in the design, and a official Mario level tends to take advantage of that. By making a straight, open level, I made a really boring and trivial level.

My second mistake is closely related to the first. Because I had a wide-open level, it might be a little bit too easy to skip over the fire flower entirely. Since getting the fire flower was my central idea for the level, having it be skippable renders the entire level pointless! Ideally, I would have used pipes or blocks to herd the player into a place where the fire flower was 100% unavoidable. By closing off some more of the level, I could heighten the tension of near-misses with Cheep Cheeps and make the initial stages of the level more interesting. That would heighten the sense of catharsis even more. For the end of the level, I could have opened up suddenly into a big shooting gallery of Cheep Cheeps, which would make it harder to skip over entirely. That release from a small, tight space where you dodge enemies into a big space where you are free to toast enemies would also have made the level more emotionally satisfying.