Monthly Archives: September 2015
Guys, Guys. Super Mario Maker. Seriously.
This happens to me too often with Nintendo games: I know I’m going to like their new games, but I completely underestimate how much I get hooked by them. Captain Toad, Splatoon, and now the latest example, Super Mario Maker. I’ve been completely surprised by how much fun I’ve had making levels. I had reservations initially because, with a series that’s gone on this long, what could users really create for Mario that Nintendo hasn’t done already. I was wrong, of course. Designing levels has been one of those things where it causes the time to melt away without me noticing. While in the level creator, I find there’s just this domino effect in my imagination where new ideas to try are constantly just coming together. While creating, I’ve yet to reach a point where I’m stumped as to what to add next. I seem to always find an idea I want to experiment with next.
Consequently, as coming up with new plans for a level is rather natural, the challenge of designing a level really lies in executing those ideas in a smooth and fun way. One of the things that really helps out while building levels is that you can seamlessly transition from editing the level to playing the level. The smooth, load time-free transition from editing to play testing makes fine tuning a level or experimenting with an idea very accommodating and painless. I’m not going to pretend like my levels are super well-designed masterpieces, but this aspect of the level designer means that they’re much tightly-crafted and less messy than they could have been.
For those who don’t know, there are four tile sets available in the editor: Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. Furthermore, you can make levels in specific environments, such as underwater, ghost houses, airships, Bowser castles, etc. Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA version) is left out probably because it is mechanically a major divergence from the other games (as it is based around picking up and throwing enemies rather than stomping them). But there are doors you can place in a level that strongly resemble the doors to subspace in SMB2, so it is represented in a very token way.
I think, of all the tile sets, I find the best looking to be the SMB3 levels. It may just be my own bias toward this game as my favorite of classic SMB, but the SMB3 pixel art just looks very crisp and sharp in HD. The SMW visuals are a little busy, I think (although they look very good when playing on the gamepad). Meanwhile, SMB1 looks a little bit off in HD. I’m not sure why, but I think it might be because all of the sprites cast shadows on the background. On the other hand, wall jumping is probably my favorite thing to do in a platforming game. In Mario Maker, wall jumping is only possible in NSMBU levels (as that mechanic doesn’t exist in older games), so I tend to find myself wanting to design levels in that tile set more than the others.
With all that said, I do have one major complaint with the game. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to set mid-level checkpoints. This makes long, elaborate, and challenging levels a little more tedious than they should be, since any time you die you have to repeat the early parts of the level. As I prefer to make levels that are on the tricky side, I find myself preferring to make them on the short side so they don’t wear too much on the player’s patience.
Here are my levels so far:
Crawling Caverns: D553-0000-002A-057B
This level seems to have been my most popular so far. It’s an underground level in NSMBU style, and wall jumping is required to succeed. In addition, I experimented around with the idea of needing to use giant enemies, such as giant turtle (shells), to clear the way forward.
Land Meets Sea: 27CE-0000-0030-E71F
The theme for this level is a normal ground level beset by a lot of traditionally underwater enemies, include flying bloopers (giant and normal size), cheep cheeps shot from cannons, and spiny balls. As a tip, the player should try to move briskly through this level, or otherwise the screen can pile up with enemies from the cannons at certain points and make it a lot harder than it was meant to be.
This underwater level started off as an attempt to create a tribute to the hydroelectric dam level from the TMNT NES game. I don’t know if you would realize that from the final level design, but it definitely has a “don’t touch the walls” aspect to it. I originally wanted to make this in the SMB3 style and use the electric jellyfish in that tile set as the walls, but the result was something that was a bit of a visual overload. Instead, I used the SMB tile set and spiky balls as the walls instead.
Hope you like wall jumping!: C9AB-0000-004D-5CF4
A NSMBU castle level. This one was meant to be heavily focused on wall jumping, because as I’ve mentioned, I love wall jumping. It’s not a masterpiece or anything, but it’s actually probably my favorite I’ve created so far, and it taught me a lot about what Mario is capable of doing under NSMBU rules.
Under, Through, Around, and Over: 1C4B-0000-0027-43EA
This is the first level I designed. I decided it was fitting to begin with the original SMB. Ultimately, I think I was trying to be a little too clever with this one, and the result is something that is a little on the messy side.
The year 2015 marks SMB’s 30th Anniversary, and initially I was a bit concerned that Nintendo wasn’t doing anything special for it. There was a lot of concern about Super Mario Maker when it was first announced, because Nintendo has historically not been great at doing online systems, and a game like this needs a good online system for users to trade levels. Last year there was even some confusion coming from Nintendo as to whether gamers would even be able to share levels online or not! Thus, the end result of Mario Maker has actually been something much more incredible than many other people or myself thought it would be and has been a great way to commemorate Mario’s 30th.
Reflecting on the PlayStation’s 20th Anniversary
In the universe’s ongoing campaign to force me to graciously accept the passage of time, this last week saw the arrival of the 20th anniversary of Playstation’s launch in the U.S. I’ve written a bit before about my affinity for the original PSX console (See Rayman!), and I can easily call it the console I’ve owned that has been the most memorable to me.
I suppose I was the right age for the PSX when it hit. It’s strange to think of it today, but gaming (at least on consoles) up until that point had been dominated by a focus on children’s entertainment in the U.S., which contrasts with today’s gaming landscape, where the biggest budget efforts target an 18-35 year old male demographic with high levels of disposable income. Playstation was the inversion point, as Sony realized that there was an emerging market of young adults who had grown up on video games as children, and there was no reason that they couldn’t continue to be gamers. Consequently, they put a lot of effort into pushing titles that would appeal to the maturing tastes of these young gamers. Nintendo, meanwhile, seemingly chose to focus on inducting the newest batch of kids into the world of gaming.
Jet Moto is a way faster game than I remembered it.
When these consoles released, I was a few years off from being a teenager, so I could have gone either way here. Even at the time, I don’t think the “kiddiness” of Nintendo’s games ever really bothered me. I mean, the N64 did have some really great titles, like Star Fox, Zelda, and Mario Kart. But in the end, I’m glad that my parents, for whatever reason, picked up the Playstation instead of the N64 that one Christmas. There were so many great games that resonated with my evolving world view at the time. For instance, I’ve written before on how and why Final Fantasy VII seems to resonate so strongly with gamers of a certain age (The Final Fantasy VII Remake and What It Means to Me).
In addition, the arrival of CDs were a great thing for gaming. I think so many of the reasons the system was a big event for me could be tied the distinct advantages that these discs brought to the scene. Up until that point, the primary expense in making a game went into the manufacturing of ROM cartridges. The cost-savings on the vastly cheaper CDs translated to greatly lower prices on store shelves. Those green-labelled Greatest Hits releases of popular games at $20 meant that my meager savings at the time could go a lot farther in buying games. The N64 analogue, Player’s Choice, had games retailing for double that.
Final Fantasy IX is my favorite of the series.
The low price of the CD medium was also a boon for third parties as evidenced by how they flocked to the system. For cartridge based games, failure to live up to sales expectations could bring a company to near ruin since a lot of money had been blown on producing costly cartridges that weren’t selling. With CDs, these losses weren’t nearly as severe, and, consequently, many developers were willing to take greater risks, and this led to a greater amount of diversity in the games that were released for the console. While there were a lot of quintessential games that were released on the SNES and the Genesis, the 16-bit era was also the era of the “me too” game, where too many developers were focused on making copycats of the few innovative blockbuster titles, and this led to a glut of mascot platformers, shallow beat’em ups, and lame Mortal Kombat clones.
On the PSX, there were many series born around taking risks on new ideas instead of playing it safe with the tried and true. Some of these include Resident Evil with its focus on atmosphere and suspense, Wipeout with its focus on high-speed, high-precision racing, Twisted Metal’s high-octane car combat, Tomba with its mix of platforming, RPG, and Metroid-style worldbuilding, and Tomb Raider which revolutionized the action/adventure genre with its mix of 3D platforming, combat, and puzzle solving. This list could honestly go on for a while. And even the games that were cloning the germ of other groundbreaking series tried to be innovative in their own ways. For instance, you wouldn’t have Silent Hill and Parasite Eve without Resident Evil, but Silent Hill created its own identity with its focus on psychological horror, as did Parasite Eve which fused survival horror with Squaresoft RPG design.
Crash Team Racing is a legendary kart game.
This was also the era when gamers became really obsessed with story in games. There had been story-driven games before on consoles (like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest) and, of course, adventure games like King’s Quest and Monkey Island were huge on PC, but with the relatively immense storage space that CDs offered, a new generation of heavily cinematic Japanese game design came to rule the roost. The biggest directors of this era were veteran Japanese developers that were heavily influenced by their interest in Hollywood-style storytelling, including Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid), Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil), and Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy). The influence of their cinematic approach to game design still dominates today’s big budget gaming landscape which gives just as much weight to storytelling as it does core gameplay mechanics.
Thus, Playstation was a major turning point in gaming. I often wonder if I would still be as interested in gaming today if I didn’t have PSX during my early teen years. It’s not so much because of the mature edge that it was marketed on, but simply because it enabled the birth of so many of the series that I love. If nothing else, I don’t think my tastes in games would be as developed as they are, which is to say that I don’t think I would be as interested in the variety of games that I am.