The Daily Mario, Day 6: Back to Basics

The Daily Mario, Day 6: Back to Basics

Jeremy takes on the greatest challenge Super Mario Maker has to offer: Creating a level suitable to be a game's World 1-1.

At this point in my mad march through Super Mario Maker, I've nearly unlocked everything in the toolset. I haven't been making use of the more advanced goodies, however, because honestly I don't think I've earned them.

I'm still very much an amateur level designer, and I feel that something like a Koopa clown car demands a little more finesse than I'm currently able to apply. Yesterday's TMNT homage received more or less universal praise, which is nice, but... it was built on someone else's design. My goal all along has been to build Mario stages that could go in the opening worlds of a game, meaning they're fairly basic with a few interesting challenges along the way. In practice, however, my constructions have been vicious and brutal, better suited for the latter portions of a game at best. What a stunning failure!

Accessibility poses the greatest challenge of any sort of design, be it video game levels or bathroom signage. By this point, this Daily Mario series has long since ceased to be about me showing off the advanced features of the game (which countless others have done already anyway) and has basically been a free-fire zone for me to ruminate about what I feel constitutes good game design, then flail wildly in an attempt to put my money where my mouth is.

So, I figured, why not take on the grandest challenge of them all and try to make a really good, really fun, really interesting World 1-1 equivalent? Something basic, easy for a seasoned player to complete, and that shows off game mechanics in a meaningful way? Simple, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong? World 1-1 is the most basic, fundamental level in all of video games, right? And also the most thoughtfully conceived, considerately arranged, accessible, playable, instructive, masterpieces of a stage ever published... the cornerstone around which an entire genre — an entire medium, in certain respects! was constructed. A true milestone of game design, the gold standard by which all others are judged. Oh dear.

The stage begins with simple pits to jump and little arches of coins to guide the novice eye over the hazard and toward the Question block, which bears a Super Mushroom.

Likewise for the second gap, which is wider and features the first "enemy" hazard sitting on a small post in its center: A Muncher. The danger of this particular critter is also hinted at by the coins clearly leading you over and above it. While this is a wider jump than the first, the landing on the opposite side is much lower than your starting point so as to make for an easy leap.

You can avoid the red Koopa Troopa pacing back and forth on the small hill, or you can grab its shell and punt it toward the green Koopa that wanders off the mushroom platforms and into a pit. It's gonna die either way, so you might as well put it out of its misery.

A moving platform makes it easy to leap up to the high road and avoid the lone Wiggler patrolling the flat stretch of ground. You'll need to hop up onto the uppermost bricks in order to keep from plummeting down to the Wiggler.

More Munchers appear, first beneath a bridge then in a wide row that has to be leapt. This brings you to a platform moving horizontally onto which a green Koopa Troopa drops from above before wandering into the pit — creating a need to exercise caution.

The high road has active hazards across flat ground, while the low road is hazard-free but forces you to navigate small platforms. Either route poses its own risks, though the lower route is more attractive thanks to the coins and the lack of moving enemies.

And finally, two last moving platforms from which to make a leap to the end of the stage.

Incredibly straightforward for a seasoned player, but is it suitable 1-1 material? Not quite, I don't think. It's still a bit convoluted while at the same time feeling a bit limited. So I gave it another shot.

This time, I took deliberate inspiration from World 1-1 of both Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3. The stage begins with a Goomba dropping off the white block and eventually reaching the ground, intended as a cue to communicate the fact that you can indeed hop onto those blocks despite their appearing to be a part of the background.

As you inevitably grab the Mushroom, another Goomba drops down from the overhead blocks and onto the note block, which acts like a spring. The Goomba bounces off the block before dropping into the pit, acting as a small clue that you can use the note block to reach the bricks where the Goomba first appeared. Or that you can try bouncing off the double note blocks overhead...

Which leads to a secret area.

It features two rows of coins, and also a second secret: A conspicuously empty space where a hidden block containing a Leaf can be produced. If you take a run at the second row of coins after grabbing the Leaf, you can basically fly to the end of the stage.

Back down below, the upper path requires use of the note block to reach, but unlike the lower path it doesn't contain any enemies, which (along with the coins) makes it a more attractive area to explore.

Anyone who missed the hidden Leaf will find a very obvious Fire Flower here... but only if they took the upper path. I arranged the bricks of the upper path to curve upward to prevent players from taking the lower path then jumping back up to the Fire Flower — an arrangement inspired by the platform in the middle of the first stage block of Castlevania.

Another conspicuously empty space contains a second hidden block, this one containing a Starman that'll see you through to the end of the stage.

The Starman comes in handy here, as these two rows of note blocks are home to a Goomba who just hangs out, bouncing back and forth between areas. I will probably go back and make the Starman block visible; despite the fact that it allows you to destroy everything in your path, there's still ample danger here from the pit beneath the note blocks.

Again, the upper path is filled with riches, while the lower one is full of monsters. The Goombas are no big deal if you're invincible, but it's impossible not to want those coins. Look at them! Double incentive to take the upper platform.

And a classic SMB-style stairway to the end.

Overall, maybe just a tad too busy for a 1-1 stage, but I feel it's a pretty solid example of the philosophies you see in early Mario stages. I'm a little bit surprised by how difficult it was to build such a simple level, though. This took much more fine tuning before it felt right than other projects I've worked on; I really spent time considering enemy placement: How they coax players to move through the stage, and how their interactions with environmental elements can prompt players to consider the potential inherent in various mechanics. There's even a secret that essentially lets you skip the entire stage, if you want.

Anyway! Tomorrow, I'll be traveling, so expect something a bit less involved before we head into the home stretch with this series.

WATCH: The quest to make a manageable World 1-1 for all players.

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