Well, we've had a good run, but I finally missed a day of The Daily Mario.
It's not entirely my fault, though; I'm traveling, and the Internet connection I'm using doesn't take kindly to multi-gigabyte video uploads. Yesterday's video would have gone up on time in an ideal world, but in the real world it took several hours to transmit to YouTube.
Nevertheless, some of the blame does lie with me, because my original plan for the eighth episode of The Daily Mario was to create an airship level. After about an hour of tinkering with layout ideas, however, I eventually had to come to terms with the sad reality that my vision for the stage kind of sucked. So, I threw it out and began again from scratch.
Rather than sending Mario careening through the sky, I decided instead to embark on one of the projects I've been dying to tackle with Super Mario Maker: Creating a series of unconventional levels centered around battles with Bowser. The first and easiest idea on the docket? Creating a compulsory Bowser battle that requires defeating him with elements found within the environment.
The idea: A forced battle with Bowser, who blocks the narrow path to the stage exit, using only whatever makeshift weapons you can produce within the stage. To add some challenge, most of the battle would take place on conveyer belts, forcing you to remain mobile while foraging projectiles.
Said projectiles would take the form of Koopa shells — an infinite supple provided by a pipe dispensing Koopa Troopas on a regular basis. You'd stomp a turtle, grab its shell, then pelt Bowser with your stolen carapace... then repeat as often as necessary to win.
I very quickly came to realize that turning the entire floor into conveyer belts resulted in what could probably best be described as "the opposite of fun." Bowser peppers the stage with gouts of flame at different heights, and trying to travel opposite the direction of the floor while navigating those flames and negotiating Koopa shells immediately proved to be an incredibly unfair challenge.
So, I began turning bits of conveyer into normal flooring, a bit at a time. Eventually, every tile of conveyer would be excised from the stage in favor of stable flooring. Clearly, not my best idea.
Since I've opened up the final set of level mechanics, I now have access to warp pipes that send Mario to a second area of a stage — doubling the creative canvas for level design. The original plan was to have a warp pipe directly behind Bowser, accessible immediately upon his defeat. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a pretty lousy plan, as Bowser would occasionally wander into the pipe room and start attacking from atop the pipe, increasing the vertical range of his fire breath considerably, and unpredictably. Not fun.
Solution: Move the warp pipe to the top of the room, well beyond Bowser's reach, and instead put a Question block with a vine inside where the pipe had originally appeared.
This also opened up the possibility of a hidden secret high atop the stage, accessible only by bouncing off the shell of one of the red Koopas patrolling the upper area. Their role originally was simply to give you access to more shells for your assault, but now they also serve as springboards for the exploration-minded.
Once I had everything set in this area and was happy with its layout, I realized a more significant issue: Bowser takes too damn long to defeat. You have to hit him with something like a dozen shells before he goes down, which is really boring. This battle became the worst kind of boss encounter: A drawn-out fight against a damage sponge that requires you to perform repetitive actions again and again all while avoid a barrage of attacks. If I increase the vertical range of Bowser's flames, it becomes unfairly difficult; if I constrict his range, it becomes a tedious cakewalk.
This continues to pose a significant design challenge. I'm up against Nintendo's mandatory Super Mario Maker toolbox rules, and I haven't been able to come up with a more satisfying solution for offensive options than the Koopa generator. I had the brainstorm of providing players with a ton of ice blocks, but in the Super Mario World toolset at least these don't work like Super Mario Bros. 3 ice blocks. Rather than being interactive elements you can grab, carry, and kick, they're fixed objects that simply make your footing more unsure. Worse than useless, in other words.
So that's a shame. On the other hand, I like the way the rest of the stage beyond Bowser looks and works. The addition of background elements to the tool set allows for the creation of much more "architectural" level layouts than was possible a few days ago. This transition room, for example, looks like a self-contained space propped up on wooden beams. It's an aesthetic detail, but it makes a world of difference.
The post-Bowser sequence doesn't pose any real threat to an experienced player, but it's not really meant to. It's a "backward" stage, with the boss fight coming first. If Super Mario Maker allowed for level checkpoints, I would have made the remainder of the stage more difficult, but in deference to the limitations of this game, I designed it to give you a mild workout without making it too likely you'll die and have to face Bowser again.
Anyway, back to that secret I mentioned before. A curious player might decide to see what's located up high. The answer is: A pair of invisible blocks that contain a Fire Flower and a Starman, providing two options for quickly defeating Bowser. These are tucked out of the way, the inspiration being that stage late in Super Mario Bros. 2 (6-2, I think?) where you can counterintuitively drop into the quicksand at the beginning of the level and travel through the ground beneath a massive cliff to find a shortcut to the very end of the stage, allowing you to bypass a difficult stage with ease.
Still, there's the question of how to defeat Bowser the "right" way, which I'm still working on. This is not the final version of this stage by any means, just a progress report. There's a long way to go before it's ready for prime time. I have a few ideas on how to make the Bowser battle more manageable, and there have been some good suggestions from the community already. But this is definitely the next phase in the Super Mario Maker challenge: Working within the restrictions of the toolbox to create inventive but reasonable challenges.
Today was meant to be the final Daily Mario entry, but since this article went up late and there have been wails of despair at the news the series is coming to an end, there'll probably be a few more. Stay tuned!