This week’s bog post is a little different. Recently Super Mario Maker 2 was released. Originally I wasn’t going to buy it because I had the first one and I found the whole concept interesting but really underwhelming for me personally. I don’t like playing games for the sake of playing. I need an end goal to work towards. That’s the reason I prefer single player campaigns over PVP. I want to reach the end of the game. That’s one of my favorite parts of the experience. Feeling like I worked towards something and accomplished a goal. In the same mode of thinking, I’ve never really connected with level creation games before. Because I don’t understand why I’m making a level. I spend all this time making a level hoping people will play it but to what end? Levels are small parts of full games. The ability to make a piece of a game but not an entire game makes me feel depressed rather than accomplished. So I ultimately made less than five levels in Super Mario Maker 1.
The reason I ultimately decided to purchase Super Mario Maker 2 was the inclusion of end goals. One created by Nintendo and one created by me. Unlike the first game, this new installment of the franchise has a story mode. Sure it’s not as epic and thoroughly developed as normal Mario games, but it does have a story and an endpoint with about 100 courses. This alone makes the game worth buying because it’s a full single player experience with a story and end goal to work towards. I’ve already completed 22% of the story mode at the time of writing this. The inclusion of a story mode makes this game worlds better than the first one, for me personally.
I’m also using the maker mode a lot more in Super Mario Maker 2. This is tied directly to the reason that I ultimately decided to purchase the game: I’m trying to teach my girlfriend how to play platforming games. My girlfriend hates platforming games. She finds the challenge of jumping between platforms, especially moving ones, stressful and irritating. This has been the case for the almost seven years that we’ve been together. I still remember the first platforming experience I introduced her to. I was playing Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (2012) and I needed to do a few levels in co-op mode to get the final trophies for the platinum completion. I thought this was a great chance to try to include my girlfriend in my favorite hobby. This was an easy game among platformers, had fairly simple co-op mechanics, and in my opinion didn’t ask too much from players. I thought it would be perfect for her. I was wrong.
The very first platform my girlfriend encountered was a simple horizontal moving platform over a pit of lava in an outdoor setting. I still remember it quite well. It was a simple platforming scenario that I’d done countless times. The lava was there for effect, but shouldn’t have had any real impact on seasoned platforming gamers, which my girlfriend was/is not. It required two simple jumps forward, as in away from the camera. Stationary platform to moving platform to second stationary platform. Though I haven’t tried it, I’m fairly certain that I could get past this set of jumps blindfolded. Anyone who has beaten a single level of any of the Crash Bandicoot games could easily get past those two jumps. My girlfriend could not. No matter how many times she tried, she always ended up in the lava. We spent over an hour just trying to get her past those two jumps and she never actually made it across. Eventually she was so broken by the experience that she quit and swore off platformers for good.
My girlfriend plays games. She has beaten a number of them. She loves indie titles like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, ABZU, and even managed to get through Journey. But she hates platforming. Journey was a struggle for her. The only reason she was able to complete it was because of the very forgiving gliding mechanics. It’s definitely a platformer, but not to the point where completing it prepared her to take on a real one like any of the Super Mario games. I have spent years trying to convince her to try real platforming again. She always says no. She is still traumatized from that first experience with Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault. But finally after all these years there is newfound hope for her platforming.
When I pitched the concept of her playing levels that were specifically created by me for her to play, with the promise that they would be at her skill level, she said she’d be open to the idea. This brought me hope and inspired me to purchase Super Mario Maker 2. With that I’d like to introduce my new project: Mario Teaches Platforming.
My goal here is to create a full suite of tutorial levels in Super Mario Maker 2 with the intent of helping someone go from zero experience to that of a full-fledged advanced level platforming gamer. These levels will not assume any previous gaming experience. Any person who completes the entire collection of levels in order should be able to start from nothing and ultimately complete all the stages with no outside experience or practice. This tutorial will obviously not be interesting to everyone. The first level, for example, is literally just walking forward (right) in a straight line until reaching the flag. The third level is a series of static blocks to jump over with no enemies or pit falls. It’s meant to be that detailed and that slow of a progression from stage to stage. But by the end, the player will be asked to complete complex stages that will rival the hardest of end game levels.
I want to create a tool that is helpful to my girlfriend and by extension anyone who wants to develop their platforming skills. My 10 year old nephew is another person that I believe would benefit from this project. For me, the emphasis is on moving and jumping mechanics, as that is what my girlfriend struggles with. But I mean to create a collection of levels that account for jumping in every occasion. Enemies, moving platforms, riding platforms with obstacles, timed stages, enemy projectiles, and the list goes on. I plan to account for environmental conditions and hazards such as ice blocks, spikes, lava balls, and so on. But difficulty is not the point or intention. If Mario Teaches Platforming is created successfully, then it will hopefully never feel difficult to the student using it. As they progress from stage to stage and develop their skills, each proceeding level should feel rather easy or at the very least manageable. Because they will simply be applying the skills they learned previously with a new skill to learn being added in with each new stage.
I want to be able to upload this entire project to the online database for other players to use. If I had an unlimited number of stages I could create, like the story mode, I’d probably try to do upwards of about 100 levels. I like round numbers and I could create something almost perfectly incremental down to the smallest details. Because Super Mario Make 2 only allows users to upload up to 32 levels online, I’d like to keep it down to that. What I’m currently doing is creating a full scale version for my girlfriend that is 100 levels to play offline and then an abridged version to upload for other users that’s only the maximum 32 stages. I also have the ability to make multiple areas in a single stage separated by transitions such as warp pipes, so possibly I can still do 100 levels within 25 stage packs with four levels per a pack separated by transitions. Here’s where you come in.
Based on the 100 stage model, I need to decide what those 100 stages/sections should look like. I plan on not only evolving the gameplay as stages go on, but also the settings and items available. This means creating a full stage by stage plan with titles and short descriptions. I wish there was some way to add dialog boxes to the stage so I could give the player directions and tips as part of the tutorial. I’ve created a first draft of my planned 100 levels, but I’d love to get some feedback on how this tutorial can be improved/shaped based on the collective experience of as many gamers as possible. Please take a look at my initial plan and let me know what stages you think need to be added, changed, or removed. I’m also curious as to how others might order such a tutorial based on how they see the learning process of mastering platforming games.
I have broken this plan up into five main sections with each containing different focus tenants of mastering platforming games. As far as art styles, I originally wanted to use a different art style in each of the five main sections going from the original through all five currently available art styles for a total of 100 sections/stages, with 20 sections being done in each art style. But I quickly realized that due to certain limitations with earlier styles there are certain levels that need to occur early on in the tutorial that require later art styles. So currently my plans for art are a bit random. In the next post, which is already published as well, you can a breakdown of all five of the proposed main sections and the 100 combined levels within them along with a hopefully informative title and short description of what that stage should be. I didn’t want to overwhelm readers by including all 100 stages in this already lengthy post, which is why I opted to publish the stage breakdown as a separate blog post.
I hope that this post and the proceeding list of planned stages gives a clear depiction of what Mario Teaches Platforming is supposed to be but as I said, this is just a first draft and an incomplete one at that. I’m very aware that the plan isn’t perfect yet so I am hoping to get as much feedback as possible. Maybe my five section breakdown isn’t the right way to go. Maybe my levels need to be put in a different order. Any and all feedback and ideas for stage submissions are appreciated. And if you’ve got sample stages you think would work well in any part of the tutorial, feel free to submit screenshots or videos and maybe I’ll implement parts of them into this project. But please remember that the target audience for these stages are people with no previous platforming experience. At the time of writing this I currently have 25 stages “completed”.