I am a husband, a father, a writer, and a gamer. I love playing games and writing about them.
The Truth About Level Creators
Super Mario Maker 2 has officially been on store shelves since June 28, 2019, and it is absolutely not lacking in user-made levels. Scrolling through the different categories in Course World presents you with a smorgasbord of levels ranging from amazing to downright stinkers.
The problem with many level creators is that they are not creating a level with the player in mind. They are creating the level for themselves, and that is where the problem lies.
As the creator, we are fully aware of everything being placed in the level. We know all the tricks to get around. We know exactly how to beat the level, because we are the ones that created it. However, uploading these levels online for the world to play is a whole different story. The mind needs to be shifted, and instead of creating levels for ourselves, we need to create levels for the unaware player.
The following is a list of tips to help create better levels for the world to enjoy!
12 Tips for Creating Levels in Super Mario Maker 2
- Play Story Mode
- Take Notes From Popular Levels
- Learn From Gifted Creators
- Empathetic Play Testing
- Proper Checkpoint Placement
- Give Players Enough Time
- Avoid Blind Jumps
- Do Not Soft Lock the Player
- Consider Your Audience
- Wisely Select Your Game Style and Course Theme
- Purposefully Give Yourself Limitations
- Allow Others to Have As Much Fun As You
1. Play Story Mode
The first tip, and I cannot stress this one enough, is to simply play Story Mode. In Super Mario Maker on the Wii U, this luxury was not available, but in Super Mario Maker 2, Nintendo made a brilliant decision to include a Story Mode to help newer players learn about the ins and outs of the franchise.
The wonderful thing about Story Mode is that many of Nintendo's own designers, who make these levels professionally, created levels to help us understand how to use certain tools/items, how to create interesting landscapes, how to place enemies well, and so much more.
It is basically a tutorial for good level design, and since there are over 100 levels available in Story Mode, there is a whole lot to learn and a lot of inspiration to pull from.
2. Take Notes From Popular Levels
When in the Course World, take some time to observe the top levels in the Popular Courses tab. There is a reason these levels are on this list, and it would be wise to learn from these creators.
An unfortunate thing we lost from Super Mario Maker on the Wii U was the ability to download a level and see it in the editor, allowing us to understand all of the mechanics that were happening in complex levels. In Super Mario Maker 2, though, we are only able to download the levels to play, so we are unable to take the level into the editor for deeper study.
However, that does not mean we cannot learn from these levels without that ability. Playing through these popular levels should stir the mind with new ideas, help you learn some creative ways to design the maps, and help you to pick up some tricks that may have been neglected in Story Mode.
3. Learn From Gifted Creators
There are tons of dedicated players in the Super Mario Maker community, and thankfully, many of them are streamers and/or YouTubers.
Players like GrandPOOBear, CarlSagan42, ryukahr, ★Maddy☆ (One of the people behind Celeste), BarbarousKing, com_poser, and Mario_Lab, just to name a few, make incredibly fun levels and some even show off the process, and famous creators like Panga make the most insane levels you will ever see.
Even though these players may seem like they are on a different level, it is important to note that we should learn and take inspiration from them in the same way we can from Story Mode and the Popular Courses tab.
GrandPOOBear, for example, created a level called "Tech Talk: Shell Jump Into Me", which is a level to help new players to learn complicated tricks with shells. It is a very difficult stage, but the feedback online has been overwhelmingly positive. People who have never performed such tricks before are now pulling them off with ease, and these shell jump disciples are now adding some of these tricks to their own stages.
Community is very important for learning, and it is a blessing to have such gifted players to learn from. It would be wise to find that streamer or YouTuber that you connect well with and see how they create levels. They can serve as fantastic inspiration, and all of them are awesome people with fun streams/videos too.
4. Empathetic Play Testing
This is probably the most important tip. As I mentioned at the start, many level creators do not care to think about how others will play their level, but this is such an important thing to process while creating.
When creating a course, remember to use arrows and coin trails to determine direction. It is very easy to assume that people will understand your level and how to do something, but this is mostly untrue. Many Super Mario Maker 2 players get lost in levels and have a hard time determining what to do next, especially if the level is expecting a complicated task with zero explanation.
Speedrun levels, especially, need to hold the player's hand a lot. There needs to be clear direction, and it is up to you, the creator, to feed that information in a coherent way.
Does the next big jump require a triple jump? Give the player some kind of indicator to encourage them to begin this process. Does the next jump require a spin jump? Write a Z with the track or give them some other kind of signal. Sound effects can also be helpful, but I think I speak strongly for the Super Mario Maker community when I say, "DO NOT SPAM A MILLION SOUND EFFECTS IN YOUR LEVEL!"
But I digress.
Before submitting the level online, imagine yourself having never played the game and see if you can pick up on any cues that could be confusing. It would also be wise to ask a friend or family member close by to try the level out and give some honest feedback. Fresh eyes can definitely make a huge difference, too, so take advantage of that.
5. Proper Checkpoint Placement
Checkpoints were a godsend when Nintendo updated the original Super Mario Maker on the Wii U. It helped make seemingly impossible levels less impossible, which in many ways, makes them more enjoyable.
Sadly, though, I have seen too much of the following;
- Horrible checkpoint placement
- Strange checkpoint placement
- No checkpoints at all
All three of these create such agonizing experiences for the player. For good checkpoint placement, consider the entirety of the level and place them accordingly. Do not just simply place your checkpoints at the halfway mark, as this can create either a horrible placement or even a strange placement.
Instead, consider the amount of work that needs to take place beforehand. Are you collecting pink coins to open a key door? Place a checkpoint after the newly opened key door to ensure the player does not have to collect those pink coins again. Did you just finish a tough mini-boss encounter? Place a checkpoint after this so the player knows they do not have to fight that boss again.
Certain levels, like speedruns, do not need checkpoints, but if you are creating an epic series of events in your Mario level, spacing things out with proper checkpoints can make the experience so much more bearable.
6. Give Players Enough Time
As the creator, you have the ability to set the timer in your stage as well. The timer can be set in certain increments between 10 seconds and 500 seconds, so please consider that when creating a level.
Some areas can be set to vertical, and if you create a level where the player needs to ascend the vertical area, it would be helpful to include more time, especially if the player is able to fall from the top all the way back down to the beginning of the area.
If your stage is not a speedrun level, why not give your players time to enjoy and explore?
7. Avoid Blind Jumps
Creators love making blind jumps, because in their minds, it creates an intense scenario. The reality, however, is that blind jumps are terrible.
The player has to make a crucial decision based on zero information, and it can lead to either a thrilling and correct decision or a frustrating and stupid decision. Those two options are too extreme for the player to have an enjoyable experience.
As the creator, if you want the player to make a blind jump, give them some kind of marker, like an arrow pointing a particular direction. This will at least let the player know they need to go that way.
There is, though, one more crucial point to this. Never place enemies, spikes, or some trap at the end or bottom of the blind jump. There are few things in Super Mario Maker 2 that are more frustrating than encountering an offscreen enemy on a blind jump.
8. Do Not Soft Lock the Player
Soft locking is a term used in the Super Mario Maker community that basically traps the player in such a way that they cannot exit and they cannot kill themselves. The player has to wait out the timer or restart the level.
This is especially upsetting for players who just got a checkpoint, and they have to make a disappointing choice. They either have to wait for the timer to hit zero to return to the checkpoint, or restart the level and have to redo up to the checkpoint again.
Essentially, if you make a level or a section in your level that requires precise timing, give the player an out, whether it is a lone spike in the room or a small crack in the floor to fall through. Do not allow any soft locking in your level, or you will really anger your players.
9. Consider Your Audience
The powerful thing about Super Mario Maker is that there are many different flavors to enjoy, and you have the freedom to both choose what kind of levels to play and create whatever kind of levels for others.
If you are the kind of person that wants to build reputation in Super Mario Maker 2 by improving your Maker Points total, knowing your audience is key.
Creators who tend to make levels that just kill the player over and over again in absurd ways usually get ignored or possibly even ridiculed online. A game mode like Endless Challenge can become horribly frustrating when these kinds of levels are encountered. The purpose of these levels is only fun for the creator, and thanks to Super Mario Maker 2's new "Boo" system, these kinds of levels will disappear over time.
A harsh reality is that not everyone will enjoy your level, and that is fine. When you consider what type of audience you want to target, though, it is important to make sure this particular crowd likes your stage. If you want to make a straight-forward Mario stage, try to make it like a classic level with a bit of your flavor. If you want to make a puzzle level, try to make sure it is tight knit and really makes the puzzle players think. If it is a difficult level with lots of tricks, try to give some of these expert players a run for their money.
10. Wisely Select Your Game Style and Course Theme
Super Mario Maker 2 has five different game styles to choose from, and each of them play differently, have unique items, and offer different challenges and experiences.
Super Mario World, for example, allows you to kick shells and other items upward. This can create some interesting circumstances in your level if used right. In 3D World, the Cat Suit can climb and perform long dash attacks. In Super Mario Bros, you cannot pick up items at all, so those limitations require you to be more creative in level design.
My advice is to stick to your guns and design levels mostly around the Game Style you enjoy the most. Each game style has tons of fans, so if you create a stage in the Game Style you love, chances are there are thousands of others out there who love that Game Style too and will be excited to see it.
BONUS: Purposefully Give Yourself Limitations
I tagged a few top-notch creators on Twitter to ask for some input, and @the_com_poser shared this tip.
In Super Mario Maker 2, the canvas is very large, the list of usable items can be overwhelming, and the pressure to build massive stages can be present. But com_poser believes that limiting yourself can be a great way to breed creativity, because,
"You have to come up with unique solutions to problems, and so I'd tell creators to limit themselves to a few common themes in their level and see what all they could do within those limits."
All too often, creators feel the need to fully expand the canvas and fill it with everything they can possibly fit in to each available space. Themes can run rampant and change drastically from area to area, and the flow of the level can suffer because of that.
Instead, like com_poser pointed out, give yourself a limited amount of space to work within, stick to a particular theme or two, and see what the mind can come up with. Some times the greatest Mario Maker stages come from the simplest ideas built to perfection.
Allow Others to Have as Much Fun as You
Creating courses in Super Mario Maker 2 is ultimately about having fun. It should be fun for the creator, and it should be fun for the player. The mentality going into level design should clearly come down to that.
Also remember that whatever emotions you are having when you are clearing your level to upload online, the player's emotion will probably be significantly larger. For example, if you are frustrated uploading your level, the player is most likely going to be infuriated. If you are enjoying your level while uploading, the player is most likely going to love it.
With all of this in mind, let us recall the Mario Maker Golden Rule:
"Create unto others as you would have them create unto you."
Now go out there and make some awesome levels for the world to play and have some fun while doing so!
© 2019 Jason Reid Capp