Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of a game where you can make your own Mario Levels. And 0f course I love Mario, as anyone whose read my previous posts about Nintendo could surmise. But I’m not at all excited about the new Mario Maker game. Why?
Because people seem to be completely missing the point.
Over the last few weeks, IGN and various other news outlets have been releasing videos of Mario Maker levels and challenges where one creator tries to make a level that the player will be unable to beat.
A lot of these levels have been clever. One particularly clever creator made a level that emulated the sort of collection and exploration of a Metroid game (go here, get big, crush blocks, get a fire flower, kill pirannha plants, get Tanooki Suit, fly, etc, etc), which I thought was insanely clever from a design standpoint. Others have put their talents to use making levels that “play themselves,” which turns Mario Maker into its own special brand of game where the creator is challenged more than the player.
But most of the levels I’ve seen have done their very best to surprise the player at every turn…and not in the good way. They see some sadistic joy in sprining surprise traps on them, nearly impossible jumps, unavoidable perils at every turn…all for the perverse pleasure of knowing that people will be pulling their hair out, that the creator is somehow more clever than the player. And, to me, that completely misses the point of video game level design.
When I think of Mario games, I often call to mind some of the most creative and clever stage designs of all time. Mario has dozens of platformer games to his name and very few of the hundreds upon hundreds of levels featured across those games feel the same. Most of them have their own unique mechanics or aethetics or appeal.
It takes a genius to create even the simplest Mario levels. Just look at the very first Mario level, 1-1 in Super Mario Brothers. Entire books could be written about the thought and planning that went into designing this level and Eurogamer recently sat down with the genius visionary behind the Mario series, Shigeru Miyamoto, and went over the team’s mentality behind creating the level. The video can be seen here.
Another of my favorites series also did a video on the design of the level, which can be viewed here.
Both of these videos illustrate the mindset and work and care that goes into, if not every Mario level, then at least many of them. But at no point should the creators feel like they’re against the player. Sure, we all love watching Kaizo Mario World’s insanely impossible levels on Youtube, but A) T. Takemoto is a mad genius and there is a method to his madness that very few people are going to be able to match and B) it’s not fun if a majority of the levels are like that. The Kaizo levels are of niche appeal at best.
It wouldn’t be any fun if the whole Mario experience was like that.
Think about it this way: a good game is designed to be beaten. The game developers expect their hard work to be foiled.
Let that sink in for a minute. Game designers are one of the few people on the planet that create something that is meant to fail.
If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons for any extent of time, you’ve probably had that one Dungeon Master. You know the one. The one that thinks it’s his job to beat the players rather than create something for them to play. And when the creator of content views it as his job – indeed the source of his enjoyment – to defeat anyone experiencing his content, then you’re going to run into trouble. Because the creator is always going to have a lot more power than the players.
Yes, I know that you have to beat your own level in Mario Maker before you can have other people try it, but there are plenty of ways to make a level that you can beat but others can’t (not easily, at least). It’s the nature of the beast. You made it. You know what’s coming.
Mario Maker is a game, plain and simple. It is a game that challenges people to create Mario levels, and I predict that most of the people playing the game are going to go into the experience with the mentality that if someone beats their level, they’ve “lost” the game. I know, blanket statements are always bad (irony alert), but it is my prediction that nearly-impossible levels (or those that the creators hope will be nearly impossible) will become the norm. Because it is in our nature as gamers (and to some extent even as human beings) to want to prove that we are superior to people who dare to challenge us.
And this is the exact wrong mentality to be going into a game like this with.
I’m not saying that you’re wrong to get excited about the game, if you indeed are, just that for my own part, I think the very concept of the game is flawed and will not produce the neat Mario level renaissance that people expect. So what about you, creative reader? Is my cynicism getting the best of me yet again? Are you looking forward to Mario Maker? If so, why? Sound off in the comments below.