Super Mario Maker: How I Learned to Embrace Happy Accidents

Anthony discovers first-hand how some unintended consequences can lead to better level design!

By Anthony Pelone. Posted 09/26/2015 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

For the past two weeks, we’ve made all sorts of mistakes in designing our Super Mario Maker levels.  Maybe one level was too short, or another rained too many enemies on unsuspecting players. But how many of those mistakes ended up being blessings in disguise? Indeed, there are so many factors at work in Super Mario Maker that everything from Bowser’s mighty fireballs to a sole hapless Goomba can present unforeseen effects during the playtesting process. One of the levels I shared on Nintendojo, SUPER HAPPY FUN BOUNCY CAR TIME!, was birthed from a series of happy accidents, as the end result was completely different from what I initially envisioned! So much did this experience enlighten me on Super Mario Maker’s flexibility that it taught me a valuable lesson I’d like to share with my Nintendojo fellows.

When I began designing the level, I only had a vague idea for what I wanted to do. By that point in my Mario Making career, I knew two things: Super Mario World remained far and away my favorite 2D Mario style, and music note blocks/winged enemies were easily my favorite tools. From there, I wanted to make a silly, goofy level anyone could have fun with, but I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go with it. Above is how the level started out, but what followed after Mario emerged from the tiny opening remained a mystery. Hmm…

At that point, I just fooled around with enemies hopping around on note blocks and springs. Winged or not, everyone seemed to be having a grand ol’ time bouncing away…except for Mario, who had no means of progression. It wasn’t until I added some stray Koopa Clown Cars that I noticed  Accident Number 1: a Winged Monty Mole that bounced off a spring hopped into one of the Clown Cars all on his own! Almost immediately after, I noticed Accident Number 2: one of the many Goombas that rained down from the sky bounced away into the other Clown Car! Inspiration struck as they chased Mario down; maybe I could do something with this…!

From there, I began experimenting with this new discovery. Past all the bouncy craziness, I had a lone Koopa aimlessly walk into a sideways spring, sending him rocketing into another Clown Car I placed just below the cliff. I immediately had the next portion of the level planned out: after hijacking one of the Clown Cars, Mario would fly up and away into a nearby tunnel, where he’d have to ditch it due to an elaborate spring trap blocking passage to all evil flying vehicles. From there, he’d have to navigate a bouncy Note Block tunnel inhabited by Wigglers. Smooth sailing from there, right?

Or not.

What the heck is going on here?!? There’s a spring riding a Clown Car, for gosh’s sake!

There’s a lot going on in that screenshot, but they can be summed up in three main mistakes.  For Accident Number 3, let’s focus on what’s going on with the spring. To prevent Clown Car passage into the tunnel, I placed three bouncing springs at the entrance’s bottom. As much testing proved, they do an effective job in blocking passage, but if you happen to ditch the Clown Car at that exact moment, one of the springs will inevitably launch into the vehicle and act upon their newfound evil sentience by chasing Mario. Yay!

Accident Number 4 revolves around the Wigglers. I put them in there as I knew their invulnerability to Mario’s attacks would prove to be tough obstacles, but I hadn’t thought that fact through for when they’d enter into a Clown Car of their own! However, I quickly recognized this added another slice of challenge on its own; for example, see how there’s another note block tunnel right above the one Mario’s in? You have to make a tricky jump to get up there, which isn’t so easy when an Angry Vehicle-Equipped Wiggler’s ready to knock you into a bottomless pit! Rumor has it, however, that a hidden Yoshi might be able to subvert this…

Finally, did you spot the Koopa sneaking down the tunnel? That’s Accident Number 5, as I didn’t think he’d chase me all the way down there. Normally, he wouldn’t be successful in getting past the spring block, but as one of the springs now occupied a Clown Car, he didn’t have much of a problem getting down there.

With all this unforeseen craziness, it’d only make sense to deem the level a failure…but I found these accidents only made the level better than I ever dreamed! That the last three ended up as hilarious side-effects were much-needed bonuses, but it was all thanks to the flying Monty Mole that I discovered another avenue of design I hadn’t thought possible. And don’t just take it from me, for even Nintendo’s own designers stumble upon oddities birthed by their own game engines, as noted by producer Takashi Tezuka in a recent USA Today interview:

“One thing was the way I tried my hardest to keep any bugs from creeping through. We deliberately programmed in little surprises for you to notice as you play, but some of the bugs we missed were a surprise even to us — and while it may have been mean to the programmers, we wound up treating them as features. The way that you thought you beat Bowser, but he actually turns out to be a Goomba or something had its start with a bug, too.”

Now with Super Mario Maker, anyone can discover the joy of an unintended gameplay element worming its way into their levels. As I continue to play the game and understand its peculiarities, I find that my own design philosophies are becoming more and more grounded, but now I’m never afraid to experiment with an unforeseen abnormality. Indeed, we can’t intentionally make accidents…but they’re always willing to come to you.

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