Master Level Design:
Super Mario 3D World

Venks Dunson | March 9, 2014

This quaint little place is World 6-2 "Spooky Seasick Wreck". I'd like to take a moment and share with you all why this stage is a great example of Nintendo level design.

The player starts off on a mostly empty platform with nothing noteworthy to look at but the warp box in front of them. As the player heads towards the cube their eyes are naturally drawn to the moving enemy on the ship just ahead of them. This gives the player a small amount of time to ponder what this new enemy might be.
Anyone who's played Super Mario 64 should hopefully recognize it as a "Bully".

If the player blindly runs forward then the Bully will follow suit and charge into them. The collision causes both the player and the Bully to get knocked backwards. The player doesn't move as far back though due to the carefully placed blocks along the side of the rocking ship. It shouldn't take much mental effort for even the youngest of players to see that these Bullys can push you off of the ship and cause you to lose a life. The player needs to be careful and pay attention to their surroundings when these Bully enemies are around.

As the player progresses through the level they may take a bit more caution with their footing due to the swaying of the ships they walk across. If that wasn't the case before then it becomes so when the player jumps onto a rickety looking wooden platform that leans over with the player's added weight. The coins along the platform goad the player to continue their way across despite the continued swaying where ever the player goes.

When the player makes their way to the next wrecked-looking ship they come across two Bully enemies. Alongside these enemies are a good number of question and brick blocks. As the player attempts to hit all of these blocks, by jumping underneath them, they have a very high chance of jumping on one of the always approaching Bullies. Jumping on these enemies produces a different sound and visual effect than when they simply run into the player. These things show the player that they can jump on the Bullies to push the enemies away without getting knocked back themselves.

When the player passes the first few obstacles they make their way to yet another rickety wood platform. Before even stepping on it the player now knows that the platform will tilt at an angle in accordance with their character's weight. This platform is much bigger than the last one and this time has multiple enemies to avoid while traversing it. The player can use the knowledge they learned earlier to their advantage. By positioning the platform at certain angles they can completely avoid some of the enemies that were originally blocking the player's progress.

The final test of the player is to defeat two Bullies on a round wooden platform at the end of a rocking ship. The slight swaying shouldn't be a problem for the player as it's something they have had to deal with throughout the entire level. The end of the platform is broken off and there is nowhere else to go so the player must deal with the enemies nearby rather than skip pass them. Careful placement and a few jumps is all the player has to utilize in order to defeat these enemies.

If by some chance the player has not properly defeated a Bully up to this point, it isn't too hard for the player to discover how to do so. Simply walking into the center of the platform and letting one of the Bullies bump into you will send you both reeling backwards. Due to the placement of the holes on this platform it will cause the knocked back Bully to open its eyes with worry as it tries not to fall. Once the Bully regains its balance it will return to its normal behavior. Putting one and one together is all it takes to see that these enemies have to be knocked off the rocking ship.

Whether you notice them or not, all of these levels are filled with subtle ways of teaching you how to play Super Mario 3D World. Nintendo has been doing this for a very long time and have become masters at their craft.

Did you know the start of 1-1 in Super Mario Bros(NES) was designed as it was to teach the player that the Mushroom item is a power-up?

Gaming trends were different back then and many first time game players had no reason to see the Mushroom anymore friendly than the previous Goomba. The Mushroom moves faster than Mario and the blocks are placed in such a way that if you try to jump over the Mushroom you'll only knock your head and be pushed back down. Once you collect the mushroom and turn into Super Mario your jumps can now break the brick blocks you couldn't pass before.

Shigeru Miyamoto, along with many others at Nintendo, have been analyzing why players enjoy games for decades. You can find all of this yourself in Iwata Asks if you'd like to see all the nitty gritty details.

So the next time you barely survive an encounter during an intense moment in gameplay I'd like you to ask if it was really all up to chance. Or was it all a part of the level designer's grand scheme?

Tags: Game Development

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