Crappy Levels Are Not Ruining Super Mario Maker

Crappy Levels Are Not Ruining Super Mario Maker

Hardcore Mario fans are exasperated right now — it's really difficult to find good Mario Maker levels.

Want to play gimmick levels, auto run levels, slight variations on 1-1, and hilariously difficult levels with poor game design? You can find those anywhere in the brand-new Wii U game. It's flooded with them.

I've seen blame cast on the players, but a flaw in game is partially responsible, as is the fact that, as a society we're just not all good enough at making games yet.

The criticism of Mario Maker's amateur level-creators is easy to find. I've seen it all over message boards and social media.

Just today, The Washington Post published a piece titled "'Super Mario Maker' is an engine for circulating horrible new 'Mario' levels." The author, Michael Thomsen, says that the game is "a tool for the mass production of cultural refuse, single-use distractions that fail to replicate the spirit of the original."

Thomsen continues:

There is a futile egotism to "Super Mario Maker," a piece of software that caters to delusory belief that enthusiasm and creativity are interchangeable, that being a fan of something can, if practiced with enough care, create an equivalent of the work to which one's fandom is fixated.

There are indeed plenty of awful creations in Mario Maker, many of which do not embody the spirit of the original Mario games. I said as much in my review weeks ago. I argued that this rawness was a part of the charm, and if I want classic Mario levels, I have a pretty good selection of already-existing games I can turn to.

The real issue, which Thomsen misses, is that the game does not do a good enough job of highlighting worthwhile levels.

Mario Maker isn't a worse game simply because all these shitty levels exist. That would be like saying YouTube is garbage just because it's full of amateur videos that nobody wants to see. The ONLY reason YouTube is good is because of its accessibility; having an unspeakably large pool of videos has only worked in its favour. Because it's so easy to upload and share videos on that service, more people feel compelled to make YouTube videos, which in turn increases the chances of having quality videos on the service. YouTube's sea of subpar content has not gotten in the way of my using YouTube for hours every single day. Similarly, the fact that so many people are making levels Mario Maker is great, regardless of the quality of the levels in question.

Crappy Levels Are Not Ruining Super Mario Maker

As I said in my piece about the most popular levels last week, Mario Maker's current system makes it so that the popular levels only become more popular. Less than 24 hours in, the levels highlighted in Course World became more or less locked-in. I know them by heart now. Sure, the "Featured" tab cycles through a wider selection of levels than the "Starred" tab, but after spending some time refreshing its options, it became clear to me that it also selects from a specific, limited pool. The "Up and Coming" tab feels similarly useless. I've had to resort to readers emailing me their levels, and crawling around forums such as Reddit and neoGAF to sniff out what's worth playing — because there ARE plenty of fantastic levels. Mario Maker just sucks at showing them to you.

Mario Maker needs better sorting tools. The addition of a specific section for automatic levels could do wonders, for example. We don't need to get rid of that sort of level — people love them! But levels that play themselves aren't the only things that Mario purists want to play, and for them it's pretty irritating to see these types of levels inundate the most visible portions of Mario Maker.

A more robust system for curators might also be a good solution. Right now, I can follow creators and find out what courses they have starred, but it's not enough. In the same way Steam automatically highlights other people's game recommendations, I would love it if Mario Maker gave us way to make specialised feeds that we build ourselves. It would still take work on our part — we need to figure out who has good taste, or be willing to sort through levels ourselves to provide that service for other people — but I shouldn't have to go into a sub-menu to find out what courses my favourite creators in Mario Maker like. Recommendations from other players should be its own section.

Tags could also be great, since "quality" alone is pretty subjective. What I find awesome may not do anything for you. If I had a means of sorting levels through descriptions or tags, I could easily guide myself to the specific kind of levels that I actually like. I'd probably gravitate toward things like "novelty" or perhaps "scary." You might like "Kaizo" or "Don't Press Anything." Who knows.

I haven't knocked the quality of the game's user-made levels to shame the Mario Maker community or anything. Frankly, I think that so long as other people are having fun, it doesn't matter how playable uploaded Mario Maker levels are. Like I said in my review, the spirit of play cannot always be wrangled or parceled for consumption. But there's a wider issue that Mario Maker highlights, too. Game design literacy is pretty abysmal,andwe see the results ofthat ingame-creationplatformslike these. People have more practice taking photos and short movies with their phones than they do making games. Art terms for other media are more familiar to the average person. If I approached a stranger on the street and start talking about stuff like THE MAGIC CIRCLE or flow, I would expect to get funny looks. I'd be more confident talking to them about camera pans panning or good framing, even if they have no plans on making a film or taking up professional photography.

That's because there are widely-available tools that make those mediums accessible: anyone can pick up a point-and-shoot or a camcorder and start making things right away. Some schools even teach kids about film and photography tools from an early age.

Game design is pretty esoteric by comparison. For many people, Mario Maker likely be the first step toward achieving the same kind of knowledge proficiency in games. It may be a lot of people's first camcorder, as it were. But it will likely take a while to get there. I do have confidence that we'll get there, eventually. Perhaps some day we'll even see big-shot game designers who credit their career to Mario Maker's existence.

A few years ago, I would have resigned myself to the idea that this is just how Mario Maker is going to be, forever and ever amen. Not in 2015. Nowadays, Nintendo actually patches their games to have significant tweaks. Splatoon and Smash Bros. are very different games in September 2015 than they were when they were originally released, and they continue to be living, breathing games. Perhaps the same thing will happen to Mario Maker. We might have a ton of levels that other people don't want to play right now, but a few tweaks to the game's interface from Nintendo could help with that.


    Some sort of filter system would help out a lot. Its sad to see most of the top maps just play them self.

    Also Ive worked as a level designer and have made a few levels
    here is one of them 4496-0000-004E-A5FE

    It's just more proof that Sturgeon's Revelation was correct. I don't think it's just about the lack of knowledge of the game design lexicon at the root of it though but also an amount of egocentricity in giving a person the opportunity to create their own level in a game. From my experience, most of the time people are going to design a level that either makes them feel like they are clever or specifically caters to their own interests and level of skill. A good designer can look outside of themselves and design something that not only appeals to a specific group of people but also makes it accessible to those outside of the group.

    Of course, that's just me hypothesising but it seems to hold true from what I've seen and my own attempts at design. One piece of advice I will give to someone thinking of making their own level though. Use springs. There are hardly any levels being made that use springs. (/facetious)

      My advice to everyone would be to go back and replay your own levels a day after you think you are done with them. You would be surprised at all the little things that set off alarm bells, a block here, the size of a gap there.

        On this, is there a way to update a level? Or you have to delete and upload a new level? I realised one thing I did made the level far too easy and allowed the player to skip half of what I had built, but can't find a way to update it with that item changed.

          you can have multiple levels with the same name uploaded but if you only want the most recent version, you have to delete the old

    I mentioned this the other day but you are on the money with the rating system. I would look at 3 different stars you can award a level. Red for the difficult/puzzling/frustrating kind, yellow for the traditional platformers and green for casual/easy/autorunner/music style. You could then search directly for stages that have a particular star catering to your preferred play.

    My biggest thing I want is graduating items. Little Mario? Well you don't get the fireplant upgrade, you get the mushroom. Personally it's the biggest thing missing from Mario maker, and adds that little bit of difficulty rather than just making gigantic bowsers pop out of question mark boxes.

    I wish there was a way to play levels meant to represent traditional Mario levels only, avoiding the ones that are difficult just for the sake of being difficult and the ones where you do nothing to win. Like there are some where the maker creates an invisible block right where someone would jump just to guarantee they die at least once. I swipe right on those levels immediately.

    Here is one I created: C382-0000-0061-A592 (would love feedback)

    I think mine is a fairly difficult level but not so much that you can't beat it. It mainly is meant to encourage the player to utilize the Koopas (as the title indicates) for their shells and also to jump to higher heights while also treasuring power-ups which also are needed to get past obstacles in some stages. I also spent around 5 days playing through it and ensuring it wasn't too difficult and that I could master it, not just fluke pass it after 20 tries.

    I saw some Youtubers and other people play my levels, and I enjoyed the feedback given. TBH, when you finish a level you should your thoughts on the level. Of course if it was awful, don't go: OMG YOU SUCK DELETE NOW. Try and break it to them softly.
    God, I sound like a elementary school teacher.

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