Francis Travers spent has spent over 650 hours creating, and then trying to beat, a single level in Mario Maker. Travers' ambition is to create the most challenging Mario level ever, even if it means spending 2016 trying to best a creation that may actually be impossible.
Perhaps this story sounds familiar. Immediately after it was released, the hardcore Mario Maker community became obsessed with the idea of creating incredibly difficult courses that most people would never be able to beat.
Most famously, Twitch streamer PangaeaPanga crated Mario Maker levels that only less than a per cent of players ever managed to beat. Travers took notice of Panga's exploits and used them as inspiration for his own creation.
"Earlier in the year I was a casual Super Mario Maker player who was inspired by some of the hard levels that others had made, so I decided to borrow my friend's Wii U and try to make one," Travers explained.
"Foolishly, I didn't take baby steps, and ended up taking nearly 70 days and 500 hours to create what I wanted to be a revolutionary level to showcase the untapped potential of Bob-Ombs...with an emphasis on entertaining/never-before-seen tricks."
Here's a trailer for the as-of-yet unnamed level:
"Maybe it's because I had an itch to see more Bob-Ombs, but I couldn't help but notice that nearly every hard level [other players had uploaded] was focused on using shells," Travers said. "I was really starting to wonder when someone would bring out the next cool Bob-Omb level."
You'll note that the trailer showcases snippets of a larger level, not a full-on clear. That's because Travers hasn't beat it yet, and Mario Maker requires players to clear a level before they can upload it and share it with the rest of the world.
"It's definitely possible, I've succeeded in every trick, just not in sequence," Travers told me.
Throughout the year, Travers has been streaming his attempts at beating his level on Twitch. Despite being unable to finish the level he has created, some of Travers's viewers are getting so hyped that they're recreating the level in their own games so that they can practice in advance of its upload.
"They have even gone out of their way at this point to show me how some of the pieces of the level can be 'cheesed' (cheated), so it's quite a help," Travers said. "Two of these three said they aren't going to aim to get the first clear because they think others wouldn't approve of the advantage."
While nobody has been able to beat it yet, Travers shared a tour of the overall level in build mode, which you can watch below. Doesn't look like an intense death trap when it's not in motion, huh?
Despite Travers' aspirations, defining what is concretely the 'hardest level ever' in Mario Maker is tricky territory. Traditionally, spectators look at clear rates to get a sense of how difficult a course is, but those can be misleading, Travers says.
"Some hard levels take Mario's life away in the first second of the level and inflate their [death and clear] numbers very quickly...other factors like Youtube exposure, being a popular creator, or exposure from other popular creators will bring in many more deaths," Travers explained.
There's no foolproof way of proving that Travers' level is indeed the hardest level ever created, but it's certainly one of the most ridiculous ones out there.
Travers started this journey as a Mario novice, but in his pursuit to build a Mario Maker monstrosity, he's built a level that could bring even hardened Kaizo veterans to their knees. The funny thing is, Travers' new expertise is very specific, and it doesn't translate to overall Mario mastery.
"I'll let it be known that still I haven't learned the tricks appear in most Kaizo levels," Travers said. " I can barely shell jump, P-switch jump, or anything of the sort. It would pretty much be luck if I ever pulled off something like a 'mid-air shell jump.'"
But despite focusing on Bob-Omb-specific tricks, Travers still feels that he has been afforded a large canvas full of possibilities.
"Finding new [Bob-Omb] tricks also meant naming them," Travers said. "The signature trick discovered for the level is something I call the 'Meow Dive,' which is a manoeuvre that lets you hit a bomb as you spin jump in to nothingness and then come out alive."
After months of hard work, Travers can now get through the first half of the level just fine, but he's working on clearing the rest of the level consistently.
"I've devoted myself to trying for as long as I possibly can," Travers said.
"Other Kaizo players...were telling me that I'm in over my head, and that I'd actually just created a monster that's multiple times harder than any level they could name," Travers said.
"I still don't know if they're right or not, and it doesn't really matter if they are or aren't. I just want this thing to be uploaded."