Mario Maker Deconstructed: Attention to Detail
Welcome to Mario Maker Deconstructed. In this series, we’ll break down the finer points of Super Mario Maker. Whether it’s a helpful hint or something you might have overlooked, we’ll discuss some things you should consider the next time you play. Today we’re deconstructing level design and how to make your levels visually stand out from the pack.
Okay, imagine ordering a burger for yourself. A burger is great, but also relatively simple. To qualify as a burger, all you need is a hamburger patty and two buns. Nice start, but it could be better. What if we added some cheese? How about some mustard and mayonnaise. Maybe you’d like some lettuce, onions and tomato. A side of French fries or onion rings sounds good. A refreshing soda or milkshake would certainly complete this meal. And don’t get me started on specialty toppings like crispy bacon, sautéed mushrooms or creamy avocado! I’m getting hungry, but let’s get back on topic here…
Designing courses in Mario Maker is very similar to the example above. To qualify as a course, all you really need is a start, finish and a way to get from one to the other. As long as it’s functional and can be completed, it’s technically a course. But why not add some cheese? Actually, forget that… cheese is bad in Mario Maker terms, but that’s a topic for a future edition of Deconstructed. What I’m trying to say is you should add some substance and personality to your courses. Don’t waste a fun concept on a visually bland and boring stage.
Below are some screenshots from The Impervious Fortress. On the left are the original designs of the stage. Very simple, yet fully functional. This was the skeleton or framework of the course. It was there only to ensure the course would operate as intended. After everything worked properly, it was time to make it look nice. Check out the images on the right. Much better, wouldn’t you agree? The course you see on the right looks like a true Airship and helps tell a story. What you see on the left is a concept and nothing more. Concepts are a great starting point to any great course, but may not be as memorable as a complete effort.
So how can you add some additional detail and bring your course to life? That answer will vary from person to person and course to course. Not all courses must tell a story. Every course isn’t going to be perfectly symmetrical. What sets your course apart from the rest is up to you. I can, however, provide some tips and suggestions on ways to give your course an added layer of design.
First and foremost, keep it simple. Just because you can add a ton of sights and sounds, doesn’t mean you should. Think of the burger analogy from earlier. A burger with the right combination of toppings, in the proper quantities, is delicious. On the other hand, a burger with every single topping imaginable might not taste so good. In fact, it probably will be horrible. Once again, course design is no different. Moderation is key!
If your course is trying to tell a story, use various elements to further accomplish that goal. Suppose you’re aiming for a winter themed course, consider incorporating Ice Blocks along with the standard Ground Blocks. Clouds and other white course elements will help give your level that wintry feel. In this scenario, it’s imperative to be creative. Mario Maker does not currently have any Ice World themes, enemies or items. Thus, you will need to use the items you have at your disposal to emulate this motif.
Have you ever noticed that when you drag the Ground Block, sometimes an added background item pops up? In certain themes it might be a tree or flower, a periscope or lamppost. In some Ghost Houses, a grandfather clock will appear and in the Castle theme, a Bowser (or Bowser Jr.) statue will surface. Many people believe these only appear randomly, and they would be correct. While they may only appear randomly, that doesn’t mean you can’t control where they are placed.
Select the “Ground” block tool and draw a straight line until the desired block design appears. Now press and hold L or R and select that block. Some designs are 2, 3 or 4 blocks, so you’ll want to select them all, not just one. After you’ve selected the block(s), simply hold ZL or ZR and drag your newly copied block design anywhere you wish to place it. Cool!
The above mentioned designs appear on top of the Ground Blocks, but some themes will have random designs that appear within the ground. I’m sure you’ve seen the portholes and rivets along the sides of an Airship. Once again, you can control where these appear (or don’t appear). Accomplishing this is the same as above. Simply copy the block or blocks you wish to duplicate and place them elsewhere.
To erase any design, simply copy and paste a blank or standard Ground block over the top of the other. Any Ground Block design can be copied and pasted over any other, you’ll just have to see what looks best for your course.
By now you’re certainly aware that shaking some blocks and enemies will change them into something different. Did you know that the Mushroom Platform and Semi-Solid Platforms change as well? Mushroom Platforms are consistent through all game styles and background themes. They start as Red and change to Yellow and Green when shaken. Use these three variations when designing your courses to add variety.
The Semi-Solid Platforms are perhaps the best way to add some flair to your courses! They often change drastically in all styles and backgrounds. For example, in New Super Mario Bros., the Semi-Solid Platforms will appear as a wall of gemstones in the Underground theme. The first two options have a bright pink and neon green gemstone appearance. Interestingly, though, if you shake them one last time you’ll get a fence-like design. All three work perfectly for an underground mine concept. Most themes will have a couple drastically different styles of Semi-Solid Platform, so be sure to check them all out.
The final tip I have for you is… COVER YOUR PIPES! Seriously, no one wants to see your bare pipe. Okay, I’m getting the sense you might not understand what I’m talking about, so allow me to explain.
Pipes are an integral part of the Super Mario Bros. series. Most often, pipes will be coming up from the ground. Other times, they will protrude from a wall or hang from a ceiling. I cannot remember any time a pipe was simply floating without something, including another pipe, covering the other side. Personally, I feel that Nintendo should have automatically covered the backside of all pipes, but since they did not, it’s your responsibility to do this. Don’t worry, it’s quick and easy. All you have to do is add two blocks along the back of a floating pipe to properly cover it. Below is an image showing you exactly what I’m talking about.
- The first pipe is the WRONG way way to place a pipe. Please never do this. Leaving it open on the opposite side just looks incomplete.
- The next example shows a pipe that is properly placed within Ground Blocks. It can come from the ceiling, floor or wall.
- The next two pipes simply use random blocks to cover the back. Using ‘?’ Blocks might denote a pipe that drops a power-up. Clouds could signify a warp pipe leading to a bonus level. Use your imagination when covering the other side of a pipe.
- And lastly, if you must float a pipe, please consider using a 2nd pipe to cover the other end. It looks fine and is a design that has actually been used in the Mario Bros. series before.
We’ve now successfully deconstructed the importance of visual design when creating a course. Now it’s up to you to put it all back together and create an amazing level that’s not only fun to play, but fun to look at, too! A few extra moments in the course designer can take a good course and change it into an amazing course.
As always, the techniques described above are just suggestions. The great part about Mario Maker is anyone can make a course, exactly the way they want. There really is no right or wrong way to accomplish that. This article is intended to provide you with some ideas for ways to make your future courses more visually attractive.
Do you currently use, or plan to use, any of the techniques discussed? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. There are endless ways to add detail to your levels and I’ve only scraped the surface, so if you have a suggestion, please share it with me. Who knows, maybe it’ll show up in a future edition of Deconstructed!