Step 1: Plan out what type of level you're making.
Is it a grassy plain? Or is it an underground level? Let your ideas go wild.
Step 2: Create a mood.
Anyone can make a grassy level, but how about expanding the idea? For instance, instead of a boring field, how about a haunted hill? It could be a staggering cliffside if whatnot.
Step 3: Set up the stage.
There have been several times where all of a hack's levels are flat and boring. If you're going to have a rocky quagmire, why not place a some boulders along the way? A sunny beach could be finished off with a few bunches of palm trees here and there.
Step 4: Make all levels unique.
Levels could get boring fast if they're a little to similar to each other. Even a quick POW race or a star run could make it a bit more interesting.
Thanks to Pukiwiki, SNN, Andres, FPI, etc, we can finally insert custom music into hacks! Any good hack should utilize this feature by now.
Music is great for setting the mood and scene of the level. A tropical beat (such as Oho Oasis) makes a beach level feel even more lively. A mysterious forest is oh-so-much better backed by a tune like Forest Maze.
Try to make the songs fit the stages. Boss Bossanova does not fit in a grass-themed level. At the same time, try using songs you might not think to use in a level, but end up sounding very good. A prime example of this is the first level in Boing's hack: he used Rainbow Road for a grass/pipe level, which sounds a bit strange on paper, but ended up fitting very well.
Do not mix custom music with SMW music. If you want to use custom music, use it everywhere. The regular ghost house theme in one level shouldn't be in the same hack as a level with Make Eggs, Throw Eggs.
Include as many tracks as the game can handle. Try not to reuse the same songs close together. If you have a forest world, use Forest Maze for one level, and Kirby's Adventure: Forest Stage for another level. This goes for the overworld too.
If you're inserting your own tracks, please post them beforehand for feedback. You don't want your hack to have a song squawking or looping badly.
I'd like to add this about making levels in general:
Give your level a gimmick, or something that sets it apart from other levels. Are you changing water levels in a cave, or bouncing on giant mushrooms? It isn't enough just to create a setting.
In levels, do not try to mix and match sprites with bad themes for them...
example : a fire thing in a water area
Also, while placing sprites, do not put a crap load of sprites next to eachother for difficulty because that is a big NO!
Put sprites in challenging spots to get by, or if there is a large, empty area, place them there
Put power ups in good spots, or if you need to, lets say need a cape to get over lava, put the cape power up in a hidden spot, adding more difficulty and fun
-------------------- Something is wrong in the Mushroom kingdom.
Messing with palettes could be fun. But just make sure they're not to bright or wrong. Try using original SMW backgrounds and mess with their palettes until you get something you like.
Example: Using the leaf BG from Yoshi's Island 2, and change it's palette to brown and you could get an autumn-like effect as shown below!
(^That's Forest of Illusion 1, with a palette edit, I say it looks cool. ...I may use it in Game Over. )
EDIT: Also, try making it "fit" the current map you're on, such as GFX.
If there's only one way to progress through the level, then, chances are, the player's not going to care to visit again. Add various ways to complete your levels, whether it's grabbing Yoshi Wings to access a secret part of the level, making areas that can only be accessed by using a certain powerup (or none at all), or by simply adding an alternative path to the exit.
Also add nonlinearity to your overworld map as well! Make routes to alternate levels or add a switch palace. Giving your player various options on how to play the game is a surefire way of keeping him/her interested in playing.
If there aren't a lot of these, most of your levels will probably go through the same basic routine: stomp on enemies, jump over pits and harmful objects, and get to the goal post within the allotted time. Try and surprise your player with something cool with the introduction to each new level. Try making an arcade-ish flying game out of one level, where Fire Mario flies through the sky in a lakitu cloud on an autoscrolling level; make an underwater switch palace or a frozen ghost house. Be creative! And be sure to execute your gimmicks well too, of course. ;)
Be sure to create a hack that's suitable for all sorts of players. I've played countless levels that were insanely hard, even the first level took a zillion savestates to complete. A good way to counteract this is to place more ? blocks at the start of the game, and decrease them as the player advances. Also, don't place sprites everywhere so the player struggles to get to the end.
Do NOT use ALOT of different custom blocks in one level. Especially when they have turn block graphics. If you want them to have turn block graphics, at least use a message box to tell the player what kind of custom block it is.
So, in other words: Do not use alot of different custom blocks in one level, and put descriptions with custom blocks. >_>
-------------------- My blog. I could post stuff now and then
Yes,there is a time when you'll have to learn it.ASM hacks, custom sprites,
and even custom blocks sometimes can really set apart your hack from others.Heck, look at Brutal Mario!
It's level design is average,but the ASM hacks and custom sprites make it worth playing.
However,DO NOT (I REPEAT, DO NOT) think that you can make Really,Really great ASM hacks(Like
Brutal Mario had) but have really,really sucky levels.(such as SMWMYGOSH demo by the guy that use's our savior's name in vain)
Find a balance.
Place them wisely and strategically. They are of little use to the player if they're all in the same place. They should be evenly distributed throughout the level. They are especially useful near midway points and after particularly difficult sections of the level.
Custom Boss battles:
fancy custom bosses are cool, but using various sprites you can make your own custom bosses easily. Use tweaker to change existing sprites to make them more difficult. Use a level ender sprite to end the battle. I beleive that there is a sprite that teleports you to a different room if all enemies are defeated. Use this to make multi-stage bosses. Teams of sprites are also good boss fights, a large group of sprites in a well designed arena is always fun for a battle.
If you just don't understand sprite tool, you can make "new" sprites using tweaker and a hex editor. A pitchin' chuck that throws hammers or pirhanna fireballs is a good hammer bro replacement, lakitu can throw sumo bro lightning, bomb-ombs, or living flames. You can increase bomb-omb explosion size, make sprites follow mario, make sprites spin-jumpable, increase fireball hp of certain sprites, and make sprites throw different things using a hex editor and tweaker. Its always fun to make sprites jump over shells, makes things more difficult!
Puzzles set many hacks above others, such as mystery of the seven orbs, but many people don't get the idea of puzzles. Pipe mazes are not fun. A puzzle should involve wit and intelligence, not trial and error. Decoy solutions can be annoying, but add to the puzzle, such as in ghost mansion. Secret exits are great, and what is really fun is if a puzzle has two solutions, one leading to the normal exit and one to the secret. Puzzles should not have to involve glitches, if you have to climb with vines to solve a puzzle, have a message block explaining how to do it.
Edit: Whoops, climb with items! Items!
Supertails Former Administrator
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Many people struggle with the length of levels. Am I making the level too short? Am I making the level too long?
First of all, think of a general length most of the levels in the hack will be. Will you have small SMB3-sized levels, normal SMW-sized levels, or long levels similar to TSRP 2? This does not mean you can have some shorter or longer levels mixed in, but the size should be somewhat consistant.
When you actually go to create the level, make each part matter. Do not add filler segments, such as multiple screens of just jumping across pipes. Give the player unique challenges. They should never have to hold down the run key and do nothing else for several seconds.
Midway points are important. Be sure that they work when you enter from them, and that they're generally at the middle of the level. If it's too far to one side, the level will feel much smaller. You might want to make the midway point be a little closer to the end of the level.
I cannot stress this enough! Make the levels increase in difficulty as you go up. For example, if your level is in the first world, make the jump three or four blocks, but if it is in the last world, make the jump seven or eight blocks and put an enemy at the end to make it tougher. Many hacks I've played have no difficulty change at all, some hacks are so packed full of death traps you don't know there's a difficulty change (coughSR2cough), and some hacks are insanely hard right from the second world on, thinking that an easy first world makes up for it (coughLuigiAdventurecough).
In addition to that, some themes are harder than others, because levels must be set in that theme. For example, ice worlds are harder because they are slippery, cave worlds are harder because of lava and claustrophobic jumps, and sky worlds are harder because one misstep could result in Mario falling.
Did I mention, that packing levels full of enemies is not difficult, it is unfair? Difficulty means it is hard or easy, whereas unfair means that the player must savestate and rewind constantly to pass. Difficulty means a few well-placed enemies and tricky jumps; unfair means loads of enemies and tons of lucky jumps that are near impossible to land.
Anyway, the lesson of this: Make sure you have a difficulty curve.
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Distribution of Assisting Sprites/Blocks (a.k.a avoiding cheapness)
What this means is: Don't place them to make the game too easy, but also don't place them so that an item can be permanently lost and you must die to reset the level in order to progress.
Yoshi: Arguably the best "power-up" in the game. Yoshi shouldn't be omnipresent. Try to fit him into a puzzle or make him a reward for an obscure or difficult challenge. If you don't want to, then like the "fats, sweets, and oils food group" - use sparingly.
Feather: Again, a strong power-up. It should be rarer than the fire flower, and can be used well in a few different puzzles or tricky places. If not, then try not to introduce the feather too early, because it makes some spots incredibly easy, like Yoshi does. Also, try not to let a player fly over entire levels once they do have the feather, since that's the biggest concerning advantage with this power-up.
Fire flower and mushroom: As basic power-ups, they can be used anywhere. Test the level and see where you need them most so you don't underuse or overuse them. A tip on this site says they work best near midway points. Don't make a player run through a hurricane of sprites small, because chances are they'll need a save state or two. On that note, try not to ever make luck a factor, unless it's a bonus stage where luck is the only thing involved.
Spring boards and P-switches: Don't make it so that the player can accidentally drop it down a hole, especially if it's required to advance, then be forced to die and restart the level. If there is a chance, then give the screen an alternative exit, or try to make it so that you can't accidentally kick it off screen/dropping it down a pit, or can restart that segment of the level by entering a pipe or door. I can't begin to emphasize how strongly I feel about this or how often this is forgotten.
Timer blocks: (a.k.a the blue things in Star World 3 and the Big Boo fight) Try to make sure there is enough so that if the player accidentally misses the boss or whatever sprite he/she needs to beat that there will be enough to win. E.g. if you need to beat a Lakitu to progress, try 4 blocks, and for Big Boo, try (HP+4, since boss HP can be changed with hex) for minimum. It's no fun to "almost have it" then have to start over.
1/3-UPs: NEVER put them on the main path, and NEVER use them in every level. Dragon coins are okay, but try to hide some (and keep them off subscreen boundaries) so it adds some thought to the level, especially if it's on the linear side. 3-UPs should be used at a maximum of once every world (world, not stage) but be very difficult to find. I personally only have them in the switch palaces because you can't re-enter them. Having too many lives makes the game too easy.
Rebounding from sprites to reach a ledge: Don't overuse them, and when you do for the first time, it's good to remind a player who doesn't know what to expect so they don't kill it before they realize they need to bounce from that sprite to advance. I'm not as concerned with this one because I can usually stop before a cliff and see what I need to do to pass it. It's a fun challenge in moderation, but you kill it if you use it too much.
That's my input. I can't really say anything about balloons, though, because I have never really seen any abuse in hacks with them. I'll probably say the same thing I said with feathers... that is, don't let the player fly over the whole level with a balloon, but you can fit them into puzzles.
Just look above you... If it's something that can be stopped, then just try to stop it!