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13B: awakening (Phase 4: Depression) - 2dareduck


Owner: 2dareduck
World: 9 (Finale)
Theme: Sadness/Depression

This is the finale for SMWCP2, make sure to make this a fairly difficult level that correlates in difficulty with that of other levels in World 9. Phase 4 is all about the theme of sadness or depression (even apocalyptic). Though the initial idea is to have Mario feel a "what if" scenario of feeling of "what if I didn't exist" and see a world that would not be if he were alive, you can extend this idea or change the idea around a bit, so long as the theme is portrayed and there's a consequence to that. Gloomy is best for this level.
NO KAIZO. Don't make this level any longer than 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 minutes long.
Music Choice - SNN I believe is creating one for this level

Originally posted by cstutor
Section 4: What If I Didn't Exist? (Sadness) - Yeah it's that feeling of not wanting to be alive. Everything is in shambles and the Koopas have taken over. Probably could throw in Norveg into this mix too. Luigi is barely alive and Princess Peach was of course captured. Mario gets this section of dialogue that builds into the fact that he has to go on. The consequence is he has to press on and beat the Koopas.
Can I claim that level??
I do my best!!

Sorry Roberto, but your designing skills are a bit questionable. For now I'm handing this off to Pikerchu13.
Layout by LDA during C3.
Alright, so I'm going to follow the idea of "What if I didn't exist?" however, I've drawn additional accessory graphics for the level and there don't seem to be any slots open for claiming ExGFX. The list says 216 and 249 haven't been taken, but in the ROM, they already have. Any suggestions?

While on the topic of graphics, you guys should go ahead and tell me whether or not to use them.
The houses, toads, etc. look fantastic. The faces, red, blood-like "WHY?" and the like feel a touch overwrought to me, though, and seem as though they would be more appropriate in a horror-themed rather than a depression-themed level. They also seem to be drawn in a rather different style from the rest of the graphics (even from the houses). That's simply my subjective personal reaction to seeing them outside of any sort of context, though.

I apologize for the terrible lack of progress, but I am going to pick up the pace. Uploading this to show the general feel of the level, and maybe so S.N.N. can start composing the song for the level. I used the Black and white palette with dabs of extreme tones of color, because it reminds me of Communist Propoganda Art, that is usually black and white lineart done in pen, with the only color being a strong bright red.
The palette is great, and suits the mood of the phase quite well, as do the ruined houses and the like. The toads might benefit from slightly more contrast/a slightly brighter shade of red, however, as it can be touch difficult to tell what they're supposed to be with the current color scheme. Otherwise, though, the æsthetics are looking pretty great.

Gameplaywise, could use some improvements. I'm not too sure the enemies and obstacles themselves necessarily feel as though they convey the depression idea (mind, they don't seem woefully out of place either, but there's nothing about them which particularly screams "depression!" as such), and the setups tend to trend a bit toward the realm of unfair in parts. Examples:

- Generally, I don't recommend starting the player off in immediate danger of being sniped by a blue shellless Koopa, especially in a situation where it's not immediately obvious where that the player is in danger therefrom (I do like the way you have the shells interact with the crystals; however, this is probably not the best way to introduce this idea).

- Also, having Munchers on ledges Mario can jump through from below is extremely awkward, and also not really recommended.

- Speaking of things munchy, it's difficult/awkward to get down to the platform without being damaged on the side of the Muncher. And generally speaking, having Munchers lying scattered around randomly across the landscape is something we've been trying to avoid in this hack. For what it's worth, Alessio made some really nice spike graphics for Phase 2 which fit in well with this tileset, and you're free to use them in your phase as well, if you like. That said, it'd still probably be a good idea to use them a bit more sparingly/strategically instead of scattered about like the Munchers are at present.

- Also, the mushroom here seems a bit elaborate to obtain for an essential, start-of-stage powerup, especially considering how dangerous the following parts of the stage are.

- Asking the player to take a running bounce off this fellow to advance is a bit excessive; the timing is extremely tricky, especially with the other red Elite firing at you at the same time. As a general rule, it's a good idea to use red Elites sparingly, and usually only when the player has ample opportunity to either trounce them before they can get an attack in or to run away, as their attack pattern and frequency of attack makes them extremely formidable foes, especially in close quarters.

This setup has several problems. Firstly, the platform-starts-to-fall-faster-than-Mario glitch comes into effect right before the player would normally try to jump from the highest platform. Secondly, in order to make the jump from the leftmost platform to the rightmost one, the player needs to wait for the platform to fall a bit first, yet there's no indication of this--in fact, the way things are set up, it looks as though Mario should be capable of making that jump by leaping off the platform immediately after landing. Thirdly, the coins, though presumably set up in a way that is intended to be helpful, only confuse matters on both of these fronts.

That all said, the mood as such is a good one, but the actual setups in the could probably afford to better convey the same idea suggested by the æsthetics, and could certainly afford to be made bit less frustrating.
I do think the atmosphere fits the Depression/Sadness theme but at the same time I think there are better sprite choices than Koopas in this phase (i.e. ghosts, dry bones, undead enemies). I'm not sure if Red is the perfect color for Sadness or Depression since Anger is more geared in that direction.

The power-up at the beginning is kind of obscure and hard to get unless the player knows for sure that they need to bring a shell. I didn't find the jumps as hard as what RN has stated, but there's some tricky moments in the level that border unfair (The quick reaction to the Koopa Shell kicking Koopa at the very beginning, jumping down to the area where the 2nd Red Elite Koopa paired with an Invincible Shell was).
Red does work for the mushroom houses, but so does green or yellow, but that's but used for other phases and doesn't quite fit depression.

Though the grey does fit in. Blue would work with it just as well.
I no longer have interest in SMW Hacking as I did when I first started several years ago.
I have no idea what direction I'm supposed to take with this. How are these phase levels supposed to end?
The phases are suppossed to end with Mario hitting the Thunder Bell thus triggering the next phase. Details are in the respective threads.

Anyways, you really didn't get it right with level design. The aesthetics are good, but the level design is a chaotic mess. There's a lot of slowdown and it doesn't stand out from the other phases. And there's a few blind jumps as well.
I no longer have interest in SMW Hacking as I did when I first started several years ago.
Originally posted by TomPhanto
Anyways, you really didn't get it right with level design. The aesthetics are good, but the level design is a chaotic mess.

Well, without Mario, the pure, peaceful, orderly Mushroom Kingdom becomes a chaotic, ruined and distorted wasteland. That's sort of what I was going with.

Originally posted by TomPhanto
There's a lot of slowdown and it doesn't stand out from the other phases. And there's a few blind jumps as well.

I really wish I knew what was up with the slow-down. I can't have 3 sprites on-screen here without slowdown for some reason.

I'll try to fix the blind jumps.
I have to agree with TomPhanto's assessment here. The architecture here doesn't quite feel natural, and the sprite-only crystals are a little too conveniently placed (that is to say, there's a lot of single, isolated ones at the edge of platforms that feel as though they were placed solely for the purpose of preventing enemies from falling off, with no real effort placed into making them "fit" into their environment). What's more, the challenge seems to come mainly from supersaturation of super enemies rather than careful sprite placement as such. This is where your slowdown is coming from, incidentally--all those red Elites tossing fireballs every which way is sure to cause a lot of that.

The biggest issue, though, is that this level demands too many contradictory things from player all at once. On the one hand, you demand speed--there is essentially nowhere for the player to stop to catch their breath, as if they slow down, they're going to get slaughtered. On the other hand, you demand accuracy--there's lots of tricky jumps, platforms that fall, and fireballs and blue Elites flying every which way, and any mistake means death, since the only powerups in the stage are so risky to get that they're simply not worth it (you actually made the first one far, far harder to get than it was in the previous version). On the mutant third hand, you also use enemies which provide a high element of randomness, preventing the player from even learning how to strategize around obstacles. The result is a level which feels like an unrelenting barrage above all else; more shell shock than depression. You seem to be aiming for an "after the devastation" effect, but what we get instead far more strongly suggests and active war zone. And that's a little too frenetic for depression, no?

That said, there is a potentially workable concept beneath all this. To wit:

I must say, I found this beginning screen quite striking. Now, the execution could use some refining--the crystal shield is a little too square, and the blue Elite can actually bypass it by flying up through the ground at the bottom--but as a concept, it's quite powerful. We have Mario huddling in the ruins of a house with a hostile party besieging this pitiful last refuge of his. This screen, I imagine, summarizes the mood you're aiming for here--Mario is alone and adrift in a barren, desolate landscape, bereft of hope and comfort, and the only other people around are hostile gangs of marauding Koopas. Fair enough--that concept can very much work here. However, you really need to play up the idea of being alone and adrift in a barren, desolate landscape, and play down the gangs of marauding Koopas. The problem is that this assault doesn't simply cast Mario out of his haven into an uncaring world--it just keeps pounding at him an never stops, giving him no time to reflect on his change of fortunes. The Elites are still perfectly usable in this stage, but their numbers need to be severely culled. A little of the Elites goes a loooong way--they're called Elites for a reason, after all.

One possible take on this (and this is, of course, only one of the possible approaches you could take here) might be something like the classic journey through a post-apocalyptic wilderness, i.e. "Mario encounters few living beings in this ravaged wasteland, and those few he encounters are hostile". Sprites should thus be much fewer and sparser, and perhaps could lean more toward inanimate objects (e.g. rocks, hopping flames) or scavenging and vermin-type animals (e.g. Swoopers). Occasionally, a Koopa gang (including an Elite or two) may jump out of the shadows and attack Mario, but these should be more isolated skirmishes, and generally ones where Mario can either fight back or run away to quickly end the confrontation--whereupon he returns to the dreary wilderness, barren as it was before. This would better give the impression of a Mario stripped of all defenses and comforts, alone and exposed to an uncaring world. It still has the element of danger, but it's more the sort of blanket dread and the sense of having no one to turn to, rather than a constant "Ahhhh, I am forever in fear for my life on account of things flying at me RIGHT NOW!"

A few more points:

- Please, cut down on the Munchers. One of the jokes about the first SMWCP was that every single level seemed to feel the need to throw Munchers in, one way or another. We have lots of lovely mono-directional spikes for you in the ROM, and again, Alessio made some lovely graphics for them which match with the 13B tileset, and you are quite free to use these in your level. Even then, however, scattering hurt blocks about the level willy-nilly is generally not the best approach to a level--it's a bit of a cheap fallback.

- Be kinder with the powerups. The first powerup in the stage should not be obscenely difficult to get, especially if the stage is a particularly perilous one. And the more dangerous a stage is, the more powerups it should have--with a certain number of "essentials" being comparatively easy to get. Every mistake should not be player's last.

- Finally, remember that this is a more downbeat phase (indeed, it is the most downbeat of all the phases). It shouldn't be super-active--that's more the realm of Happiness and Anger. Obstacles should be a little slower here, a little less panic-inducing. They should still be tricky--but they player should have more time to think them over.

Again, there's a workable idea at the core of this, but needs a huge amount of refining before it can shine. Just because this is the endgame doesn't mean you need to overwhelm the player--in fact, that's the exact opposite of the approach you need here. Sometimes, less is indeed more--and sometimes, one well-placed sprite can fill in for three just strewn about.

It's December! Yay!

Any updates?
Alright, so I apologize for this.

So, I spend a couple days working on the last update. I then realize, "You know what, this sucks." and trash it and start working on it from scratch. So, after a week, I'm like, yeah, this works, I'm going to post this and go to sleep. I never posted it and just went to sleep, and I spent half of October and all of November thinking I did in fact post it and was waiting for criticism. Sorry, my bad.

Anyway, I took into consideration the complaints about demanding speed and accuracy in a level that is supposed to be generally melancholic.So I made this level one of those levels where you have to think and pay attention to what's going on, assess the situation and then move on.

I also change from the grassland to the castle in order to be like, "This is the Mushroom Kingdom destroyed, and now the castle is in ruins" type of deal.
You still didn't get it right.

1.) While the foreground gives off that depression vibe, the level itself still doesn't stand out from the other phases.

2.) The level is about a super shell on the bottom with yellow parakoopas that jump out when the shell approaches them. It's unfair when an enemy attacks you and you couldn't see them coming.

3.) I know it's supposed to be challenging since it's part of the last level, but the difficulty is borderline kaizo. There are parts where there's too many enemies crammed into a small area where you have to time your jumps perfectly.

I do see some potential, but the execution could have been a lot better. What I would do is remove the tight areas and think about how I can incorporate speed and accuracy that goes with the level theme.

EDIT: It's incorporate not incorpate.
I no longer have interest in SMW Hacking as I did when I first started several years ago.
Simply put, I don't get it.

I pretty much agree with TomPhanto, there's so many obstacles in this stage in a very tight or unseeable to be fortold space that it pretty much could pass off as Kaizo.

While the mood could pass off as Sad/Depressing the gameplay comes off frustrating than fun or sad/depressing.

Screen 1: Yellow Koopa pops out of nowhere and kills me. Too many spikes in this small area. Right Bullet Bill launcher is too hard to dodge. Tight space after the Bullet Bill

Screen 2: Thwomp/Spikes/Bullet Bills/Shell Kicking Koopa compact the area. Jumping Green Koopa makes this overwhelming unrealistic and impossible to dodge.

Screen 3: Hard to see Red Elite Koopa and hard to dodge it.

Screen 4: Blue Elite Koopa seems too much to be here.

Screen 5: 3 Bullet Bill Launchers, a Power-Up that's way to hard to get to and Blocked by the Bullet Bills, Thwomps, and Thwimp.

Screen 6-7: More Kaizo-isk stuff here.
So I'm getting a severe "writer's block" on what to do with this. Like, everything I try just doesn't work. My style of difficulty depends a whole lot on watching out for a bunch of things at once, which as mentioned before, makes an aggressive level, not a depressing one, so if anyone can help me a bit on making the level design fit the theme, I'd appreciate it.


*points to post above so someone will notice*
Layout by LDA during C3.
Hmm. I've been a bit overwhelmed with other manners lately, limiting the amount of time I have to devote to this project (or much else) but should I get a chance to breathe in the coming week or so (which seems a distinct possibility), I might be willing to help out with this level.