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A detailed analysis of SMWCP2's levels/design (alpha testing)
Forum Index - Events - Super Mario World Central Production 2 Completion Project - SMWCP2 Archive - A detailed analysis of SMWCP2's levels/design (alpha testing)
Pages: « 1 2 »
Hi!

Having kept myself away from SMWCP2 (well .. somewhat) since I gave leadership over to Lightvayne, I've mostly forgotten how almost all of the levels play out. Since we're incredibly close to completion, I thought this would be a good time to start my own personal alpha test of each level in the project and give a breakdown of my thoughts on the design (as well as things I'd recommend fixing). If the authors are still around, I'll be shooting them PMs and they can feel free to comment on my thoughts, their own levels, etc.

My logic behind this is that despite SMWCP2 being much, much higher quality than the first game, there are still some design issues floating around. Thankfully, I can guarantee all of these will be fixable without much trouble, and they'll increase the quality of the final product substantially. It is still my goal to see that this hack becomes the "staple" of SMW hacking, and I'd like it to be a project that people can look to for inspiration.




QUICK LINKS:

WORLD 1:
Girder Grassland
Plateau Pumps
Hiker's Hollow
Smoggy Steppe
Switch Scamper
Velocity Valves
Countdown Chamber
Reclaimed Refinery

WORLD 2:
Fringe Forest
Treetop Toss-Up
Arboreal Ascent
Floral Fears


WORLD: 1
LEVEL: Girder Grassland
AUTHOR: FPZero





Girder Grassland is the first level in SMWCP2. The primary goal of this (and any first level of any game/hack, really) should be to introduce the player to the basic mechanisms and enemies. FPZero executed this rather brilliantly, as I'll show in a few screenshots.


After a set of a few small jumps, you're introduced to sliding. The coin arrow helps, as does the enemy placement (notice how they're all placed down the slope and not right at the top). You're given enough time to react and learn the basics.


Directly after this, you're taught about climbing both ropes and ladders. Notice how you're shown a Spiny, but you don't actually have to deal with one just yet. A curious player might run into it and get hurt, but you don't have to do this.


You're taught about wall-running triangles here in a very basic fashion - you're given an arrow and a coin trail. You should also take note that there are no enemies up top. This might be an acceptable practice later on, but if you are trying to introduce players to a game's mechanic, doing so in an obvious and non-threatening environment is the best way.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Try to avoid ever introducing mechanics through something like message boxes. Girder Grassland uses two - one explains the collectible SMWC coins (three per level), and one explains the goal roulette. There is NOTHING that tells you about the mechanics themselves - you are expected to learn these on your own in natural environments.


Now these Spinies provide a slightly greater risk. A natural progression!


This occurs directly before the end of the level. You have a choice of two paths - the top has no enemies but slightly harder jumps, whereas the bottom has easier jumps but more enemies. This is where the player needs to actually weigh their pros and cons, and I think it's important for any sort of "split path" to be designed like this. If one route is obviously easier and more beneficial than the other, nobody will ever bother with the other path and you wasted your time designing it.


OVERALL: Girder Grassland is an excellent introduction to the hack. It teaches the player gameplay basics while still maintaining a fun and interesting design. Notice how it doesn't use things like Munchers or message boxes to create "fake" difficulty either, but instead integrates sprites with the environment to create a solid set-up.


WORLD: 1
LEVEL: Plateau Pumps
AUTHOR: Teyla





Plateau Pumps the second level in the hack and the first with a secret exit. This level introduces the concepts of water (lightly), and Lakitu. I'm a little surprised that someone thought including Lakitu in the second level would be a good idea, especially since it wasn't handled well in SMWCP at all (i.e. there was also a Lakitu in the second level there as well). However, for the most part, there is plenty of room to work with here and the introduction is fairly solid.


A nice, simple introduction to swimming. There are no enemies in the water here.


And this is where we meet Lakitu. This platform had a Koopa on it prior to that, which I'd suggest removing to create a "safe" introduction to the Lakitu. You have more than enough room to work with here as well, so it's not too much of a threat just yet.


Here is the first introduction to lava in the hack. It's actually not mandatory to cross the lava - in this case, you'd really only need to go near it if you were trying for the SMWC coin. Conveniently enough, there are Koopas nearby allowing you to snag Lakitu's cloud. Once again, note the high amount of open space you have to work with (the Spinies were spawned by Lakitu - these platforms were empty to begin with!)


This is the introduction to the Pipe Lakitu - directly after the midway and out of reach. There's even a gap between the pipe and the ground so that the midway platform doesn't fill up with Spinies.


Now here's a part I don't particularly agree with. Remember that this is the second level in the hack, and although this is actually easier than it looks to dodge, the waterfalls cause the Spinies to "float up" and mess up their trajectories. The smartest solution in this case would be to either remove the waterfalls and make the ground wider, or remove the Hammer Brothers (not a safe introduction of this enemy).


Finally, here's the pipe that leads to the end. Again, you're given a fairly open space to work with, although it might be wise to raise this platform up a bit so you can actually SEE the Lakitu.

OVERALL: There is one key positive I want to point out in this level, as well as one negative.

+: Wide open spaces in level 2. There are no difficult jumps to deal with, nor are there narrow platforms that would make the Lakitu a pain.
-: A big problem towards the end (as seen in the last screenshot) is the inability to actually see the Lakitu. Essentially, you have Spinies coming at you blindly. This might not be a huge deal in a later world, but it's slightly problematic here.

That being said, Plateau Pumps takes what you would expect to be an absurd concept for level 2 (Lakitus and water) and introduces them in a way that is fair 95% of the time. The parts which suffer can very easily be remedied with about 5 minutes of work.
Hope you don't mind me posting her SNN, but I can say that I am heavily looking forward to reading this thread. If there was a follow thread button, I would SMASH!!! the thing.


WORLD: 1
LEVEL: Hiker's Hollow
AUTHOR: Forty2





Hiker's Hollow marks the first cave level in the game. It introduces Buzzy Beetles, Spike Tops, Swoopers, and water (with actual obstacles this time).


Although this isn't necessary, the transition from grass -> cave in the intro area is a nice touch aesthetically. The first SMWC coin is also located on this screen and can be obtained using a slightly challenging jump (but nothing you haven't already dealt with/learned in the previous two levels).


In most cases, coins help to alleviate blind jumps. This is true here - at the bottom of this is a pit of water that has a fish in it (though the fish is far enough under that you can swim up in time).


Depending on how fast you're going here, this coin trail can actually lead you directly into the Swooper. I understand what Forty2 was trying to do - if you follow the coins at a normal speed, you'll easily miss the Swooper, but if you're going too fast, you'll hit it. A good solution here would be to move the coins up a bit, or even lower the Swooper by one tile (extend the stalactite down).


This is not a particularly fair obstacle for the third level in the game. Getting past this small isn't too hard, but getting past it big is quite challenging. Tighter spaces = tougher gameplay. Open spaces are therefore not a bad idea for an early level like this one.


The part above this requires a bit of vine jumping .. which is totally fine, and Forty2 tried to make it "safe" by adding this pit of water below. However, what's the point? No matter how you land, you're very likely to get smacked by this fish. Removing the fish would be a good solution here.


OVERALL: The level provides a nice introduction to common cave elements, but it is clear that some spots were not designed with much thought. The morals learned from this level are as follows:

1. If you're designing a level in which backtracking is required, make sure that both routes (forwards and backwards) are equally fair. As we saw in the fourth screenshot, going backwards resulted in a sprite randomly falling from above.
2. If you're designing a safe area, make it truly safe. As we saw in the last screenshot, the water pit was designed to be a place to "catch" you if you fall from the vines above, but considering that there is a fish waiting to ambush you (and it would be blind, too), it's really not so safe after all.
Since JDC is banned in SMWC, I'll keep note with Gunky Grotto when you reach there since I was working with him until I got kicked out due to design flaws. If you need to send JDC or me personal info, feel free to send me a private message.

--------------------
Are you an ASM coder and want a boost on your Steam, Switch, PS4, or Xbox One accounts? Private Message me for details.
(I also offer SMW Custom Songs in exchange for ASM! I don't do ports though unless it's to remix.)

Want progress on 100 Rooms of Enemies: The Nightmare Edition? Go here to see.

Are you a sample porter and wanna help with 100 Rooms of Enemies: The Nightmare Edition? Private Message me or Mellonpizza for details. Expect trading or boosting in exchange. 6 more left.

Looks awesome !! Can't wait to try this Thanks !!!

Throwing this in here for reference;
Originally posted by mockingod in irc
<00mockingod> ay yo if my level is too hard during snn's alpha, feel free to change it as you see fit because I made that level three years ago when my level design consisted mostly of difficult things
Layout by LDA during C3.


WORLD: 1
LEVEL: Smoggy Steppe
AUTHOR: CK Crash (Lucas)





This is the first secret level in the game. It allows you to bypass Hiker's Hollow and move straight to the level that follows it.


One thing that designers tend to do far too often (most notably in the case of SMW) is abusing Muncher usage. While these make a good obstacle in certain scenarios, they are often shoehorned in such that it's obvious they were placed as an afterthought. If you'll recall, I heavily praised Girder Grasslands' design. It did not use a single Muncher - rather, it combined clever architecture with clever spritework. While Smoggy Steppe is mostly fine in this regard, we'll see that there is a bit too much Muncher usage for comfort in some spots, starting right here.


There is a row of Munchers underneath that platform down there. Given that the level up to this point has not had any real pits at all, one might think that it would be safe to fall below the platform when it is in fact not. This one is a simple fix - the platform and Muncher floor could be raised up by one tile.


A bit excessive here. My suggestion? Lose the Munchers and place ONE plant in the middle pipe.


SMB3 had an interesting way of handling the fireball-spitting plants. For the first few worlds, they only spit one fireball, and for the last few, they spit two. This level has plants which mostly spit one, but for some reason, some of the plants in this bonus room spit two. I'd suggest fixing that, especially since this isn't a particularly easy bonus room to begin with.


I've been offered a coin trail that leads right into an enemy. This is also a surprisingly difficult jump to make. A simple fix, again - move the pipe up two tiles.


OVERALL: Smoggy Steppe does a nice job of introducing various concepts, such as the various kinds of plants, Munchers (despite their overusage), and Yoshi (not pictured). I think the take-home message for this level is obvious:

Munchers are fine in small doses, but if you're relying on them to hold your level up, it's going to end up looking sloppy and unprofessional. Some of the best levels are those which can adequately mix clever architecture with clever sprite placement. See Girder Grassland for an excellent example of this.


WORLD: 1
LEVEL: Switch Scamper
AUTHOR: AnybodyAgrees





Switch Scamper marks the first level in the hack to use both kinds of P-Switch blocks, as well as ON/OFF switches. Let's take a look and see if it introduces these well:


The first thing the player sees is a silver P block surrounded by red blocks. That's good - however, they're ambushed with a shell right after (not to mention there is a jumping Piranha Plant that comes out of that pipe). This wouldn't be a huge deal, but the red blocks get in the way and make for a rather frustrating jump. It might be wise to flatten this land a bit, or even move the nine blocks to the left more so the player has a chance to react.


This is a strange set-up, and I feel like the Hammer Bros. is a bit too far right (even despite the fact that there is a hidden note block above that coin). It might also be worth removing one of the Koopas to make this spot a bit less hectic.


I've never liked this particular set-up. In fact, I think I expressed my distaste for it way back when this level was first made. My reasoning is simple - this is your second time ever using P-blocks, and you already have to make the hardest jump in the hack (to this point, of course). Couple that with the fact that the jumping plant's fireballs only appear half the time (they go off-screen the other half), and you have a real problem. There are a couple of potential solutions here. The middle girder at the top could be raised up one or two more tiles to offer the player more breathing room, or the dark girder directly below Mario could be filled in with solid ground. I'd also make both of the plants fireball-less, given the proximity to the top of the screen.


I'm pretty sure AnybodyAgrees expects the player to drop down here .. which is fine, but it's rather blind. If you go slightly too far left, you'll get ambushed. There should be a coin trail leading straight down.


The player is never going to use these purple triangles. In order to safely do so, the red vertical Koopas need to be jumped on .. but you can easily get enough momentum to get up top. Either replace the enemy (eg. put a regular Koopa in the pits), or get rid of it entirely.


This bouncing green Koopa does .. nothing really. It hits the pipe, turns around, and falls into a pit. Pointless. Either the sprite should be moved or removed.


I just want to express that I think AnybodyAgrees did a terrific job at the end of this level. He has introduced all of the switches up to this point, and now he has created one final "gauntlet" before the goal. It's not very hard, but it utilizes everything you've learned so far.


Pointless switch. The coin trail leading downwards to the goal is right there. Perhaps move the switch to a few platforms back or get rid of it.


OVERALL: There are a couple of fairly obvious design flaws with this level, but they're thankfully minor. It otherwise provides a good introduction to switch usage while maintaining a rather solid foundation (design-wise). One thing I think this level really failed to consider is clever sprite placement. It's obvious that some of them were just thrown in, as their movements are all over the place and/or don't correspond to the level's architecture at all (eg. bouncing off of random walls, falling into pits, etc).
I was working on making switch scamper a little more interesting to look at (since the tileset is not used very well), but next thing I know I've changed a shitton of the level, so I stopped working on it.

I have to mention the easy to access Hidden Door that leads to a 3-Up Moon. I've tried multiple set-ups with it but I always end up changing the landmass too much.

Also the enemies above the midpoint, with the Switch-Box...I've never liked that set-up. It's easy to get hit by them, and plus it's really messy in general, IMO.

Also:

I swear I fixed that lava to be water. The Amazin Flyin Hammer Bros glitch out when it falls in the lava.

Quote


Also:

I swear I fixed that lava to be water. The Amazin Flyin Hammer Bros glitch out when it falls in the lava.


It's always been lava. However the splash glitch was fixed with a bit of custom block trickery. :)
Layout by LDA during C3.
Lava looks pretty ugly considering the environment either way though.

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Your layout has been removed.
Originally posted by leod
Lava looks pretty ugly considering the environment either way though.


I'm not too sure given the fact that the lava is harmful to the player, in fact in my opinion the contrasting colours between the lava and it's surroundings gives off a great juxtaposition which further goes towards teaching how lava is to be avoided.

Sorry if this sounds confusing, I've been stuck on essay writing mode due to rewriting 2 years worth of college essays.
Isn't there a hex edit or patch that fixes that? I know there is one that fixes the reflecting Podoboo when it falls into lava...

Extras



I should have something witty to put here (even if it's just to update dated info), shouldn't I?

Advertising Space

Originally posted by Giant Shy Guy
I was working on making switch scamper a little more interesting to look at (since the tileset is not used very well)


I've tried it before a few times but none of them ever got it.

Quote
I have to mention the easy to access Hidden Door that leads to a 3-Up Moon. I've tried multiple set-ups with it but I always end up changing the landmass too much.

Also the enemies above the midpoint, with the Switch-Box...I've never liked that set-up. It's easy to get hit by them, and plus it's really messy in general, IMO.


I moved the door a bit more to the left and replaced the Moon with a quick race to collect a falling feather using the P-Switch and some used blocks over a pit.

AnybodyAgrees is/was just too adamant on keeping it as-is.

Originally posted by S.N.N.
Depending on how fast you're going here, this coin trail can actually lead you directly into the Swooper. I understand what Forty2 was trying to do - if you follow the coins at a normal speed, you'll easily miss the Swooper, but if you're going too fast, you'll hit it. A good solution here would be to move the coins up a bit, or even lower the Swooper by one tile (extend the stalactite down).

I'll try adjusting that a bit. I'm guessing my original intention with the section was to force the player to slow down and take in their surroundings instead of rushing in blindly, but the level's structure already kind of does that.

Originally posted by S.N.N.

If a level involves backtracking, make sure it is designed with respect to both directions! I'm coming back from the right and this Buzzy Beetle just randomly fell down from above with no warning. The author intended the beetle to go left (there's a path above that was designed specifically for it), but they didn't consider that it could also blindly fall and complicate things for the player. This is rather simple to alleviate, and would involve filling in the hole that the beetle falls down from above.

(You missed a ">" in your post which made this screenshot and comment disappear, good thing I decided to quote it.)
I never bothered to fix that since I'm pretty sure it can't actually fall on you at any point, but I suppose it does look rather unpolished. I'll try restructuring the terrain a little, because I'd like to still keep the hole there as an obstacle.

Originally posted by S.N.N.
This is not a particularly fair obstacle for the third level in the game. Getting past this small isn't too hard, but getting past it big is quite challenging. Tighter spaces = tougher gameplay. Open spaces are therefore not a bad idea for an early level like this one.

I'll just raise that ceiling to surface level then. The lowered ceiling was probably supposed to help conceal that area a little bit more, but it's not particularly well-hidden anyway. EDIT: Actually, wait, are you sure that's the right screenshot that goes with that? Either way, I've modified the few instances of "swim under the fish over a death hole" to make them safer to approach.

Originally posted by S.N.N.
The part above this requires a bit of vine jumping .. which is totally fine, and Forty2 tried to make it "safe" by adding this pit of water below. However, what's the point? No matter how you land, you're very likely to get smacked by this fish. Removing the fish would be a good solution here.

The water pit with the fish wasn't exactly intended to be totally safe, but rather less instantly-lethal than an actual pit. But I guess for the third level in the game having to try the jumps again is probably punishment enough. I remember the actual jumps themselves being rather non-threatening though, so I'll see what I can do.

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May we meet again outside the battlefield.


WORLD: 1
LEVEL: Velocity Valves
AUTHOR: Vic Rattlehead





This is the first level in the hack that uses an actual gimmick. Specifically, it uses several air jets (bounce blocks) to push Mario around in various directions. In theory, this sounds like it could be exceptionally tedious, but this is actually one of my favorite levels in the entire hack due to how solid, creative, and fun the design is.


The creator did an excellent job of introducing the jets and showing how enemies interact with them.


Clever set-ups like this are abundant throughout the level, although this particular ON/OFF switch is harder to hit than it may appear.


This gimmick is really milked to its fullest, and that's what I love the most about this level. After bouncing along the jets on this platform, you're greeted with Grinders, a Thwimp, and more.


Here's another example of using the gimmick in an interesting way. Normally, the reflecting fireball is slow and moves at a 45 degree angle, but by mixing it with a small air jet, it is now moving very rapidly through these two red bars.


Yet another creative example. Hitting the switch causes the key to drop and go flying along this air jet tunnel.


OVERALL: This is what I'd consider a "perfect" use of a gimmick. It introduces the concept well, and then it builds on it throughout the level (and you can tell the creator clearly had fun designing it). The idea never gets stale or old, and the level is non-linear enough that you could play through it two or three times and find something new and interesting with each attempt. Really well done from a design standpoint!
I tried to make that switch part as easy to hit as possible while still looking neat when it happens. Unfortunately, we as a romhack playerbase have been somewhat conditioned to jump as we kick things upwards, so standing on the ground and kicking the Goomba up as intended isn't as common!

Otherwise, glad to see it still holds up.

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Pepper your angus.
Originally posted by S.N.N.

This particular ON/OFF switch is harder to hit than it may appear.

Why not add a second switch directly above the first, and perhaps the same for the air jet?

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