The Questionable Level Design Contest ends in…
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How to Make a Good VLDC Level
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So I decided to make this tutorial, not saying that I have the key to scoring high in the VLDC, but I have a pretty decent idea of the key components in scoring high. I'll break this into three sections according to the three categories of the most recent contest: aesthetics, creativity, and level design. The tutorial isn't for people who consistently try hard know how to rank high, or for people who always end up in muncher town the worst world. It's for those who, no matter what they do, always end up with a mediocre, average score. You can change that, and you don't have to be an expert in SMW hacking, although that definitely helps...

1) Aesthetics

To start, I just want to get rid of the idea that, in order to score high in aesthetics, you need to make a unique theme and setting for your level. These "unique" themes include space, factories, abstract worlds, etc. This isn't true at all, you can get a perfect score in aesthetics using any setting and any type of level. Also, it's commonly thought that getting a perfect score in aesthetics requires heavy gfx and tileset manipulation. This isn't true either; all you need is clean, unique tile placement and a pleasing palette. Levels can look amazing without fancy tilework: examples include this or this. I'm definitely going to talk about fancy gfx manipulation, however, as that's an easy way to score high.

Okay, so the basic SMW comes with various "tilesets" that are already "made" for you. For our example, let's look at the grassland tileset.

This is the basic, normal tileset for a grassland level. You can add decorations, such as bushes and trees, to spice things up. However, what I'm gonna talk about is how to enhance and make this level something entirely new, all by using vanilla tiles. And of course this definitely requires experience with the map16 editor, and it helps to know the basics of yy-chr. If not, please read some tutorials on them first before you continue reading.

SMW has lots of GFX tiles that can produce many interesting results. Open up yy-chr and take a look at GFX 00. Okay, nothing really pops out that could be used in this tileset. Let's look at A, and now B. Nothing really pops out. It's just the gfx used for the koopa kids right? Here's where you need to get creative. I noticed that the hair on one of the koopa kids can kinda look like grass. So, I moved that gfx tile into a new exgfx file and inserted into the level. Now we have some blades of grass that kinda look interesting.

This is what I saw in yy-chr. You can make the palettes in yy-chr look normal by loading a savestate but I didn't feel like doing that.

It still looks bland, so we need to keep looking through the gfx files. As you find things that could be interesting, add them to your exgfx file. Be sure not to edit the graphics in any way, simply move them! If you edit the graphics, they aren't vanilla anymore are they? If the rules allows for recoloring/rotating, then follow the rules of the respective contest.

I kept looking through the gfx file and I chose to add the flowers that are found in gfx 02, which are on top of wiggler's head. I also used unused grass tiles from the forest tileset. I simply went through every gfx file on yy-chr and picked out anything that I though might work. This takes practice, but after a while, you start to remember things that can easily be manipulated into a piece of grass, water, a tree, etc. Everything has a use in some situation. The THANK YOU banner has been used plenty of times in carnival styled levels, and the hopping birds from Yoshi's House can easily be exanimated and add life to an otherwise plain grassland or forest level.

This is where I got the flowers from the gfx file 02 in yy-chr. Alternatively, you can simply use gfx file 02 as one of the standard gfx files to load for the level, rather than adding it to your exgfx file. I recommend making an exgfx file, however.

Now you can change the dirt and grass itself if you choose. I took graphics from the castle and mushroom tileset to make this one. The grass is taken from the orange floating platform, and the dirt is taken from the moving castle blocks. I also added clouds from gfx file 2D.

Right now it looks pretty strange though, so we need to fix it up with a custom palette.

To make a nicer custom palette, the best thing to do is a lot of experimentation. If you make something you thing looks nice, odds are it can look better. Actually, I guarantee it can look better. So, make a copy of your ROM ahem, level, and keep editing those palettes till one of them looks good. Ask others for advice if you are okay with posting your vldc level, since people will be straight up honest and tell you that a palette needs work. f you don't know how to make a gradient already, press ALT and click two different colors to make a gradient between them. This is so important in making a good palette. If you want, you can add fake hdma.

Here's what I came up with pretty quickly.

Yeah, that's a lot better. This isn't fantastic or anything, but it's a decent looking level with a lot more potential for a high score in aesthetics than a level with plain old graphics.

After getting "feedback" from the various users below, I updated my palette to make it look better. Yeah, this is totally what I was going for :P But really though, palette work is all about small improvement over previous work to make the end results that much better.

For good palette-work, I recommend not using the same shade of the same color for your gradient. Try mixing together different shades, such as lime green with yellow-green. These produce much nicer looking results than dark lime green with light lime green. Obviously, you can't make a nice looking gradient between like red and green, but you would be surprised how nice gradients can look between very different colors, such as red and blue in a sunset fake hdma.

There's a ton of different stuff people commonly do to make things look nicer. For grassland tilesets, the common thing to do is exactly what I did: add flowers, and maybe use the orange floating platform sprite as grass.

For caves, there's a lot of potential as well. Take a look at this level for inspiration on what you can add to your cave to make it nicer. In order to make crystals in your level, use gfx file 2C. You'll notice that there are little triangle tiles in the top right corner of the gfx file. These can easily be manipulated and turned into crystals. The light, mine cart, etc. found in that level by NGB are a little more advanced to make, but nonetheless pretty obvious once you know what it is! Raocow was stumped at what the crystals were in the minecart in that level. It's simply the grassy bushes found in the dirt of regular smw. This emphasizes my main point: that creativity is essential for high scoring aesthetics. You can certainly learn how to look for and manipulate gfx files in yy-chr to get the necessary tiles, but in the end it requires extreme creativity to produce results like this, this ,this, or the second level (One Sunday Morning) in this video. There's countless other examples of other entries that have made insanely creative setups with just plain vanilla graphics.

If anyone is interested I'll continue
I am interested in a continuation.
but that example palette still needs work
I'd also like to see your advice.
Really interesting so far and it describes exactly how I search the GFX for my VLDC levels #tb{;)}

Have to agree with erik though...the palette still needs work

Or did you do that to prove your honest feedback point?
Case in Point #tb{XD}

My Youtube channel

Currently working on:
Project C

Finished project:
Didn't realize you can make new graphics with the graphics already in SMW. Very well done, not only this is how to make a good VLDC level, but this is also a "How to make good graphics with graphics already existing in the original ROM"-like tutorial.
Vanilla is the best

formerly known as TheBasicASMGuy or TBASMGuy for short. hi.
This is looking like a great tutorial so far, I can't wait to see more!

I'm so winning 1st place next year!

Formerly known as nick 139
My YouTube channel
Originally posted by NGB
I'd also like to see your advice.
Really interesting so far and it describes exactly how I search the GFX for my VLDC levels #tb{;)}

Have to agree with erik though...the palette still needs work

Or did you do that to prove your honest feedback point?
Case in Point #tb{XD}

Lol that's exactly what I was going for... :P

Thanks for the feedback everyone, I edited some stuff and added screenshots of yy-chr to make it easier to visualize what I was doing. I'll update it with the next sections soon.
What's here COULD be useful as part of a VLDC mechanics tutorial?

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