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DeputyBS Judging Resignation
Forum Index - Sunken Ghost Ship - Old Contests & Events - The 10th Annual Vanilla Level Design Contest - DeputyBS Judging Resignation
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Okay so, the topic name is a bit facetious; the real reason I’m quitting judging is because of the double whammy of my laptop breaking and losing the judging comments for all the entries I’ve already judged (about 40) and having to prepare for final exams, projects and papers. This has killed all motivation for judging the contest, and I would rather have the entrants get the results at a reasonable time than wait for me to catch up, considering I also have an internship to go to in a month. However, after having played Swissotel (in about 2 hours with roughly 100 tries and minimal save state usage) the problems I have had with several entries in this contest has finally tipped over, and I need to do a full dissection of this level. I don’t mean to pick on this level, and if I were still judging I would give it a middling score, but I feel that of the entries I have played, it is the prime example of the issues I have with these levels, issues that I could only express in judge comments. I will not just go through each section of the level, but also go through general themes that are applicable to vanilla contests and SMW design in general. These are my own design philosophies, and I know people will enjoy this level (I know other judges already have), so take them with a grain of salt if you must.

1. Good Level Design Is Not Good Mario Level Design

While the gimmick of the level changes over time, a point I will get to later, the tone of the entire level is set up by the very first screen: Mario spawns on top of a P-Balloon, is trapped in a cramped area, and Grinders are positioning to fall onto Mario if he doesn’t move out of the way. Right away I can tell that the author has no intention of capturing the type of level design found in a typical Mario game. Mario games have general design rules, two of which are almost immediately broken:

1) Mario moves right, or sometimes up, in a linear but open level. While there are certainly levels where Mario is in a cramped, Mario levels tend to have a clear direction to the goal but also has enough room to jump around and collect coins or find secrets.
2) Mario jumps on enemies and collects power-ups. Everybody on the planet associates these traits with the Mario games. You could even argue that without these traits, the level ceases being a Mario level and instead becomes its own thing.
3) The level has easy or (at most) reasonably challenging difficulty, and a short or (at most) decent length that requires only one midpoint. I will get into these topics later.
4) Mario starts with five lives, dies in one hit or loses his power-up, and spawns either at the beginning of the level or a midpoint. Again, these will come up later.

I like to think that I give credit where credit is due. There is some genuinely good design here with fair difficulty; going back to that first screen, the Grinders are placed so that they climb up the line guide, and the player can clearly see the pattern to avoid the hazards. Generally, obstacles are telegraphed well enough that the player knows what to do, and on its own terms the level design is solid and, at times, very creative. But in terms of Mario design, it goes against all these foundations. Now that brings up the question “Why does this all matter?”

2. The “Vanilla” Discussion

One of the topics that comes up every time VLDC is in session is “What does “Vanilla” mean anymore?” The usual conclusion is that Vanilla levels are those that use as little custom anything as possible, whether it’s graphics, music, sprites, ASM patches, and so on. Over the years (not counting VLDC6) these guidelines have been loosened to allow more customization, which has obviously brought detractors. There was even talk of a separate contest that would take a “pure vanilla” approach, though what that entailed didn’t really seem clear to me.
First, let’s make this clear: the real reason people like Vanilla guidelines is because it evens out the competition. With no restrictions, people that can’t make custom graphics or don’t know how to code would be at a serious disadvantage to those who do, especially from a creative and aesthetic standpoint. Just look at the overworld contest from last VLDC for an example; the combination of talent from different areas in the design process created what might be the best overworld in any SMW hack. Now obviously, the contest wouldn’t allow a collaboration of that size, but even the combination of a person talented in design and another in custom content would be enough to stay ahead of much of the competition. The current rules prevent those types of situations by forcing everyone to use the same tools, making for a much fairer contest.
However, this does not fit what I consider to be a “Vanilla” level, because it does not address the most important part: the design of the level. Like I said, Mario levels have a certain structure to them, and the given rules of Vanilla allow that structure to be totally ignored. A Vanilla SMW level should be a level built around the principles of SMW’s level design, regardless of custom content. Someone could make their own custom enemies, but if they looked and played like they would in SMW it would still be considered Vanilla.
There are clearly setbacks to this idea, and it would take a while for it to be properly integrated in VLDC. It would only be fair to have an official contest revolving around using as little custom content as possible to create the most interesting and outlandish levels in the SMW engine. And this redefinition would require a new “Authenticity” criteria in judging, which unfortunately tends to be at odds with the Creativity category. And the rules would still need to balance what tools people could use to make their level. I personally think it’s possible to work around both issues, and I would like to hear what people think about this interpretation.
I put these sections first because I want you guys to know what my viewpoints are on level design in the Vanilla sense. Aside from the (more major) technical and timing issues, it’s why I feel I might not be fit to judge this contest. I don’t really agree with the terms and I’ve found that my feelings for levels do not match the scores that I give them, since I would not rig the scores just to fit my opinion. For the rest of this post, though, I will look at the specific design problems in Swissotel.

3. Memorization Is Not a Skill

The appeal of platformers is that they are based on skill, particularly in timing and quick-thinking. Hard levels, even in a contest where you can’t gradually build difficulty through all levels, good design gives enough room for players to observe obstacles to figure out how to beat them, and rewards players that can overcome them on the fly. Swissotel, on the other hand, uses the cheaper tactic of memory-based design. Three of the first four segments of this level share the same level theme: medium-fast vertical autoscrollers with gratuitous usage of cramped spaces, sharp objects, and 1F0 tiles. While not unfair, as well as being the best part of the level, the problem lies in the lack of control the player has in the situation.
Autoscrollers are not bad on their own, but it becomes a problem when they restrict the player’s movement, usually when they are moving at a fast pace. Probably the most infamous example of this is stage 3 of Battletoads, where the player must react to the incoming obstacles in the exact right order with no room for error. While not as extreme, these first segments suffer from the same issue: Mario must go through the level in a specific pattern to stay alive, aside from a couple Mushrooms as forgiveness. In other words, the player must memorize every obstacle and path to avoid it if they want to beat the level.
The key issue with memorization is that it is not a good way to learn; just look at all the controversy surrounding standardized tests. If a player goes through a level several times and memorizes all the obstacles, then they can beat it with no problem. But go back to that level a month later, and all that information is long gone. That’s what makes beating hard levels that don’t rely on memorization even more satisfying; you’re using skills you’ve already built up from easier levels, and then making them even stronger by applying them to overcome a greater challenge. Memorizing a level in and out isn’t fun and is only a short-term victory for the player, and it hurts this level a lot.

4. Section 5 Is Bad

Before this point in the level, everything was going fine. Despite the heavy focus on memorization and the lack of Mario-esque design, there were some creative ideas and for what the design was trying to be, it was solid enough. But then section five comes along and throws a total spitball: Mario must blindly guide a Coin Guide all the way up to form a platform to reach a door. On Mario’s side, he must avoid some Grinder set-ups, which were a breath of fresh air since you could finally do some actual platforming. However, the Coin Guide moves based on D-Pad inputs, so the player must blindly determine the correct spot (a single line, I might add) or else reset the section.
This is the worst kind of memorization; whereas the pits before at least let you memorize while playing through the sections, here you need to guess when to turn the coin guide based on nothing (even if you go up to the top beforehand you only get a vague idea of what to do). Then you must memorize the timing of when to do it. It’s incredibly boring since the player is doing nothing but waiting, wastes valuable in-game time considering the length of the level, and contrasts completely with the rest of the level in terms of design and quality, except for the very short section right after it. Speaking of which:

5. Consistency Is Key
The first sign that something was amiss was the third section with the Chuck and Fire Flower. It was at odds with the pacing of the level thus far, and was much easier too. I gave it a pass because it was right next to the midway point and figured it was supposed to be a type of miniboss, and sure enough the fourth section was a lot more like the first two. However, by the fifth section, I realized that the designer had no intention of working with a single level design.
I consider Donkey Kong Country to be the greatest 2D Platformer ever made, and I use its level design as the defining example of how game designers should make their levels. Each level would introduce a new object or obstacle, maybe with a new enemy alongside it, showing the player how the object works or how they need to overcome the obstacle. Then, the level would get more difficult, whether combining it with other elements or creating tricky designs that required some strategy to bypass. This is Game Design 101, and mastering this concept is what it takes to make a great game.
Now, let’s set aside the fact that the level doesn’t introduce the initial concept in the best way, even if the first obstacle gives the most reaction time to the player. You have a clear level theme and a gradual increase in difficulty as the pace of the sections gets faster. You have that Chuck bit, but again that’s easily ignorable. But then the fifth and sixth sections are about Coin Guide puzzles, the seventh section is a vertical spinjumping segment, and the eighth section is the opposite of that: you die when you spinjump. While the latter two segments are much better designed than the fifth and sixth ones, and the eighth segment would’ve been a great concept on its own (I’m genuinely curious how you got that to work), these segments are at odds with the design of the first few segments.
I see the thematic design of the level you were going for, and I can appreciate the verticality of most of the level. But for a level to have a strong design, it needs a strong, sole gimmick behind it. Using multiple level styles causes the level to feel uneven in terms of difficulty, pacing, and overall quality. Granted, it may be more SMW-like to have these separate styles, since all its castle levels shared this quality – Bowser’s Castle most of all – I think a sole gimmick makes for a much better level overall. Not everything in SMW is perfect, after all.

6. Glitch Abuse
There are two types of glitch abuse in levels: one where the player is required to abuse glitches in the game to complete levels, and another where the designer uses glitches to create set-ups not intended by the game. Fortunately, Swissotel goes with the latter, but even that choice has its caveats. And once again, it’s the Coin Guide sections that suffer this the worst. In section five, once you manage to guide the coins to the right spot, you have to then hit a ? Block to make an invisible block that allows you to enter a door. In the next section, you need to guide four coin guides to erase some line guides and allow a moving platform to jump high enough that Mario can reach the exit.
Because these are glitches, and thus not intended by the game to occur, they lead to bad presentation and confusing intentions, as in what the designer wants the player to do. Suppose the player didn’t know about the invisible block trick; if they collected the coin above the block, then they would have to reset the whole segment again, and not understand what their goal is. The sixth section doesn’t even work properly, or at least doesn’t appear to; every time I’ve played the level I’ve had to enter the reset door for the Coin Guides to appear. And aside from that, the design just feels awkward because there’s no clear reason why coins would be able to erase blocks.
In other instances, glitches don’t have problems communicating the designer’s intentions, but are still presented poorly. Based on the sound effects it seems like most of the trickery going on is based on exploiting (invisible) Yoshi’s behavior. In the first and fourth segments, they are used just as means to an end: to help the player get to the exit. The player doesn’t really question them, but the Yoshi sound effect is out of place and the events as they transpire feel awkward. It’s easier to describe in the eighth section, when Mario’s spin-jump causes him to die. A great gameplay gimmick, and the Message Block makes it absolutely clear what’s going on, but in presentation the gimmick doesn’t really make sense. What’s killing Mario? Wouldn’t it make more sense if Mario’s spinjump was just disabled? These may seem like unimportant questions to ask, but I feel it goes a long way in justifying the designs and how the work, rather than just making up arbitrary rules for the segment. And while we’re on the topic of presentation…

7. Aesthetics Are Important

Even if you like this level, you would agree with me that this level looks bad. The palette is ugly, there’s no interesting decorations, very repetitive block usage, and constant use of cutoff tiles or glitchy Note Blocks. It looks sloppy and effortless, which makes me believe the author had no intentions of working on presentation at all. Now because I was a judge, I hadn’t been keeping up with the individual threads, the screenshots thread, or any of the fan judge threads. But I did look at the meme thread, and from what I saw it is clear people find the “aesthetic doesn’t matter” approach to be stupid. This kind of thinking is unique to gaming, and probably came about during the graphics wars of the 90s. Graphics are a big selling point to gamers, but nowadays people have gotten wiser and know that graphics aren’t everything.
So yes, aesthetics isn’t the most important part of your level; you could have the prettiest level in the world, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it was just flat design with no challenges. However, good presentation goes a long way, and the aesthetics category shouldn’t just be dismissed. A good-looking level doesn’t just help it stand out in the contest, but it helps stand out in our memory. All the levels that work with just vanilla tiles and custom palettes may blend in the back of our minds, but we’ll remember that one level that did something different. And the experience itself is more enjoyable; from a creativity standpoint, it’s interesting to see what people can do with vanilla tiles to make something that looks completely custom, and as a player you want to see some good eye-candy, whether it’s a strong style, unique environments, or just well-crafted visuals.
In Swissotel the only interesting and creative part of the visuals is the yellow-and-black striped platform Mario is trapped in in the second segment. Everything else is flatly designed, uses the same drab color palette, and looks like the skeleton of a level before a designer would add a fresh coat of paint. I know nowadays it’s easy to make fun of the times when cutoff was a major crime in SMW Hacking, but it is a strike on visuals, and it’s an unfortunate drawback to exploiting objects used in ways not originally intended. I understand the criteria of the contest makes it difficult to polish up these tiles, but it’s the cost of taking liberties with the original game; going back to my definition, it would be more Vanilla to polish it up, since SMW is a very polished game.
I should also address that using the original graphics is not a blight against any of the entrants. SMW isn’t the prettiest game on the SNES, even for those launch days, but it still looks nice; off the judging criteria I would give it a 12/20 in aesthetics. But note that aesthetics also relies on palette choices and how the design itself is presented; why use a Cement Block wall when you could rearrange some ground tiles instead? It’s the poor quality in both that I’m judging harshly in Swissotel, not the use of Vanilla graphics on its own.

8. I Don’t Have Time for This

Once you figure out the puzzle in the sixth section, you hop up on the platform and collect a 1-Up. This turns out to be the second Midway Point, something I have found out by the several levels in this contest that use double Midway Points. All these levels are way too long, and combined with the high difficulty that these levels also tend to have, it makes them a chore to play through, especially if you opt out of using tools.
Way back in the beginning when I mentioned there was “minimal save state usage”, I meant that after dying several times, I made a save point at the beginning of the seventh section because I didn’t want to have to redo the first sixth all over again. Keep in mind that while the compilation rom itself will patch out the live system, I was still going off the original SMW system; 5 deaths (6 with the 1-Up) and it was all the way back to the beginning. Given that the system is patched out anyway, I don’t find it totally unfair that I used savestates just to avoid more wasted time (by that point I was speeding through all those sections anyway). But I think that necessity shows how unbearable the level could be when forced to play on SMW’s terms.
Let’s do some math here. From what I tested 10 SMW seconds is 7 real-time seconds. With that in mind, a typical SMW level gives you 300 or 400 seconds to complete it, or 210 or 280 seconds, respectively. However, you never need all that time, and the level could usually be completed in about half that. Therefore, a typical SMW level should take between 105-140 seconds, two minutes on average, to complete. This level gives you 600 seconds (seven minutes) to complete, and takes almost five minutes to complete it, given that you’ve only made a few mistakes throughout. Those first four sections could’ve been its own level, and probably would’ve been a better level on its own. But instead, like plenty of other levels in the contest, it goes for the long haul instead, combining two or three levels into one, and leads to the many trappings that long levels bring.
Remember how I mentioned that this level required memorization a lot? Well, anyone that’s practiced flash card studying can tell you you’re not going to remember everything by test time. So even if you’ve completed the first few sections several times and can breeze through them quickly, the player’s own margin for error can cause them to make mistakes, especially with design that requires precise movement. This makes the length of the level even more frustrating, and why I eventually just resorted to not restarting all over again at a point. The player doesn’t want to go through the part they already completed all over again; they want to get straight back to the section that they still need to beat. That’s why games like VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy give you infinite lives, respawn you at the same screen/section you died in, and have quick respawn times to let you get back in the action faster. None of those features are in the original SMW (and only one of those in the compilation ROM) and that’s what makes this combination of difficulty, length and memorization such an enjoyment killer.
Another drawback to this is that on repeated playthroughs, the player starts noticing the cracks in the walls. Glitches that might have been ignored or not even seen start to appear more noticeably as the player retreads through areas so often. In the third section, with the Chuck, it’s very easy for the player to glitch through the Throw Block wall as Big Mario into the ground below it. In the succeeding section, the very first Grinder may decide not to reappear after it falls, forcing the player to kill themselves (if the jump is doable without it then please correct me; I forgot to test this). In the same section, after falling off the rising platform, you may accidentally jump on it and then get a cheap death by being slammed into a wall. Whether these are minor issues or not, the point is that I didn’t notice them at all the first time through, but because I ended up having to replay the segments again and again, they became a lot more noticeable.
If there is one thing that I want you all to get out of this, it’s that you cannot put all your designs into one long level. Mario levels are designed to be quick, fun romps that take a couple minutes to beat – not massive gauntlets that are endurance tests for the player. I would much rather people cut up their level into one with the best segments, and maybe put the rest on the side, like a bonus kind of thing for people to play. It’d make a lot of these levels much more enjoyable to play, since Swissotel is far from the only culprit.

9. Odds and Ends

This section is just for a few minor design choices I didn’t really understand. None of these are major issues, but they’re things I want to discuss that don’t really fit into any of the other sections.
At the end of the first section, there’s a Shell-less Koopa that falls down the pit and a Yoshi text box that appears, and I don’t think I ever figured out the point of it. Was it just a cheap shot, since the player can’t navigate while the Koopa falls during the text box? Was it needed for Mario to land at the door properly?
What’s with the first Midway Point? Why is it placed behind the Throw Block Barrier when Mario needs to be small? Why does Mario even need to be small, other than to increase the difficulty?
How come there’s a Snake Block that just appears once in the level? It played fine but it felt a bit unfitting since it never appears again. Was it a joke since Snake Blocks are considered a big VLDC meme?

10. Conclusion
Swissotel is a mediocre level, one that, if I was still judging, would probably be in the 50s range, about average for me; at worst, it would be in the high 40s. It could have been a much better level if the design was more focused, there was more emphasis on skill than memorization, the length was toned down greatly, and there was more work in the aesthetics department. But, more importantly, this level represents a lot of grievances I have with quite a few entries in this contest, and if I’m not going to be judging anymore, I might as well fit in the wordcount of all my hypothetical judge comments into one post. I haven’t talked about everything I want to talk about, but hopefully you guys have an idea of where I’m coming from. I’m sorry I had to drop out of judging, but hopefully I can find time to make some more posts like these and talk about more levels from the contest.


Okay real response time. To start, I am sorry about your labtop breaking as well, it's really unfortunate that happened. Also, it is unfortunate about your decision to stop judging, but hey it's your decision.

Now, like Enjl I also loved Swissotel. And I could post a bazillion things breaking down the level and the style of levels I enjoy, and how that differs from your style, and the flaws in some of your arguments. But I think most of that would be pointless, since I can see the only clear problem is a difference in preference and taste, which is huge. I also assume you are not the type of person who enjoys kaizo hacks or JUMP/VIP/ASPE styled levels either? I, and many others, love these levels because they are unique, creative, and challenging. When I play Mario levels, I don't usually look for levels that replicate the feeling of original Nintendo levels. In fact, that's what Nintendo levels are for. Don't get me wrong, I love typical, regular sidescroller, grab the powerup shenanigans. But I love it when Nintendo does it, and I still play all the new Mario games when they come out. But SMW hacks need not follow this same formula; we're hacking the game, after all.

Also yeah, like Enjl pointed out, you misunderstood section 5. I was able to beat it on the 2nd try. I do admit that it would be better if there were more message boxes to explain gimmicks like that, but it's hard in a vanilla level to do so (I suppose ft could have used the multiple message glitch but whatevs)

Also, I am curious what your opinions are regarding an actually good vldc level. Does difficulty find its way in there? I have to admit, ft's levels are super fun, but, like morsel's, rely on trial and error (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Maybe you would enjoy something more along the lines of worldpeace's hard levels, which more or less can be beaten through intuition? I wouldn't rule out the fact that much of swissotel can also be beaten with intuition, but it is a lot easier for people that enjoy and are really good at those style of levels.
Shame about the laptop breaking. Good luck with your final exams and other projects!

I personally had a lot of fun with Swissotel. The setups are brilliant and satisfying to execute and it manages to create a constant tension while never being unfair.
Section 5 isn't bad, you just misunderstood it. Your task is to get to the top together with the coin trail. It's a pretty neat section, if you ask me.
I feel a disconnect here. After reading this post I don't feel like you would give this level a score even in the 40s. It certainly doesn't read as "mediocre".
Originally posted by GbreezeSunset
Don't get me wrong, I love typical, regular sidescroller, grab the powerup shenanigans. But I love it when Nintendo does it, and I still play all the new Mario games when they come out. But SMW hacks need not follow this same formula; we're hacking the game, after all.

My thoughts in a nutshell.

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I completely disagree with your post, but good luck on your internship.
Originally posted by Deputy BS
Right away I can tell that the author has no intention of capturing the type of level design found in a typical Mario game.

perhaps i'm misunderstanding, but i was under no impression that vldc was a contest in which we had to make levels that could plausibly be in a mario game. this is not the last 24 hr level design contest. there is no authenticity factor in this contest whatsoever. it's just what we can achieve using the original engine and no extra shit added. not using the original engine and the original philosophy of level design and how the mario creators would've made levels.

Originally posted by Deputy BS
the problem lies in the lack of control the player has in the situation.

this is an interesting point, as a lack of control in regards to how situations play out is a very kaizo-way of approaching level design. however, this level isn't kaizo, nor is there a Rules Of Level Design that people were supposed to adhere to for this contest.

Originally posted by Deputy BS
Mario must blindly guide a Coin Guide all the way up to form a platform to reach a door.

but this frankly isn't even true my guy. the coin guide goes up and then you make it go right at the end when you clearly see it. the entire gimmick is actually Not Guiding it.

Originally posted by Deputy BS
This turns out to be the second Midway Point, something I have found out by the several levels in this contest that use double Midway Points. All these levels are way too long,

i agree with this, though. a huge amount of levels used two midpoints this time around, and almost every single one of them i think are slightly too long and could've had shit cut. no idea if the other judges mind very long but fun levels, but even in ones i enjoyed played (like worldpeace or agent q or pyro) had stuff that could've been cut down a tad.

my issue with these thoughts is they do seem to kill the notion of creativity by insisting vanilla also applies to level design. to what extreme does it apply? i mean, you laid down some basic rules, but honestly my issue with people attempting to make levels that feel like the original smw IN smw is that why bother playing those when i can just play the original smw. the whole idea of hacking is to branch out with creative ideas. if you believe vldc should also limit it's level design for being vanilla, that strikes me more than anything as you believing vldc should be less creative.
I understand completely where you are coming from, DeputyBS. I agree with you on pretty much everything you've listed, as we seem to have pretty much the same level design standards. Let me go over all of them.

Your 1st reason is a major problem with a lot of level designers. People tend to make their levels either really long, really hard, or really confusing. I'm fine with Mario moving to the left or right in levels, or even down/up, but I'd rather not deal with huge difficulty or confusing puzzles, or long levels, or very long, confusing, and frustrating levels with all 3 of these at the same time. I tried to make my levels as Mario-esque as possible, and I think I did a good job portraying a good Mario-esque level, if you've played my level out of the 40-50 entries you played.

2nd reason: VLDC9's Overworld Contest was why I was against another OW contest for VLDCX, and just said we should just make a collaboration on the Overworld instead. People said they were against my idea though, and wanted to stick with the contest for reasons I don't remember. I like people who made their Vanilla levels look unique and play unique, but not too unique that it's basically a Chocolate level disguised as a Vanilla level. People have exploited a lot of unintentional physics in the game for their own levels' benefits, such as the Spotlight ON/OFF switch for Sprites to only pass, Tile 1F0 being used for gliding sprites, etc. It's like using a glitch in your hack that's right in plain sight.

3rd reason: FINALLY, someone points this out. Platformers aren't based on just memorizing everything, they're based on skill. Battletoads totally forgot all about this, and the endgame levels pretty much relied on memory instead of skill. Take Rat Race and Clinger Winger as an example. Terra Tubes and the Revolution were somewhat skill based, but they also had their "memory" moments.

4th reason: Damn, that sucks. Sorry about that. Don't have anything else to say about this one.

5th reason: Exactly! People have too many ideas for their level and just try to shoehorn all of their ideas into one long level. I had a tough time with my decisions for my level, but I couldn't fit them all in, so I refrained from using all of them and used my best ideas at a moderate pace. Just because you have several ideas for a level doesn't mean you have to make your level unnecessarily long just to fit them all in. 2-in-1 levels, 3-in-1 levels, etc. aren't the highest scoring levels. Why? Because it takes away the consistency the level had going before. Pick one theme and set of enemies and objects and stick with it the whole way through, not just halfway. I know I learned my lesson from making 2-in-1 levels in a contest, from Maple Island, my VLDC9 level.

6th reason: Tile 1F0 and the Spotlight ON/OFF Switch Block are the primary examples of this. They are, as I said, like a glitch in plain sight. I didn't mind it when one person used it, but literally now everyone has rubbed it into the ground so that its uniqueness is now gone. Plus, I really don't like the look of that ON/OFF ? Block for the Spotlight. It kinda stands out, and not in a good way, and looks really ugly. As for other glitches, relying on other glitches to beat your level will leave some people who don't know what they're doing extremely frustrated or confused. Don't do this.

7th reason: At least someone appreciates the Aesthetics catagory. It's incredibly underrated, and people may say a plain vanilla SMW level could get a 20/20 in Aesthetics, but I have to disagree there. The point of that catagory is to make a level that both looks nice, has an excellent palette, giving the whole theme a nice, rich theme that springs the whole level to life. Without that, it just looks dull, uninteresting, or just not pleasing to the eye. Graphics are supposed to interest a certain audience by looking at how beautiful the person's level is. Sure, level design may not be good, but that doesn't mean good level design comes from levels that don't focus on aesthetics in any way, shape or form. Every point in the contest counts, even aesthetics, so in my opinion, everyone should try to make their own level look unique, or very pretty, so people will have a lot more fun with your level as they explore it.

8th reason: I understand your frustration with this. Many people have figured out how to do this trick, and literally everyone is abusing it now. You shouldn't make your levels so long because you have another checkpoint...My mom always said not to make my levels too long or too hard, otherwise people will get frustrated/bored and leave. I thought that was good advice, as she was trying to teach me about moderation. Moderation is extremely important in level designing. Don't. Overdo. It.

9th reason: Oddities like that can really bring confusion, and it might be there because...well, it's there. Having a single enemy there that never appears again can be confusing, as it would feel pointless to even include them in the first place.

10th reason: I probably would've rated it lower for its difficulty, nominated it for GOALSPHERE, and probably would have given it a very low score for plagiaism of Swiss Hotel.

Reasons 5, 8 and 9 were all of the reasons why I didn't enjoy Worldpeace's level very much this year. It had bubbled enemies as the gimmick, yes, but I rarely, if ever, saw these enemies, and instead was focused on several other enemies, or gimmicks in different rooms, like the Swoopers, Bowser Bowling Balls, Layer 2 Smash, Purple Triangles, etc. The level also used the 1-UP Checkpoint midway, even though I collected all 5 Yoshi Coins after the first midway, and thought the level was over. After seeing that second checkpoint, I groaned and knew this would take a while. People said that they wanted Worldpeace's level to be longer this year, but why? His levels are already long enough as it is, why do they need to be even longer? It doesn't make sense to me.

Lastly, I'm sorry your laptop broke and the final exams are eating up all of your free time. School/College is cool, but can be really frustrating and time consuming for the students who are in School or College.
I have nothing else to say now. Huh...
I found the level enjoyable and engaging; would have probably rated it high simply due to that. Sure, it doesn't have much consistency, but I don't think it's that big of a flaw.
I really liked the reaction based obstacles and very rarely did I need to memorize them.
Plus, no one said this contest had to strictly adhere to mario level design standards (in fact there is another entry that is even MORE out of the way in terms of 'level' design).

Nonetheless, gl to your studies even if I do disagree.
I guess since only Nintendo design is correct, that means we should all copy New super Mario Bros. 2 and make cookie cutter romps to make for an incredibly uninteresting and boring VLDC. Because NINTENDO would NEVER use 1f0 or sprite bouyancy glitches or steep slope glitches or layer 2 auto scroll glitches or layer 2 l/r glitches to create unique and memorable levels in gameplay terms. We should all just do only what Nintendo would do and never mix any sprites or use them in interesting ways! Nintendo does do great design especially in SMW itself but considering that most people probably haven't studied the design (I haven't either!!) I sincerely doubt that creating an environment where levels like Swissotel would be punished for experimenting would create a contest of anything more than romps with the occasional solid level.

Also to be blunt if you think swissotel is about memorization you have the reaction time of a three toed sloth.

edit: got too overheated again, srry. I do that a lot. I should have probably just stayed out of this thread entirely but...too late now :T. Gl on irl stuff btw Deputy.
I also disagree completely, but I understand. What this boils down to is that what you expect from a level is pretty different from what I and most everyone does, and that makes a lot of sense when we learn that you don't really actively play hacks much at all.
Your way of thinking isn't invalid and I trust your judging skill a lot, but I am glad that you dropped off, because your judgement is vastly different from the other judges and from the general VLDC standards and this probably wouldn't do very good at all to the contest's turnout.

Good luck!!
Originally posted by idol
perhaps i'm misunderstanding, but i was under no impression that vldc was a contest in which we had to make levels that could plausibly be in a mario game.

snoruntpyro read this too before you have a goddamn meltdown

This is a super good point. The definition of vanilla in this contest is simply "does it fit the rules of the contest". Judging according to a different definition of vanilla is objectively incorrect.

Though I would like to note that he hasn't been letting that influence his scores. Please read this section of his post under "The 'Vanilla' Discussion":

Originally posted by DeputyBS
Aside from the (more major) technical and timing issues, it’s why I feel I might not be fit to judge this contest. I don’t really agree with the terms and I’ve found that my feelings for levels do not match the scores that I give them, since I would not rig the scores just to fit my opinion.

He notes that he has issues with the definition of vanilla but explicitly mentions that his scores do not match his opinions.

Originally posted by snoruntpyro
the entire post

Save your snarky insults for elsewhere. They are not welcome here.
I disagree about Swissotel being based on pure memorization entirely. Even though it doesn't have much consistency, I enjoyed it a bit, but I get your point regarding some parts (despite disagreeing with others). For instance, you could have just pressed down and not move in the coin snake room instead of trying to pull it off blindly.
But you and I have different perspectives regarding level design philosophy and also the way some platforming levels are done. I respect you for actually trying to get to the end like that.

I understand your reasonings for dropping off of judging due to that. College takes up a lot of your time, especially if coupled with your internship. Good luck!
I didn't participate on any VLDCs so far because I expected something like this coming. And I, like Falconpunch, agree with good part of Deputy's points, not especially regarding Swissotel only, but the contest as a whole.

Also throwing my two cents about latest VLDCs so far: in my conception, they became sort of an experimental level design contest. I do still see traditional, rompy levels - which is good and can justify a counterpoint to my thoughts - but the ones that get better ratings are, in majority, experimental levels such as Swissotel, given their unusual level design cleverage you don't see a lot in regular hacks. And that is the main reason I've lost my interest in participating of them: my level design style is not what the judges expect to see, no matter how cleverly I could pull traditional level setups. Levels that leave this zone by making stuff with unintended game behaviors always will surpass mine.

Originally posted by Koopster
Your way of thinking isn't invalid and I trust your judging skill a lot, but I am glad that you dropped off, because your judgement is vastly different from the other judges and from the general VLDC standards and this probably wouldn't do very good at all to the contest's turnout.

Sorry, but I have to complain about this as well. This makes me think that all judges absolutely must have similar philosophies to judge this contest, or else this "wouldn't do very good at all to the contest's turnout". What's the point of having multiple judges, then, if they're all going to give similar scores and reviews at all? If that's the case, this contest could have had just a single judge, and results would be pretty much the same.

e: rewording

Honestly, I'm sad to hear you are quitting. I would have loved to see your results even if it caused a possible long delay.

I can understand why losing all your progress demotivates you. Especially since now playing certain entries won't be a first experience, so redoing reviews for those levels would mean different scores & opinions. You would probably even enjoy some of them less from having to rejudge them.

Anyway, I wish you the best of luck with your finals.
Layout by Erik557
Originally posted by Blind Devil
Originally posted by Koopster
Your way of thinking isn't invalid and I trust your judging skill a lot, but I am glad that you dropped off, because your judgement is vastly different from the other judges and from the general VLDC standards and this probably wouldn't do very good at all to the contest's turnout.

Sorry, but I have to complain about this as well. This makes me think that all judges absolutely must have similar philosophies to judge this contest, or else this "wouldn't do very good at all to the contest's turnout". What's the point of having multiple judges, then, if they're all going to give similar scores and reviews at all? If that's the case, this contest could have had just a single judge, and results would be pretty much the same.

You have a point, and it felt a bit iffy to write that in fact. Don't get me wrong, I was eager for varied opinions when Derpy stepped in and I still am for at least Noivern's judging. But I think Derpy goes a bit to an extreme by expecting "legitimate Mario design" in this contest, neglecting fun design if it's presented otherwise.
bring back anonymous judging my level was only played for half a minute and some of that was getting into my level.

i havent played much of vldc7/8/9 (i thought they were boring lol), but were the levels in those contests more direct Mario platformers? Because if they weren't, then you should've been aware of what kinds of levels to expect from this contest before signing on to do it. Not trying to accuse you of anything, I genuinely dont know, but I also dont think that there was any sort of mis-direction in the handling of the contest that would lead you to think it was a contest for direct mario romps to prosper.

Either way, i guess i can emphasize with where you're coming from (tho i did like Swissotel a lot). I do wish that the vanilla contest didn't have to be the one that people used to expand their level design beyond more traditional platforming, but it makes sense. Without any sorts of boundaries, it's less impressive doing something unique, so the vldc offers a nice balance of creative and restrictive freedoms.

There are a few things I should clarify, since they have been repeatedly addressed in your responses. Let me make it clear that I know my views on Vanilla are different from most people’s views, and that I took that in account when scoring and judging levels; the other judges can attest to that. For the number of entries that I judged, I made sure to judge on the criteria of the contest and not my personal opinions. If I were still in my judging shoes, I believe the scoring and judge comments would’ve gone like this:

Design: 28/50
Creativity: 23/30
Aesthetics: 7/20
Overall: 58/100
Comments: Decently designed, but there wasn’t really any consistency with the theme to this level. The first few segments were fine enough, but by the coin guide segments I feel the level started to lose its focus. The pacing and difficulty curve felt uneven and some segments could’ve been a bit more forgiving. The aesthetics also really could’ve been improved; aside from a couple interesting designs it almost feels like the skeleton of a level. With all that said, there’s some very creative ideas in place; I really liked the no-spin jump segment at the end, and there were quite a few tricks in here I’m curious how you pulled off. With more focus and a better difficulty curve this would’ve been a really good level.

With that in mind, I graded Swissotel unfairly at the end of my post; I admit real life caught up to me again. Mediocre was rather harsh and really, I think the level is decent; for what it is there’s strong design to it, and I thought segments like the no spin-jump area were very creative. I can totally understand why people love this level, even if I disagree. And there’s other levels in this contest that I wouldn’t consider Vanilla that I still really enjoyed. I was more inspired to talk about my views on level design and how Vanilla works, and it just happened by coincidence that this was the level I played when trying to start judging again (for context, Vitor made a program that randomizes the entries so we don’t have to play them in submission order).

Regarding section 5, that was totally my fault, and it’s not the first time I’ve completely misunderstood an entire section like that. I’d be tempted to play through Swissotel just to try it again if I haven’t spent the last several hours of my life playing/typing about it. I do want to clarify, though, that this error would have been caught by the rest of the judges, since we’ve made sure to discuss entries as we’ve been judging them. But I didn’t talk to them about this post, so here we are.

Looking back, it was probably in poor taste to pick on just one level, and I didn’t want to come off as starting any drama; I guess I just wanted to announce my leave on my own terms, and I felt inspired to talk about the level I just played in detail. I should have talked about this with the rest of the judges and Vitor, and made it clear to them that I was dropping my position as judge. I don’t regret my decision, though, and I hope that I can do more of these, doing some positive looks at levels as well. I agree with what Koopster said: given that my views on Vanilla design are very much different from a good majority of users, I’m not the best fit for an official judge.

I would like to clarify one more thing, though. I know my definition of Vanilla is at odds with creativity, and I haven’t worked out how to really prevent them from clashing. I think it’s possible, and that you can still make very creative levels without going against Mario design; like I said, you could still do that even while adding completely original sprites or objects. And I personally don’t think that just because people don’t find that interest doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be Vanilla; it would just mean people wouldn’t want Vanilla. But I suppose people prefer the current definition more, and if that’s what will result in better entries then so be it, but I would be interested in other contests like 24ho10 that focus on authentic Mario design to be made in the future.

I hope I got everything this time, because if I type any more about SMW I’m gonna break my keyboard.

I think people JUMPed jumped all over this because you pointed out a specific level, by someone who worked hard on their level and is known for being a really good and creative designer. I also found it in bad taste to use his level as an example of bad aesthetics, saying that he didn't put any effort. In reality. ft just doesn't know how to aesthetic.

I really don't mind if you or anyone else has a different opinion on design than me.

It's like, if someone draws an abstract drawing and one person loves it, and the other says they don't. I think people are naturally inclined to defend a specific thing they like, rather than if the critic had said "abstract drawings arent my style"

In other words, I respect your opinion but I would not have commented if this wasn't about swissotel.

Also, @falconpunch this level does in fact have consistency and an entire story behind it. Mario is exploring hotel when suddenly he has to deal with a hostile chuck.
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Forum Index - Sunken Ghost Ship - Old Contests & Events - The 10th Annual Vanilla Level Design Contest - DeputyBS Judging Resignation

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