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How long is "too long" for (an average) level?
Forum Index - SMW Hacking - SMW Hacking Discussion - How long is "too long" for (an average) level?
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How long can a level be before it is too long?
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Total voters: 13

I've been wondering this for a while and figured this would make for interesting discussion. Many threads discussing level design and even some Hack Removal logs mention levels being too long as working for the detriment of the experience.
But I think this begs the question: How long is too long for an average, non puzzle, non-boss level stage? How long can a stage be while still being reasonable and when does it turn "unreasonably" long?

I am currently making a hack that has less levels, but each level is slightly longer than normal to compensate, so I'm trying to work out a sweetspot.

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I think it mainly just depends on what the hack is actually trying to do. Personally, I wouldn't mind long levels if the point of the hack is that it's revolved around time-consuming levels (since I can always just save a state or something if I suddenly have to leave), but if you're the kind of person who likes to play your hacks on an actual SNES then I can understand why someone might dislike that style of design even then.

It's still important to be reasonable though. Making a level that takes like half an hour to complete is still a great way to make people get sick of the level and leave it with mainly bad memories of it, especially if it's a hard level. The best levels are the short-but-sweet levels - levels that make a good impression on you for a short time, and leave you with a yearning for more.

I also think that the length of the level relative to the time limit is a relevant detail as well. Even though I don't whine about long levels, if it's the kind of level that's made so that you can't beat it with more than like 50 seconds to spare if you aren't just rushing through it, then it's definitely a bad thing. It discourages exploration and feels unfair. I personally think level time limits in general shouldn't really be a thing.

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I agree with K.T.B. on his factors.

I don't think a 7-minute long level would be a problem at all so long as it isn't excessively hard, there's a save point right before it and it uses multiple checkpoints. A harder level can be 4-5 minutes long as long as it has multiple checkpoints, but if it's kaizo, having it longer than 2 minutes excluding the boss fight can be considered unfair.

Using not enough checkpoints in relation to the level's length and difficulty - or none at all - will also give you a bad impression of the level and be a deciding factor in getting fed up with it. Also not balancing game saves well might discourage you to continue the hack on a hardware.
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Yeah, reiterating what people have said, I think it really depends on what the level is like, and to some degree, the game as a whole. The main questions I'd ask are how difficult is the level, how many checkpoints does it have, does it vary up its challenges to keep things interesting or just repeat the same thing, how much of a penalty do you take from failing (which is related to the checkpoint thing but also to save points and how strict the life system is; some games don't use lives at all), are all or most of the levels that long or is it just a once-in-a-while thing, and will the music (and to a lesser extent, the graphics) get repetitive after a while.


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I think that, as long as the level has variety or reason to keep going, it can go for as long as it wants. It's just, of course, that often means it can only go for so long before you run out of ideas for that certain theme, that or you're just straight up making a one level hack.
I think the problem I see most people complaining about length is due to the levels not justifying their length, I suppose, almost like it's forcing itself to keep going for a certain amount of time.

Ninja'd. I suppose on the topic of music, that seems to be the hardest thing to balance in a long level. At least from my unscientific observation, I feel most custom music we have seems to be around 40 to 80 seconds long. So the music either has to be really catchy so you don't mind hearing it loop three or even four times before the end of the level or you have to have more than one theme per level, which does bring its own challenges, like finding something that transitions smoothly enough from your current one, or changing up the environment in a way that makes sense with new music for that area.

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There's multiple ways you can evaluate the level's length. But ultimately, it depends on the shape of your hack and what you do with it.

For instance, I have some of the longest levels in the hack near the end of the hack, when the hack reaches what I call a climax, which is a part of my own difficulty curve I established in my hack.

Really, I think each person has a different perspective on what they think would suffice for a long level. But all the same, the level must be fun and engaging, because boring the player or frustrating the player will leave a sour taste in their mouth. As well, checkpoint placement is of the utmost importance, as poor checkpoint placing (or lack of it) will ruin the entire level.


I think being too long or too short is not the problem while desigining a level, what really counts is how you use your ideas, how much can the idea be explored and the pacing which you introduce new ideas.

Take Super Mario 3d World and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze for comparison for Example:

SM3dW usually uses the basic 4-step level design Philosofy and its levels are short with usually a single checkpoint and takes around 1-5 minutes to complete, since they usually explore only one or two ideas it makes sense that the levels are short, this way the player wont get bored of so much repetition of the same game mechanics.

Now take DKCTF which the levels are really long with multiple checkpoints,you will see that in some part the level design comes close to SM3DW but in several ponts of the stages they introduced new twists, game mechanics or unexpected situations which keeps the player engaged from the beggining till the end.

So its up to you, its not a bad idea to make a long level if you think you can flip your ideas into new and unexpected ways.

But if you see a pattern of repetition or you are running out of ideas compatible with the level mechanics then I sugest that you make it short and move on.

BTW, here are some tips:

-If you are making a hack with long levels please use multiple checkpoints, so the player wont get frustrated by losing so much progress each time he dies.
Also let the player save always when he completes a level, it sucks having to waste 30 minutes until you reach a fortress/ghost house to save when the player are in a hurry to turn off the game and leave.

-If you are making a hack with short levels but still have great ideas with the current mechanics, you can split it into two levels and introduce the idea/mechanic again on the second level in a later part of the game with a totally new thematic and situation, but dont keep those levels too close tho.
If your making a ROM hack with over 20 exits, I'd suggest making 100-300 second levels. If a level is a bit longer, use one of the big circle entrances on the overworld editor.
Even levels with multiple midpoints unfortunately can feel too long if all it is are ideas that have been exhausted to where it feels like filler and not actually ramping up the escalation with any ideas it has presented, where its just forcing itself to keep going for x amount of time.

Long levels I like tend to have a thematic or narrative structure to it from its aesthetic and obstacle design while having the appropriate number of checkpoints placed, if its generally an end-world level, and knows when it ends if the gimmick is exhausted. You can have 20-30 minute levels (without dying) that still feel interesting because it has the above and levels quantifiably less long than those levels and still feel long because its just a bad level for x number of reasons present or not.

Of course, not mention the last point in which there also exists hacks that aren't using the traditional Mario health system of Small -> Super -> Fire/Cape/etc. but instead a true HP system like in RPGs or games like Metroid or Castlevania. Such a health system also can affect the ways you can design your stages simply because you can tank more hits than take a minimum of 2 hits to lose a life in traditional Mario. But im sure people judge a SMW hack's level length if its good or bad in a ROM-hack expect it to play by traditional Mario level rules simply because the walking, running, and jumping physics are the same as SMW in spite of any modifications to the health system among other things a hack may have.

Basically saying that this final point on the health system used can justify the sort of long level length a hack can have, but it is also the only point in which comparing if the level is designed good or bad to a level that purely plays by the traditional Mario health system isn't fair because of that difference. Evaluate those levels in which those differences are present on the own internal rules of that hack if you can discover them.

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That's a good question. I usually stick with two options; that being, either a bunch of smaller levels that focus on one gimmick and finish quickly, OR a smaller amount of levels, maybe 30 to 40, that are longer and have maybe 2 gimmicks per stage, fleshing them out as you go along. As far as real-time to complete them goes, I prefer at least a minute and a half.
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