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Level Design Tips/What Not To Do (READ SECOND)

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Level Design Tips/What Not To Do (READ SECOND)

Postby sedron » 3 years ago

Thanks to SAJewers for moving this to a new thread and making it a sticky!

I put together a list of level design tips and rules for a thread like the one SAJewers proposed in the A2MBXT Beta Testing Thread. It's attached to this post in docx format.

If anyone has any questions or tips of their own, feel free to post! The current document mostly goes over basics of level design, so I'll probably be adding stuff later that expands on SAJewers' NPC-specific tips, ie. how to utilize NPC's well and such.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby SAJewers » 3 years ago

Few more:
  • Unless you can justify it, having only mushrooms in your level, and no tier 2 powerups (leaf, fire) is not a good idea.
  • While metroidvania levels can be fun, long levels can quickly get boring. Luna Tower is a good example of a level that is long, but not boring.
  • Test with all powerups. CTRL + T will bring up the Level Test Settings Window. Use this.
  • Kicked shells as level design is rarely a good idea.
  • Plants not contained in pipes are rarely good ideas.
  • Love Frog != increased difficulty without making the level worse. You'd be surprised how many levels are ruined by 1 Love Frog. Same with banana Snakes.
  • Keep death/replayability in mind. You'd be surprised how many decent levels end up leaving a bad taste because you in the level and have redo a section, which becomes annoying. When testing, throw yourself in a pit, or intentionally kill yourself.
  • Fake Difficulty. Read it. Avoid it.
  • Avoid Leaps of Faith (where you can not see the next platform) as much as possible.
  • Avoid Item Babysitting (Per SMWC Mod SNN : "I consider "item babysitting" any situation where you have to lug one item to one area to get another item, which you'll lug to another area (or the previous area) to get another item, etc. Carrying one item through a level would not be item babysitting if you don't have to carry a second item BACK through the level.").
  • Avoid sections in your level that are inherently easier as, or impossible without being small (AKA Big Mario Discrimination).
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Grounder » 3 years ago

-Unless you make it so the two absolutely cannot touch, do not put a Mushroom near lava. The reason for this is that if they do, the game crashes. Not applicable anymore.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby sedron » 3 years ago

Grounder wrote:-Unless you make it so the two absolutely cannot touch, do not put a Mushroom near lava. The reason for this is that if they do, the game crashes.
I'd actually like some clarification on this glitch, from anyone who knows a bit more about it. Here's what I have so far.

First off, this glitch doesn't happen every time a mushroom touches lava. It's never been a problem in levels I've made, for example.

From what I can tell, this is more likely to happen if your level already has a lot of events running. I made several generators that dropped mushrooms into lava in an otherwise empty level with no problems. I dropped one mushroom into the lava of Quill's MaglX level and got the error immediately.

I've heard that it's more likely to happen if the mushroom is off-screen, but testing hasn't verified that at all. Again, in the empty level I made with generators, I had some mushrooms take about a minute to reach the lava off-screen, with no ill-consequences.

As a general rule, you should avoid letting this bug happen and keep it in mind when making a level. However, I'd still really like someone who knows a bit more about the engine to clarify why it happens.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby SAJewers » 3 years ago

I got it to happen to Cinder Canyon, and that uses no events.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Sturg » 3 years ago

That glitch happens if a mushroom or power-up of any sort falls into a lava off-screen.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby sedron » 3 years ago

Sturg wrote:That glitch happens if a mushroom or power-up of any sort falls into a lava off-screen.
Two things:

1) I can get it to happen on-screen in certain areas just fine.

2) When I let a mushroom travel in a straight line off-screen for a solid minute into lava, it didn't do anything.

EDIT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLNG94aT4jA

A quick proof-of-concept video from Cinder Canyon. For whatever reason I haven't been able to replicate the glitch on any of the lava pools prior to the one where the video ends. On that pool of lava I did it three times, with the first mushroom always triggering it.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Sturg » 3 years ago

And I just replicated this bug off-screen as well in the same place.
It can happen in both off-screen and on-screen, I know a lot of levels in ASMBXT that do this.
I've heard that it's more likely to happen if the mushroom is off-screen, but testing hasn't verified that at all. Again, in the empty level I made with generators, I had some mushrooms take about a minute to reach the lava off-screen, with no ill-consequences.
This isn't the most accurate test because of the fact that level was empty. Like you said; events, graphics, npcs, blocks, size, all apply to how big the level is. Whenever a power-up hits the lava within an empty it still frame-skips a bit(for me at least) in an empty room, because for some reason the game freezes for a sec try to figure out where it went. Do that with a more full fledged level and it can crash easily. In Cinder Canyon's case I'm pretty sure it crashes where it does because of the attached layers with the falling platform and the land.
That glitch happens if a mushroom or power-up of any sort falls into a lava off-screen.
Clarification: I meant that it can happen off-screen as well.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby pholtos » 3 years ago

What not to do -> See pretty much all my ASMBXT levels.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Septentrion Pleiades » 3 years ago

This list is missing a lot of what to actually do.

- Make sure the player always has some idea were to go.
- Try listening to the level's music while making the level.
- If it's your first level, make it short.
- Don't make the player's progressing depend on tedious tasks or have obstacles that require perfect mastery.
- Make sure you test your level right before submitting it.
- Most complex gimmicks could be done better with ideas from other people.

NPC specific stuff
- Thwomps are often the resort of a lazy level design. If they aren't part of the main theme, it's going to feel out of place and absurdly easy.
- Bats, love frogs, donuts, and banana snakes are often thrown in for the sake of making things harder. Don't be like that. Jumpfish and Bonzia Bills are a variant of this.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby sedron » 3 years ago

Sturg wrote: And I just replicated this bug off-screen as well in the same place.
It can happen in both off-screen and on-screen, I know a lot of levels in ASMBXT that do this.
I've heard that it's more likely to happen if the mushroom is off-screen, but testing hasn't verified that at all. Again, in the empty level I made with generators, I had some mushrooms take about a minute to reach the lava off-screen, with no ill-consequences.
This isn't the most accurate test because of the fact that level was empty. Like you said; events, graphics, npcs, blocks, size, all apply to how big the level is. Whenever a power-up hits the lava within an empty it still frame-skips a bit(for me at least) in an empty room, because for some reason the game freezes for a sec try to figure out where it went. Do that with a more full fledged level and it can crash easily. In Cinder Canyon's case I'm pretty sure it crashes where it does because of the attached layers with the falling platform and the land.
That glitch happens if a mushroom or power-up of any sort falls into a lava off-screen.
Clarification: I meant that it can happen off-screen as well.
Alright, I thought you meant it only happens as a result of being off-screen. I think we're more-or-less on the same page, then.

I'll play around with it a bit more in my spare time, but from what I can tell it's mostly based on level complexity?

In any case, when designing a level in SMBX you should avoid letting mushrooms and lava play together.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Willhart » 3 years ago

Show your level to someone while making it. You can get surprisingly good ideas as feedback. The skeletons in my level "Snowy Evening" were originally my brother's idea.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Axon » 3 years ago

It's often a good idea to allow for multiple different ways to clear an obstacle.

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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Doctor Shemp » 3 years ago

This method of creating levels may not be for everyone, but it's what I like to do these days.
1. Think of a gimmick for a level. It could be a gameplay gimmick, a focus on a particular enemy, an aesthetic, or a combination of these (don't combine too many things though or it'll get unfocussed).
2. Think of every way your gimmick(s) will affect gameplay through their very presence (for example, ice physics reduce traction) and list them. These are elements that you have to include in your level if you're to use that particular gimmick.
3. If any of these gameplay alterations seems fundamentally unfun, return to step 1 and think of a new gimmick. Otherwise, proceed to step 4.
4. Think of every way your gimmick(s) could affect gameplay through specific usages (for example, if your level is based on disco shells, using them to clear our enemies would be one usage, riding them would be another etc.) and list them.
5. Go through the list and remove those which seem unfun (if you're very lucky, this will be none of them).
6. Go through the list again and note down which (if any) usages require knowledge that the player may not have. You'll need to provide training areas for these usages if you include them. By this I don't mean have an explanatory textbox: have an area where the player can see (and preferably interact with) the usage while exposing themselves to minimal risk. For example, 1-1 in SMB has its first usage of jumping between pipes over land so that players can get used to it before having jumps between pipes over bottomless gaps.
7. Go through the list again and note down which (if any) usages are more advanced forms of other usages or build on the knowledge of other usages. You'll need to introduce the simpler usages first. For example, if your gimmick is Yoshis, introduce green Yoshi first, and introduce Red, Yellow & Blue Yoshis before you introduce Black Yoshi.
8. If you're building a world or episode rather than a single level then you can ignore parts of steps 6 & 7 when the player has already learned a usage and/or used a simpler version of the usage in a previous level.
9. Bearing in mind the conditions of steps 6 & 7, compile your list of usages into another list in order of ascending difficulties.
10. Make this list into a level with small transition sections between each usage (if you like) to make it look less like it was written to a formula.
11. Test the level and add powerups at every point where you need them. If the level is too long in your testing, excise the dull bits, being sure not to break the conditions of steps 6 & 7 in the process. If parts are too hard, tone their difficulty down.
12. If you wish to increase the difficulty of your level, decrease the quantity of powerups (but not their quality). Bear in mind that you will naturally find your own level easier than the average person, so always make your level easier than you intend it to be. That way it will actually be the difficulty you intend rather than slightly harder. Alternatively, if you wish to make your level easier, increase the quantity of powerups or decrease the quantity of enemies. DO NOT increase the difficulty by increasing the quantity of enemies: this is a sure-fire way to make a messy level.

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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Mabel » 3 years ago

-A boss shouldn't take more than 10 hits to die.
-If you boss has "phases" before you can even damage them, make sure you keep the amount of them around 3-5 or less, any more will make it super tedious to do.
-On that note, make sure the window of time to hit these bosses with phases isin't extremely short leaving you no room for error, a good range depending on the kind of boss should be 5-10 seconds of vulnerability.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Kil » 3 years ago

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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby KingTwelveSixteen » 3 years ago

Willhart wrote:Show your level to someone while making it. You can get surprisingly good ideas as feedback. The skeletons in my level "Snowy Evening" were originally my brother's idea.
A+ Good advice much win.

Seriously, if you want the highest quality level-design play-testers are practically required. Or watch-commentators if you know someone who could help with that. Or people who would find it fun to watch you mess around with the level. Or who would enjoy playing the level themselves.

It helps a ton. Especially to get a fresh perspective on what the player 'knows' the first/early times through the level; if you don't have play-testers you likely won't realize that that one jump is actually completely blind (after all, you didn't have any trouble with it when you tested the level...) or that one enemy can hurt without you being able to react to it if you're the type who [INSERT PLAYSTYLE THAT ISN'T YOURS HERE] whenever you encounter [A THING], or that that one particular jump you've tested 48 times is actually ludicrously difficult compared to all the obstacles around it - you've just gotten used to it after succeeding a bazillion times at it.


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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby WestonSmith » 3 years ago

Not that I'm hugely qualified to speak on such things, but Imma gonna toss my two cents in here anyways. I'll be fairly brief on what I want to say though, and skip a bunch of stuff I've already seen posted.

Before Beginning
Learn the engine! SMBX is great, but full of oddities. Understanding how things work will go a long way in opening up your options in the kinds of levels you make. Learn how npc-flags, events, and layers work first; these three features will be key to making more intricate levels.
Generate an Idea
A2MBXT is a collab effort, and it's important to make your mark. Don't set out to make an acceptable World 1 level; aim for something that is uniquely yours. There are three major grounds for distinguishing your level from the rest of the pack:

1) Gameplay (what is the player doing)
2) Flavour (what are the characters/game world doing)
3) Technical (what is the engine doing)

These aren't exclusive either. You can have a unique gameplay experience with a unique flavour and some impressive technical aspects. There are many different ways of going about making something unique. A few good places to start are:

1) Think of a funny/punny level name, then work out gameplay and flavour based on that
2) Find some nice music and build a level that just OOZES that music's vibe
3) Look at what Nintendo made Mario games have done, and try to recreate aspects of them in SMBX that you haven't seen done before
4) Try and take a unique aspect of the SMBX engine and build an entire level on the concept (a popular one is how ice flowers interact with enemies, which has now been done to death)
5) Think of a neat visual trick, and try to make it work as smoothly as possible in the engine (this can require a strong technical understanding of the engine)
Building and Testing Your Level
So you have your idea mapped out, now you want to make something happen. Building a level is supposed to be the fun part, but it's not always that great. Things don't always work out that way you planned them. The engine doesn't co-operate, the visuals are uglier than you imagined, or a neat gimmick is more cumbersome than intended. If it isn't working out, don't force it. A good idea is limited by the engine. If you really think it could work, reach out to the Talkhaus and see if someone can help you out with the kinks you're having.

If it does work, prepare for the hard part; criticism. HAVE OTHER PEOPLE TEST YOUR LEVEL!! Take it all in, don't take it personally, and prepare to change things. Remember, the level might be yours, but it's intended for everyone else to enjoy. Try to take a break from the level and return in a month or two. You'll usually have a fresh perspective that better matches what others see in your level, and that's the perfect time to make changes (for the better).
Actual Honest to Goodness Advice
1) Limit yourself: Decide early on what tiles, enemies, and music you want to use. A smaller, more consistent style leaves a stronger impression on players than throwing everything the engine has to offer at them. Enemies in particular tend to be overused; pick no more than three enemies to build your level around, and add a fourth if absolutely necesary. Very rarely is having more than four enemy types in one level necessary.

2) 1 Minute Is The Goal: I know, 1 minute seems to be on the short side for level length. But it really isn't. SMB1, 2, and 3 were all full of 1 minute levels. Two minutes is acceptable, but certainly on the long side of things. Three minutes and up is REALLY LONG. Please note that having a midpoint essentially breaks one level into two, thus doubling the acceptable length of the level (i.e. a 4 Minute level with a midpoint should be like Two 2-Minute levels, which is okay).

3) Text is a resource, not a crutch: As far as I know, none of us are professional writers. Filling a level with text is typically a bad idea. Sprinkle it in for flavour or to explain a concept quickly, but don't rely on it to make your level interesting. Very few peeps can make that work properly.

4) 1-Ups: 1-Ups mean nothing in A2MBXT. They really don't. So if you want to make a dickish level, give a free 1-Up at the start. Also, don't design your level around Raocoins, as that will only annoy players who don't need the extra 1-Up. If you want to build a scavenger hunt, make the reward more rewarding (leeks are a good choice).

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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Sorel » 3 years ago

My tips:

1st - inspirations: Before you can create your level, you need inspiration. Some people get neat ideas by playing different games, some (including me) get them by listening to music,...
The only thing that is important is that you first need ideas.

2nd - Plan your level: There are different ways to plan a level, I do it with by drawing the level layout, many more people do it by creating the level in a "raw" form. Find the planning style that fits your creativity best.

3rd - creating the level: It's important that your creativity should not go "out of control" - a level is not always good with tons of different gimmicks.
Restrict yourself to a minimum of 1-2 minutes per level and to a maximum of 4-5 per level. Although there are some people (like me) who like very long levels, the majority of players don't like levels with a playtime of 9-10 minutes.
The background should match the theme of your level, or else it looks out of the place. The music should "underline" the atmosphere of the level (for example, a mountain level shoud have a monumental song, or an ice level should have (depends on the atmosphere) a slower, more sadness-driven song)
Avoid graphical errors like clash or cutoffs as good as you can (for example, don't use SNES (16-bit) and NES (8-bit) graphics combined in one section of the level, although you can use them in differnt sections)
As a side-note: if you create a Touhou-style level, create it in a way that it can be beaten WITHOUT godmode.
4th - gameplay: You shouldn't aim for a specific world you want to appear in, so don't create a lunatic level for World 8 or something. Just keep it in your style, don' spam too many enemies, place enoug powerups but not too many, etc.


Wow, I never wrote such a long post before, but anyway, I hope this helps.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby SAJewers » 3 years ago

After playing Item Babysitting...

Test your levels with Sheath/Link. You'd be surprised how different your level plays. You guys will never understand the amount of rage I had trying to play through this level with Sheath.

Also, remember the following:
  • raocow, Kood, and Sheath can not ride Catnip. Filter them out if you require catnip.
  • Sheath can not wear shoes. Filter her out if you require shoes.
  • Demo and Iris are the only ones who can slide. Additionally, the sliding physics are different depending on which of the two you use, as well as your powerup state.
  • Kood and Sheath can not spinjump. Filter them out if you require spinjumping on enemies like flower saws or paralars. not that if the gap is small enough, Kood may still be able to cross it, while sheath may be able to get across by killing them.
  • When Sheath gets a powerup, she will always get that powerup, regardless of state.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby TiKi » 3 years ago

SAJewers wrote:After playing Item Babysitting...

Test your levels with Sheath/Link. You'd be surprised how different your level plays. You guys will never understand the amount of rage I had trying to play through this level with Sheath.

Also, remember the following:
  • raocow, Kood, and Sheath can not ride Catnip. Filter them out if you require catnip.
  • Sheath can not wear shoes. Filter her out if you require shoes.
  • Demo and Iris are the only ones who can slide. Additionally, the sliding physics are different depending on which of the two you use, as well as your powerup state.
  • Kood and Sheath can not spinjump. Filter them out if you require spinjumping on enemies like flower saws or paralars. not that if the gap is small enough, Kood may still be able to cross it, while sheath may be able to get across by killing them.
  • When Sheath gets a powerup, she will always get that powerup, regardless of state.
"When Sheath gets a powerup, she will always get it"
Isn't that how collecting powerups works? Are you talking about the fairy/cat angel form?

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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby Leet » 3 years ago

Turnips, I would assume.

Since as Demo, hitting a fire cactus box small would produce a turnip. Well, Sheath is always the same size unlike all the other characters.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby SAJewers » 3 years ago

TiKi wrote:
SAJewers wrote:After playing Item Babysitting...

Test your levels with Sheath/Link. You'd be surprised how different your level plays. You guys will never understand the amount of rage I had trying to play through this level with Sheath.

Also, remember the following:
  • raocow, Kood, and Sheath can not ride Catnip. Filter them out if you require catnip.
  • Sheath can not wear shoes. Filter her out if you require shoes.
  • Demo and Iris are the only ones who can slide. Additionally, the sliding physics are different depending on which of the two you use, as well as your powerup state.
  • Kood and Sheath can not spinjump. Filter them out if you require spinjumping on enemies like flower saws or paralars. not that if the gap is small enough, Kood may still be able to cross it, while sheath may be able to get across by killing them.
  • When Sheath gets a powerup, she will always get that powerup, regardless of state.
"When Sheath gets a powerup, she will always get it"
Isn't that how collecting powerups works? Are you talking about the fairy/cat angel form?
What I meant was, if you put a fire or leaf in a box, it will always be a fire or leaf. With the other characters, if you're 1 heart/small, it will be a mushroom.
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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby ztarwuff » 3 years ago

I'm surprised nobody's linked to this article:

http://www.1up.com/features/learning-level-design-mario

It is a very good guide and it stopped my first level ever from being a total train wreck.

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Re: Level Design Tips/What Not To Do

Postby SAJewers » 3 years ago

Should probably link to this then as well:


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