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Classic Games (Games) Games

Super Mario Bros. 3 Level Design Lessons 95

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Significant Bits about how the early level design in Super Mario Bros. 3 gradually introduced players to the game without needing something as blatant and obtrusive as a tutorial: "Super Mario Bros. 3 contains many obvious design lessons that are also present in other games, e.g., the gradual layering of complexity that allows players to master a specific mechanic. What surprised me during my playthrough, though, was how some of these lessons were completely optional. The game doesn't have any forced hand-holding, and it isn't afraid of the player simply exploring it at his own pace (even if it means circumventing chunks of the experience)."
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Super Mario Bros. 3 Level Design Lessons

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  • Is that at this point in time SMB3 is still the subject of the matter.
  • agreed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 02, 2011 @07:50AM (#34736454)

    The current industry standard today basically assumes the player is stupid and needs handholding, that is a sad fact, even though it opens up the games to a much wider audience than the one that played games back in the day of SMB3. I think nowadays people are very much afraid of introducing complexity in their games just because they will have to explain how the complexity works with a tutorial or similar, wich in turn requires more resources on design/tutorial building etc.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I agree to an extent. But things were also simpler back then. You move left or right, and press A or B. Now you have controllers with 78 different buttons on them, there is a higher degree of complexity there. Of course anyone who's played one FPS can pick up another and figure out the differences easily enough.
    • What's worse is when developers decide that you have to play the entire game. I stopped playing Kingdom of Loathing [] largely because they felt the need to make zones that suck mandatory for a run through. Rather than accepting that those zones suck and serve little to no strategic interest and addressing that, the solution was to put a quest item there. The Hidden areas were probably the worst, as there wasn't any strategy involved and the areas weren't interesting, didn't change ascension to ascension and w
    • Re:agreed (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Sunday January 02, 2011 @01:30PM (#34738096)

      The current industry standard today basically assumes the player is stupid and needs handholding, that is a sad fact, even though it opens up the games to a much wider audience than the one that played games back in the day of SMB3.

      On the contrary, this is exactly what the article was talking about.

      The earlier SMB 3 levels were easy, yet the later SMB 3 levels where phenomenally hard (World 8 and those ships), especially for younger audiences.

      This is something that has been forgotten in game design, the gradual increase in difficulty. Now days it's a sudden increase (Crysis), start at max level (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) or don't even bother with it (Bioshock). SMB3 introduced you to the game mechanics slowly whilst allowing the player to still have fun (in case you've forgotten, that is why we play games).

      I'd like to see more of the SMB 3 kind of gradual increase but unfortunately the big dev companies seem to hate it when things get to hard for the mouth breathers. Something about lost profits.

      • "Portal" had a gradual increase in difficulty, but it was so masterfully done that by the later levels, you were doing all those jumps and shooting portals automatically, without even thinking about them. In a way, GLADOS did train you well ;)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think it's possible to detect if the player is stupid.

      I was playing a game called 'reactor' on my ZX Spectrum emulator yesterday. It's quite simple, you just kind of avoid stuff and try to get to the end of the level.

      When I finished the first level, it said 'PRESS SHIELD KEY TO CONTINUE'.
      That was the first I had heard of the shield key. When I replayed the first level *using* the shield key, it did not ask me to press it to continue to the next level.
      I thought that was quite neat. It was possible to compl

  • by Anonymous Coward

    the gradual layering of complexity that allows players to master a specific mechanic. What surprised me during my playthrough, though, was how some of these lessons were completely optional. The game doesn't have any forced hand-holding, and it isn't afraid of the player simply exploring it at his own pace (even if it means circumventing chunks of the experience)."

    That sounds like the exact same experience many of us had with Sonic The Hedgehog. Take for example, Green Hill Zone Act 1: GHZA1 @ [] Now that's a hell of an intro to a 90's game. Starts out linear. Thirty seconds into it, you are given 3-5 routes to take. I felt like I had more control in Sonic the Hedgehog of my fate than, say, Mass Effect (1/2). And this was on the Sega's now puny 16bit system!

    It holds this level of "choose your own adventure" for a good amount of the game. By the end of 3 s

  • by RichiH ( 749257 ) on Sunday January 02, 2011 @08:08AM (#34736502) Homepage

    ...are this way. And that is a huge portion of what makes them awesome. Not only has the level design always been done with an incredible dedication to detail, surprises and general experience, many levels are as easy or hard as you'd like them. Just think the star (coin) system in the newer games. You can play through the game and never care for all the bonus stuff and it's still a nice experience. Or you can go after every devious bit.

    There's a reason why I own both a DS and a Wii and only break them out when a new Mario or Zelda game is released. (If Square Enix were to get their act together and release a true successor of Secret of Mana or Chrono Trigger, we could talk, too).

    tl;dr: I 3 Nintendo

    • by RichiH ( 749257 )

      PS: Fuck you /. and your parser that eats angle brackets.

      PPS: I specified J&R because Paper Mario, Inside Story etc are kinda weird. On the plus side, each of them explores a new concept, which is very neat.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by simon0411 ( 1921684 )

      Love the speed run demos they included in New Super Mario Bros., which really illustrate your point. Sure, one could play through every stage in a straight forward fashion, or one could play through without losing star power the entire stage, while getting a dozen extra lives with a single turtle shell, or without ever touching the ground. In the hands of a creative player, the depth of the classic Mario game play truly shines.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Agreed. And I think they reached perfection with Super Mario Galaxy, which starts out requiring only simple motions, but constantly adds complexity throughout a very long game. By the end, you're an expert, and the game requires extremely complex maneuvers to complete. And when Galaxy 2 was released, there was a lot more you could do early in the game if you are already familiar with the advanced controls.

      Super Mario 64 could have been as good (I know most people bow before it) if only it hadn't been plag

  • Tutorials :) (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

  • by MasaMuneCyrus ( 779918 ) on Sunday January 02, 2011 @08:23AM (#34736536)

    Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii is a great example of classic level design. The beginning of the game shows the opening cinematic, and after that, Donkey Kong leaves his house, and left just standing there. After a few seconds, you move the joystick after the realization that, "Oh... The game just started."

    You're just thrown into the game. It guides you along the correct path, but it doesn't sit you down and teach you. You learn how to play for yourself gradually from the moment you touch the joystick.

    Donkey Kong Country Returns is how games used to be. This is how they are now. []

    • Let me just say there's a big difference in difficulty. Donkey Kong Country Returns is actually very hard when compared to Super Mario Bros 3, though it's only saving grace is that a game over event doesn't send you to the start of the world, and instead only the start of the level. I was pleasantly surprised by the challenge it presents after Nintendo basically threw limitless lives at me in Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros Wii.

      The other key difference is that Mario tends to let you figure o
    • Wow, that buzzfeed link was hilarious. And completely reminded me of why I find trying to play anything (other than Rock Band) with my kids so incredibly annoying.

    • DKCR could take some lessons on "introducing slowly." There are too many segments where trial and death are the only way to figure out how to pass a level. When I first came upon a giant-hippo-on-a-stick, I actually stopped to think about WTF I was supposed to do. There is no indication that you can bounce on it, there is no warning that doing so will lower the hippo, etc.

      The level designers also seem to have spent a lot of time planning pitfalls so the only way to pass many levels is rote memorization. Tha

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There aren't games more true to the "press right to win" saying than the Mario series. That's all it takes in these games, even in the later levels. Just take a look at the level maps.

  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Sunday January 02, 2011 @08:57AM (#34736672)
    This reminds me of well-done exposition [] in movies or other fiction, where the audience is given a good amount of information about the characters or story, but in a way that is interesting and not disjoint from the presentation.
    • That reminds me of playing exposition the game, a game where you talk as if you were a character in a work of fiction explaining an unknown concept.

  • Still haven't played it.
    Instead of wasting $50 a pop buying the latest Nintendo, Sony, or Xbox shit, I should be going back and playing all the 8 and 16 bit classics.

    • Let me get this straight. You didn't pay for it 10 years ago, and you think that is justification to play it now in order to avoid buying new games? Try-before-you-buy this ain't.
      • Are you somehow down on people buying games used after the price goes down, or am I misunderstanding?

        • C_amiga_fan said they downloaded the game *10 years ago*. How could they have downloaded it legally (and thus paid for it) 10 years ago?

          The only way I know of downloading it is for the Wii Virtual Console, and according to Wikipedia, it was released November 5, 2007 in NA. Of course the Wii itself didn't even exist 10 years ago.

          • I see that I did misunderstand. I am going to be underhanded and blame the OP for STARTING HIS POST IN THE DAMNED TITLE.

        • I think you're misunderstanding, or perhaps I am, but here's what I see.

          1) C64 downloads SMB3 without paying for it (this from the subject line).
          2) 10 years elapse.
          3) C64 makes the statement "I should play that game I downloaded 10 years ago instead of buying new games."

          Now I'm not saying they should have to go out and buy the newest games, but that just seems like some messed-up logic. Instead of buying a game made in 2010, they should not buy a game made in 1988? Buy A, or don't buy B?
  • This just reminded me of the game 'Braid' which I got with the Humble Indie Bundle 2. Although the game play contains a lot of messing with time, which certainly is a little unfamiliar, you get introduced to it quite nicely through the level design. It is also shown by David Rosen of Wolfire Games in his design tour through the bundle: []
    • I was just thinking along the same lines, having also just played through Braid. The game really was much different and introduced unique concepts to the player, but it allowed the player to ease into the situation and feel out how the game should be played. Of course, upon dying for the first time, and having the game indicate to press the "Shift" key, I was momentarily nonplussed when I came back to life. I hadn't seen anything about the game before I played...

      • An interesting thing is that the game starts instantly. As soon as you launch it, you're in the game. It took me a minute before I even realized I was supposed to move. And the look on people's faces when they die and see the shift key pop up, and then press it... priceless. Instantly the game becomes a hundred times more interesting.

  • Comment removed based on user account deletion
  • "... that allows players to master a specific mechanic."

    I thought he was a plumber.

  • Sometimes explicit tutorials are nice. Take the one in Steamshovel Harry. []
  • by Vyse of Arcadia ( 1220278 ) on Sunday January 02, 2011 @12:50PM (#34737812)
    This interview [] is the best example of Nintendo's attention to detail that I can find. In it, Miyamoto describes the insane amount of detail that went into the first ten seconds of Super Mario Bros. The mushroom, goomba, blocks, and pipe were all played just so in order for the player to realize what was good, what was bad, and so on. All without a tutorial and losing at most one life.

    I think modern game designers could learn a lot by going back and studying how they used to convey ideas to the player without the memory space for tutorials.
    • Mod parent up! His linked article is precisely a good example of level design done right. I also highly suggest listening to the commentary for Portal. A major goal of the first half of that game was to "train" the players but make it seem like the players learned it all on their own. All done purely with level design instead of some tutorial.
    • Cave Story does a good job of that as well. I particularly like the placement of the fifth spike in the game, since it's exactly at the point where you'll die if you don't properly grasp the floaty physics.

      • I was actually thinking of citing Cave Story as a good example (I still recall the first time the game forced me to realize I could shoot up,) but I didn't have a good link to backup my viewpoint. Thanks for bringing it up!
  • The same applies in NEW Super Mario Brothers Wii. There's so many new stuff and some actions that aren't even documented, and yet it's simple enough to figure out as you play again. I borrowed a PS2 from a friend and tried out Sonic Heroes. You have to do a tutorial first which is so anoying that it put me off of the game completely. During the tutorial you barely move for 2 seconds inbetween places where you have to read instructions and do completely boring trivial stuff. I agree with the poster of this
  • My what a short memory we have.

    If you haven't played through Portal with the commentary, you haven't grasp half the greatness of that game.

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