Interview: Takashi Tezuka, producer, Nintendo
Super Mario Maker producer Takashi Tezuka is certainly the right man for the job: he’s been with Nintendo for over 30 years, and has had a hand in almost every Super Mario game made. Here, he reacts to the player-made levels he’s seen so far, and offers a few tasty design morsels to budding creators.
You’ve had a chance to see player-made levels now the game’s available to media. What’s stood out? I’ve been watching lots of different courses on YouTube. It was quite a surprise how much fun it was to watch the videos, without even playing myself. There are so many intriguing and inventive courses, like one which you couldn’t beat if you picked up a mushroom. It’s been a huge motivation for us developers to do better.
It seems that many people are focusing on making levels that are hard to beat, instead of satisfying to simply play. Did you expect that? When you design levels for a product, you need to take into consideration a wide range of users. This limits the amount of extremely difficult courses to only a fairly small part of the whole game. I expected that the users who wanted to play more of the hard courses would be attracted to Super Mario Maker, so it’s not surprising to see that a lot of difficult courses are being made.
There is a tendency for the courses people make to be a little harder than they think they are. The creator already knows the design, where they have placed their traps, and the best route to take. So it would generally be easier for them to play through than someone trying it for the first time. As a result, the course ends up being more difficult than the creator meant it to be.
The decision to stagger unlocks of various sets of creation tools didn’t go down very well in the west. Why not just have everything unlocked on day one? This decision was part of our basic policy. We wanted the rewards to increase as you became more familiar with the game and to look forward to what would unlock the next day. From our testing, we learned that if too much was available all at once then many players weren’t sure what they should do and didn’t have as much fun with the game. However, I do understand the feeling of wanting to unlock things earlier. We’re planning on releasing a patch that will allow players who create a lot of courses to unlock things more quickly.
Other than not feeling overwhelmed, what are the benefits to players of this unlock system? We wanted players to experience just how fun it is to be inventive and try to come up with something exciting within the restrictions they face. This is precisely the challenge we deal with in game development. The act of pushing yourself to come up with ideas on how to make the best use of limited tools is in itself a game, and I believe there is great joy in the success you achieve through your effort.
The game uses New Super Mario Bros U’s movement system, whatever the presentation style. Did you try, or consider, including the physics of every version? In the end we used the New Super Mario Bros U system for all of the game styles. There was quite a lot of discussion about this within the team. Staff who had strong attachment to the original games expressed a strong desire to see implemented the same system they remembered. However, when players who are used to the modern Mario physics tried playing with the old physics, they found it much more difficult than they remembered. The original Super Mario Bros would only scroll to the right, so we tentatively made it so that it doesn’t scroll left in this game style. However, many people on the team complained that it was less fun to play. Still, we have left in some unique aspects to each game style, like how you can carry shells from Super Mario Bros 3 onwards, but you can’t throw them upwards until Super Mario World, and you can only wall-jump in New Super Mario Bros U.
Based on the levels you’ve seen so far, what advice would you give to the community as a whole? When we are designing levels for Mario games, we think about the balance of the game as a whole. Players must go through a large number of courses whose difficulty, themes and gameplay need to be determined as an integral part of a larger whole, rather than as one course that stands alone. When playing Super Mario Maker, you don’t need to make those considerations, so you are free to unleash your creativity.
As I mentioned earlier, since creators know everything about the course they are making, the final outcome will tend to be harder for others to clear than intended. It’s important to keep that in mind. Also, I recommend making really short courses, since this will help you understand the game better. I think the key question is for whom the course is intended. In the Mario games we are trying to please as many people as possible, but in Super Mario Maker you are able to make your courses for a more specific audience, whether that is for expert players, your parents or your children. The best way to make a good course is to think about who will be playing it. The artbook that comes included with the game also contains lots of hints for good level design and recommends videos to watch. I hope it will be a good starting point for people.
“The act of pushing yourself to come up with ideas on how to make the best use of limited tools is in itself a game”