Super Mario World Mod

This Super Mario World Mod primary intent was to be used as a teaching tool to familiarize students with 2D level design in familiar game. It was also a practice project for me as a chance to utilize Ubisoft’s Rational Level Design process in the field, and work on a project in a Lead Level Designer capacity.

Position

Instructor and Planner

Genre

2D Platformer

Engine

Lunar Magic

Release

March 2015

Developer

Students

Publisher

N/A

Platform

PC

Link

N/A

Key Responsibilities:

  • Taught students how to use a new level editor; Lunar Magic
  • Mentored students in what makes a fun 2D level and how to make a Super Mario World level that would fit along side existing levels
  • Created a new custom overworld using Lunar Magic by replacing sprites, level nodes and paths
  • Planned out high-level pacing of sprites and assets for 30 levels that were given to students
  • Templated levels so students would have a clean slate when starting work on a level

Rational Level Design

The realization of how to plan out 30 levels across 5 areas dawned on me as I was doing the art pass. How do I provide equal opportunities to students while giving variation to the overall experience?

I decided to use a methodology I learned at Ubisoft, the concept of a rational level design document. It’s an idea of mapping every single ingredient, gameplay, length and type of beat in the game in a single excel sheet. Before I could begin I’d need a list of all the different ingredients, enemies and scripts. This was extensively lengthy.

I then mapped out variations among similar sprites and objects within the same area. There were heavy limitations on some sprites and objects to my surprise. I really wanted to create a forest area with a ghost sprites asset list but it was way too buggy to be sustainable so it had to be cut.

My favourite part about this entire project and assignment is the fact that it gives students a chance do to something similar to spec-writing, while also giving them an easy to use interface to create levels. Not to mention the fact that marking the assignments lets us play new SMW levels.

The Overworld

I immediately started brainstorming areas that would be consistent with the SMW world design, ones that you might have seen if the game was larger or went with alternative designs.

Since class sizes at VFS are capped 30, this was the number of levels I’d have to accommodate in the ROM hack. I decided to stay true to the same structure as SMW, having about 6 levels per area, meaning I’d have to have 5 areas in the entire game.

I decided to choose 5 of the most accommodating areas that I previously brainstormed that the existing sprite and colour palettes would support. Here’s the very first document I put together for the project; it was a simple flow chart mapping out the areas in relation to their geographical location and how to progress through them.

The very first thing I did was make sure this plan was technically feasible. After some research into ROM hacking tools and programs, Lunar Magic revealed itself to not only be capable of such a project, but it actually excels in usability as a level design tool and blows modern engines like Unity, Game Maker and Unreal out of the water.

I immediately started brainstorming areas that would be consistent with the SMW world design, ones that you might have seen if the game was larger or went with alternative designs.

Since class sizes at VFS are capped 30, this was the number of levels I’d have to accommodate in the ROM hack. I decided to stay true to the same structure as SMW, having about 6 levels per area, meaning I’d have to have 5 areas in the entire game.

I decided to choose 5 of the most accommodating areas that I previously brainstormed that the existing sprite and colour palettes would support. Here’s the very first document I put together for the project; it was a simple flow chart mapping out the areas in relation to their geographical location and how to progress through them.

After deciding upon a flow and structure of areas, I did a quick proof of concept in PhotoShop in the art department to get an idea how how to actually build out the areas.

After proving out the level layout and connections I set to building in the editor and placing simple tiles to get a sense of scale. The only aspect I was disappointed with was I couldn’t do a X section in the haunted forest, as it breaks the pathing of Mario in the overworld.

The biggest failure of planning was assuming there was multiple tiers of sprites in the cove sheet. After trying to prototype the area I ran into multiple issues of giving the correct depth to the edges.

Like I mentioned earlier, the most core issue was assuming that multiple depths could exist within the same level with the existing sprite set up. I tried to fix it by making it into somewhat of a crystal space lake, by having floating platforms over a dark blue shining sky. Once the mental model changes from thinking of it as a sky to lake occurs, it’s quite effective.

Here’s what all of the over-world and sub-levels looked like in their final form, all arted up and pathways connected.