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The secret to  Mario  level design
The secret to Mario level design Exclusive
April 13, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

April 13, 2012 | By Christian Nutt
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More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Design



In a new feature interview, Koichi Hayashida, director of Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario Galaxy 2 reveals one of Miyamoto's secrets for engaging level design.

"Yes, I do think it's really important to decide on a core concept in level design," says Hayashida, when asked if the levels in Super Mario 3D Land were each designed around a specific gameplay idea.

However, though he led level design for Super Mario Galaxy and directed its sequel, he reveals that "it wasn't really until Super Mario 3D Land that I think I really became a lot more rigorous about enforcing that in level design, where you have a clear concept in the beginning, and that's carried through absolutely all the way."

"First, you have to learn how to use that gameplay mechanic, and then the stage will offer you a slightly more complicated scenario in which you have to use it. And then the next step is something crazy happens that makes you think about it in a way you weren't expecting. And then you get to demonstrate, finally, what sort of mastery you've gained over it," he says.

"It's very similar to a narrative structure that you find in four-panel comics. Something that's talked a lot about in Japanese manga, for example, is a phrase, kishoutenketsu, where you introduce a concept, and then in the next panel you develop the idea a little bit more; in the third panel there's something of a change-up, and then in the fourth panel you have your conclusion."

This concept has been introduced to Nintendo by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, who used to draw comics when he was younger, says Hayashida.

"He drew comics as a kid, and so he would always talk about how you have to think about, what is that denouement going to be? What is that third step? That ten [twist] that really surprises people. That's something that has always been very close to our philosophy of level design, is trying to think of that surprise."

The full feature, in which Hayashida goes further in depth into this concept as well as discussing how Nintendo approaches playtesting -- and more -- is live now on Gamasutra.


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Comments


michael dougherty
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"That 10 that really surprises people." I think he meant that "ten" (from ki shou ten ketsu).

Christian Nutt
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You're completely right, of course! I'm editing the story. Thanks for pointing that out.

Chris Christow
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""First, you have to learn how to use that gameplay mechanic, and then the stage will offer you a slightly more complicated scenario in which you have to use it. And then the next step is something crazy happens that makes you think about it in a way you weren't expecting. And then you get to demonstrate, finally, what sort of mastery you've gained over it," he says."

I do not really work in game development neither do I design games, although I have written down quite a few ideas but I have yet to implement one for real. The real problem with me is that I yet to come up with brilliant idea. Yeah, all ideas initially are brilliant, until you cool down and realize that the idea is either too difficult/expensive to implement or it is not that brilliant at all. I have two friends who are into game development and they design their own games. One of the even worked for Ubisoft for some time.
:) Now that was important to mention before I write my "professional" opinion here.
What this guy says above is exactly what I think that a game design should be carried out. It is so simple but so many game designers do not realize that. All great games build on the increasing skill of the players while they play the game. So many game these days try to put in so many different pieces that do not fit together well or at all, like vehicles: Why should every first person shooter try to put in some kind of vehicle, usually with poor controls and poorly implemented game mechanics that do not add anything positive to the game experience.

Kasan Wright
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Interesting. I've been using Kishotenketsu in some of my own design work for a while. (http://www.profitmotivegame.com).

I used to teach manga and run the Vancouver Manga Artist Meet-up so I was familiar with the concept and thought it applied to game design quite well (at many different levels). I started to explore its use in level design, overall game structure, and even down to the level of individual mechanics.

Here's some old whiteboard explorations of this:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/7545882/Game_Structure.jpg

and a doc outlining my initial questions and findings using the Kishotenketsu structure (along with a few others):

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/7545882/Game_Goal_Structures.pdf

Nice to see that this theory is being applied more commercially in game design already.

-Kaz

Brian Taylor
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I love articles like these, makes me feel a little more competent when I work on my games, taking all these tips into mind.


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