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.