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SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Q-Nova - 02-09-2019

There's this idea that I've had in my head for quite a long time: a discussion of the level design of a specific Mario game. Since there hasn't been much game design discussion around here lately, I thought it'd be a good idea to start a topic about my idea. We'll be doing SMB3, as that's a game many people here know and love!

So, as a quick explanation for how this will work, we'll discuss the levels of SMB3 one by one. A level map can be provided to refresh our memory or as a reference. We can talk about what does the level do nicely and what does it do badly, how can it be improved, etc. Once we think enough has been said and it's been quite some time, we can move onto the next level. I'll be providing maps and discussing the levels from the NES version, but you can discuss them with a different version in mind, since not much has changed in those level design-wise.

I'm sure it'll take a long time to get from World 1-1 to Bowser's Castle in World 8 (if we ever get to that point), but I'm hoping that this will be very successful! I bet we'll learn quite a lot about level design from this thread!

With all that said, let's hit the Start button and begin our discussion with World 1-1:

Level Map

I'm gonna go into quite some detail, as this is the first level of the game, and it introduces quite a lot of things to you. You get to come across a Goomba and ? Blocks right away, which teach you how to jump. You soon get to meet a Venus Fire Trap, an enemy that I think is a bit dangerous at this point of the game (more on that later). Once you get past the plant, you'll find a Koopa Troopa that you can mess with, stomping and kicking them will teach you how they work, with a Goomba placed below that will get hit by the sliding shell. You may be rewarded with a power-up (a mushroom or leaf) depending on how you kicked the shell.

Ahead is a line of enemies, one of which is new. If you obtained a leaf from utilizing the Koopa Troopa earlier, you can practice your spin attack, as this is a flat field and the enemies are rather slow. Once you've cleared them out, you got a lot of room to fill up your P-Meter. At this point, there are two scenarios that can happen. One is that if the player knows how to use the leaf, they'll follow the coin trail that points up, which then rewards them with a 1-Up mushroom along with a good amount of coins. This encourages players to use the leaf to find any areas that are hidden in the sky.

Another scenario has the player not fly up and just jump over the pit. As they go right, they'll see Koopa Paratroopas introduced to them. If they remain at the ground, the flying enemies will be above them, meaning the player can analyze their behavior for a bit without any sort of risk (unless they want to interact with them, which can reward them with their wings taken off if they stomp on them).

After jumping over a couple pits, you'll see a Piranha Plant along with another Venus Fire Trap. They look similar, but have slightly different behaviors. Once you get past them, you'll find bricks and another Koopa Troopa. If you kick the Koopa Troopa into the bricks, you'll see that they break the bricks. You can also try to hit them with your tail (if you still have the leaf) or from below (if the Koopa Troopa took care some of the bricks), which may eventually reward you with a P-Switch. This thing turns bricks into coins. There appears to be quite a lot you can learn about bricks in this area!

If you still have your leaf, you may try to fly up around this part of the level (perhaps to see what's above that green, tall block). If you fly high enough, you'll discover the top of a Warp Pipe. If you decide to use it (either through curiosity or knowledge of entering Warp Pipes), you'll find yourself in a bonus area with coins that make a cool formation! Whether or not you went into the bonus area (exiting said area will take you to about the same point), you'll go right, where the place gets rather calm after all the action going on before. Soon, the level cuts off to a black background and you'll find a card that serves as the exit to the level.

As an introduction level, I think this one does a pretty good job helping you get the feel of how the game plays. It's probably a bit harder than World 1-1 from the original SMB, but it's still rather easy. One thing that could be changed is the Venus Fire Trap at the beginning. It isn't a hard enemy, but compared to the other enemies introduced in this level, it's a bit much. I'd probably save it for later in the level or even not until World 1-2. Other than that, though, I think this level is really well-structured and very memorable!

What are your thoughts on this level?


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Aaendi - 02-09-2019

It's okay, just kind've short. The levels get a lot more interesting later on in the game.

One of my favorite levels is the one that ends with the pipe covered in a maze of brick blocks that you clear by throwing the koopa shell.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - VinnyVideo - 02-09-2019

A good analysis! I've played this level dozens (probably hundreds) of times by now, but it's interesting to think about every detail of the level and why each feature exists. It serves as a tutorial level, although it's different from tutorial levels in most newer games - the level design suggests ways you can use the new power-ups you just found, but the game doesn't tell you exactly what you have to do to things, like flying or using your spin attack. I understand why newer games tend to have detailed in-game instructions on how to use a new mechanic, but there's also an appeal to throwing a player out in a game world and encouraging them to learn how to do things on their own.

I agree that the first Venus Firetrap probably should've been later in the level. I remember SMB3 was the first game I ever played, back when I was three years old! I had some trouble getting past the first Venus Firetrap (although they're easy to avoid if you know to stand by their pipe to prevent them from emerging). Still, for a game like SMB3, it would've been better to place a regular Piranha Plant instead of the first Venus Firetrap.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Q-Nova - 02-14-2019

@Aaendi I agree that this level is rather short and basic compared to the later levels in the game. I think that's a good thing for an introductory level, though; a good first level in a game helps the player get used to how it works, in my opinion. As the player gets further on, they should be more skilled and ready for bigger challenges. If World 1-1 was like a World 8 level, I think most players would end up getting frustrated and overwhelmed.

Think about learning to play a new game as like learning to play a new instrument. The first you'll want to learn is how to play the instrument. Once you've learned how to do it, you can try to do some short and simple songs with it. Once you get the hang of it, you can move on to songs that are a bit more complex. As you get more experienced, you'll be more ready for playing longer and more complicated songs with the instrument. If you picked up a new instrument and decided to do the entirety of "Mars, Bringer of War" right away, there's a chance that it may not end up going well.

@VinnyVideo Yeah, while I can see why some modern games give instructions on how to do something (especially if it's a complicated game), it's also nice when games try to make you figure it out yourself, especially when they have some subtle hints. When I do introduction levels in my games and mods, I usually try to do them like how SMB3 does its introduction level. I do provide some instructions on how to play the game, although I put them into either a README file or a menu option.

I'll keep this discussion up for a little longer in case someone has something to say about this level, since I think it's a rather important one. I'm thinking that in the next day or two, we can move on and talk about World 1-2, okay?


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - VinnyVideo - 02-14-2019

Yeah, it could be fun to cover 1-2. Analyzing every level in the game would take a while, though, so it might be better to focus on a few levels that are especially interesting or noteworthy. (A level that introduces pipes that produce an endless supply of Goombas would probably count as interesting or noteworthy!)


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Q-Nova - 02-15-2019

It would indeed take a while to analyze every level in the game, even if we excluded Hammer Bro fights, Toad Houses, Warp Pipes, and the coin ship, along with maybe the Pirahna Plant and Hand levels. Now that you mention it, though, there are some levels that are very basic and may not be very interesting to talk about, such as World 5-9 and the fast airship in World 8. Maybe it is better to instead focus on levels that are interesting and notable...

Anyway, though, let's move onto World 1-2:

Level Map

Compared to World 1-1, World 1-2 feels a bit more mellow, with less enemy variety and not as much introduced to the player. There aren't even any enemies on-screen once you enter it! When you start World 1-2, you are greeted with new visuals, new music, and slopes. Pipes that spawn an endless amount of Goombas are soon introduced in this level.

The area with the first pipe of this kind isn't so bad, as there's only one other Goomba when you come to this area, along with a small hole at the right that prevents having a lot of Goombas around and a nice power-up. There's also a slope for you to slide down on, knocking away any Goombas in the way. The second time this pipe is used is a bit harder, but it's still rather easy. There's just no pit this time, meaning it's only up to you to get rid of them, and also a red Goomba that's coming down a slope, making it slightly harder to jump on than before.

After you get past those areas, you'll find coins that are structured in a rather odd way; some seem to be rather difficult to get! There are bricks nearby, though, one of which has a P-Switch. If you find it and then use it, you'll see that P-Switches also affect coins by turning them into bricks!

Note Blocks are introduced in this level, where they're first seen with a red Goomba on a flat field. At this part, you have two options. One has you jump on the blocks if you prefer to not mess with the Goomba, resulting with you bouncing off the blocks. Another one has you go down and face off against the Goomba, where you may hit the blocks from below. Both options can teach you how the Note Blocks work. Soon, there is another part with Note Blocks, this time there are three of them along with a pit below. The pit is rather small, but it cannot be removed unlike the red Goomba and can kill you even if you have a power-up. This makes you think for a bit before deciding how to get through this section.

At the very end of the level, you get to see a Paragoomba. You don't get to see it for very long as the card is very close by, but if you're not quick enough, you may notice that the mini Goombas it drops will affect you! One thing I noticed this level has is that there are quite a few different blocks that contain something inside. This seems to be so that you can learn that even different kinds of blocks can have some goodies.

This level is pretty fun to run through and I can't really think of any changes that should be done to this level.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - VinnyVideo - 02-15-2019

I like 1-2 a lot. It introduces a number of new mechanics, but it gradually rolls them out in a non-threatening way. For example, the first Note Blocks are over a Para-Goomba instead of a bottomless pit, so there's not as much risk if you mess up while using this new mechanic.

It's also nice that 1-2 gives a great opportunity for more skilled players to earn unlimited 1-Ups by stomping the Goombas that endlessly spawn from the pipes. Since SMB3 is a long game that didn't have a save system in the original version, it's helpful to be able to build a cushion of extra lives early in the game.

Playing World 1 of SMB3 might be second nature to us by now, so it's easy to forget that when this game first came out, players were experiencing Raccoon Mario, Note Blocks, Venus Firetraps, and Micro-Goombas for the very first time. Some players probably needed a bit of time to grow comfortable with the new mechanics. Similarly, when you're introducing new mechanics in your own games, it's wise to give players some space to try them out.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Yakibomb - 02-18-2019

I like the way that the tutorial levels are presented in the first world. It makes me want to play the game and get better at it. I think the way that SMB3 presents it, it's design doesn't feel frustrating to me (or, it is kept minimized!), because of what ease the mechanics are given to me as a player. It's really given that feeling of what it means to be "a Mario game", or "Feels very Mario", in my opinion.

Playing the game though: I'll admit I've had so much trouble those venus fire traps in 1-1! I've always wanted to get ahead ever since I found those warp whistles in stages 1-3 and 1-Fortress.  Cool But then I've always been shot down by those fire traps because of how difficult it was later. (Or bad at the game I was!)  Laughing


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Vitiman - 02-19-2019

SMB3 is one of my favourite Mario games of all time, tied with Super Mario World - I rank them equally, actually. They're both fantastic, often for different reasons, but ultimately they both do Mario extremely well and there's a damn good reason as to why to this day people argue about which one be better. Here on a Mario fan forum, I hope we can appreciate them equally! But that's a topic for another day, right now we're discussing good ol' three.

I love how the progression works with the different worlds. World 1 gives you 8 areas with which to wrap your head around the controls and the concepts of the game - your excellent analysis of 1-1 aside, levels like 1-3 introduce the recurring concept of the Bros., specifically the Boomerang Bros - a variation which do not present themselves as often as the Hammer Bros., which showcase around 1-5/1-6 instead. The lone fortress demonstrates the separate rooms and how they have their own unique challenges within the castle levels, and the air ship may seem largely mundane, but it is an excellent display of having a barrage of junk thrown at you without it being too varied. A little with a lot, you know? That's a recurring thing in SMB3, I've noticed. The other air ships tend to have a singular "theme" after a point, which people have pointed at as a possible weakness, but I find it to be superb level design. Bowser's fleets inevitably must have a focal point depending on the Koopaling running it. Who's to say perhaps some of them had a preference in artillery and defense? I think about these silly things too much, I admit.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Q-Nova - 02-23-2019

Great replies, guys! SMB3's World 1 is indeed a great example of subtly teaching players how a game works by doing a minimized form of each new mechanic and level type it introduces. Learning how these things work will prepare players for the next time they appear, where they can get built upon and mixed with each other to present harder challenges to keep the players entertained. We're not even halfway through this world and I'm already learning quite a bit from this topic and analyzing the first two levels. Smile

Speaking of World 1, how about we take a look into World 1-3?

[Image: SuperMarioBros3Map1-3.png]
Full size

(I'm putting the level map into this post as I think it'll make these posts more noticeable. There is a link below the map that takes you to the image itself, if you want to get a bigger view of it.)

As @Vitiman said earlier, this level introduces the Bros, a type of enemies that would eventually become recurring ones (especially the Hammer Bros). Boomerang Bros are used to introduce the Bros, which I'd say is a good selection since their weapons are rather slow and predictable. I wouldn't say that they are the easiest enemies to deal with, though, so the level gives players some handicaps when dealing with the first Boomerang Bro. These include the blocks that help them jump over the Boomerang Bro and the Koopa Troopa that can be used to knock down the enemy. The second Boomerang Bro is harder to encounter, since there are no additional platforms or Koopa Troopas nearby, but it's not overwhelming since the player has figured out how they work.

After the first Boomerang Bro, there is a structure made out of bricks that has a Koopa Troopa on top, who can be used to wreck the place. Some of these bricks even have goodies inside, so this part of the level is like a variation of the brick piles that were seen near the end of World 1-1. While looking for items in the bricks, players will likely stumble upon not just a brick block with multiple coins but also a pink Note Block. If they use the unusual-looking Note Block, they'll be launched up to the skies and rewarded with a new concept for the player: coin heaven! Coin heavens give players lots of coins and after all that they'll drop them back down to the level, where they'll be further than before. In this case, they'll be right next to the end of the level! Because of all the stuff you get from coin heavens, player will want to find pink Note Blocks whenever they can!

Between the second Boomerang Bro and the card at the end are multiple blocks. I bet this part is quite famous to many of us, and that would mostly be due to one thing: the white block. Crouching on this block will make you fall through it and appear behind the scenery (although you can still get hit by enemies). If you go the end of the level, you'll find a whistle that will take you to the Warp Zone. This secret is very well-hidden, but it's very rewarding once you've found it. With this and the secret whistle in World 1's fortress, it's nice to be able to get up to two whistle early on in the game, since the original version of SMB3 didn't have saving, so the whistles provide a way to get back to where were you at.

One additional thing that I think is noteworthy is that the Paragoomba returns near the end of this level! What's different this time is that players are more likely to notice the jump-height-decreasing effects of the Micro Goombas since there are blocks and enemies that they may try to jump on. This is especially the case when they try to get the hidden whistle.

I think World 1-3 is a pretty good level; it brings us an eventually-recurring type of Bowser's soldiers and gives us previous elements that are used in ways that make them slightly trickier but still very easy to deal with, all of which get us more warmed up for the next challenge SMB3 holds!


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - VinnyVideo - 02-24-2019

SMB3's Bros are typically less dangerous than the Hammer Bros. of the original SMB, since you have a much greater variety of tools for defeating them. Still, they can be dangerous in certain situations, so it's good that the game introduces them in a level that's otherwise not very threatening.

Using the White Block to access a hidden Mushroom House is quite cryptic - the game never gives you any indication that you can do that. Since SMB3 came out well before the Internet era, you probably wouldn't find it on your own unless you used a strategy guide or had a friend who's already found the secret. On the other hand, the Warp Whistle is a powerful but completely optional item, so making it difficult to find was a reasonable design decision.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Q-Nova - 04-20-2019

Whoa, it's been a while since the last post was made in this topic, eh? I've just played the GBA port of SMB3, so I think it's a good time to bump this topic and get the discussion going again!

Let's go onto World 1-4:

[Image: SuperMarioBros3Map1-4.png]
Full size

This level is what brought auto-scrolling into Mario, and perhaps platform games in general. At first, there is some ground for you to walk on, but you must jump soon, when you enter a platforming challenge!

Compared to earlier levels, World 1-4 seems less involved, with less enemies to face. Throughout the auto-scrolling part, there are many brick blocks and moving platforms that fall when you land on them, but there's only one red Koopa Troopa in the middle, which is likely to get knocked out by the coin block below if you're hitting that. The rest of the enemies are at the end of the level, one of which is a red Koopa Paratroopa that was never seen before in this game (SMB1 fans will recognize this enemy, though). You don't even need to fight the Boomerang Bro!

However though, the auto-scrolling, while a bit slow, can be rather challenging on its own given how early this is, especially if you haven't mastered the controls yet. You not only have to stay up on the platforms, but also must keep up with the pace of the scrolling, so I think it's a good idea to have less enemies to look out for when introducing this kind of gimmick. I think adding any more would make this level feel like overkill, especially if it's a Venus Fire Trap or Boomerang Bro.

I remember having some trouble with this level way back then, and I think I'd sometimes even skip it! Having gotten better at the game, though, I now think World 1-4 is rather fun, especially when I take on the hidden side-challenge of grabbing all of the coins to get a white Toad House to appear! It can be a bit challenging for first-time players, but it's optional, and World 1-3 is always there if you want to enter the Toad House at the upper-right corner of Grass Land!


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - SilverVortex - 04-21-2019

personally, 1-4 is an underrated level in terms of level design. the earlier (and even later) levels mainly teach you about powerups, how to do a specific action, or how to defeat and/or dodge an enemy. this level however goes and throws you into an autoscroller, to teach you about platforming, the techniques you can use to help you, and setting the groundwork for challenges in later levels. a clear example of comparison from an earlier level, say 1-1. 1-1 teaches you how to jump properly, how to defeat goombas and koopas, knowing you have to dodge piranha plants, the functions of a shell, and the raccoon leaf. 1-4 features a total of NONE of this, it features moving platforms and their varying properties, how to execute a jump in the most optimal way possible, and how to do it quickly, as the autoscrolling isn't too far behind.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - VinnyVideo - 04-21-2019

1-4 doesn't have a lot of enemies because the main enemy is a great big bottomless pit!

1-4 is probably the hardest level in World 1, thanks to the auto-scroll and the bottomless pit. However, it also offers a great reward - a free P-Wing if you collect all the coins. Plus, the level is entirely optional. I think it's a fair balance.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Q-Nova - 06-12-2019

Oh, looks like I forgot about this topic for a while again. Let's take a look at the first fortress of the game:

[Image: SuperMarioBros3Map1MiniFortress.png]
Full size

Grass Land's fortress is quite a deviation compared to the previous levels. The levels we previously experienced are pretty bright and lively, while this one here presents us with a dark fortress that has ominous music playing. We also get to face a completely different set of enemies that we've never faced before in this game, all of which suit the gloomy vibe this fortress gives us. Most appear to be lifeless, with one enemy being a skeleton of a familiar enemy we've known for quite a while.

All of the obstacles are introduced on their own, but during the middle of the level, two obstacles are mixed to create an interesting challenge. I like how the doors are introduced here; they are presented to you at a dead-end, which is a good place to put them at if you're introducing them! While Boom Boom is a rather easy boss once you know how to face him, this level made the right choice by introducing him on a flat room that has nothing to hinder you. One compliant I have, though, is how the Fire Flower is introduced here. Only Boom Boom can get hurt by the fireballs, while the others are unaffected. It's good to show the player that the Fire Flower doesn't work on all enemies, but I think it would've been nice if the Fire Flower was introduced earlier or later, as it can cause a bad first impression as it is right now. There's a hidden Warp Whistle that can only be reached by using the leaf. Like World 1-3, it's in a very cryptic spot, but as @VinnyVideo said earlier, it's a pretty powerful item, so it's reasonable to make it hard to find.

Overall, Grass Land's fortress is a well-designed level that serves as a nice change of pace, and it shows that games can switch between moods even if it doesn't have a detailed story with a lot of cutscenes.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Gatete - 06-13-2019

Gotta mention that the venus fire plant next to the start in 1-1 was replaced with a regular piranha plant on the GBA port.


Skip to 0:18


Skip to 2:22

As for the white house of world 1-4, you must get at least 44 coins in that level to make the house appear in a random point of the map.


RE: SMB3 Level Design Discussion - Q-Nova - 06-14-2019

Just another thing I realized: Grass Land's fortress introduces us to a new category of levels, which are the fortresses. Previous levels were categorized by cyan-and-black panels that have a number on them. These two categories are distinct not only for their map icons, but for the enemies and level style.

@Gatete I noticed that when I was playing SMA4, which is pretty nice to see! I also noticed some other changes they made, most of which are to make the game easier (I feel like some weren't necessary, like what they did to World 1-4, but ah well). While we're focusing on the NES version of SMB3 (as I think that's what people are most familiar with and I can't really find good maps for the other versions), it's alright to point out changes they've made in the remakes. Smile