Tuesday, November 17, 2015

JSano19 trolls my levels

So I sent youtuber JSano19, who keeps solving one-screen puzzles my one-screen puzzles. Even though some of them are pretty bad or rely on some obscure Mario World "Features". But it has been fun, plus the videos have quite a bit of views.

First he played Pow It and Living Fire, and he found the intended solutions.

It was going all right until then he tried "Often Overlooked" and "A P-redicament". I talked about "Often Overlooked" in the Beach Koopa Saga post, and he did it mostly as expected, using the pipe to clone the koopas. However, there's a part where you are supposed to use the red shell to jump to the top (Either with a shell jump, or, much easier, by spin jumping on the shell to get height). But what he did was much more clever and... I am pretty sure it's a glitch.

This is so strange and ... changes everything. It's not really a big deal in this level as the spin jump was far simpler, but I wonder how this can affect some other puzzles out there.

This inspired me to make a whole new puzzle. It requires this trick and also some extra knowledge from the Beach Koopa Saga... : BA1E-0000-00EF-245D - Grow your Koopa.

Then he tried "A P-redicament", I never explained how to solve it, but the solution is definitely not to jump from the starting point to the exit -.-

So of course this means I had to update the level to remove that unintended solution. I don't want to exterminate ALL possible unintended solutions. The existence of some of them can improve a level rather than take away from it. And a puzzle with many different solution routes is nice. But when the solution removes the focus away from what I intend, and instead turns the level into a "do this precise jump" instead of a puzzle, I have to fix it.

  • Really all this level is about a small mechanic: Shells that Mario kicks or throws can collect coints for him.
  • The contradiction is that you need to walk on some of the lower row of that bunch of blocks in the middle. So you need some of them to be solid. You also need to some how destroy the upper row. A P is not that help here, because you'd fall.
  • Hints: All the coins are hints, I want to show the player that you can grab a coin while on the row above it, if it is just 1 grid square left/right and 1 grid square lower. All you need to do is move slightly left/right to be on top of the coin without falling and it gets it. The other 16 coins are there so hopefully playing with the red Koopa while figuring things out shows you that the shell can grab coins for you.
  • Diversion: The koopa is initially needed to destroy those two blocks on top, but you need to keep it for later.
  • Implementation: Carefully use the koopa to destroy the wall on the top, make sure to keep the shell somehow. Go towards the thomp, which will activate the P switch. Grab the top-left coin of the bunch of blocks/coins blocking the path. Wait for P switch to end and now put the shell in that new missing corner and kick the shell. This will get rid of the top row of blocks. For the rest, you need to go towards the Thomp (The shell needs to keep bouncing while on top of the blocks as you do this) and time it so that the shell will create the proper path for you.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Beach Koopa Saga.

These are four one-screen puzzles that shouldn't exist. But do. I think they make interesting puzzles, but the mechanics they rely on might be too obscure.

  • Double Jump: 379C-0000-00A1-8BF7
  • Often Overlooked: 2B4B-0000-00E9-D056
  • Koopa Alchemy:  FA8A-0000-00EA-8A07
  • Cloning and Color: D3DA-0000-00E7-F31B
I recommend attempting to solve them in order. This is the place to come to in case you are really curious about how to solve them. If you want to read more about one-screen puzzles (actually puzzle levels in general) I have a whole post about them and I am kinda explaining the levels in this post using that framework I explained there. The following paragraphs contain spoilers. If you needed to read spoilers for one puzzle, try to still solve the later puzzle(s) on your own. It might be fun/frustrating, I hope.

Double Jump

This one is the easiest puzzle I could come up to that makes use of the mechanic I wanted to highlight here.

Contradiction: You need to stomp on the Koopa to climb to the top so you can then get to the right. But then you will find yourself unable to jump to the exit. So I guess you could instead take the Koopa's shell with you, but you can't take the shell with you because you need to jump.

It seems that experienced players fall into thinking that they need to use a shell jump glitch  to solve this level, but I intended something far simpler. 

Mechanic: The mechanic tying all these puzzles together is that in Super Mario World, stomping on a koopa makes the Koopa leave their shell. It looks like those shell-less koopas are called "Beach Koopa".

Implementation: In this situation you need to take advantage of the poor beach Koopa. Stomp on the Koopa to make them leave the shell. But to make it so it's hard to do this accidentally, I made it so it is kind of unlikely the beach koopa will drop in the right location unless you do it intentionally. Wait for the Koopa to stand up and then grab the shell and stomp on the Koopa again so you can reach the top holding the Shell. The last jump might be tricky to some people. The easiest way is to drop the shell and spin jump on it. I guess you can also kick the shell and stomp on it at the right moment, but that's a life-threatening stunt.

Often Overlooked

Hehe, I didn't notice that I took the screenshot with the comments on.

Contradiction: Like in the previous level, you can use the often overlooked Beach Koopa and the shell separately. First you use a similar trick to be able to grab the P switch (you need to kick the shell towards the yellow block below the P-switch). You will also need the trick to reach the top. Once you reach the right side you will find yourself on a strange situation. You need to press the P switches spawned by the pipe 3 times, but even if you are lucky and a Beach koopa is available to climb, you can only do it one time. What's up with that?

Hint / Diversion: The first p switch exists really as a distraction. Or maybe so that it's necessary to know that you can stomp on Beach Koopas before continuing. At the top there is a yellow block next to a coin. It's there to explain that to go through this you need to press the P switch and then wait until its music ends. Also this time it is easy and likely that a red Beach Koopa will fall towards the saws' area so that you hopefully can see that you can use this koopa to make the jump towards the yellow blocks.

Mechanic: This is where the saga turns obscure. The trick in this level is how SMW red koopas work when put inside pipes. Generally, the red koopa won't respawn unless they leave the screen or get killed. In SMW's case, what matters for the respawn condition is just the shell. As long as the shell leaves the screen, the red koopa respawns. Even if the Beach Koopa is still available. So by stomping on the red koopas and throwing the shell outside but leaving the beach koopa alive, you can make the tube create an indefinite number of beach koopas.

Implementation: Stomp on the red koopa in such a way that the Beach Koopa is thrown to the saws area. Clone the koopas and Do this 3 or 4 times. Having 3 koopas might be a bit risky because a mistake while using the P switches will force you to restart. Having 5 or more beach koopas is risky because it might be too crowded and they can still kill you.

Update: I fixed an unwanted alternate solution (cheese), it's possible to jump on a P switch in mid-air. So I had to change it so it is not possible (I hope) to move the pipe-create P-switches at all. Also added a reset door and some other minor changes.

Koopa Alchemy

If you thought the last one required too much an obscure knowledge to work, that's because you didn't see this one yet. This level is terrible!

Also this level really had so much cheese possibilities, there's a reason it's in version 3 four right now. I really hope it doesn't have more ways to cheese it without using the intended mechanic, but I can't make guarantees. Maybe you can find more ways.

Examples of cheese in previous versions:
  • There used to be a giant goomba in a more open space instead of that wiggler. It was possible to kill it with a shell without losing the shell.
  • Spin jumping on the Thomps. That's the reason the space is so tight now. Update: In fact, this was still possible, had to make a whole new version. I hope those munchers stop the cheese once and for all!
  • Walking on top of the thomps. In the past, to make the implementation easier, there was a semi-solid platform in the thomp area. Bad idea.
  • Grabbing the P switch. The wall between the start location and the P switch didn't exist, even though the P switch was lower, it was possible to grab it, somehow.
  • Killing the thomps with a pow when they 'touch' the ground. The wings in thomps are intended so that you need to throw the pows directly at them to kill them, but when there's not a lot of space for the pows and they touch the ground (even though they are still flying) they can be killed remotely with the pow.

Contradiction: You need the Pows and the only way to acquire them is (I hope) by pressing the P switch. In order to do it you forcefully (I hope) lose the two shells, one is needed to kill the wiggler and there should be no way to do it without losing a shell. The other is needed to make the Bill blaster drop on the P-switch. So in order to take the Pows to the Thomps , you will need to stomp on the beach koopas. But unfortunately, one of the beach koopas is red, so they won't drop to the ground. And you need (I hope) to stomp on two beach koopas to be able to take the two pows with you.

The Mechanic: So what we need is two green beach koopas, but we only have a green one and a red one. Just change the red one's color! Stomp on the two koopas and make it so the red beach koopa enters the green shell. This turns the koopa's shoes green! Really.

Implementation: You need to be careful in stomping the koopas to change their color, it's too easy to kill something you don't want to kill.

 Cloning and Color

This one is really the combination of the two last ones. You'll need to combine both techniques to cross that spike area.

Contradiction: The only way (I hope) to cross above those spikes and reach the axe is by leaving the area with green beach koopas. But there's only one of them and in a completely wrong location.

Mechanic: Just clone some six or so red beach koopas and use the green shell to turn them green.

Implementation: Easier said than done, a bad stomp might make you lose the green shell, or kill all the green beach koopa you've been creating. But I was nice this time and added a door that allows you to reset the whole deal without losing a life. I should really try to use these doors more often in one-screen puzzles. An issue is that they might have unintended consequences. For example, a previous version of "Koopa Alchemy" had a reset door, but it was possible to exploit it to change the position of a pow block and then you can use the green koopa to get the other pow block.

I hope these were fun.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The Incredible Rotation Warp - Version 7, I mean 8

I just recently wrote a whole post about version 6 of this rotation idea. I was hoping not to need to update it in a while. But today I got an idea and an urge to implement it.

Id: A270-0000-00D5-F33D

Basically, you now start the game on the (previously-inexistent) "right" area. This right area becomes inaccessible once you use the first pipe. There are many advantages about this, in theory:

  • This way I don't need that extra entry pipe in the rotation room. I noticed that people kept getting confused trying to enter it. With only 3 pipes in this area it is hopefully less confusing.
  • Getting to see this (right) area shall help figuring out that the map rotates quicker.
  • This also works as a good excuse to include some fire flower powerups in (left) and (down) areas.
  • I also changed the name back to "The Incredible Rotation Warp".

I worry that some things like having 3 enemies in the rotation room again would make the level too complex. Let more updates come. Iterative Game Development is going to be the end of me.

Update: And.. an eight one. Just some small tweaks, making it easier to move the spring across. Removed some elements that made the camera scroll up in the final section after flying. Aesthetic tweaks too.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

A Spinning World

id: A270-0000-00D5-F33D

Update: Further updates in new post: Versions 7, 8

A month ago I had what I thought was a cool, original idea. There were already many levels based around flipping the screen vertically / horizontally. Really "all" you need to do is make a warp zone that's identical to the main zone but with everything flipped. The next logical step was think of rotation instead of just flipping.  With there being four different versions of the same world, each being equal to the previous one rotated 90 degrees right. How was I going to implement it? My idea was quite clear:

So I just needed two things, the room with that pipe that rotates everything and the room with the puzzle. In reality I would need to make 4 versions of each room. The first step was to see if the rotating room is possible at all. You see, let's name the rooms for each diection A (up), B (right), C (left) and D (down). I wanted the same pipe to take you from A to B, from B to C, from C to D and from D to A.

You can place pipes on top of other pipes, even warp pipes. This seems to be an intentional move by nintendo because with this it is easy to make a situation in which entering any of two (or more) pipes takes you to the same exit pipe. Thanks to a reddit thread I found out that it works in reverse as well: If you enter a pipe that has multiple entry points, it will always pick one of them. Priority depends on the order the pipes were placed in the map. Latter tubes have more priority. So I was just adding pipes trying to keep the correct priority going and correcting when it's wrong. After half an hour, it started to seem impossible. Because it is impossible.

We have four pipes: A-B, B-C, C-D and D-A, we want B-C to have a larger priority than A-B, C-D a larger priority than B-C, D-A larger than C-D and A-B larger than D-A. This is an impossible cycle. Sorry.

The only way to fix it was to remove the cycle somehow, but I didn't want to change the original idea of having a single tube to rotate it all. Then I had a an idea: There's a room in which the pipe would appear top. We can make it so high that you cannot jump through any normal means, and need a spring. So add a whole new pipe that can only be used in the (up) room and takes you to a room that it includes a spring. When you exit this spring room, you are actually taken to a different (but identical-looking) version of (up): (up').

So now there is an up area A, and another up area A', an spring area called E. We have pipes like A'-B, B-C, C-D, D-A, A-E, A'-E, and there's no cycle. There's a bit of a problem and it is that now there's a whole new room to complicate the original idea, and worse, you need to go through it every time you want to change the gravity direction once you are top.

Another issue is that this would make me run out of warp pipes quite quickly. Remember I need one from start to rotation room and 4 pipes between rotation room and puzzle room, on top of all those pipes mentioned above. The warp pipe limit is 10. I fixed this by making it so the puzzle room can't be accessed when the world direction is right.  Also the exit would have to be directly connected to the puzzle room.

But at least the rotation was working, I was truly excited and proceeded to think of the puzzle. It would have three version: Up, Down and Left. It makes sense that Left is the one that takes you to the exit.

Spoilers (Although this is an old version, the new version has a different puzzle area but the idea is roughly the same).

  • The "left" area is connected to the exit but you need a Rakoon Suit to fly that large gap.
  • This quite works well because if we rotate this, then the exit would be unreachable or be part of a deadly free fall.
  • The four question blocks contain raccoon leaves, the only way to get them is jumping against them. This needs you to use a P to turn the coins into blocks and to be able to stand on them. This means that to get the raccoon leaf, you need the direction to be (up) and an active P switch.
  • The only way (I thought) to activate the P switch is when the direction is (down), so you have to activate the switch and then go to the rotating room until you reach the (up) direction. Since this (unfortunately) requires the spring room and it would take too much time, this is the reason the spring room has a P switch that you can only active when you enter it while another P is active.
I was quite proud of this, so I published it. I tried to get some plays going, the first versions had too low success rates and many crosses in the rotating area, so I reduced the number of enemies. These are screenshots of the fourth edition, things like there being 4 question blocks instead of just one came from attempts to make the level more friendly.

I published it to /r/MarioMaker.  I tried to get streamers to play it. I passed it around a bit. I thought this idea was very original and that people would love it. The results, however, were ... underwhelming.


More Work

To be fair, 11 stars is not that bad. Most of my levels stay in one-digit star amounts. But as the time passed I found multiple people who implemented the rotation idea in more successful ways: Like /u/saintlantis and /u/GamingfulLuke . Their levels got like hundreds of stars. I can only dream of ever making such a good level. But what I take from all of this is that this old "Rotation Warp" idea needed more work. In Level design, it's not enough to have a nice idea and know how to implement it.

Where to start in updating this level? By coincidence I saw the same streamers (supertwou) play both my level and saintlantis'. The biggest impression I could get was that it was far easier to tell that their level is about rotation. It helps that the rotation does not only happen in a small room, it's clearer that all of the map rotates. I cannot really change the idea of the level too much (Or I would be making a whole new level instead of modifying it), I still need to keep a single room for rotation. But I can still improve the situation a bit.

This is the new rotation room. I hope the extra asymmetry can help.

I also further reduced the number of enemies, only two of them now. Let the difficulty come from noticing that the thing rotates.

I am willing to bet the spring room is one of the reasons the previous version was too confusing. We need the spring room to exist, but I reduced the number of times you need to go to it. I moved the spring room to the (right) room. This way the only reason to use the spring is to use the rotation pipe, as there is no puzzle area in the right room, you don't need the spring to get to any of the puzzle areas.

Another very subtle thing is that the arrows in the rotation room pointed to the opposite direction than their respective puzzle rooms. I fixed this :)

I changed the special effect that plays whenever you use the rotation pipe. I used to use the telephone effect, but it shows graphics in random places of the string. Instead the Car Horn effect shows a flower circle in the pipe.

I also made plenty of changes to the puzzle area:

I added an arrow right next to the pipe. This should help notice that direction is important. The actual puzzle area looks very different too. Spoiler: I don't want to spoil things too much but here are some details:
  •  Having the additional P switch in the spring room was giving too much importance to that room, which should really be just an additional step in changing one of the directions. So now you need to activate the P (without taking it out of the puzzle area) rotate the map correctly and go back to the puzzle area before the P activation runs out.
  • So there are only two ways to activate the P, you cannot activate the P in the (up) version because it can't be reached. You can activate the P in the (left) version, but you get stuck (a plant will rescue you, but the plant only activates AFTER the P runs out). So you need to activate the P in the (down) room.
  • There are many reasons I changed the rows of coins into that device. The first is that coins were just confusing, people would think that they have to eat them and could fall down. Also, if you eat them, why would they come back when rotating the level? Keeping coins and blocks inside an isolated area helps against this confusion. It should be both clearer and more interesting to see how gravity direction affects the shell device. (I hope).
  • There is also a bit of a safeguard in case you decide to leap of faith in the (down) version of the room. An extra chance to retract and go back to safety (that question mark spawns a vine).

Thanks for reading (I'd be really surprised if anyone actually found this interesting). I hope the new version works out!