World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System is perhaps the most iconic level in video game history. It is recognizable by its colorful characters, catchy music, and memorable layout. This level has become the quintessential example used in beginning game design classes. I can attest to this as World 1-1 was talked about extensively during the first lecture of my first game development course in college.
World 1-1 is praised for how it teaches the player the fundamentals of the game without any formal instruction. For instance when the level starts an enemy Goomba is set on a path toward the hero Mario. If the player does nothing, the Goomba will eventually run into Mario consequently killing him. This teaches the player to avoid touching moving enemies by jumping over them. A few seconds later most players are confronted with a mushroom approaching the player from the right with a ceiling of bricks above the player. This time if the player tries to jump over the mushroom they hit the brick ceiling and are forced to land on the mushroom. However, instead of losing a life as was the case with the Goomba, Mario doubles in size teaching the player that mushrooms are beneficial to the player.
Most people interested in game design are familiar with the smart level design decisions employed in World 1-1, but here is a chance to have the level explained by its creator Shigeru Miyamoto. His explanation gives additionally insight into what made Super Mario Bros. so ahead of its time.
It is easy to look at all Shigeru Miyamoto has accomplished and put his accomplishments on an unattainable pedestal. While he is deserving of more than a lifetime of praise, even legendary game designers have to start somewhere. It is encouraging to me to hear how he often designs levels that don’t work like he intended the first time, because it means that anyone can learn to be a great developer with enough practice. As with all worthy achievements, it takes many successes and even more failures. With Super Mario Maker for the Wii U releasing this week, everyone has the means to fail, fail, fail, and then succeed at designing their own Mario levels.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Mario franchise. That means 30 years of awesome Mario levels! My personal favorite is Ricco Harbor from Super Mario Sunshine. Do you have a favorite Mario level? Let us know!