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Game Design

The History of Mario's Mansion

When I decided to put this game together, a major motivating force was to address what I and other developers/players/reviewers saw as the shortcomings of previous entries. So I took some time to examine how the series evolved from the community event kentona did back in 2011, what each game did right, and what they got wrong. Basically, even though this was more or less a solo game it still draws on the spirit of the community that put the other games together, and is a direct expansion and continuation of how it evolved. So here's a sort of stream of consciousness for each game of the series. Just my own opinion, of course.

Mario's Mansion

Mario's Mansion was made back when SMBX was still new and exciting and a lot of us still didn't know what we were doing with it. A Halloween event where everyone makes a bunch of ghost house levels! How cute! It even had an honestly pretty cute story and opening scene where Kamek turned all Mario's friends into ghosts. I really liked it. Unfortunately, everything else about this game was terrible. No design, no standards, no testing, no nothing. Any random hodgepodge anyone threw together made it into the game. I played it in preparation for making this game and I couldn't believe how bad it was. Even my level was terrible (It required a P-switch to solve, but I didn't set it to respawn! How young and reckless I was!) Some people like this free-spirited approach, but in my opinion it doesn't lead to a very enjoyable final product.


  • Cute story and cutscenes

  • Whimsical Ghost enemies

  • Zero standards

  • Did anyone who made this game know what 'turning tricks' means?

Mario's Mansion 2

We all thought that would be the end of it until Deckiller randomly resurrected the idea a year later for 2012's All Hallows Event. We knew the first MM game had been kind of a hot mess so we resolved to make a tighter, more consistent game with more QA, with development efforts mostly focused between the two of us with kentona and Jackaltrun also jumping in to make levels. It was here that most of the tropes that comprise the series now were codified; rules were established, consistent design goals like using a ghost house door to end a level were created, and Kamek was cemented as the series' official villain with a plot about him coming back as a ghost. We also made the decision to turn the game from a series of unrelated ghost houses into one continuous mansion, with the various levels representing different wings or zones within the house, similar to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This lead to mixing ghosts with levels like a kitchen, a library, a ballroom, gardens, a frozen cellar, etc. and I feel like this decision really helped bring the creativity of the game to a new level.

I remember this game being a lot of fun to make and it turned out to be a solid SMBX episode; Of all the games I've ever had a hand in making, Mario's Mansion 2 is the only one I ever find myself just sitting down and playing once in a while. It's short, accessible, and has a great variety. However, it had some problems. We originally envisioned a world map of sorts, but this never panned out for whatever reason. This left us with a hub world that was functional but not having a lot of aesthetic appeal, and in fact a lot of the levels fell into the same 'generic ghost house' look. Addressing this would be one of my number one goals when the series continued...

  • Solid, cohesive design

  • Expanded variety of levels

  • Continued the narrative of Mario's Mansion in a fun way

  • Unappealing hub world

  • Lack of aesthetic variety

Mario's Mansion 3

When it came time to expand into Mario's Mansion 3 in 2013, I had a few ideas in mind. A major problem in building a game out of ghost houses is that most of Mario's abilities are useless. Ghosts can't be killed by fireballs, etc. I decided to take the game in a new direction to move away from traditional Mario mechanics and focus more on items like the Stop Watch and Hammer Suit (which can kill ghosts.) I also wanted to move the series in a new direction aesthetically and thematically, creating a wider range of environments.

I approached both of these by making the series more Castlevania-esque, re-skinning the hammer suit to throw axes and generally making the mansion feel more like a haunted castle. And in a lot of ways, this worked really well. By opening up level creation to the whole community, we got a whole host of really brilliant and creative levels, especially nin8halos' levels.

Unfortunately, the wider array of developers working on the project resulted in a lot of problems and inconsistencies. The difficulty curve was wildly erratic and a lot of the levels submitted clearly didn't follow the rules or engage with the theme. A lot of this was probably my fault. My attempt to hammer in a game with a consistent design into a community event was a major failing on my part and it left a lot of people feeling frustrated and unhappy with the project, which kind of ruined the experience. It makes the game a lot less enjoyable to me knowing that the people who made it didn't have fun. The levels of Mario's Mansion 3 are probably the best to have come out of the series so far, but the spastic difficulty and obvious signs of me pushing too hard against everyone else's more free-spirited design really damaged the project.

I also made the mistake of excising the game's narrative elements entirely. at the time, I was frustrated with the pages of dialogue people kept shoehorning into Mario levels where it didn't belong and made the executive decision to have no dialogue in the game at all, but in doing this I unwittingly left one of the more charming elements of the series in the dust, and the lack of story left both people who reviewed the game feeling nonplussed, which surprised me a lot.

On the whole I feel like a lot of people walked away from this game feeling like it was a bad experience, and I felt I might have killed the franchise. It was dark times.

  • A number of exceptional levels

  • Better level diversity and variety

  • Unique power-ups and game feel

  • Inconsistent difficulty

  • Lack of story

  • Soli's iron fist

Mario's Mansion 4

There was no Mario's Mansion game in 2014. Coming off of RMN All-Stars, RMN World, Last King of Hyrule, Castles Masterpiece Set 1 and 2, etc, I was honestly burnt out on SMBX. I think a lot of people were. Between that and the fact that I felt I had botched MM3 pretty badly, I was in no mood to try putting another game together. But it wasn't long before I began tossing around ideas again. I still really wanted to see a Mario's Mansion game with a world map, and the boss of the Hall of Illusions was something I had wanted to make for a long time. Much like Kamek, this game was destined to return the next Halloween.

By September 2015 I had set plans into motion. I wanted to make another Mario's Mansion game, but this time I would learn from my mistakes, namely the things that didn't work in the earlier games, and the things hali and Addit had told me had bothered them in their reviews. The lack of story in MM3 was a turn off for them, so I decided to go the understated route; the same style of story-telling that had worked so well in Mario vs the Moon Base; telling the story through level design. Much like each step of Mario's quest brought him closer to the moon, so too would each step of Mario's quest through Ghostly Hollow bring him closer to Kamek. Mario must sneak in through an outside door in the gardens and take an elevator to get higher in the manor, with the implied goal of reaching the top, where Kamek awaits. A trap sends him back to a lower level. The final few levels are vertically-aligned as Mario races up the tower. Non-essential NPCs give hints, motivation, and context to your quest without telling you their life story.

I also wanted to further push the unique angle of the game play by incorporating more puzzle solving and item use in the game. Again I took inspiration from Castlevania here. Boomerangs and holy water would both make appearances as additional power-ups. Increased emphasis on environmental puzzles as well as Mario's underutilized ability to pick up and throw objects would see increased usage. I briefly considered making the entire game a hunt for keys to solve the level, ala Donkey Kong '94 but I thought an idea like that was a little too much of a genre shift. I will likely explore this idea in a later game, however.

I also knew trying to do another open community game would be a mistake; trying to force a narrative on a free-wheeling Halloween event just wasn't a good idea. I decided I might reach out to people who had worked on past MM entries, but some of them weren't even around anymore, and frankly I was afraid a lot of them were still mad at me over MM3. The only person I actually contacted was actually Hali, who hadn't worked on MM3 but did write a review. He declined, citing scheduling concerns, though he did mention he might be open to being a tester later.

When the No-RM event was announced a few days later, I decided I would just make the game solo and enter it in the contest. however, I realized too late that the contest didn't officially start until October, and I had done too much work already to be eligible. But since I had the framework, and enough time and ideas to make a full game, I decided I would push forward anyway, hopefully making a Mario's Mansion game that's fun and addresses all the weaknesses of the previous entries.

By pure chance, my finishing up MM4 happened to coincide with Deckiller's return, and since he hadn't been involved with MM3 I decided I'd ask him to test the game, along with hali. We spent a few weeks hammering out the details and ultimately Mario's Mansion arose from the grave in 2015.

There will likely be another Mario's Mansion game next year. I have ideas for it. But it will likely represent a return to the anything goes strategy of past events. I got to make the game I envisioned. It's only fair that I give the series back to everyone.


What's this?

That's right, RMN's quasi-annual Halloween Mario game has returned in 2015!

Except this time it was pretty much made by just me.

But why would I co-opt what has traditionally been a team/community game to just make a game myself? Well, actually, at first I was going to run it as a group event, but I ended up not doing so for a couple reasons.

1. The No-RM event started up around the same time I planned to start this, and I thought 'hey, I could just make a game myself and enter it!" but alas I started the game before October, which means this game doesn't qualify. Even though no one would have ever known but me, I am a man of honor. A very confused and selective honor, but honor nonetheless.

2. The scope of the game, from the design and style and consistency of graphics and mechanics for the game I had in mind was just totally incompatible with a game made by a group of people. It just wasn't going to happen without me pointing a gun at everyone on the team, and nobody would think that was fun except for me.

3. I am a really bad team leader. I was honestly really reluctant to contact anyone who had worked on Mario's Mansion 3 to try to put together yet another game where I try to force my will onto an unwilling group of people who are happier just doing their own thing.

So no, in the end, this game wasn't destined to be a group effort. It would have just ended with everyone being unhappy again. If you think less of me for being so narcissistic that the only way for me to be happy with a community game is to just make it myself I guess I'll accept that.

Which isn't to say I made this game without help. halibabica and Deckiller (neither of whom were connected with the fiasco that was Mario's Mansion 3) were willing and able testers for this project. halibabica helped out with a lot of graphics and technical concerns, and Deckiller even made a guest level where he took pains to match the style and tone of the game I had made. I appreciate both of their help! Tell them both how great they are!

There were a lot of reasons I wanted to make this game, which I might touch on in a later blog post. For now though, I'll say this is the Mario's Mansion game I had envisioned since Mario's Mansion 2 but was never able to achieve for various reasons. Now that I've finally got this game out of my system, Mario's Mansion can return to being a free-wheeling community event without that Grinch Solitayre coming to ruin it for everyone.

I had a lot of fun making this game and think it's pretty good. I hope you all like it.

Happy Halloween!
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