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What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Printable Version

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What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Flashman85 - 05-06-2017

For the benefit of anyone aspiring to host, judge, or design levels for future contests—not to mention anyone who wants to make a fangame of their own—I'd like to discuss what lessons we can learn from Make a Good Mega Man Level Contest 1 and 2.

Specifically, I'm looking for insights on organizing and judging the contests; perspectives on being a contestant or just someone who's played/watched the final products; observations about level design (including the submitted levels, judge levels, and hubs); reactions to the special weapons and upgrades; thoughts about the graphics, music, and dialogue; tips on programming and designing custom assets...basically, any wisdom you can share regarding any aspect of the contests or games.

The goal is to come up with a sort of "do's and don'ts" list for the general public. I am fully expecting some friendly jokes at the expense of others, but let's try to focus on being helpful and analyzing the contests as a whole—not so much the specific people involved.

If you've somehow missed out on either game, here are some handy links:
MaGMML1 contest thread and download page
MaGMML1 results livestreams
MaGMML2 contest thread (no download yet)
MaGMML2 results livestreams

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - lizardcommando - 05-06-2017

I learned that enemy spam could really make or break a level.

Also, make sure you playtest your level using BOTH keyboard and game controller. Sometimes a level could be much harder due to the controller you are using. Think about how other players will be playing your levels.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Doctor Novakaine - 06-06-2017

As a first-time level creator, I learned just how much work it is, and got a new respect for people who can put together an entire GAME of this stuff. Especially with original assets! I learned a ton about myself and my own approaches, strengths, and weaknesses as well during this experience, which I'm sure will make my future levels much stronger (and I have ideas coming up! I'm really looking forward to testing some new things that could be really nifty!).

On a broader level, I think it might be a good idea to have the engine thoroughly tested and the bug fixing done before the mass of construction starts. There was a huge amount of bug fixing going on during and after the contest submissions were actually in, and it led to situations where objects didn't behave as intended in the final levels. Don't get me wrong, I'm very glad an extensive amount of effort went into bug testing! But it can leave uncertainty about how the final product actually turns out, since you don't know if what you put in gets changed. My brother's been badgering me to talk about implementing some sort of macro for automatically running each level after bugfixes to make sure that nothing gets broken beyond repair, but I'm not convinced that's really doable or at least worth the amount of time it would take; I think just having things more settled before people get into the construction would be preferable.

(Of course there's always going to have to be bug fixes, but hopefully with a settled engine they'll be much fewer and will be unlikely to have impact beyond a level or two.)

I like the special weapons and upgrades a lot overall! (Though it pains me that it takes so long to get the Energy Saver, haha.) I think there's a pretty good balance and I think that that kind of balance should be given heavy consideration when we decide on the next set. However, I think that whatever gets decided for special weapons, I think the utilities should stick with this set. Quite honestly, I think we've got the best selections we're going to get - Rush Coil and Jet are standbys, and Super Arrow and Wire provide some unique opportunities. And Super Arrow, I think, pretty much covers most of the other potential utilities (other than Rush Marine) that could be used in terms of functionality - it's pretty much all three MM2 items in one, and Balloon is just Item 1 recolored.

I think the hub layout is fine - I don't think it necessarily has to be straightforward, and it does encourage exploration and encountering other important locations in the hub for people who wouldn't be otherwise inclined to explore (though I'm one who does have that tendency). I'm a bit concerned about lag and load times, for obvious reasons, but I'll be interested to see what those are like when the game's ported over to Studio. I also like that the Noble Nickels have some concrete function rather than just being bragging rights rewards. That's something that should encourage people to include them in future contest levels.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - MiniMacro - 06-06-2017

i learnt that there are enemy types that aren't shielded !
in all seriousness, i learnt several things about enemy placement

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Flashman85 - 06-06-2017

I second Doctor Novakaine's sentiment about thoroughly testing the engine before distributing the devkit to contestants. I applaud the MaGMML2 devs for putting such a strong emphasis on playtesting and bugfixing, and it was smart to let contestants test out an in-progress devkit before the contest opened. I also recognize that there are SO many objects that can interact with each other (even before taking custom objects into account), and that fixing one thing can break something else. But I remember there was a mad rush to fix as much as possible the night before the contest opened, which is part of why there's still so much playtesting delaying the game despite that the results are in. I think the other lesson here, which is reflected in the game's new release date of "whenever it's done," is to let the content drive the deadlines (and not the other way around).

I'll toss out a few things I've learned:

- Playtest your level. Extensively. Get other people of varying skill and experience levels to play your level at different stages of development. It's amazing what people who think and play differently from you will discover.

- Make sure your level can be beaten (a) without taking damage, and (b) using the buster only. It doesn't necessarily need to be easy, but it should be feasible. If for whatever reason you feel it necessary to include unavoidable damage or forced weapon usage, make sure the player can't get stuck if they arrive at the challenge with one bar of health and no ammo.

- Place a checkpoint every 6-12 screens. The more difficult or time-consuming a section is, the more frequent the checkpoints should be. Don't forget to place freebie power-ups where you think a player might start running low on health or ammo. Even the best challenges can be utterly ruined if the player needs to keep redoing them.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - NaOH - 07-06-2017

(06-06-2017, 06:08 PM)Flashman85 Wrote: - Place a checkpoint every 6-12 screens. The more difficult or time-consuming a section is, the more frequent the checkpoints should be. Don't forget to place freebie power-ups where you think a player might start running low on health or ammo. Even the best challenges can be utterly ruined if the player needs to keep redoing them.

This is really true, but also strange. The goal of the contest is to make a good Mega Man Level, and classic Mega Man levels always have 3 checkpoints (including the boss corridor), except for some Wily stages which can have fewer.

If your level is standing alone, 3 checkpoints is fine. But when playing 81 levels in a row, it can be very tiresome to play a level without tons of checkpoints.

In this regard, I think that good design for a level design contest differs from expected design for a classic Mega Man level.

That said, I actually prefer playing Rock Force on 4 checkpoint mode for much the same reason (a lack of patience), so maybe there's something deeper here about game design in general.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Entity1037 - 07-06-2017

Good level design for a level design contest differs from the expected design of an official Mega Man level because what you would expect to be good design of official Mega Man levels is of a specific design style and mentality. This is because deviation from the normal style and mentality of an official game in said game would make the game less cohesive. Level design contests don't have that cohesion problem. The contests allow and encourage any and all kinds of design styles and mentalities, so there is no expected standard of cohesion when playing all of the submissions. This means that what's considered good level design for the contests encompass anything and everything that could be considered good level design in general. I mean, my level LITERALLY HAS FORCED DEATH, and I got second place!

However, what can be considered good level design in MaGMML2 does fundamentally differ from the official games due to the lack of lives, which changes what kinds of stuff you can put in your level and still have it be reasonable. You can create extremely difficult, long stages that would be insane to ever do with a normal live system, but with the penalty of a game over taken out, death becomes a lot less punishing, and allows a stage like that to be manageable.

Honestly with Rock Force, I think that game just really has issues with its checkpoint frequency. Like the thought of playing that game with anything but the highest setting of checkpoints makes me shudder. The problem is that it forces the amount of checkpoints in all of the stages to be the same. There are stages that are easier than others, and stages that are way longer and harder than others like Port Man, whose stage even with the highest setting of checkpoints still needs more checkpoints, since its puzzles take so long. That, and it seems to space its checkpoints evenly throughout the stages by distance rather than by the amount of work the player has done. This game needs to either change the checkpoint setting to have more broad options and add in the necessary checkpoints for all of the stages, or to change the design of all of the levels to properly fit the fixed amount of checkpoints.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Flashman85 - 07-06-2017

I see the potential for veering off topic here (though it's an interesting line of conversation), so I'll post a reply in a spoiler and toss out another bullet point to steer us back.

- If you're going to make a crossover level of any sort, make sure it's clear to the player (or, at the very least, to the judges) exactly what franchise(s) you're referencing. Unless it's the type of level that looks like it could plausibly fit in the Mega Man universe, the perceived quality will probably depend a great deal on whether or not the player/judge gets the reference.

Here's how I did the math on the checkpoints: official Mega Man levels tend to average around 25 screens, give or take. So, 12 screens is roughly the distance from the start to the midway point and from the midway point to the boss antechamber. Taking into consideration that fangames have a reputation for being more difficult than the official games, doubling the checkpoint frequency (so, 6 screens) seems wise. Thus, a checkpoint every 6-12 screens.

One thing to consider about the 3-checkpoint standard of the official games is that there's usually a natural break in the challenge progression before things start to ramp up again. It's not "beginning, middle, and end" so much as "checkpoint between challenge arcs, checkpoint before the climax of the level." When levels start pushing beyond 30 screens, then we really do need to look at checkpoint placement in terms of challenge arcs instead of halfway points (which is one thing MM8 does pretty well). Enforcing the 6-12 screens rule keeps the player from backtracking too much, but equally importantly, it helps focus the challenges and periodically gives players a chance to steel themselves for the next set of challenges.

Also, having fewer checkpoints puts an emphasis on endurance, and having more plentiful checkpoints puts an emphasis on being able to see the whole level, regardless of skill or experience. In a game like MaGMML, the latter is definitely preferable. Ultimately, I would say the mark of a good Mega Man level (at least in terms of checkpoint placement) is ensuring the player is offered a fair chance to succeed; forcing exactly 3 or 4 checkpoints because "that's how many all the other levels have" is kinda like packing 3 or 4 pairs of underwear for a trip without knowing how long you'll be away.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - ACESpark - 07-06-2017

Checkpoints are a major point in stage design though, and its easy to get wrong.

I know how I handle checkpoints in Revolution and Quint's Revenge 2:
Did the player just go through a segment that would get old fast on replays (such as a yoku block segment, a puzzle, or a timed segment where the player cannot really influence how long it takes to complete)?
Has the player bypassed a instant-death obstacle or three?
Have they fought a batch of enemies that can easily kill a player not playing to their best?
Are they going to fight a boss of some sort?
Have they JUST fought a boss of some sort?

If any of these apply, I stick in a checkpoint. Sometimes this means there are a few checkpoints in the stage. Sometimes it means there are many. In the modern gaming era, with so many free games out there, it is probably best to allow more players of varying skill levels to complete your game, rather than just a elite few who can master your game. A player's tolerance for replaying things now-a-days is severely lessened, because often a player will simply shut off a frustrating game and never go back to it. I'm not saying the game should just hand victory to a player, but players already redoing things they have already completed often increases the frustration levels, especially if they die a lot.

Particularly for bosses and minibosses, as these challenges require different skills to platforming, and players are usually worse at boss fights than they are at platforming, I've found. Mega Man usually enforces boss checkpoints for end of stage bosses, but I feel mid-bosses should also get this luxury, as it is still a new challenge. If you have a long boss fight, consideration should also be put into having checkpoints between phases.

I also second the "crossover" thing - there were so many levels where I simply didn't get the reference. A level needs to stand by itself.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - JupiHornet - 07-06-2017


Also make sure your gimmicks are introduced well, although that wasn't too much of an issue in this contest's levels.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - IcyTower - 07-06-2017

I learned if playtester says do something then you must do it Big Grin

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - gone-sovereign - 07-06-2017

Same as Doctor Novakaine above me, this was my first time doing anything level-design related. I had wanted to participate in MaGMML2 from the get-go, and I got that chance, but going in I still hadn't quite realized what that entailed. I took it at first as an opportunity to flaunt my artistic ability, and while that certainly got me far, I failed to grasp the nuances of good game design. The folks who had play-tested my level in its earliest stages can attest to this; it was enemy spam-happy, it didn't introduce any enemies or gimmicks properly, and it had some really bad design choices. After a few sessions of play-testing, I got serious -- I actually started to listen to other people's insights about level design, I took their criticisms to mind, and I did something about them. In this sense, MaGMML2 was very much a learning experience.

More than anything, though, I learned what NOT to do: I learned that I shouldn't have used GXSCC as my stage music (after I learned was GXSCC actually was). I learned not to throw a bunch of enemies and gimmicks together without properly introducing them first. I learned that my choice of setting probably wasn't the most thematically appropriate for a Mega Man level. I learned that breaking my level up into sections, each of which had little to do with the section that came before it or after it, was probably not the best idea. I learned that using conveyor belts for a Mecha Dragon fight was a horrible idea, though I maintain that if I'd just arranged the conveyor belts differently I could've still made it work. Overall, making a good Mega Man level is HARD. I know that now, and I know that I probably shouldn't have tried to go into this contest without first understanding that. It was just good fortune I suppose that granted me 21st place.

In lieu of my self-deprecating though, I also learned that maybe I have been a bit too hard on myself. I literally sat around for three months after the deadline unable to start or finish anything art-related because I felt so embarrassed by my level that I viewed it as a catastrophic failure and I wasn't going to be able to get over it until after the results came out. At the end, I still think my level isn't nearly as good as 21st place, but that result completely obliterated my piss-poor expectations. I did what I set out to do with my level: I spent a lot of time focusing on the graphics of my level, and making sure they were the best they could be. Even though in hindsight I could've done more with my graphics, the reactions I got were generally positive. Herein lies my struggle as an artist, though: I'm always pushing myself to do better. I chastise myself for things I could have done better in hindsight, and if the end result doesn't live up to my standards, I'll start to think that it's shit. This was an instance where despite my harsh self-criticisms, the end result wasn't as shit as I thought it was after all. Certainly there are things I'd like to go back and fix on my level even now that the contest is over, but since any of the changes I could make now won't be contributing to anything, I suppose I should just let it be and move on. Like I've said before, I'll take all of these lessons I've learned and I'll be back for round 3. Next time I won't be so stupid. Wink

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Lamda - 07-06-2017

That y'all are a bunch of filthy casuls
And also to try to work around shitty life scheduling more than I did already (whichwasstillalotokay).

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - liquafool - 08-06-2017

Following what Lamda said I learned that the time I allowed myself to work on a level was not sufficient (for me) to create any kind of focused experience. Because I worked on my entry in a short period of time, however, I got a glimpse of how I might fair in something like a game jam. I learned what I tend to prioritize, and what I'm so clueless about that it will require more research or practice.

As my first attempt at level design, I also got to see how I tend to create environments and how that clashes with the experience I actually intend to create. I'm not happy at all with what the end product of the level I made was but loved the experience because of that. 10/10 would submit again.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Lamda - 08-06-2017

In fairness and for clarity's sake, due to really crap work scheduling at the time I had very literally a matter of just a few hours to both learn 8.1 (which I had never used prior and likely never will again as this whole thing reinforced my opinions on 8.1 being absolute trash) and the engine itself (I ain't even gonna go into my gripes with the engine setup), on top of formulating and making a level--not even counting nonstop every-new-addition playtesting since I of course had no time to have others test it themselves. The...thing I entered was so rushed even X3 and X6 don't wanna look at it.

It comes as no surprise, consequentially, that it wound up being shitty. But hey, I got one done in such a massively restrictive timeframe at least, and it placed two tiers higher than I'd thought it would.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Blackhook - 08-06-2017

I've learned that I am completely unable to make games or stages even when everything is handed to me on a silver platter.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Smedis2 - 08-06-2017

start work before schedule and don't rush

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Mick Galbani - 08-06-2017

Oh boy... I have a lot of different things I've learned (or am learning) through these two contests. In the interest of keeping things organized, I'll be arranging these insights into different sections, based on where I think they best fit.

Insights About Entering

Be willing to kill, or otherwise replace ideas. Not every idea you come up with is good, or is going to work. You have to be willing to put aside ideas that aren't working, and if you have to, replace them with something that will. Don't keep something in your entry if it's not working out.

Investigate anything your testers mention to you. Your testers are your most valuable resource. Anything they say to you, investigate it further. If it needs fixing, then fix it. If you don't understand what they're telling you, try to get elaboration before working with it. Failing to do anything with tester advice can be costly.

Insights About Judging

Make absolutely sure you know what you're getting into. This is pretty self-explanatory. Being an entrant is more stressful, but being an effective judge is a LOT harder than entering a contest. You really have to know what you're getting into when you decide to do this. Ask questions of the organizer, familiarize yourself with the game's engine, do everything possible to know what you're getting into. I didn't do this when I was judging MaGMML1, and as a result there were important aspects of the position that I was not prepared for.

Play the levels more than once before actually finalizing your score. This sounds like common sense, but it's a mistake that's easily made. Don't just play levels once before finalizing your scores. You never know when a better/worse level will come along.

NEVER score a level from memory. Again, this sounds like common sense, but if you're going to mess with your level's score, do it while the level's fresh in your mind. If you're going back to your score, replay the level first. If you try to score based on old memories, be prepared to adjust them when you do replay it (thus wasting your earlier effort). If you finalize based on old memories, be fully prepared to disagree with your scores.

Word your judge comments properly. This is an important one. Your comment is your justification for your score. Do NOT skimp on explanations. Failing this is one way to tick people off and lose respect as a judge. You MUST explain yourself in a way that will be understood. Especially if the organizer doesn't include the score breakdown.

Make your judge stage as good as you possibly can. This is extremely important. With the nature of this contest, a lot of your 'validity' is riding on your judge stage. If your stage is bad, or even mediocre, don't be surprised if people ignore or belittle your contributions and advice. I've found there's a fairly prevalent belief that if you can't walk the walk, then you have no right to talk the talk. The more disagreeable, or otherwise 'controversial' your opinions, the more important this gets.

Insights About Contest Organization

Be upfront about all entry-related content. This is based on experiences from both MaGMML1 and MaGMML2. You need to be clear what can happen with the stuff in people's entries. Not just things like the Wily Castle potentially re-using entry assets, but even things like what completing the entries will be unlocking. For example, there's a pretty significant difference between not needing all of the elements (what was stated in the MaGMML2 entry rules), and needing all of the elements to unlock a bunch of bonus content (as stated by the explanation sign in Light's Lab on Flashman's stream).

Lock down certain aspects of the devkit early. As we saw on Flashman's recent stream, there were a few levels that were broken when he played them that were definitely not broken when the judges played them (judging by the glitches not coming up in judge comments). I'd assume some of those elements had their code modified for some reason between the submission period and the results stream. Given the size of these contests, that kind of re-coding shouldn't be allowed unless it's fixing massive game-breaking bugs. There's too much potential for things to break.

Regarding any and all Fangame cameos, try to get permission first. This should be self-explanatory. If at all possible, get permission before using someone else's stuff. CAPCOM may be cool with us using their characters like this (far as I'm aware anyway), but when it comes to other fan creations this is a different beast. There's been enough issues with this over both contests that I'd strongly recommend this be considered for the next one. Not to mention it's also rude not to ask.

Don't, rush, anything. This really applies to all three positions, but I think it's most important here. Rushing anything leads to poor results, and when organizing one of these, your decision to rush things will rush everyone else involved. Simultaneously, you still need to set deadlines. Preferably well in advance so people know when they're coming. If you let things sit too long, then your audience will start pressuring you into rushing, and that's not much better.

If I come up with more useful insights, I'll add them in a separate post.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - Flashman85 - 13-06-2017

I'll toss out a few more insights:

Keep an eye on level length. This is both the number of screens (typically 20-30) and the amount of time it takes to complete the level (typically 3-5 minutes, once you know what you're doing). Longer levels are OK, but there needs to be enough creativity and variety in the challenges to justify the length, and the difficulty and pacing need to be balanced enough to keep players engaged. Just as aspiring chefs should practice making small meals before they cater a whole banquet, aspiring level designers should practice making short levels before attempting a level that's a game unto itself.

Clearly communicate expectations to the player. If your level is intended to be played a certain way, whether that's using special weapons or taking a pacifist approach or never pressing left, you need to train players to think like you do. Show them that playing the "wrong way" won't get them through the level. Require players to demonstrate their understanding before they are allowed to proceed, and support their learning with audiovisual clues and clear cause and effect.

Use the official games as a template for your graphics. Look at how many different types of tiles are used, and how they fit together. Notice the use of shadows along the ceiling. Observe how spikes and bottomless pits are clearly distinguishable from normal walls and passageways. Consider the color palette, the amount of detail in the foreground and background, and how enemies and obstacles look against their surroundings. No matter how far the graphics have come since MM1, the core artistic principles have remained largely the same.

RE: What Have We Learned From MaGMML1 and 2? - M-Jacq - 09-10-2017

Something that playing MAGMML2 reminded me: Make sure you can't die after the boss does. There's nothing worse than beating a difficult boss, then getting hit by a stray bullet or falling into a pit and having to do the fight over again. There's a reason Kaizo Mario is such a meme...