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Ok I decided I wanna talk about my process of designing this level. Buckle up!!
So the initial idea came from the concept of "what if the original Bowser fight from SMB were given a big overhaul and seriously beefed up?"
But the first draft was way different. It featured multiple floors and you'd have to get past Bowser to drop the floor out and fall down to the next floor, but that proved way too janky for so many reasons

Bowser's AI refused to cooperate in any game style, and because you and him had to drop down to the next arena, there couldn't be anything to get snagged on. Even the on/off switches on the walls caused problems--Bowser kept standing on them and wouldn't fall to the next floor
Try as I did, my jank reduction measures just weren't enough to fix the level. I was severely limited in what I could do
So push came to shove and I decided to go back to the drawing board. This time there would be no dropping floors, just running past Bowser again and again in the same room while the heat slowly turns up
I made a copy of the level and started making some changes. The only thing that stayed was the pre-boss room, which is still in the level!

First, I changed the style to NSMBU. I chose the style for its wall jumps, Bowser AI, and that sweet, sweet final boss music
The Bowser arena went through a ton of iterations. Originally there weren't semisolids to jump on, just the switches, and an offscreen mechanism would activate a bunch of pow blocks once you hit the switches about five times
But even after squeezing it really close to the camera border, the mechanism just refused to work offscreen. It couldn't just activate one pow, cause Bowser could be jumping when it went off and then you'd be stuck forever, so finally I caved and made the mechanism give you a key
Then, after the base boss was working, it was time to add the changes that would happen to the arena as you hit the switches! Some early ideas were sawblades on tracks, but I decided to keep the mechanism simple and just have it drop enemies instead
Originally the mechanism dropped two enemies at once, one for each side, but I quickly realized that meant they could fall right on your head, so I had it drop them on the opposite side of the player
The enemies I ended up using changed a lot too. The mechanism I used imposed some tough restrictions. Only solid, 1-tile high enemies would work, so my options were limited
I eventually settled on goombas first (to introduce the dropping enemies mechanic) then dry bones (to add some pressure on the semisolids) and then unchained chomps (to make the floor way more dangerous!)
The reason you drop into the arena from above is so that all the enemies in the mechanism can load. The autoscrolling keeps the screen focused on the arena so you don't have to worry about the camera while you fight
While working on the Bowser fight, I was toying with the idea of making it a boss rush, and I decided to go for it around the time I was tying up Bowser
The other two bosses had a huge share of changes as well. I didn't go into them with a concept in mind, so I had to experiment a lot to find cool gameplay ideas!
The double Boom Boom boss started out as a quick test with Bowser Jr. I thought it'd be cool to lure him into the lava to defeat him, but he refused to fall off, so I switched him to Boom Boom, who's way more clumsy
I stacked a big Muncher on Boom Boom so you couldn't just jump on him, but the fight didn't end up feeling interesting enough--it was over in an instant!
So I decided it would be cool if you had to wall jump over him to reach an on/off switch that would get rid of the sides of the platform so Boom Boom could fall in, but even that went by too quickly and wasn't very fun to execute once you figured out the puzzle
I then decided to add an extra step--you'd have to lure him over some dotted line blocks and then run to the other side and ground pound a switch to take him out
This caused SO many problems though. During testing I found out that Boom Boom bumps against a wall three times before jumping over it, BUT, he can amazingly remember which walls he's learned to jump over and will afterward cut to the chase and just jump without bumping
This was a huge problem because this didn't afford the player nearly enough time to get to the other side of they let Boom Boom learn the walls, so I tried tons of different ways to confuse his AI, such as one way walls, conveyors, and blocks on tracks that created moving walls
Eventually I had to throw in the towel and just leave it in, but I did move the switches just a bit closer together so it's at least *possible*, though really difficult to pull off
The last change was to swap the muncher with another boom boom--I wanted to give him an extra hit point because, even after all that, he STILL was going by too fast
The second boss also started as something very different. Originally I liked the idea of Boom Boom and Bowser Jr. being best friends, so I tried stacking them on each other
The fight turned out a bit hectic and uninteresting though, so I tried giving Boom Boom wings so that, once you bounced on him, he'd fall off Bowser Jr. and start swooping around to attack you
I was actually satisfied with this version for a little bit, but after testing it multiple times I just wound up deciding it was too boring and needed more flavor
To continue the trend of damaging bosses in unconventional ways, I tried stacking a muncher on Jr. so that you couldn't damage him just by jumping on him. Originally I wanted to force the player to wall jump to get past him--it was becoming a running theme in the level after all
That didn't work well enough though, so I kept him short and continued working. In order to add a way to defeat him, I wanted a Lakitu to drop red koopas into the arena. That way there would be more to dodge than just Jr and his fireballs
I liked the idea of the player's weapon also being a hazard, so I implemented that and tested it a ton
The problem, though, kept being that there were too many koopas parachuting in the air, especially around the sides where the player's maneuvering space was slim. I solved this with the funky ceiling here! Lakitu won't throw anything when he's in front of solid blocks
I also changed the red koopas to Buzzy Beetles so they wouldn't clog up the platform. The red koopas kept piling up and making things crowded!
Finally, I noticed a player could get stuck if they took out Bowser Jr. while he was in front of the door, because the muncher would block it. Fortunately this was an easy fix, I just gave the muncher wings so it would flutter upward and give players a chance to slip through
The pre-boss rooms before the first two bosses were honestly not high priority. At one point I tried to theme them after the boss to come, but I abandoned that because it didn't always work out
The sawblades in Jr.'s pre-boss room are actually a remnant of an earlier version though! Originally, before scrapping the flying boom boom part of the fight, I tried turning up the heat with some sawblades on tracks running along the floor
The custom autoscroll was used because I wanted the camera to perfectly frame the boss rooms, even when they were preceded by a hallway. I was pretty picky about the camera in this level!
I chose custom scroll over regular scroll because, with regular scroll, you can still scroll the screen up and down about half a block no matter how hard you try to fix it. I can be a perfectionist at times
Finally, I wanted to make sure there wasn't a weird transitional room taking the player from the Bowser boss to the main area, since they'd have to go through a key door and then a pipe. I see a lot of levels do it really unceremoniously
Fortunately I got my wish with the solution to another problem: how do I use the ax at the end in a satisfying way?
Since every level has to have an axe or a flagpole, I always try my best to utilize those. Otherwise I feel the ending doesn't feel satisfying. So I decided to have one last confrontation with Bowser on the bridge
But I didn't want the player to die there, so I used the mandatory transitional room to give the player some powerups to ensure the ending was fun and not frustrating. This was when I finally came up with the story of the level!
In deciding to give the player a Yoshi to ensure they *really* wouldn't die, I realized it told an interesting story, it felt like you were rescuing Yoshi, so I built a cage for him and decided that would be the story of the level
I also put another Bowser up above the Yoshi room so you could hear him stomping around, foreshadowing the little ending confrontation. The implication is that he's going through the red pipes! Hopefully that translated, hehe
And finally, as for the powerups, I decided to use propellor suits because the fire flower broke a TON of the bosses. I especially didn't want it being used on Bowser, it made him really unfun to fight in my opinion and some players might be confused thinking it was mandatory
I chose to make them progressive powerups because it would string the bosses together in an interesting way, rewarding players for keeping their powerup in the previous boss. I also included a mushroom with the first dry bones that drops down in the Bowser fight
I think it also added an interesting dynamic where you could restart from the checkpoint and fight Bowser with just a mushroom, or you could reset and refight the previous bosses and try to reach Bowser with a propellor suit!
I thought the level was more fun without checkpoints, but I figured that would be too difficult, so I settled on rewarding the player for not using it. Besides, you can't get a fast time with checkpoints, so I figured it would still be fun for players who want an extra challenge
Whew, and that's almost the whole process! Told you this level had a lot that went into it! There's a few things I didn't even mention!
There's a couple teeny Easter eggs I left in the level too! You may find them if you do something unintended or unconventional, hehehe
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