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‘I wasn’t sure it was even possible’: the race to finish 80,000 levels of Super Mario Maker
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‘I wasn’t sure it was even possible’: the race to finish 80,000 levels of Super Mario Maker

On 14 March, Team 0% was close to finishing its seven-year mission to complete every single uncleared level in the 2015 Nintendo game Super Mario Maker – all 80,000 of them. Two hellish maps stood in their way: Trimming the Herbs and The Last Dance. And time was ticking. Nintendo had announced it was shutting down the game’s servers on 8 April, and if the levels weren’t completed by then, they would remain forever unfinished. Team 0% would fail at the last stretch of their marathon.

When Nintendo released Super Mario Maker for its Wii U console, it was packed with platforming levels made by its design team. But the game’s lasting appeal came from the tools it gave players to make their own levels that they could share online. The only barrier to uploading was that its creator must have completed the level at least once, proving that it was possible.

What they didn’t know was that one of the remaining levels was a fraud.

From the moment it launched, players found ways to twist Super Mario Maker’s tools to make ultra-punishing levels and novel creations, such as a functioning robot. A website launched alongside the game, Super Mario Maker Bookmark, that tracked all the uploaded levels and provided statistics on how many times each had been attempted, and whether they had been completed. In 2017 a Reddit user going by the0dark0one created a list of every as-yet-uncleared level. They couldn’t have known what it would inspire.

“I’m a bit of a perfectionist and can get really obsessed with something if I put my mind to it,” Jeffie, founder of Team 0%, says. “Seeing the list, I got into that obsessive mindset again.”

Anyone can create a level in Super Mario Maker, using the Wii U’s touchscreen and stylus to place obstacles and enemies.View image in fullscreen

On Christmas Eve 2017, Jeffie started a Discord server and invited a few friends to try to whittle down the0dark0one’s list. One of the first problems they faced was simply opening the thing; there was so much data that it would crash their browsers. They broke it down by year, focusing first on the levels that remained uncleared from 2015; even then, there were more than 13,000. “At first, I wasn’t sure if it was even possible, but it sounded like a fun challenge,” says Black60dragon, one of the founding members.

The small, dedicated group worked fast, clearing that first list in just eight months. But there were two problems: Super Mario Maker players uploaded new levels daily, so the pile of uncleared levels kept growing; and the creator community was constantly learning new tricks.

“With traditional Mario, there’s only so many ways you can jump over a ledge or squash a Goomba,” Black60dragon says, “but [in Super Mario Maker] your imagination is your limit.” Players made levels where you had to throw shells against walls and then bounce off them in mid-air to reach distant ledges, all requiring pixel-perfect precision and timing.

As Team 0% grew and encountered more of these tricks, they created training levels within Super Mario Maker that taught new players the special techniques they needed to beat challenging levels. “We practice these individual tricks for hours on end until they become second nature,” Black60dragon says.

At the time that Nintendo announced the server shutdown, Team 0% had reduced the pile to less than 5,000. But even working flat out, it would be tight to complete them all ahead of 8 April. “With that deadline looming, we really got serious about making this happen,” says Black60dragon.

In the final months, Team 0% had to clear nearly 100 levels a day to hit their target, and the levels that were left only became harder. Not only were they full of the tricks creators had learned over the years, but they were literal mazes of traps and enemies, often needing to be completed within short time limits.

One player, Fritzef, had the dexterity to tackle the most fiendish levels but struggled to path routes through them, so other players recorded clips of how to navigate each section and stitched them together into a map for him. Even then, it was hard work. “I sacrificed a lot of sleep in the final stretch,” Fritzef says, “but I have no regrets.”

By 14 March, with just 25 days left until their deadline, Team 0% had just two levels left to beat. One was genuine. The other one turned out to be a cheat.

The appropriately named The Last Dance was a maze of spikes, ghosts and spinning blades, punishing any missteps. It also requires stamina, demanding flawless play for more than two minutes. “It was on nobody’s radar before probably the last 10 levels,” Fritzef says.

Meanwhile, Trimming the Herbs was uploaded in 2017, and despite more than 200,000 attempts, it had never been beaten. It should take only 17 seconds to complete, but to do it, a player must pull off a string of frame-perfect jumps. It should be possible; its creator even shared a video of how to do it.

Then, on 15 March, a player called Kazeihinn cleared The Last Dance, leaving just Trimming the Herbs to go. All of Team 0% zoned in on completing the final level.

With just a few weeks to go until the server shutdown, and Team 0%’s best players throwing themselves at Trimming the Herbs, the community started to get suspicious. Some suggested that it might actually be impossible, and that it might have been made using something called a TAS (tool-assisted speedrun). A TAS would require hacking the Wii U in some way to allow frame by frame inputs, slowing the game down to make unerringly precise jumps and ducks possible. But there was no way to know for sure – until its creator came forward to admit to it.

“Trimming the Herbs was made to be unreasonably difficult and to cause a ruckus,” Ahoyo, the level’s creator, said in a statement, revealing they had used a TAS and were admitting to it now because they didn’t want to “deny Team 0% their victory”. And with that, it was done: more than 80,000 levels cleared. Super Mario Maker’s every legitimate challenge had been overcome.

Ayoho’s revelation dampened the celebrations somewhat, because it meant that when the final legitimate level, The Last Dance, was completed, it wasn’t recognised as the victory that it was. “For all of us, the ending was bittersweet because we know we earned it, but it’s such a disappointment,” moderator Louis_XIX says. “We’ve been too busy managing the outrage […] to really celebrate.”

There are still players trying to complete Trimming the Herbs before 8 April. But even if they don’t, it won’t diminish the phenomenal accomplishment of thousands of players coming together to complete a game that was never intended to be completed. If you’ve ever made a level in Super Mario Maker, you can now be sure that someone has taken the time to play through it at least once.

In their seven-year quest, Team 0% not only finished every level in Mario Maker: they also made sure that not a single player’s creation was left behind.

Source: theguardian.com