A lot happens to a person in six years, but one thing has remained consistent for me: I’ve been checking in on Super Mario Maker player Braden “ChainChompBraden” Moor and their attempt to, day after day, to finish a level of their own making, a monstrosity called Trials of Death. Six years and 4,368 hours later, Braden has finally defeated Trials of Death.
“It was unreal,” said Moor, whose accomplishment went down last Friday, in an interview with Waypoint. “Not only was I unable to process it then, but days later I still feel like I haven't processed it yet.”
Here’s a glimpse at how difficult Trials of Death is:
In September 2016, I first wrote about Moor, who at that time had spent 16 days trying to finish the mighty Trials of Death. 385 hours—16 days—seemed like an eternity. Nearly a year later, Moor had spent more than 1,500 hours on the same task. Then, it was another six months and nearly 2,000 hours. Another year went by, and Moor had cracked 2,600 hours.
When this journey started, Moor figured it would take at least 500 hours to beat. Not quite.
"Every time I found myself improving," he said in 2016, "I started feeling as though the level didn't meet my expectations in terms of difficulty. That's part of the reason why this has been such a long project. It's an endless cycle of improvement. It's now reached the point where due to the limitations of the game's level editor, I literally cannot add anything more to the level. The version of the level I have now will be what I ultimately challenge myself to upload."
The last time I checked in with Moor was December 2020. Moor had been playing Trials of Death, for 3,353 hours, or roughly 140 days. It was at that point I decided to stop checking in, and wait for victory to come. Many times over the years, it almost happened. Almost.
When Moor plays Trials of Death on Twitch, it’s unlike most streamers, who drop a camera into the corner and provide commentary along the way. Instead, Moor diligently logs on, plays hours of Trials of Death, and has some music in the background. There is a chat for people to keep themselves occupied, but it’s a bit like attending a sports event, where you’re there to witness what’s happening, and hope tonight’s the night. It’s not dissimilar to the baseball fans who’ve been showing up purely to see if they can be part of history, as Yankees slugger Aaron Judge attempted a record-breaking 62nd homer in a single season.
Eventually, much like Judge this week in Texas, Moor did it.
The run itself started, like most others, unremarkable. Moor was playing Trials of Death, and a rock song was blaring in the background. (His streams are frequently muted in places by Twitch’s strict copyright rules.) “TWO DAYS IN A ROW,” remarked one person in chat, noting that Moor had made it past a particularly tricky section twice recently, a feat in and of itself.
At no point, even as the end approached, had Moor internalized this could be it.
“Not even within the last couple sections,” he said. “The only thought I had was that I would be able to share another really good run I had with everyone. I didn't even consider that it would be the run.”
There’s reason for skepticism, because Moor has been at the gates before, only to stumble. The level does not become easier as it goes along, and frequently Moor will stream Trials of Death and not come anywhere close to finishing on most runs. That’s the nature of the level.
“Even on the final section I wasn't even thinking about the possibility of beating it that attempt,” said Moor. “Although it wasn't my first time in the last area, a few months prior I had actually tweaked the ending to make one of the jumps even harder than it was before. I was about to get my first chance at the ‘new’ jump, and I was ready to call that in itself the progress for the day. But to my—and everyone watching's surprise—I hit the jump.”
You can see the excitement happen in chat as everything seems in reach:
“LETS GOOOO” shouted one person in chat.
“PLWEASE” said another.
And then, finally, victory.
“I WAS HERE,” said someone in chat.
The attraction of being present for a moment like this, especially on Twitch, is seeing the reaction of the person who’d put in so much time and effort to pull off an impossible feat. In this case, Moor’s gameplay was there, we could see him moving his fingers, but the moment was in many ways anticlimactic. We saw a completion screen, followed by a harsh reminder of how long Moor has been playing this game on the now-ancient Wii U, a dead console:
“The course-uploading feature is no longer available,” read a statement from the game. “Please enjoy playing the courses that have already been uploaded.”
In March 2021, Nintendo shut down the ability to upload new levels to Super Mario Maker. In both the original and its sequel, Super Mario Maker 2, players can make whatever levels they’d like, but in order to share it with the world, they must prove the level is beatable. Once that’s done, it can be uploaded and played by others. For years, Moor was playing Trials of Death for personal pride and a chance to share it.
"People are once again definitely pulling for me to try and get this thing up before uploading is no longer an option," Moor said to me in 2020, "but if it doesn't happen in time for that, the true end goal of me clearing the level is still going to happen. Not too many people were ever lining up to play the level for themselves. They all just want to see the clear happen, and that's still going to be delivered whether it's on the servers or not."
March 2021 came and went, and so did the ability to upload Trials of Death. The only copy of the level that exists should be on Moor’s own Wii U, except that in the dark of night, Moor had a backup plan.
As chat erupted in celebration, the one indication we had that Moor was enjoying the moment was the screen dimming a bit, the result of the Wii U controller not being touched. He also dropped into chat to promise they would come back, with voice turned on, later.
The moment was not just shared on stream, but with friends and family, who were also aware of the time Moor had been spending fruitlessly—until now—trying to beat this level.
“My excitement was all internal,” said Moor. “They [my family and friends] reacted much more enthusiastically, and because I still hadn't processed the magnitude of what I had just done, I almost thought they were overreacting to the news. They all knew it was a regular part of my routine.”
There was one person who needed to know pretty quickly, though.
“A long time ago back when the level wasn't nearly as big of a deal as it is today, a friend had promised to buy me a blizzard from Dairy Queen when I completed it,” said Moor. “I broke the news to him simply by telling him he now owed me a blizzard. Maybe that was secretly the motivation all along.”
It’s also sinking in that Trials of Death is over—the evil defeated. It was part of his life, like the sun rising and falling.
“These following days I still have the idea in my head that I'm going to be streaming attempts later in the day only for reality to hit me again,” said Moor. “I'm super happy to have completed it, but it wasn't some tedious project some people imagine it as. It was enjoyable. Especially with a big community of people behind me following my journey. It's been bittersweet for a lot of people. As one friend of the community put it, I was always a constant. ‘Grass is green. Sky is blue. Braden is doing attempts.’ Some are saying we may have fallen into a different timeline. The queen died and I finished my level. Two things many people didn't think would ever happen.”
The community Moor has built over these past six years remains important to him, and so while it’s not clear what will happen next, Moor isn’t going to give up on them, and will return to stream…something. For the moment, Moor is getting a quiet moment to take a breath.
Maybe they’ll spend some time at Dairy Queen with a friend who owes him a favor, too.
“Haven't cashed it in yet,” said Moor, “but I usually go strawberry cheesecake.”