Every once and a while, I send an email to Braden Moor. Since January 2016, Moor has been trying to beat his absurd Super Mario Maker level, a nightmare he appropriately titled Trials of Death. I’ve written about Moor several times for Waypoint, at different points in his tireless and unsuccessful journey. The first time, he’d invested 385 hours into trying to finish it. Then, it was 1,500 hours. Now, it’s nearly 2,000 hours.
“It's hard to believe this is going into 2018 now,” said Moor in an email recently, “but I'm hoping it will be a new era of good attempts, progress, and hopefully even victory. I never know what to expect when I turn on the Wii U for a new session.”
Moor’s first run at Trials of Death was December 6, 2015. Trials of Death, if run without mistakes, can be beaten under Mario Maker’s 500 second time limit—just over eight minutes. Any moment of hesitation eats up seconds that could prove fatal.
In Mario Maker, players cannot upload their levels to the wider community until they prove it’s beatable by finishing it themselves. It’s a clever solution by Nintendo, forcing creators to put their money where their mouth is and prove a stage isn’t impossible.
To give you a sense of what Moor is up against, here’s a short clip from Trials of Death:
It’s utterly ridiculous, and outstrips what Moor originally envisioned. When I spoke to him in September 2016, at the 385-hour mark, he figured it would take about 500 hours to see the stage through. He’s gone far past that prediction.
One reason it’s taken so long is endless tinkering. Until last October, he’d make progress, only to conclude he’d been—and I promise I’m not joking—too easy on himself. Thus, Moore would make the level harder. When Nintendo ended the Miiverse, it also issued a small update for Mario Maker's social features. In the process, the company also broke a bunch of different physics tricks advanced players had been using. Because Moor wants to keep those intact, he can no longer change the level.
"Every time I found myself improving," he told me 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.”
In March 2017, Moor reached out because he felt he was on the verge of success. A string of good runs suggested the level was finally internalizing to his fingers. Of course, it didn’t happen. Nearly a year later, Moor is still waiting to see the upload screen.
“Sometimes I'll go into it with full determination,” he told me, “and other times I'll turn it on expecting nothing for the day. I might finish a session feeling great, having achieved several promising runs and showing spectacular consistency. Other times, I'll come up short handed and feel like no progress was made. But sometimes that's the reality of it. I have to push through all the bad sessions just to reach that next good one. I never lose motivation, and re-watching some of my best attempts to date makes me realize just how close I've come, and how my goal is absolutely realistic, and will be reached.”
Moor did point me towards a clip that proved there’s hope, however.
He manages to survive the majority of his self-created madness before succumbing to the sheer brutality of the last few sections. Moore has snuck through Trials of Death’s final tricks within the safer confines Mario Maker’s editor, but he’s still waiting for the day where he strings everything together and can move on. (Moor’s nearly 2,000 hours of play are split between actually playing the level and practicing sections in the editor because it let him drop Mario into specific sections tripping him up.)
At a time when most Nintendo fans have migrated to the company’s successful new platform, Switch, Moor is still picking up his Wii U GamePad and trying to upload a level for a community that’s understandably shrunk since Mario Maker’s peak. And though Nintendo has yet to announce a Mario Maker sequel for Switch, it seems inevitable, and the prospect weighs on Moor.
“I've been asked before if I would transfer my progress onto a theoretical sequel if one happens to be released before I'm finished,” he said. “While new mechanics and items may or may not exist, one thing is for sure: I don't think I'd be willing to lose so much consistency by attempting my level with any of the controllers the Switch has to offer. I'm going to stick it out with the Wii U GamePad. Even if the majority of players move on, I won't move on until I'm finished my level.”
Even if Nintendo decided to move on from Mario Maker and shut down the servers, he’s committed to finishing. At this point, it’s not about the rest of the world. It’s for him.
“I'm still not setting any deadlines for myself,” he said, “but I do have high hopes for 2018.”
Here’s hoping the next story I’m writing is about Braden beating the level.
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