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Millions of Deaths Later, Someone Beat This Nightmarish 'Mario Maker' stage

A one in 7.5 million chance means, eventually, someone is going to be that one in 7.5 million. Meet Josh.

by Patrick Klepek
May 31 2019, 7:41pm

Image courtesy of Nintendo

Unbelievable things happen to random people every day. Why not you? Or me? That’s been the dream of Super Mario Maker fans the past few days, as they’ve waited with bated breath to find out who the numerical cosmos would deem The Chosen One, the person granted that singular, one in 7.5 million chance to sail through a devilishly clever Mario stage that requires no action on the part of the player. No running, no jumping. Winning means being lucky, having so many things go precisely your way in the exact right order. It’s nearly impossible.

This nightmare, if you’ll recall, looks like this:

This is a stage that, according to one analysis, you’d have a 50/50 chance of beating if you left your Wii U on from now until the 4th of July... in 2020. That’s how low your odds are.

But the chosen one, it turns out, is Josh, a 31-year-old network analyst who left his Wii U on for a little more than 24 hours, letting Mario die over and over again, before something else happened: they won. They were that one in 7.5 million chance, the lucky winning ticket.

Josh, fulfiller of the numerical prophecy, had placed his Wii U on his desk. The machine was quietly grinding through the stage when he “noticed it did something different.” The thing about Lucky Draw is it’s unremarkable to look at. Success or failure, it looks like nonsense, and because death happens so quickly—usually in less than a second—any potential success would happen over hours or days, so there’s really no reason to ever be watching.

Consequently, when victory came knocking for Josh, it was a wholly unremarkable moment.

“I wasn't watching it when it happened,” Josh told me.

One catch: Josh’s victory didn’t happen on a livestream and he didn’t record it. While sharing your Lucky Draw failures for an audience has become incredibly popular, not everyone is doing that. (My machine has been running for more than two days on a table in my office.)

Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but Lucky Draw has captured such widespread attention that people now care whether success is legitimate. It’s hard but not impossible to connect a Wii U to a computer and manipulate what’s happening in the game. This helped explain the first few “completions” of Lucky Draw, which Super Mario Maker experts later determined to be the result of hacking, not luck. (The two big giveaways: completing the level multiple times in a short period of time, and beating the level in less than a second.)

Right now, Lucky Draw shows 16 completions. The first 13 were cheaters, and Josh was the 14th. The 15th and 16th clears have been determined to also be the result of cheating, leaving Josh as the sole recipient of a golden ticket, a legitimate run through the gauntlet.

Josh did take a photo, however, and one detail was really important: 4.09 seconds. That’s the amount of time the clear screen said it took for Josh to beat Lucky Draw, and it’s been estimated that properly making it through Lucky Draw takes between four and five seconds.

Is it possible Josh used a hacked Wii U, and sneakily waited a few seconds to make his run seem legitimate? Sure. Would it be weird to go to such lengths for an arbitrary victory? Uh, yeah. Despite the lack of video evidence, Super Mario Maker streamers (like Jaku, who has been streaming four Wii Us simultaneously) have accepted Josh’s run as the first real victory.

(For the record, my editor, Austin, a self-proclaimed “Mario Maker Truther,” would like me to note the problems with the argument explaining why the 13th clear, by a player named Lathan, has been deemed cheating. Lathan has less than 4,000 total deaths in Super Mario Maker, and scraping the backend data shows Lathlan beat Lucky Draw in less than eight attempts. It’s possible, Austin would have you know, to have accomplished this. A one in 7.5 million chance is exactly that: a one in 7.5 million chance. You only need one, and in this case, Lathan had eight. You, like me, might point out that Lucky Draw is not like a lottery. Every run in Lucky Draw is itself a one in 7.5 million chance. There is no way to buy two lottery tickets because every run is itself a new lottery. And given the high-profile nature of Lucky Draw, you’d think they would come forward about this. But it is, I GUESS, possible, and in the interest of hearing both sides in this deeply polarized climate, I’m relaying this.)

Despite Josh’s photo, people are still streaming Lucky Draw in pursuit of a recorded run.

Part of what’s appealing about Lucky Draw, what made it a phenomenon, is the simplicity. A huge reason to watch people play Super Mario Maker—why I personally spent more than a year playing levels every day on Twitch—is seeing people struggle with stages that stress test skills and patience. Those streams, while fascinating, are also alienating; most players aren’t interested or equipped to play them. And while Lucky Draw, a stage that requires zero skill, is situated on the opposite end of the spectrum, that’s precisely why it’s so interesting.

“My goal was to make an RNG level taking up as little space as possible but have a really low clear rate, and my motivation took me from there,” said the level’s creator, Phenotype.

RNG stands for “random number generator.” Translated: Completing the level relies on a roll of the dice, a set of randomized elements breaking in the right way. It’s a polarizing form of level creation, one that generates as much excitement as it does eye-rolls, but it’s legitimate.

When Phenotype, a prolific Super Mario Maker creator who’s been publishing levels for years, was designing Lucky Draw, they were also calculating the odds it would take to beat it because publishing a stage requires the player to demonstrate it is, in fact, beatable. There were other versions of Lucky Draw that included additional random elements, which technically would have made the odds of finishing it even greater, but there were also versions that allowed some things to go wrong and Mario to still make it to the other side.

What Phenotype settled on was the one that gave one in 7.5 million odds.

“I enjoy making gimmick levels, which shows off a cool trick,” they said. “I also enjoy speedruns and precision (precision I wasn't good at). I just like to share my ideas with others.”

Lucky Draw isn’t a new stage—it was published in October 2018. It only recently took off because the Internet works in mysterious ways, and because someone noticed the stage an unusually high number of attempts without a single clear. On Wednesday, that number was 2.6 million. Since, there have been more than 4.2 million attempts to beat it and one winner.

The stage also comes just weeks before its sequel arrives, serving as a delightful reminder of the breadth of creative weirdness Super Mario Maker makes possible. It’s impossible to know what the next Lucky Draw will be, the next thing the community huddles around, but it’s been nearly four years since Super Mario Maker came out. They haven’t run out of ideas yet.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you've noticed anything cool happening in the world of Mario Maker, reach out at patrick.klepek@vice.com. He's also available privately on Signal.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.