Image courtesy of Nintendo
Super Mario Maker is a game that allows users to make their own stages and then share them with other players. The catch is, players can't actually upload their creations unless they've beaten them first. And for the last ten months, this challenge has consumed Braden Moor's life.
Moor started making his own ultra-hard Mario Maker stage, appropriately titled "Trials of Death", back in January. At 385 hours and counting, Moor has spent more than 16 days of his life dying over and over, hoping to reach the end of his platforming gauntlet.
"I have always found enjoyment in trying to bring video games to their limits," says Moor. "Whether that be high score, a fast time, or even just achieving 100 percent completion, I always want to put down the game feeling accomplished."
However, that sense of accomplishment won't arrive until he beats the stage and uploads it for other players. For all of Mario Maker's flaws, most of which involve how poorly Nintendo treats its online community, this is a devilish rule. A difficult stage may seem impossible, but, technically speaking, it's not.
Nintendo's a company known for creating video games that can be played (and beaten) by a wide range of audiences. Outside of Super Mario Bros. 2, a Japanese-only sequel that was later brought overseas as The Lost Levels, Nintendo hasn't catered to masochistic players seeking to test their thumbs. In that vacuum, fans stepped up.
In 2007, Japanese ROM hacker T. Takemoto created Kaizo Mario World, an unbelievably challenging set of Mario levels meant to trick, test, and destroy anyone who dared to play it. It's popularly referred to as "Asshole Mario" and has proven deeply influential among the hardcore Mario community, to the point that it has spawned its own genre. (In Japanese, kaizo means something along the lines of "reorganise".) Until Mario Maker, however, these kaizo levels were ROM hacks hiding in the dark. Now, they're legitimate.
Moor's stage is directly influenced by Takemoto's Kaizo Mario World and his time with Super Mario Flash, a crude recreation of the series for web browsers that comes with a level editor.
Image courtesy of Pouetpu Games
"It was enough to keep my younger self entertained by creating levels that consisted of avoiding obstacles and lots of enemies," Moor explains. "Sometimes I would need to spend an hour or so trying to get through my own maze of fire bars. I've certainly come a long way since then."
Moor started sharing his ideas for "Trials of Death" back in January, when he (accurately) predicted it would take him hundreds of hours to complete. Back then, he figured it could take as many as 500 hours to see it all the way through. Though a guess, he's been proven right.
There are a couple of reasons "Trials of Death" is so tough. One, it's asking players for pixel-perfect timing over a long stretch of time—Moor estimates his level takes eight minutes to finish. Two, it's not just jumping and dodging fireballs; kaizo-influenced stages always demand players use items, enemies, and other objects in ways the game never truly intended.
Perhaps the most important reasons it's taken more than 350 hours to beat, though, is because Moor keeps making it harder, as he's tweaked the design over the course of 2016.
"Every time I found myself improving, I started feeling as though the level didn't meet my expectations in terms of difficulty," he says. "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 350-hour counter might not even be accurate, either. Moor figures he's racked up another few hundred hours creating the level and practising individual portions.
"I have always found enjoyment in trying to bring video games to their limits. Whether that be high score, a fast time, or even just achieving 100 percent completion, I always want to put down the game feeling accomplished." —Braden Moor
The most painful moment, so far, was when Moor was on a hot streak. He'd delved further into the level than ever before, simultaneously boosting his confidence and anxiety. In order to catch his breath, Moor paused the game after a particularly harrowing milestone.
"Instead of unpausing, I accidentally hit the start over button."
He had to start over.
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Moor's confident, though, that one day he'll reach the end of the road.
"When I finally beat this level, I'll be ready to take a break from this game. At least a break from playing it, that is. I'll certainly enjoy watching anyone crazy enough to give the level a go. I look forward to the day when I can say that I completed 'Trials of Death'."
That day is not today, but Moor regularly streams his latest attempts on Twitch.