I once tried to build a meaningful Quake level, it didn’t work out. I wasn’t planning the level structure, I got lost in the details, it was a mess, I gave up. With Super Mario Maker, the challenge, although it’s just 2D instead of 3D, still stands. You tought sprite drawing is hard? Level designing is hard. Here is a portion of the World 1-3 from the original NES Mario:
They did this on paper in 1985. Every level has a consistent theme, fits to the gameplay progression, scale to the characters attributes, and more importantly, is fun to play. The goombas drop to the lower platform just about the time you reach that part, there are coins scattered around, but not too many, often there are multiple paths you can take. Sometimes the power-up is not hidden in the harder path, but is in plain sight. The level occasionally contains a simple bonus room to collect items.
Looking at it from the outside, everything feels natural. That’s what I find the hardest to do: designing something that feels natural to the user. Whenever it’s the use of keyboard shortcuts, onboarding a software or presenting options, taking away the frustration until it feels natural is incredibly hard.
The other day I watched a recorded video of Roger Federer practicing. You know, where he’s not hitting power shots but, just sparring. It seems effortless. It feels simple. He doesn’t seem to move his legs, a couple of steps here and there, he doesn’t seem to put much effort into the shots, but they do go to the baseline with a huge kick. It looks like this is the most trivial way to play tennis: you go out there and hit some balls, then they’ll end up at the other baseline with a fat topspin.