Hidden Blocks can be Fun!

by | Nov 7, 2023 | Artwork #3: Intervene

Artists Statement:

For this project, I started by asking myself if there was any existing process or idea in this world that I wanted to change or go against. This proved to be quite a difficult task at first. There are many things that I wish could change but a lot of them felt extremely serious or I struggled to grasp how I would come up with an idea for a game from it. That is when I asked my friends what they were thinking of doing. Jonathan mentioned that he was thinking of using Mario Maker for his project. That’s when my idea hit me! I love watching and playing difficult Mario levels, known as Kaizo levels in the community. Kaizo levels are extremely prominent because of their difficulty and because of a concept that has been lovingly dubbed the “Kaizo Block.” Kaizo Blocks are hidden “?” Blocks are infamous in the community because they are purely meant to troll players and impede progress. They often find themselves in places where players feel safe to jump so they will try, hit the block, and fall into a pit. They can also be used to supplement bad level design by serving as an invisible wall to prevent players from doing something unintended. These terrible traits are what made the concept so infamous to the point that players sometimes will not finish a level if they hit a Kaizo Block. The Kaizo Block rightfully feels like it should be a concept that stays in the dumpster, right? That is when my idea came in, what if I could show people that they are fun? After all, Kaizo Blocks are just hidden blocks that can be used as a tool. That kicked off my journey to find a way to make hidden blocks fun, which ended up being extremely difficult. Throughout the process, I was inspired by “Spacewar.” When I was in high school, I had the chance to play “Space War” against someone while Steve Russel watched. That experience and the story behind it have always been an inspiration to me. He was able to take something that people had one intended way of using, in this case, the university computer, and turn it into something fun that would spawn communities around the world. I wanted to also change the Kaizo Block from a dreaded part of a level into something that the community would find fun. Another inspiration was the switched Barbie and GI Joe dolls. The idea of shifting what everyone was used to while also making a commentary on the state of the medium appealed to me. This project was an intervention because it was posted to the community and anyone in the game can randomly run into the level or choose to play it. I wanted to do this because often players who see hidden blocks will quit the level, but if they tried my level they would hopefully find the fun and beat it.


Documentation / Process:

As I mentioned above this process was a difficult one. The level went through a lot of different iterations as I learned more about what I could not do with hidden blocks. It turns out that they were way more limited than I thought when I started. I tried to make a bunch of interesting contraptions with horizontal moving Thwomps and Kaizo-style difficulty, but I swiftly realized that I was being limited by the Hidden Block. Next, I tried shifting over to the New Super Mario Bros. theme to make a simple level but around ground pounding the hidden blocks. That did not work either because of the limitations of the hidden block. I was ready to throw in the towel when I was hit with an idea. Since I can only hit a hidden block from below, what if I up-toss a shell? I tried it in the Super Mario World theme and it worked… sort of. It didn’t work the way I expected but it did make the hidden block visible. I could work with this concept. That spawned the level that I ended up posting. The basic concept of the level is that there are two sub-areas. The first has all the blocks visible but needs a key to open a door, the second has all hidden blocks and the key. Players have to get the key and open the door to finish the level.

The level can be found while playing randomly online or by typing the code: 1VB-XP3-NQF

I was shocked by the results of my level! Within half a day, my level was played by 12 community members, had 120 attempts, had 2 comments, and 1 like! Random people were playing my level and at least 1 person enjoyed it! There were a few metrics that I did not expect though. The clear rate was 6.66% and the world record completion time was 5.65 seconds. This meant that the majority of people still found the level difficult and that people were beating the level in an unintended way. This initially made me disheartened until I remembered my inspirations. I was inspired by Kaizo levels and intervention art. 5.65 seconds is seemingly impossible unless you do Kaizo-level tricks like a shell jump. That is cool because people were finding the fun and the level was difficult like a Kaizo level should be. Additionally, this brought an interesting detail to my attention. Sr Depreso had the world record on my level. I don’t know too much about them but I know they are a prominent Mario Maker 2 level creator, with one of their levels being featured in a Watch Mojo video. That meant that my intervention had worked!