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A Review of 2017 and look ahead to 2018
posted on: Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Happy New Year Everyone!

It is once again time for our annual recap post. This time we'll take a quick look at my gaming thoughts from 2017 and then spend some time discussing what we hope to accomplish in the new year.

Best of 2017

I continue to find it difficult to play a lot of games in a year. Each year I seem to have more and more demands on my time that push gaming on to the back burner. However, I did play several great games this year and I would like to highlight a few of them and explain why they resonated with me.

Mobile Games I spent the most time with - Darkest Dungeon and Fire Emblem Heroes

If you read our 'year in review' post for 2016 you may remember that Clash Royale had sunk its claws into me and never really let go all through 2016. I am happy to say that I was able to shake that particular addiction and put Clash behind me in 2017.

This year I have really enjoyed playing Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone. It has really fun characters and a great battle system that isn't overly complex but still allows for strategy to prevail. There is a grinding aspect to it, and I think its Free to Play mechanics can grate somewhat but I've still had a ton of fun collecting heroes and playing through the missions.

Darkest Dungeon is another mobile game that I have really enjoyed this year and it has become my go-to for iPad gaming. DD is a fantastic melding of party based role-playing, rogue-like difficulty and randomness, and oppressive Eldritch Horror. Darkest Dungeon not only delivers on the gameplay front but it also has a tremendous art style that I really love. In a lot of ways I have become very tired of the 'rogue-like' genre but Darkest Dungeon, as well as another game on my list this year, have transcended the genres problems for me and really delighted.

If you do check out Darkest Dungeon I definitely recommend playing on the Radiant difficulty first. I started my first game on the standard difficulty and found myself in a dark and foreboding pit of despair that I couldn't escape. My second play-through on Radiant is going much better and just seems to have better pacing thanks to the more generous drops.

Game I Started Playing in December 2016 and I'm still playing - DOOM

Since I mentioned in last year's post that I had just started playing the DOOM reboot, and really loved it, I wanted to follow up and say that it's still fantastic. I have played through the campaign and started a second play through on Ultra Violence difficulty and it is still just non-stop fun. I'm really hopeful that we'll see some news about a DOOM 2 reboot sometime this year!

Best Hardware - Nintendo Switch

I was optimistic on the Switch in last year's note and I have to say I was justified. 2017 was absolutely the year of the Switch. Nintendo has once again cleared a new path in the gaming landscape and put themselves in a position to dominate console gaming in the years to come. I am continually amazed at how well Nintendo is able to adapt and excel with an approach that 'common wisdom' would say is a mistaken path.

The Switch fits into my life in a way that no other console ever has. It can do everything, from playing Mario on the go, to awesome party gaming with Puyo Puyo Tetris, or large-screen epic adventures with Zelda or Skyrim. I can grab the console and play a quick level at my desk or slide it back into its dock and enjoy gaming on the big screen. It really is one of those 'magical' products that tend to come along far to infrequently.

Because of the Switch's versatility, and the fantastic game lineup so far, I have been able to enjoy console gaming in a way that I haven't for several years. It has also been a great way to experience a lot of indie games that I would normally miss since the eShop continues to have great releases week after week. Therefore the last few games that I want to highlight this year are Switch games, or at least games that I played on the Switch.

Best Co-op Gaming Experience - Enter the Gungeon

Along with Darkest Dungeon, Enter the Gungeon is the game that brought me back into the Rogue-like genre this year. This is such a fantastic game with tons of humor, great control and shooting action, and a tremendous co-op experience. While I have definitely played this solo, and it's great for a quick 'pick up and play' gaming fix, I have had an absolute blast playing this co-op with my son and brother-in-law. This game is a Steam gem that I would have missed if it hadn't come to the Switch and I am so glad that it did. Hopefully we'll continue to get more and more great indie hits with co-op capability on the Switch this year.

Game of the Year - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I'm not sure what else can be said about Breath of the Wild that hasn't already been covered in thousands of reviews and game design deep dives on YouTube. For me this is as close as we have come to a perfect adventure game. Breath of the Wild is a challenging and moving epic that perfectly encapsulates what Zelda has always meant for me. It is a high mark for all gaming and a game that I will continue to play for years and years to come. Bravo Nintendo!

Notable Mentions

I have only just started to play Super Mario Odyssey but it also appears to be an absolutely fantastic game. I don't know how Nintendo continues to do this year after year but it's spectacular

I have really enjoyed following Noclip and Mark Brown's Game Makers Toolkit on Youtube this year for their excellent gaming focused documentaries. If you aren't watching these guys yet I would recommend that you start this year.

Looking Ahead to 2018

I am hopeful that 2018 will be another great year for gaming. I'm confident that Nintendo will continue to push the Switch forward and I'm sure much of the gaming around our house will happen there.

I'm also very happy to see that Apple has started to highlight more indie developers, especially developers with premium games, on the new App Store. I hope this will continue and that it will give indies who don't want to travel down the F2P road an outlet to find success.

I am very much looking forward to Monster Hunter: World later this month and I can't wait to sink into another large screen Monster Hunter game. If you are intrigued by Monster Hunter but have never given it try I think this could be the game to bring you into the fold.

Here's To a Great New Year!

I had planned to elaborate a little on our plans for 2018 in this post but it is already far too long. I'll follow this up with a new post next week about F5's plans for 2018 and what you can expect from our next game release!

I hope you had a great year and I wish you an even better New Year in 2018. Thank you to all of our players and fans!

Mario Maker Challenge: Week 3 - Overgrown Tunnels!
posted on: Friday, January 13, 2017

Today we are going to take a look at the third level in our Mario Maker Challenge, Overgrown Tunnels! This level was released a little behind schedule because of Christmas, and the fact that my wife and I were blessed with a new baby girl on December 27th! It took a few days for things to settle down enough for me to get back in the level design swing after that.

Overgrown Tunnels

For this level I wanted to do something different from the previous two weeks. Both of my previous levels were in the New Super Mario Bros style so this week we are back to old school Super Mario. I decided to place this level underground since both of our previous levels took place in the standard over world. The final change was to make a more 'traditional' Mario level instead of trying to theme the level around something specific like I have in the last couple weeks. So this is my first take at making a standard Mario level, let's see how it went.

If you haven't played Overgrown Tunnels yet, and you want to give it a shot before I dissect it, you can click this link to check out the Mario Maker Bookmark page for the level or you can use the code in the image below to find it in Course World.

Overgrown Tunnels! - CC96-0000-02E6-260C
Overgrown Tunnels! - CC96-0000-02E6-260C


Check out my complete playthrough below, with locations for all 3 1-Ups, and then we'll take a look at some of the different design aspects that went into this level.


My favorite parts of the old underground levels was busting through blocks and making it to the top of the stage, so I had to include that in this level. Jumping up through the ceiling not only gets you a nice coin haul but it also gets you access to a secret room that is packed full of Piranha Plants. Making it through this nightmare will net you one of the 3 hidden 1-Ups in the level.

Feed me Seymour


Another aspect of the underground levels that always sticks in my mind is tricky jumps on moving platforms. The latter half of the map plays with this concept and forces the player to time their jumps over a bottomless pit. My goal wasn't to make anything that was too challenging but to make the player feel that they needed to be careful.

Wait for it, wait for it

Level Stats

I wasn't trying to create a challenging level for this week but the completion numbers ended up being much lower than I expected. There also were just fewer overall plays and no stars for this level. I'm not sure why that is the case, it could be an aspect of not building the level around a theme, or perhaps traditional Mario levels are less appealing to players. We'll have to get more results from other levels as we more forward to see.


This was my first stab at making a standard retro Mario level, and I really enjoyed it. I'm not sure exactly why it didn't seem to be as well received by the Mario Maker community so if you have any feedback for me let me know on Twitter @f5games.

Looking back at 2016 and ahead to 2017
posted on: Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

It's that time again. We've made it through 2016 and now it's time to reflect on last year and think about what we can expect in the next. If you're interested, read on for my thoughts on 2016 and hopes for 2017.

Best of 2016

2016 was a strange gaming year for me. As a father, husband, and business owner I have less and less time to sit down and enjoy gaming like I could in the past. Because of that I don't know that I can say what the 'Best Game of 2016' really was, because I may not have played it. Instead I'm going to talk about a few games that I did play this year that I enjoyed or made an impact on me.

Game I Played The Most (and kinda wish I hadn't) - Clash Royale

Clash Royale took hold of me early in 2016 and never really let go. Based on my number of games played I have logged at least 350 hours in Clash Royale since it's launch, and that boggles my mind.

Don't get me wrong, Clash Royale has some fantastic gameplay elements in it, but overall the game is a grind and at this point it really feels more like a compulsion than a good time. This is the first time a Free-to-Play Gacha mechanic game has pulled me in and I don't know that I'm happy with the outcome.

The matches are fun, the interplay between the units is very well thought-out, the skill of placing units in the correct place and time is real, and it's perfectly suited for mobile. It's really a great game, but it's missing something in the later stages as the monetization really starts to kick in that makes it feel more like work than I would like.

One of my resolutions for 2017 is to play less Clash, we'll see if it sticks.

Game I Didn't Start Playing Until a Week Ago But Really Love - DOOM

Confession: I'm a huge fan of the original Doom. When Doom was released I didn't have a PC that could run it but somehow I got ahold of a strategy guide for the game that had maps for every level with all the tips and tricks. I would actually read through that book and imagine that I was playing the game, that's how much I wanted to play Doom! I begged my parents for 4 Mb of Ram to upgrade my PC so I can play Doom. Months later when my birthday rolled around I finally got my Ram and started my journey into Doom and all the mods, multiplayer, coop, and map making that came with it. Doom was a huge part of my early teen years.

But, for some reason, when I first started to see trailers for the new Doom I wasn't all that interested. I think the 'Glory Kills' turned me off to it. It seemed like senseless gore for no reason, which fits right in with the vibe of Doom but because of the high-def graphics and the fact that I'm not 13 anymore it seemed un-necessary to me. So this summer Doom was released, and it got pretty good reviews, and I thought I might rent it, but I never did.

What I did instead was go back and play through the original Doom on my iMac. I was blown away all over again! After more than 20 years Doom is still incredible. Coming back to it after all these years with more experience in game design makes it even better. The level design is incredible, the action is fast and fun, the arsenal is perfect, the puzzles and secrets are great. Doom is absolutely one of the greatest games ever made, and I got to experience all of that again this year. That made me give Doom 2016 another chance and after playing through the first few levels I have to say, it doesn't disappoint!

Doom 2016 captures the fast action, exploration, and attitude of the original Doom and layers newer game mechanics on top of it in a way that enhances the original material. You can tell that every decision Id made while making Doom 2016 was looked at through the lens of the original Doom games. The fat has almost all be cut off of this game in a way that just doesn't happen in modern shooters anymore. Those 'Glory Kills' that turned me off in trailers? They are actually a brilliant addition to the game because they reward you with health each time you execute one. This make you constantly push forward from enemy to enemy in an attempt to keep your health full and clear out all the demons that are breathing down your neck. There was one point in the second level where I was in a large room with, I kid you not, 6 different paths that I could take to move forward, that never happens in modern shooters anymore. I looked from one doorway to another and thought 'This is Doom!'.

Doom 2016 is an absolute blast to play and I am really enjoying my time with it so far. If you have any affection for the Doom of old you should give this new Doom a try.

Best Mobile Game - Super Mario Run

You can play Mario on your iPhone with one hand. Those are not words I thought I would be able to write when 2016 started. Super Mario Run is a great game and an important release for several reasons. Maybe the most important reason is; in 2016 it became clear that mobile gaming is now so large that even Nintendo can no longer afford to ignore it.

Another aspect that I find really impressive about Super Mario Run is that Nintendo's designers were able to completely recreate the 'Mario Experience' after changing nearly every aspect about how players interact with the game. What is most impressive about this is that it's done so expertly that as you play the game it doesn't seem like that much has changed. You make Mario jump, just like you always have, and you move left to right to complete levels. It wasn't until I tried to create a Super Mario Run style level in Mario Maker that I realized how perfectly the level designers had to craft each of the levels in Super Mario Run to make this game feel like a Mario game.

Super Mario Run is a great game in it's own right, it could be better, but I have really enjoyed all the time I have spent with it. It's also great to see Nintendo bringing their un-beatable game design to Mobile and helping push the entire industry forward as a result.

Notable Mentions

I'm still playing The Witcher 3, my best game of 2015, and it's still incredible. Maybe by my end of year 2017 post I'll have finished it.

I've been slowly putting time into Uncharted 4 and it has that same level of game development mastery that we come to expect from Naughty Dog each and every time they release something. I'm only about a quarter of the way through the campaign at this point but it's been a fun ride.

I received No Man's Sky as a gift at Christmas and have really enjoyed the first 3 hours or so that I've played it. It is something that I can play with my kids and they have enjoyed finding new creatures and flying to new planets quite a bit.

I've decided that I'm done with 'Rogue-likes'. One of our best received games, House of the Lost, is a rogue-like and I have been all about playing them over the last couple years; but I just can't do it any more. After playing Doom (classic) and Teleglitch this year at nearly the same time I realized that I just enjoy a level based campaign progression much better than a game that forces you to play through random levels with permadeath. If I put permadeath in a game again it will only be as a super-hardcode difficulty level that you unlock after completing the game.

Looking Ahead to 2017

I think that 2017 is going to be another fantastic year for gaming, with mobile gaming in particular. The market for mobile games just continues to grow and there are more and more players available each and every day. I'm also very excited about jumping back into game development and releasing a new title for mobile this year!

I am very excited about the Nintendo Switch, and I can't wait to see the full reveal that Nintendo has planned for us in a couple weeks. I'm hoping that Nintendo will do a better job of marketing and reaching out to lapsed gamers to let them know what the Switch is, and based on what I've seen so far it looks like they will.

VR will continue to not be nearly as huge as everyone thinks it's going to be in 2017. In fact 2017 may be the year when people finally realize that it's not the next big thing and start to sour on it. There will probably be a few interesting titles but the market isn't there, the tech isn't there, and not enough people want to play games like that. It's a dead-end for mainstream gaming.

I hope we see something real from Magic Leap and that their AR tech can actually deliver what they have shown in demo form. Augmented Reality that can fit seamlessly into the real world could absolutely be the 'Next Big Thing' in a way that VR can't be and I hope we can start to make some progress toward that this year.

Here's To a Great New Year!

That's all I've got for now. Keep checking in on our Mario Maker Challenge over the next few months and be on the lookout for an announcement of our next game around the time that challenge comes to an end.

I hope you had a great 2016 and I wish you an even better New Year in 2017. Thank you to all of our players and fans and I hope to give you something new to enjoy later this year!

Mario Maker Challenge: Week 2 - Mario Maker Run!
posted on: Tuesday, December 27, 2016

It's time to review the second level in our Mario Maker Challenge, Mario Maker Run! Even though we are only in the second week of this challenge things have already become difficult. In this post I'll take you through some of the aspects of this level design that made this an especially tough one to complete

Mario Maker Run!

Because of the world-wide release of Super Mario Run last week I decided to base this level on that style of fast paced gameplay. In Super Mario Run you are constantly being driven forward to the right and you must time your jumps just right to collect all the coins spread around the level. To try and accomplish this I went through several false starts of levels that just didn't work for one reason or another. In the end I had to settle for a level that moved at a fast pace like Super Mario Run but that didn't stick as closely to the restrictions as I had hoped.

If you haven't played Mario Maker Run yet, and you want to give it a shot before I dissect it, you can click this link to check out the Mario Maker Bookmark page for the level or you can use the code in the image below to find it in Course World.

Mario Maker Level - 34D6-0000-02D2-460F
Mario Maker Run! - 34D6-0000-02D2-460F


This level moves fast! I added in key coins to take the place of the collectable coins in a Super Mario Run level and also placed my usual 3 1-Ups. If you want to grab it all in one run you have to quickly jump around the level like a jack-rabbit. Check out my run below and then I'll explain all the aspects of how this level failed to really capture my plans for this week.


My first struggles with this level design were because of the constant movement requirement. Originally I tried to build a level where the ground was covered with conveyor belts that were constantly moving the player forward. That worked in small sections but as you jumped from one conveyor to another your speed continued to increase. After a few jumps you were nearly flying off the edge of the screen. Another problem with the conveyor belt world is that enemies can't traverse the terrain correctly. This meant that I would either have to rely solely on flying enemies or build my level without enemies at all.

Using conveyor belts to force forward movement
Using conveyor belts to force forward movement

After a few failed attempts at making the conveyor belt level work I decided to go with an auto scroll level. While this doesn't completely match the limitations I was going for it seemed like the best I could do with the tools I had available.


Another aspect of the level design that stems from the constant forward movement is the spacing of elements within the level. If you are going to force the player to be in constant motion you have to space out the level so that they have time to identify what action they need to take. I originally spaced the level with this concept in mind but then filled it up with collectable coins and 1-Ups mushrooms that made the level feel too small. Once all the elements of the level were placed it felt like some of the sections are almost stacked on top of each other.

Levels need room to breath
Levels need room to breath

To combat this in the future I'm going to try and do a better job of 'blocking' out the level and placing all the level elements to make sure they have the room they need before adding in enemies, coins, and collectables.

Level Stats

One of my goals for this level was to make sure that it had a higher completion rate than my last level. I wanted to offer an easy path to the flag but still provide challenge in collecting the coins and 1-Ups. I think the stats reflect that I was successful in that but I honestly would like to have seen the percentage in the 40s or 50s.

The Genius of Super Mario Run

Trying to make this level made me really appreciate how incredible the level design is in Super Mario Run. Because everything in the levels is placed in a way that makes it a power-up or boost for the player to reach different areas. That they were able to transform how the levels work to that degree and still make it feel like a Mario game is really a testament to the brilliant level designers working at Nintendo.

Super Mario Run
Super Mario Run sets a high bar


This was a very difficult level to complete and I don't really feel like it lived up to my initial expectations. Because of that this design theme may be something I try to revisit at a later date in this challenge. In the end I just don't know that Mario Maker has the tools, or that I have the level design talent with Mario Maker, to pull off a level of this type. Hopefully as we move forward in the challenge I will get a better understanding of what Mario Maker is capable of and I will also improve my skills so I can give it another shot.

Mario Maker Challenge: Week 1 - Super Mario Boy!
posted on: Friday, December 16, 2016

The first week of our Mario Maker Challenge has been completed! That means it's time for a review post that talks about the level design as well as what when wrong and what went right with it out in the wild.

Super Mario Boy!

Our first level was inspired by the awesome indie game Super Meat Boy. Super Meat Boy is a tough as nails platformer that countered it's insane difficulty with almost instant respawns and the incredible payoff of seeing all your failed attempts at a level when you finally completed it. The gameplay elements that stick out in my mind most about Super Meat Boy are one hit deaths, wall jumps, and spinning saw blades; so those are the elements I built my first level around.

If you haven't played Super Mario Boy yet, and you want to give it a shot before I dissect it, you can click this link to check out the Mario Maker Bookmark page for the level or you can use the code in the image below to find it in Course World.

Mario Maker Level - 8DA7-0000-02CD-0427
Super Mario Boy! - 8DA7-0000-02CD-0427


One of my goals for the level was to make it challenging, just like Super Meat Boy, but honestly I may have taken it a little too far. When I went back to record a play-through video last night it took me at least a dozen tries before I could get a clean run. While that is par for the course in a Super Meat Boy level it's probably not what the majority of Mario Maker players are looking for if they run into this level during a 100 Mario Challenge. Check out my clean play-through below and they we can discuss some of the design elements in the sections below.

Saw Blades

Part of the extreme challenge in Super Meat Boy comes from the fact that it only takes one mistake to end your run. If I wanted to re-create that challenge in a Mario level it meant that I couldn't include power-ups of any kind. That means tiny Mario is the only Mario you get. The major threat in the level comes from the many Saw Blades placed in your path. While the placement of coins can help you understand where safe passage resides threading the needle can still be very difficult.

Mario Maker Saw Blades

Wall Jumps

The other requirement for a Super Meat Boy homage was Wall Jumps, and wall jumping is only available in Mario Maker with the Super Mario U play style. My plan with the level was to initially give the player a stable area to comes to terms with wall jumping around the blades and then put them in situations where they had to use the wall jump because there was no floor below them. As you progress through the level there are fewer and fewer safe areas to stand on and more and more instances that require precision wall jumps to make it through.

Mario Maker Wall Jumps

Another aspect of all my levels in this challenge is that I will place 3 1-Up mushrooms around the level as a collectable and added challenge. Since the challenge was already so high in this level I didn't go out of my way to hide them but the second 1-Up requires a very precise wall jump to reach.

Level Stats

The level stats reflect that I've built a very challenging level. With only around 1% of players able to complete it, and most of the deaths occurring in the first screen, I have really limited the number of people that can play and enjoy the level all the way through to the end.

I have thought about going back and tuning some of the elements in the level since I uploaded it. There are a few small changes I could make to the opening of the level that I think would greatly increase the number of people who can make it into the level's second half. For now though, I think I'm going to leave it as is. I want to be able to track my progress during this challenge by going back and playing my earlier work and if I'm constantly tweaking levels after they are uploaded it is likely to muddy the waters when you look at all the levels in relation to each other.


After reviewing the level I feel like I did a good job of capturing the play style of Super Meat Boy. I also feel that the difficulty is much too high. In the future I am going to try and do a better job of creating levels that can be completed by a much larger number of players and then use the 1-Ups and other collectables as a way to add a greater challenge for those that seek it out.

That's it for Week 1! I am already working on next week's level and it should be out on Course World this weekend. Because of the huge launch of Super Mario Run this week I'll be using that play style as my inspiration for Week 2.

Thanks for reading!

The Mario Maker Challenge
posted on: Monday, December 12, 2016

It has been a slow year for game development here at F5, other projects have taken much of my time and left very little to devote to new games. While I have a couple concepts in the prototyping stage, which I'll try to write about in the future, we don't have any new releases on the horizon. However, I do want to continue to improve my skills and I decided that a fun way to do that could be to use Mario Maker as a game design learning experience. From that idea I have created the 'Mario Maker Challenge'; and it goes a little something like this.

Mario Maker Challenge Rules

  • I will create and upload one new Mario Maker Level each week for the next six months
  • Each level will be built around a specific theme or inspiration which I will discuss in a post on this blog after the level has been uploaded.
  • I will also discuss my thoughts during the level creation process and if the final product met my expectations.
  • Level stats, times played, likes, completion percentages, will be posted here in the review post
  • At the end of each month I will take a snapshot of the levels from that month and how the levels stats have changed over time.
  • I will also keep a running tally of the highest 'rated' levels from the entire batch

What is the purpose of this challenge?

My hope for this challenge is that I will be able to greatly improve my level design abilities by consistently releasing new levels and then allowing the response from the Mario Maker community to guide my hand in future levels. There is a saying in the Game Development community that 'Your first 10 games will be awful', and I think it's pretty true. While I don't feel that all of our previous games have been awful there are definitely a lot of things that I would have done differently if I could go back and do it again. There is nothing wrong with that, this is a learning process just like any other, and I'm not embarrassed by any of the work that we have done. However, through this challenge I hope to make some of those level design mistakes quickly and out in the open so that I can get immediate feedback. With the final goal that when our next game is released the level design will be vastly better than it would have been otherwise.

Why Mario Maker?

If my goal is to quickly create games and learn from the experience there are other ways to go about it. I could actually create very small and quick games that I launch on this website, or Pico-8, or even on the app store, why use Mario Maker?

After reading this post about the Lessons of Game Design learned from Mario Maker I realized that Mario Maker is set up to be a great level design 'classroom' for a few reasons. The first is because you can design and develop a level very quickly, which is what makes a weekly challenge possible. With the time I have available there is no way I could great a new game start to finish each week, which would mean that the number of times I go through the whole design, prototype, polish process would be greatly reduced and I wouldn't learn as much.

Another main reason for choosing Mario Maker is because of the community that already exists to play and rate levels. By creating levels for Mario Maker I can upload them and know that dozens or hundreds of people will play them and offer feedback in one form or another. If I was trying to release new games every week and get the same effect I would probably spend as much time 'marketing' my learning experiments as I did developing them. While that would also be a highly valuable learning lesson, it probably deserves a 'Challenge' all it's own.

So that is my thought process. Use Mario Maker as a tool to improve my game development skills while I'm in-between game development projects. I have actually already uploaded the first level for the challenge and I'll write a review post for it on Friday. I hope you'll check back each week and come on this game development journey with me. Thanks for reading!

F5 Games is an independent game developer in Tulsa Oklahoma. We strive to create the very best in tablet and mobile games.