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Why are switch hunts frowned upon?

Posted: Sun May 03, 2020 4:23 am
by HeroLinik
So I do recall a period several years back, nonlinear levels that had a lot of excessive backtracking and exploration, while relying a lot on switch hunts, were all the rage. A lot of levels that scored highly in reviews and did well in contests revolved around switch hunts, where as the name implies, you had to find and hit all coloured switches to progress in the level. This especially came to a head around 2013/2014, therein contests hosted on SMBX Revived and here, it would be really easy to find a switch hunt level hiding in there somewhere, usually up in the higher tiers.

However, continuing onto now, I've started seeing a pattern emerge since around...2017 was it? where I've seen switch hunts frowned upon and level designers told not to rely too much on switch hunts. I did take a hiatus from the community around that point so my memory is foggy, but I've seen various reasons thrown around, such as switches only useful for platforming rather than a hunt, and it being a mark of bad design and showing that the designer has little experience with layers and events.

Can someone make this incredibly clear to me so I don't confuse it: what exactly is wrong with switch hunts, and why are they frowned upon and considered bad design?

Re: Why are switch hunts frowned upon?

Posted: Sun May 03, 2020 4:30 am
by Eri7
The way I see the issue with switch hunts is that many of them force you to backtrack and I believe most level designers don't use this as an advantage to provide new challenges but just a boring way to get the player to return from point B to point A, another issue could be that switch hunts end up being way too big and combined with the aspects of backtracking, this can prove to be tedious to play through but don't get me wrong, I like switch hunts but in small doses, plenty of levels I played in Mario Maker had these kind of levels where you get to explore different gimmicks in different sections and then once you beat all of these sections, you are presented to either an exit or the final section which combines most of the gimmicks in one final challenge. But yeah, I believe making big switch hunts work is very difficult without making it tedious or boring to play through but working with small scale switch hunts like the ones you would often see in Mario Maker levels is imo easier to handle and can prove to provide better results.
That's my take on the situation, it's not objective in any means, it's just based on my personal experience with switch hunts.

Re: Why are switch hunts frowned upon?

Posted: Sun May 03, 2020 4:33 am
by Enjl
They're often done arbitrarily as an excuse to bring upon a fake feeling of nonlinearity. Doing a sub-quest isn't inherently bad, but it would be more compelling if such a quest served a purpose beyond a wall of switches. A NPC losing their keys, rubble in the way that requires some hefty dynamite... Both of these ideas even present inherent fun variation on the area, that being "traverse while holding item" and "the entire valley is collapsing oh no".

A lot of SMM2 levels are key-collectathons that are a bit like switch hunts, except those levels often present a range of unique sub-ideas with a checkpoint after each one of them that automatically funnel you back to where you eventually need to go.

Another problem arises (that SMM2 levels found a way to circumvent) where players may be confused about their goal or the direction they need to go (often prevalent in the confusing-as-hell tropical design style where every 2nd level had a propeller box section). The easiest way to circumvent this issue is to not introduce arbitrary branching paths in a still-linear experience. The second-easiest way is to automatically funnel the player back to where they need to go, while making the path onward and the purpose of each sub section as obvious as possible. (see: SMM2)

Infact, tropical levels (levels in the confusing style populated by members from tropical areas of the planet) were what eventually caused these arbitrary areas to become so hilarious to some. With messages popping up to notify the player along the lines of "you feel a sudden urge to backtrack" (parodied here and there)... While playing, they were always big eye-rolling moments. You'd have to hit a dynamite plunger that just blows something up in a completely indistinct area. It's really on the same level of hilarity as collecting a red coin in midair just to see a mushroom platform rise from the abyss to catch your fall to your previously inevitable demise.

Length, as eri pointed out is another factor. Especially since in 2014 there was only 1 checkpoint (+ 1 star checkpoint) per level available, yet curiously most levels involving switch hunts of some kind felt it necessary to include such a segment in addition to an otherwise normal level, essentially doubling the level's length and creating massive iteration times on death (definitely guilty of this myself, too). Nowadays this is less of a problem, but thankfully people are less likely to make levels that are unnecessarily long these days in general.

Switches themselves are more convincingly used as a toggle for platforms and blocks in exciting athletic sections, or condensed puzzle scenarios.

Re: Why are switch hunts frowned upon?

Posted: Sun May 03, 2020 9:24 am
by cato
I kinda like those switch hunts that do well in aesthetic and theme, like those from Restoration.

The reason people hate it because it requires backtracking and a long time to find the switches. If you are talking about those in the Tower Of Biased series, it sometimes makes the player go in the editor to search for the switches, which isn't fun. After all, the excellent switch hunt level should be a level that encourages exploration through a place, instead of a chore where you simply has to get through the switch walls.

Re: Why are switch hunts frowned upon?

Posted: Sun May 03, 2020 11:01 am
by Ness-Wednesday
HeroLinik wrote:
Sun May 03, 2020 4:23 am
However, continuing onto now, I've started seeing a pattern emerge since around...2017?
It's nice to see you back during such unprecedented times. Anyways, this actually began in 2016 (between the end of MaGlX2 and before CC12 began).