When Super Mario Maker released in September of 2015 for the Wii U, it launched with a sense of community-driven excitement as well. I don't mean the kind of frothing-at-the-mouth hype something like Super Smash Bros. generates, but rather, Super Mario Maker teased platformer fans with the promise that players would be able to create and share their own Mario levels. Of course, that means people would get to play those levels as well. And it was around that time that one man with a following on YouTube decided to play Mario Maker levels every weekday at 6:00 AM EST from thereon out.
Stephen Georg from StephenPlays recently hit the 500th episode milestone in his let's play series "Morning Mario." The 40-plus-minutelong 500th episode actually featured Stephen playing the 100 Mario Challenge on expert, but when he's not celebrating a milestone, he plays viewer-submitted levels that are highly rated from his very own website for the series.
Not only can fans of the morning programming submit levels they have either created or played and want to see Stephen take on, but they can also rate levels after picking from randomly selected level codes to play. Stephen first started playing levels in the order they were submitted in 2015, but later he switched to playing viewer-submitted levels that were the highest rated from his legion of fans and Super Mario gamers. Through all the changes, Morning Mario has been a source of community-driven fun and entertainment for nearly two years.
"It's been a journey." — Stephen Georg, YouTuber and creator of Morning Mario
It all started in mid-September 2015 with a space-themed Super Mario Bros. level featuring Fox McCloud called "Away Mission." Now, Stephen is playing levels numbering beyond 500, with the new addition of a facecam to spice up the series. Stephen decided to incorporate this new element after so many episodes because of how many times he had experienced something awesome or shocking in a level and wished his expression had been seen by viewers. This factor is unique to the Morning Mario series and little else on Stephen's gaming channel, so he thought it would be a good fit for the continuation of Morning Mario.
"Having a facecam there for the sake of a facecam doesn't jive well with me." — Stephen Georg
Adding elements to the show like the facecam and evolving the viewer experience through rating levels on the Morning Mario website are not the only changes over the years. Stephen mentioned that, thanks in large part to the input from fans on the site, levels have consistently gotten better throughout the past couple hundred episodes.
When Morning Mario started, Stephen even filmed a batch of about two dozen episodes that were "not up to par" for the standards of good entertainment, so they never aired.
"Levels themselves have gotten so much more complex." — Stephen Georg
As far as let's plays go, surprise is prevalent and paramount in Morning Mario. The series is successful and has been for so long largely because each weekday brings something new to the computer screens of thousands of Stephen's subscribers. The levels are brand new to Stephen as well; for the most part, he only ever fires up Mario Maker to create new episodes. If one level features Donkey Kong Country-esque barrel blasting with Shaun the Sheep and another trolls Stephen with collectibles, these levels are just as much roller coasters freshly welded up to the audience as they are to Stephen himself.
"The only thing I know is that several people really liked [a level]." — Stephen Georg
The variety in Morning Mario is remarkable. Creators in the Mario Maker community have created their own sub-genres out of the malleable 2D platforming gameplay of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U.
Levels have gotten harder for Stephen to beat (although he usually always finishes, sometimes pushing himself to set new records), especially in the past couple hundred episodes. He rarely opens up a level that has a completion rate of over 25% now.
"Sometimes I spend an embarrassingly long amount of time on a level." — Stephen Georg
He says if it taunts him, he is going to go for it, sometimes spending lots of off-camera time trying to accomplish the sweet release of sliding down a particular flagpole as Mario. Some of the funniest and most impressive Morning Mario moments involve Stephen editing deaths together in post-production until he finally shows off a successful run on a difficult level.
"My pride is sometimes more valuable than my time." — Stephen Georg
That being said (at least partly in jest), Stephen feels he has definitely gotten better at playing 2D Mario. He actually wonders though if going back to the original Mario games would be difficult since Mario Maker features the original gameplay of 2D Mario, just "on steroids" instead.
Very rarely does a level sneak through Stephen's system that doesn't deserve it. Troll levels have largely been filtered out of the Morning Mario playlist, but one notably appeared at the end of Stephen's 100 Mario Challenge run during his 500th episode of the series. This particular level (which can be watched below) was seemingly unbeatable and ended his 100 Mario Challenge run. Unbeknownst to Stephen at the time, there was a secret, unseen warp pipe that led to a propeller mushroom that would equip Mario with enough flight to finish the level. Stephen actually only found out about the way to beat the level from fans who showed him the way on Twitter.
Infrequent poorly made levels aside, nothing seems to be slowing down the success of Morning Mario. However, one potential downer in a couple months from now could be the shutdown of Miiverse, the Wii U/3DS social media platform that has allowed players to comment within levels and share level IDs in Mario Maker.
"There's been times at the end of a level where I picked funny comments out. It will be kind of sad to see it go." — Stephen Georg
One thing Stephen thinks could jumpstart the series in the future would be a Nintendo Switch sequel or, more likely, a port of the original game. New features including being able to categorize levels further and rating levels within the game beyond giving them a star could put more exciting levels on the fast track to being played by Stephen and enjoyed by his viewers.
At points, Stephen thought it might be time to transition to another game that would allow for player-created and viewer-submitted levels for his 6:00 AM EST slot for weekdays. That being said, he never thought of another potential game that would allow for such ease of creating and sharing levels. Also, no single game series is as popular as Super Mario.
"In the realm of games that support level creation and sharing, there has never been a game like Mario Maker. " — Stephen Georg
Fans of Morning Mario have a lot to like. They may like the game itself; they may enjoy watching Stephen play video games; or perhaps they enjoy the level design aspect and seeing something new every day Monday through Friday. Stephen also has a theory that a large chunk of his audience for the show is kids who grew up playing and building with LEGOs.
"[Morning Mario] is actually a really good source of inspiration for people who want to design levels. I think the channel and [Morning Mario] has become a haven for people who like Super Mario Maker." — Stephen Georg
Stephen's content seems to be a haven for a lot of people to unwind with some of their favorite games, not just Mario. On StephenPlays, he and his wife Mallory Georg play video games ranging from Telltale's The Walking Dead to Halo, just to name a couple. He also vlogs daily on his secondary channel StephenVlog, and Mal uses her artistic talent to create video game-inspired paintings on her channel MalMakes. A power couple with a lot of work on their minds at all times, Stephen and Mal are glad what they do is a source of fun for both themselves and the communities their channels have created.
Stephen said the goal of the house is to "make good things and make lots of them." That certainly seems to have been the objective of Morning Mario, and after hundreds of episodes, thousands of levels submitted, tens of thousands of comments of praise or gratitude, and hundreds of thousands of views, a huge part of the Mario Maker community is alive and well in the hands of Stephen Georg.