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SNES 30th: How the Kaizo Community are keeping it Alive

A Whole New World..

Continuing our celebration of arguably gaming’s greatest home entertainment console ever – at least in this guy’s eyes – I’ve been fortunate to sit down and talk with Twitch’s most prolific players of its platform. The Super Nintendo continues to thrive in 2021, with the Super Mario World rom hacking scene developing brand new, and exciting experiences that are shared across the community. There’s no doubt that the homebrew tools manifested from these savvy coders have inspired Nintendo to release the commercially successful release in Super Mario Maker, which allowed casual players to create their own levels and share them amongst the Wii U and Nintendo Switch community, respectively.

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But at its core, the Rom hacking scene has been endlessly producing content for over two decades. Tools have evolved since their inception, from Abe’s Mario Improvement 3 to Acmlm’s Mario Discombobulator, right unto the fascinating experiences that has been an exciting world to introduce myself to in Lunar Magic. SMWCentral is littered with talent, that have taken the groundwork laid by Shigeru Miyamoto, and has extrapolated, progressed and improved mechanics, aesthetics and overall design. The Kaizo experience is that of abnormal platforming nature, which has a cult following on the streaming platform. Influential creator and Australia’s own Juzcook, has been heralded and regarded as a major inspiration to an international audience after the release of his SMW Kaizo Hack “Invictus”, which continues to push the brand and genre of absurd Mario titles.

How long have you been involved within the Rom Hacking scene?

I grew up on Mario, specifically a lot of Super Mario World, and the release of Super Mario Maker on the Nintendo Wii was like a dream come true. I played it exclusively for about 9 months and around the middle of 2016 I discovered Super Mario World romhacks, a rabbit hole into unique Mario experiences.

The kaizo explosion from the Mario Maker 1 scene really attracted my attention. I used to watch a lot of YouTube content and even attempted to play some of the levels myself. It wasn’t until Mario Maker 2 came out that I decided to focus my efforts into SMW. I wouldn’t say I was ‘involved’ in the scene until around October 2020 when I started streaming. Until then, I was just downloading and playing kaizo romhacks without interacting with the community.

Currently around 2 years.

I started playing romhack back in Dec 2019. But 100% committed from Feb 2020.

While emulation is no secret to anyone, utilising the hardware to play these specialised Rom files in 2021 takes some effort. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as hooking up your old dusty SNES, or importing Roms onto your Super Nintendo Classic System. FPGA units have become the norm within the community, where hardware emulation has simply taken over – not to be confused with software emulation. Analogue’s Super NT and the MiSTER system are widely recommended due to their low latency and reliable build quality.

What hardware did you use to begin playing these hacks, and what are you using now? and why?

I started playing on PC emulators with an old 8bitdo SNES30 controller. I noticed whilst playing Kaizo Kindergarten that following the instructions for some moves was not working due to latency in the setup. The level in question was “Jump Heights – The High Bounce”, where the jump button must be held when landing on an enemy but immediately released in order to lower the bounce height.

I decided to track down an original SNES, flashcart and CRT and was very satisfied with the results. This led to a little bit of a classic gaming hobby and I accumulated a bunch of old consoles. 

My current setup is a MiSTer connected to a CRT monitor with an original Super Famicom controller. The ability to play on a CRT with a seperate scaled HDMI output going to a capture card for streaming is very convenient, and the experience as a player seems indistinguishable from the original hardware I was playing on previously.

When I first started playing, I wanted to go all out. So I have been playing on a Super NT since day 1. I only more recently got a FXPAKPRO so that I can have the save state functionality. I wanted to start on the best hardware possible with the least amount of input lag. I also found it quite appealing to use the original controller and feel as close to the original system.

Originally I was playing on emulator, before upgrading to a Japanese SNES console through a CRT. Being Australian, the last thing you want to play on is a PAL Super Nintendo because the console runs at 50Hz instead of 60Hz, which is 10 frames per second slower than the NTSC region consoles. I used this setup for a couple of years before upgrading to a Super NT, which is essentially a hardware emulator with virtually no input delay on modern monitors. For difficult Mario hacks you really want to avoid having any input delay at all.

I started with a NES (yes NES) classic that was modded to play snes roms with a wii pro controller connected so I could use all available buttons.
After that I went to modded Wii, pc, then finally Super NT.

Your content is mainly focused on Super Mario 2D Platformers, what do you think helps keep this sort of style/gameplay loop stay fresh?

I found that either rotating new hacks was keeping it fresh, but I would always throw in the odd speedrun to keep the hype of gameplay/competitiveness up. I found there were many attracted to the speedruns (especially setting the bar for hacks like Casio)

Particularly for people watching, this game style is easy for people to understand because it doesn’t matter at what point you start watching, you’ll end up seeing the start of the level many times and understand what’s going on. I think that conveyance for this game style is so much easier than many other games, like RPGs or some first person shooters. 

I think too that the SNES era of pixel art aged extremely well when compared to later gen consoles that focused on 3D elements, which may have some effect at keeping people interested. It does also help that the physics in Mario games are incredibly polished and don’t feel dated at all, especially when compared to the countless other rushed platforms from that era; there’s a reason Mario shines.

As an avid mario fan is hard for me to answer this question, as I’d play just about anything with mario on it, but it’s the evolving style of creation and the way others create certain things like tricks, setups, etc, that make me think
it will stay fresh, sort of like people inspiring others, the community is heavy when it comes to playing ping pong with inspiration.

There’s always new stuff to play! Even narrowing down the scope to just RTA kaizo romhacks, it seems like i’ll never run out of new stuff to play. 2021 has been a great year for quality debut releases from new authors, alongside a number of sequels to well received hacks from established creators. Even if you have very specific tastes it’s likely you can find at least a handful of romhacks to enjoy. 

I don’t tend to play many games, so it’s quite natural for me to play only a single game for thousands of hours. SMW has simple rules and controls, but when pushed to the extreme, it can be quite demanding. It’s a great example of a game with emergent complexity in the control scheme — easy to learn but almost impossible to master.

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When it comes to 2D platforming, Mario is King of his domain, and Super Mario World’s core engine has proved this time-and-time again. Modifications made to the title give exemplary quality of life, that is introduced by players, for players. It stands within a legal grey area, as most tools used to design these games are without any code created by Nintendo, nor are they distributed illegally. Regardless, the games made and shared are fascinating, even down to facets unimaginable.  Who would have thought to hear the Vengaboys in Super Mario World? That can happen. Right Lush?

Which creators in the SMW hacking community have impressed/inspired you?

Valdio had me inspired with the quickie hacks early on, Juzcook’s invictus, A variety of standard hacks creators (way too many to list, standard hacks are huge!).

New pointless made the biggest inspiration on me with Mad with kaizo power, essentially throwing me into a hack making binge. I can’t thank em’ enough.

I really admire Glitchcat7’s dedication to the scene. It would be hard to cover all of his contributions across the years, so I will just recommend his recent post, “The Complete History of ‘Kaizo Mario'”. It’s a comprehensive account of the early “modified Mario” scene and origins of mario romhacks.

So many great new kaizo romhacks came out in 2021. As a relative newcomer I’ll always have a soft spot for Mega_Scott and the Akogare Mario World series. FYRE150 made a big impression on everyone this year with Purgatory. Weekend at Luigi’s by PinkDad and AmazingChest was a surprising favourite of mine, as it utilised custom ASM gimmicks frequently, something I’m not usually a fan of. 

Baba Yegha’s Waterworld is a masterpiece and I’m currently playing through his other romhack, Boogie Wonderland. Voyager by Parahax is something quite special to me, as I was heavily involved in testing over several months. It was amazing to witness the dramatic leaps he made in his progress as a creator within that timespan, and the end result is quite striking and memorable. Special mentions to Saela, Wolfguy423 and fryinb for their contributions as well.

I can’t specifically name many people here because the bar associated with making an impressive hack has been lifted so high by everyone releasing hacks over the past several years. When I do my own romhacking I’m borrowing ideas or inspiration from virtually every hack that I’ve played, so to name only a few individuals would be doing a disservice to the community. I think that what makes the SMW hacking community what it is, is how everyone bounces ideas around via level design, and a concept that started out very simply over 5 years ago has now become a staple that has been yoinked and twisted into a whole new concept.

I have always been a huge fan of morsel hacks, they are extremely frustrating at times, but all the ones I have finished has been a great experience (have speedrun elephants and storks). I also cant go past what Wyatt has done with Casio. It was quite a strange/hard hack and looked destined to not be popular. But was proven wrong and that hard/obscure hacks can break in to be on the list.

How imperative and influentual is SMW towards your devotion to playing these games, and even creating new content on SNES/Retro Games in 2021?

Romhacking SMW has only excelled in the last 5 years, since Super Mario Maker managed to bring it more attention. There are so many hacks being made and being released each week that it is almost impossible now to stay onto of clearing them all, but I’m still dedicated to playing through as many of them as I can.

SMW was always a special game to me. As a young kid I played Super Mario Bros 1 and 3 on the NES, and I was very excited for the launch of the Super Nintendo and the next gen Mario game. I’m not sure I would have the same affinity for SMW romhacks if I didn’t already have that connection to the game.

Moving forward, I still see SMW as the primary game I will be playing and creating content for. Having said that, the classic gaming hobby I stumbled into as a result of chasing a good kaizo setup has resulted in me appreciating titles from the 8 and 16 bit eras that I was unable to experience back then, so there is a possibility of exploring some other types of content within that realm.

Very, the game itself holds serious weight and wonder that can inspire the mind.

SMW has been the backbone for my streams/growth and networking, although i will admit I have struggled the last 3-4 months due to work commitments and lack of time. But SMW will always have a place in my heart, it can inspire and create drive to be a better gamer and help feel accomplished when you have completed a hack.

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It’s incredible that decades later, the Super Nintendo lives on through the determination of homebrew development. Rom hacking has always been laced in legal drama, but has coerced even its forefathers into the fray. While it’s kept quiet in the most part, there’s no doubt that even the original development team of Super Mario World must be impressed with some of the creations and modifications that have been made from their wares. It’s almost like artists handing out blank canvases for newcomers to express their vision; their wildest ideas divulged in 16-bit. The community of streamers devoted in relaying this is rapidly growing. It’s great to see the Super Nintendo continue to inspire three decades later.

The Super Mario World twitch community is a thriving one, with fans across the globe enamoured by original content that's produced on a technical front. It's been around for the better part of 20 years, where do you see it going in another 5, if not 10?

I see it getting much bigger as time goes on, of course people will go and stay and what have you, but it’s far from over, very keen to see where it all goes in the future. maybe we’ll see mario riding a cow in space as a side shoot em up whilst vengabus plays, we’ll never know.

I believe the boundaries have been pushed pretty far in the last 2 years. I feel that ASM will become more polished/refined over time and I am sure many new ideas will continue to pop up with the drive of QLDC levels and new creators trying to enter “the market”. If there was no drive for new ideas and better ASM, romhacks will be quite repetitive and relatively the same.

It is hard to imagine where it will go. When I started playing romhacks they were quite a lot simpler with no custom elements – only things found in the original Super Mario World would appear, whereas now the door has been blown wide open where we have hundreds of people coding their own elements and bosses and you name it. When it feels like everything has already been done before, someone comes out of nowhere and reinvents an idea and suddenly your expectations adjust accordingly. If the community continues to expand, then in 5-10 years what we are doing now will be considered part of the classic/golden era of innovation for SMW romhacking.

It’s difficult to project where SMW romhacking will be in the future. There have been various offshoots like SMBX, Mario Maker and more recently Mario Multiverse that have offered an alternative base to experience custom mario levels, with varied levels of success and longevity. It seems like these other platforms have only increased interest in romhacks for the original game. To give a sense of perspective, there are 445 Kaizo: Light romhacks on SMWCentral, and almost 200 of them were released in 2021. And it’s not even November yet.

Having said that, working within the limitations of a 30 year old game and its respective hardware does pose some questions regarding innovation and growth. The accessibility as a player or creator is quite low compared to something like Mario Maker. Some would argue this as a positive, as it acts as a barrier to entry that keeps the ‘Little Timmys’ at bay.

Given the short duration of support Nintendo gave to Mario Maker 2, I don’t see there being a Mario Maker 3 any time soon. We learned from Glitchcat7’s research that super players seeking extra challenges were making difficult romhacks during the 80s, so I think there will always be a scene around modding Mario titles, especially SMW, due to the maturity of the romhacking tools.

10 years is a long time though, and it’s hard to imagine any significant innovation that will keep the majority of the current player base interested for another decade. How will the next generation discover SMW romhacks? Many of the bigger Mario Maker 2 YouTubers occasionally post SMW content, and I hope to see more as the popularity of MM2 inevitably declines.

Everything we need is already in our hands, we just need to keep making and playing. The only thing I think we need from Nintendo are new official SNES controllers.

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