I've mentioned in my intro thread that I'm from SMWCentral. That means I'm a Super Mario World hacker first and foremost, and I've been doing it off and on for a very long time. There may be people here that weren't even born when I started. I'm a relic of what may be a bygone era in the world of Super Mario World hacking.
It all started in 2006, though sometimes, I wish it started a year sooner so I could parody the opening narration of the 1986 Transforemrs movie. To be fair, I did discover emulation in 2005, so maybe you could say that's when it started. One thing emulation taught me that year is that Convoy no Nazo is a piece of Unicron excrement. This isn't about awful Transformers games, though. It's about the best 2D platformer (and platformer engine) ever created, at least in my opinion.
I came in as a total n00b with no knowledge of ROM hacking and ROM hacking culture. It was just a matter of me being curious while browsing a Mario fansite one day. Said site had a section for level editors, and that's where I discovered Lunar Magic. "I can fix Tubular!" I thought to myself. "I could change the themes of the levels if I want to!" That's all my first attempt at a hack was, just blatant level edits. I would soon learn that, even all the way back in 2006, such things weren't accepted by the SMW community. I was discouraged for a bit, and considered giving up. Thankfully, some random banner on a user's forum post layout reinvigorated me. This time, I'd make my own levels, and learn about Map16 editing along the way. All was going well until my water started acting like a ledge when Mario surfaced. I could not figure out how to fix it, canceled the project, and almost gave up again. I would soon get a third wind, though, and try for a hack yet again. This time, I managed to finish something, learning how to insert custom graphics along the way. I would even begin making tilesets to submit to the fledgling SMWCentral.net's Graphics section. These were little more than collections of ripped graphics taken from multiple sources. Most of them are probably gone now. Eventually, though, I would start hand-drawing stuff. It was pretty simplistic, and most of it probably hasn't aged too well, but there was the occasional gem that would be a harbinger of things to come.
Super Mario Starlight Remix would be the first hack of mine to ever be accepted to SMWC. It had custom levels and graphics, but that was pretty much it. Neither of these things has aged well at all, which is why I didn't bother uploading it here. I only recommend checking it out if you wanna see where I got my start.
Early in 2007, I finally learned how to (properly) edit the Overworld map, so I figured I was ready to start my next project, which I called Super Mario Bros. 5. Yeah, real original. This hack would have custom graphics and a custom overworld. It would've consisted of 8 themed Worlds, starting with an island/beach world. IIRC, the order went something like this:
- Tiki Island (Beach)
- Mushroom Plains (Grass)
- Desert Island (Desert)
- Emerald Forest (Forest)
- Misty Mountains (Cave/Mountain)
- Azure Falls (Water)
- Winter Valley (Ice)
- Koopa Kingdom (Fire/Bowser)
What was this Great Wipe? The story goes that some admins on SMWCentral got bored one day and decided to give every non-banned user staff powers. This inevitably led to chaos, and the Reset Button was pressed. At the time, I had no internet access. I couldn't log into SMWC to see it all unfold or even to take part. By the time I could get back online and go to SMWC, I couldn't log in. My account was gone. I thought it had been deleted due to my months of inactivity, or even that I got banned because a certain slimeball hacked into my account and did something like post porn on the forums. It took me years to learn that neither was the case. It wouldn't be until 2009 that I began frequenting the site again. This time, I was simply downloading and playing hacks, never really considering going back to making them.
While I was gone, a lot changed about SMW hacking. New advancements and tools made it possible to add new types of custom content, such as music and enemies. ASM hacking was either more accessible because more people knew 65c816 Assembly or some new form of easy-to-insert patching system was invented. One hack that was a product of all this really made an impression on me at the time: SMW2+3: The Essence Star. It first caught my attention due to using some of the tilesets I had submitted back in 2006, but screenshots can only say so much about a hack. In terms of how Mario controlled, this was still the same old Super Mario World at its core, which isn't a bad thing at all because I love how Mario handles in the game. There were interesting new mechanics hacked in that made for a totally different-feeling adventure. It had some mild RPG elements, such as NPCs you could talk to and coins that acted as currency that could be spent on power-ups at a shop. There were cutscenes that allowed the hack to be much more story-driven than any official Mario game. There were hidden character upgrades, Easter Eggs, and collectible cards. I wonder how the Completionists would feel abou this game. It lit a spark.
Later, I discovered another hack called Super Mario World: Hacks 101. This one was unique in that, while it could just be played through like any other hack, it also served as a tutorial for how to make decent hacks if you took the time to read all the Message Boxes scattered throughout the levels. It showed me what I should (and shouldn't) do when making hacks. The spark was turning into a small flame, but one more thing would happen to pour gasoline on that flame.
In 2010, my mother, her fourth husband (an actually decent guy), and I moved from a modest place in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to what we figured would be an even better place in rural Jasper, Missouri. We were all fooled. Yeah, the place looked nice and was bigger than our old place, but it was horribly insulated, so much so that, while its rent was cheaper than our old place, its utility bills more than made up for that. Worse still, our only option for internet access was 3G mobile internet, which cost over $60 a month and had a 5GB monthly data limit. Going over said limit would incur overage fees. We only learned about this after a month of using the internet like we always had. We racked up such a huge overage fee that we couldn't pay and were cut off. My stepdad had to switch providers, but we'd still spend about a month and a half with no internet. At that time, I had gotten into making pixel art of Robot Masters from the Mega Man series. Loss of internet would put a stop to that because I could no longer access references and didn't have any Mega Man art books or anything lying around. I still wanted to make pixel art though. It was at that point that I remembered one of many CD-Rs I had. This disc had Lunar Magic on it, along with a bunch of other gaming hand hacking-related stuff. I grabbed LM off the disc and began making tilesets, and those tilesets would soon give way to levels. By the time I got internet back, I was ready. I made a new account on SMWCentral (since my old one got lost in the Great Wipe). I started submitting my tilesets to the Graphics section. After that, I started a thread in the WIP forum for a hack I called Super Mario Bros. 5 Reborn. This new hack used the original SMB5 as a base ROM, but incorporated the new tilesets I had drawn. The initial 3-World demo was rejected due to poor testing. I wouldn't give up that easily though. I'd fix the errors and learn more along the way, including how to put in custom sprites, ASM patches, and music. The music would've been a problem, and it could've even caused the hack to be canceled when it was nearly finished. Why? I was using Romi's AddMusic, which had recently been discovered to not work on more accurate emulators or real SNES hardware. A user named HuFlungDu would figure out a way to fix that issue and release an updated AddMusic based on Romi's. At first, I thought this would mean porting everything to a new ROM, which would be easier said than done. Thankfully, it didn't. I would just need to make some edits to the music I already had and reinsert with the new tool. Crisis averted. The game was now ready to be released for the 2011 Spring SMWCentral Creativity Convention, aka C3. People loved it, but it still had some issues that almost couldn't be fixed because, a week after the C3, my computer's hard drive crashed. My mother let me use one of her old computers, but I'd need to re-download all the music so I could insert it while adding in some new songs. I'd release a revision that would be accepted about a month before we moved house again. When it came time to release one final revision, I was in a much smaller, but much better place with decent, affordable internet. Super Mario Bors. 5 Reborn isn't here either since, although it's a better game than Starlgiht Remix, it's been deprecated.
Later that year, I would start up another project called Mecha-Bowser's Revenge, which would be a sequel to SMB5R. Though it would have fewer levels, it would be a bit more ambitious. It would have a hub map with 4 themed areas that could be visited in any order. Each area would end with a boss battle, followed by pressing one of the four colored Switches. Once all the Switches were pressed, the player could then move on to the final world. Sadly, this was a bit too ambitious. It required bosses and sprites that didn't exist. I didn't know ASM though, and I was not yet established enough for people to consider taking requests from me. I needed to hone my level designing skills anyway. I did this by starting with AxemJinx's level design tutorial, which explained the things that were present in official Mario levels, but had gone unnoticed by me for so long. I took this knowledge and entered the 5th Annual Vanilla Level Design Contest with a level called Rex Ruins. It didn't place high, but it didn't place low either. It was about middle of the road. More importantly, though, it would be rated a 4/5 by XKeeper, a person I remember lambasting my first attempt at a hack. XKeeper was known for being so critical of hacks that he was seen as a troll. If I could get high ratings from someone like that, I was doing something right.
This would lead me to try making a mini-hack based on the rules of VLDC5. Rex Ruins would be part of this. Sadly, recurring Hacker's Block would cause me to cancel it on the last level. I decided to switch gears a bit, going from making levels to making music ports and graphics.
Late that spring, I was ready to try making a hack again. This would be a full-length hack with 8 Worlds, and it would be very loosely based on Super Mario Starlight Remix. This is because I would often ask myself what that hack would be like if I made it with current tools, resources, and skills as apposed to what I had in 2006. It wasn't easy. Despite my attempts to be more self-sufficient when it came to resources, I still found myself wanting some custom stuff, like a Ludwig boss that shot music notes or a giant Fuzzy. By now, I was at least somewhat established, and the ASM resources I wanted were made. The only things that could really kill this hack would either be glitches that were beyond my ability to fix or Hacker's Block. The latter would stop me more than the former, and, being the religious sort, I would wonder if these came from God. This is because downloading ROMs is often equated to theft, and one of the Ten Commandments says "Thou shalt not steal." It would be something I'd discuss with a user named imamelia, who had become both a friend and a go-to for ASM stuff. He was also Christian, albeit a Catholic as apposed to my being a Latter-Day Saint. We still had the same moral foundations more or less. He asked his priest about hacking SMW, and he saw no problem with it. Heck, I've talked to people on a Discord server set up by members of my church about ROM hacking, and not even they see anything wrong with it. I think some have even mentioned playing hacks. imamelia would go on to do a Let's Play of the completed game after it was released and passed moderation on SMWC. He reasoned that, if God didn't want me making hacks, He wouldn't have given me the talent to do so. I guess Hacker's Block can happen to anyone, religious or not. Either way, you can check out Mario & Luigi: Starlight Island Adventure here.
The fire was now a towering inferno. I was now a dedicated SMW hacker. The V, a n00b who tried to pass a collection of blatant level edits off as a hack was now Gamma V, a much more mature hacker with much higher standards. 2013 would spawn Kamek's Island, a Choco-Nilla hack with 7 Worlds and 70 levels, making it 30 levels longer than the previous hack. It was a bit more challenging than Starlight Island Adventure, especially in the endgame. Even I think that I may have made Kamek a little too hard, but it's now a bit too late to fix him since I no longer have the assets for the hack on my computer.
That December, I would participate in that year's 12 Days Before Christmas hacking contest, which challenged contestants to make levels based on 12 themes chosen by the organizers. A new theme would be revealed every day starting on December 13th and ending on Christmas Eve. Some themes were pretty straightforward, like Day 1's grassland theme, but others were a bit more niche, like Day 9's Dimensional Vortex, a theme that nearly stopped me on my 30th birthday were it not expanded to include general Alternate Dimension theming. I would still save this theme for last since it wasn't necessary to do the themes in the order they were presented. My entry ended up placing third, making it my highest-ranking contest entry on that site. That hack, and 3 other mini-hacks, can be found in the Short But Sweet collection. The tail end of 2013 would also see me begin work on revamping Super Mario Bros. 5 Reborn. Yeah, a revamp of a revamp. I did say that SMB5 had more than one reincarnation. Work on this hack, which would go by the name Mario & Luigi: Kola Kingdom Quest, would continue through 2014. Early that summer, though, after a long music porting spree, I decided to start a more vanilla side-project that would make use of some of my new ports. I released a demo of that side-project during the C3 held that summer, where it received a silver trophy for Best Demo Hack. Kola Kingdom Quest would finally be finished in early 2015, and the side project would then become my main project. This hack, Bowser's Cataclysmic Trap, would first be released at the 2015 Summer C3, where I think it came close to getting a trophy. That year, though, my hacks began to receive some criticism. They hadn't gone from being masterpieces to Worst Hacks Ever, but some users were starting to see a formula in how I made levels. My hacks were still good, but they were too homogenous. No one hack really stood out. That criticism would often tank my motivation, but I'd still go on to release Super Mario Land 3: Tatanga's Return, Mario is Missing Done Right, and Super Mario Bros: The Early Years, even as the voices calling my hacks uncreative and same-y grew louder. All the while, I continued to enter level contests, but I would never again crack the top 10 the way I did in 2013 and 2014. In fact, my scores started getting lower. The 2019 Halloween Level Design Contest results were bad enough to tank my motivation while I worked on a relatively short hack called The Chocolate Collection. I would still occasionally push myself to work on it while awaiting the results of the Base ROM Level Design Contest. I was hoping maybe I'd score better there. I didn't.
That same year, Super Luigi Land was released, and was voted one of the best hacks of 2019 in that year's Mosts. That boosted my mood just enough for me to get 15 levels done in Chocolate Collection, but it didn't save the hack. I eventually lost motivation and canceled it early last February. Upon wondering why I had lost motivation, I thought back to a prayer I had offered up late in 2017. I asked God Himself whether or not it was a sin to ROM hack. I asked Him to help me quit if it was. In spring of 2018, I became active in my church again after years of inactivity. This slowed down progress on Super Luigi Land. Was it just because church was now taking up some of the time that was once spent hacking, or was going to church subtly helping me quit? I thought it was the latter. I was convinced at that point that ROM hacking was a sin. I had to quit. I had to repent, so I canceled The Chocolate Collection. There was just one thing I couldn't let go of though: the fact that, over nearly a decade, I had contributed so much to the SMW hacking scene. There were still plenty of people who liked my hacks, homogenous as they were. My custom tilesets were still popular among other hackers, earning me more trophies at C3s and Mosts and my hacks ever did. I had hundreds of music ports on SMWC. To truly repent, I'd have to let that all go. I'd have to forget about all that, but how would I make others forget? That was probably impossible. My friends saw me go through this and tried to convince me that I was wrong about hacking being a sin. For a while, I just saw them as moral relativists. I'm pretty sure most weren't Christians of any stripe. One even told me to not let "a 2000-year-old book run [my] life." Another showed me a video about why, despite what some game developers say, game modding is a good thing. I was offended by the Bible diss, and the video didn't help sway me either. It's not until I started chatting with Daizo Dee Von one night on Discord. He was explaining his take on the morality of hacking, even saying that he was Christian too. That night, I found myself watching a friend's YouTube stream while he streamed Return to Dinosaur Land, a classic in the world of SMW hacking. I was pulled back in that night, and I decided to make something small. I was coming up on 10 years of consistent hacking. Maybe it's time to celebrate...or at least create a nice send-off in case I'd end up retiring after all. It was only 10 levels, half of which were either salvaged from Chocolate Collection or created for hacking contests. The other half would be new levels. I'd have some problems with some of those, but they were more often technical problems than Hacker's Blocks. Originally, I was hoping for TEN to be released on March 10th, aka Mario Day. Sadly, the moderator who claimed it got sick, so it wouldn't be released for a few more days. I was back. At least, I was no longer deluded into thinking hacking was a sin.
Around the time TEN was finally released, the COVID-19 pandemic had begun. I was now forced into inactivity from church due to the pandemic-induced shutdown of the world. COVID was all over the news. It permeated discussions everywhere. It disrupted everything, even routine trips to the grocery store. Most importantly, especially for my staunchly conservative stepfather, it posed a threat to freedom. As he ranted on Facebook about some of the more Draconian measures politicians have taken to combat the Novel Coronavirus, I was getting inspired to start another hack. In this hack, Bowser would either release, or convince everyone that he had released, a deadly virus in the Mushroom Kingdom. His minions would enforce strict Stay-At-Home orders. Mario, being suspicous, would violate the orders to investigate this virus situation. I'd get this hack, Super Mario Outbreak, to the point of releasing a 2-World demo. I'd then continue into Worlds 3 and 4, but I'd then start losing motivation again. Now, I was more interested in doing digital art and online jigsaw puzzles than I was in working on a hack. Eventually, I canceled Outbreak and decided that maybe it was time to quit. I was a relic of a bygone era now. The culture of SMWC was no longer about traditional hacks that could pass for real Mario games. It was about ridiculous gimmick-driven hacks a la Janked Up Mario Party (JUMP) and Kaizo. It was now all about pushing boundaries just for the sake of pushing boundaries. Levels would be more known for their gimmicks than anything now, regardless of how fun they were to play or how well they were designed. Music porting had become about creating super-accurate reproductions of songs, regardless of how well they functioned in levels or how well they'd even fit in a typical hack. All the other veterans had pretty much left SMWC. Apparently, political correctness was also now permeating the community. I could run into trouble just for being a white heterosexual cisgender woman, even if I'm not a racist, homophobe or transphobe. I'm none of those things.
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