Yesterday's news that a talented modder had managed to 'update' (if such a term could be used) Super Mario Land in the form of New Super Mario Land – and get it working on a SNES, no less – caused quite a stir online. We've been lucky enough to not only play this incredible feat of programming but also talk to the person behind the project. They've asked to remain anonymous, but have otherwise given us a very candid and honest insight into the project. Enjoy!
Nintendo Life: How did the project come about? Why did you choose Super Mario Land for this?
Nintendo games have been a central part of my life; first in my youth on the Game Boy, then on the SNES. I've owned all the subsequent systems with declining enthusiasm, but the SNES left the biggest impression. I started collecting SNES/Super Famicom games and when that didn't satisfy me anymore, I started writing games for the system.
This game was intended as a personal Christmas gift for my Nintendo-loving friends to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Land, which may not be the best, but is the first Mario game I owned, and it definitely was a game-changer for seven-year-old me. I produced 30 cartridges and I have sent most of these out via mail by now.
This game was intended as a personal Christmas gift for my Nintendo-loving friends to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Land
I do not get to play a lot of video games these days, and when I do, it's usually a couple of friends and me having a beer and busting out the old SNES on a lazy weekend afternoon every now and then. That's where the idea of fusing Super Mario Land and New Super Mario Bros. together came from; having a blast developing it, reliving childhood memories and having a laid-back simultaneous multiplayer experience with the buddies.
Ultimately, the idea isn't even all that original. I think there's even Super Mario World hacks with the same name and I believe there have been people recreating Mario Land in New Super Mario Bros. It just differs in the execution. The cherry on top for me is being able to deliver that not on some cheap bootleg or butchered cartridge, but on official Nintendo hardware: the kiosk-reprogrammable "Nintendo Power" cartridge, which was recently reverse-engineered not by me, but by members of the excellent SNES emulation community.
Years ago, I bought a bunch of these Nintendo Power carts in the hope of someday being able to release something on them. I feel like this game is the perfect match. In an alternate universe, it could've been the swan song to the Nintendo Power Service that shut down in 2007.
How many people worked on the project, and what were their roles?
I had a couple of friends give me regular feedback on the multiplayer aspect. Apart from that, it's been me, myself and I developing the game in solitary confinement. Of course, that is a problem for a game because unless you're some kind of prodigy, it usually takes a team of specialist members pushing each other to achieve true excellence, and I think the game lacks in that regard.
In my experience, keeping together such a team for what amounts to a hobbyist project is difficult, especially when working remotely, because enthusiasm can fade, real-life gets in the way of team members and so on. Maybe that's just me, but working alone at my own pace has been most productive and fun for me so far.
Can you explain how the game is built, and what tools are used?
Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a ROM-hack or modification of an existing game. I also did not reuse any data or code from the original Super Mario Land. The game itself was developed just like the bulk of commercial SNES games were developed back in the nineties: programmed from scratch in Assembly language using a text editor on a PC, with custom-made tools to convert data such as graphics, music and levels into a format the SNES is able to use. The crucial difference is that today, we have powerful SNES emulators that speed up the build and test iteration and have tons of useful debugging features.
The tools used were the excellent SNES emulator bsnes, Blender for 3D modelling and animation, Gimp for graphics editing, Tiled for level editing, MilkyTracker for music composition and so forth. Also used was a Map Editor called Land Forger for the original Super Mario Land as a reference to make sure the level design and enemy placement was faithful.
Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a ROM-hack or modification of an existing game. I also did not reuse any data or code from the original Super Mario Land
Furthermore, I keep a variety of different revisions of SNES/SFC consoles for testing to make sure the game works fine on every version of real hardware. I have never developed a modern game, so I can't speak with confidence on this one, but nowadays in the age of engines like Unity, all the low-level-stuff is usually taken care of and you can concentrate on actually implementing your game.
The library/framework situation on the SNES ranges from dire to nonexistent in comparison. Even by contemporary standards, the slow SNES CPU doesn't help either and makes generalization and adding abstraction layers difficult because you usually have to hand-optimize your code pretty aggressively to your specific use case to get even moderate performance.
You will also have to understand the quite large variety of registers of the SNES' custom chips to produce decent effects – or display anything at all, for that matter. I won't lie though, I actually enjoy this kind of bare metal programming; it's something you don't see a lot anymore with modern systems.
How difficult was it to get the same 'feel' as the original game?
I'll let others be the judge of whether I actually succeeded in recreating the feel of the original. To me, Super Mario Land was a game with an unusual setting and spartan presentation, so what the different worlds represented was left to the player's imagination to some extent. New Super Mario Land represents what the game felt like to me. Regarding the physics and gameplay, the original always felt a bit rigid and stiff to me, so I tried to give it a more fluent and flowing vibe.
Naturally, this creates a problem with the original level design that often hinders that kind of flow, which I tried to mitigate to some extent. Historically, every Mario game feels and controls a bit different. I can imagine some people liking and some disliking the gameplay in this one depending on where they are coming from. It may not be perfect, but ultimately, I chose a style that felt good and fun to me.
What issues did you run into when running on original hardware?
Apart from the usual myriad of self-inflicted bugs, tuning the gameplay and keeping the framerate at somewhat acceptable levels is what most of the effort went into. It still dips down pretty hard in 4 player expert mode at times, but we've all seen worse on the SNES. Also, the camera system posed a problem, because I can't easily zoom out if players move away from each other, like New Super Mario Bros. on Wii does.
What made you choose to go with the New Super Mario Bros. art style instead of a more standard pixel art style, similar to that of All-Stars or World?
It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I really enjoy the fluid, prerendered aesthetics that the Donkey Kong Country series pioneered, and the clean looks of the New Super Mario Bros. games.
Generally speaking, hand-drawn pixel art is king, of course, but I just don't possess the necessary skill.
To be perfectly honest, the low-poly prerendered look makes it very easy to achieve acceptable-looking, fluid animations with little effort using 3D modelling software. It's much less effort than drawing everything by hand for sure, so you could say it was an economical decision. Generally speaking, hand-drawn pixel art is king, of course, but I just don't possess the necessary skill.
Do you have any plans to remake anything else in the future in a similar style?
Not at all, I usually like to try my hand at different things once in a while. Maybe something original for a change.
Has anyone from Nintendo been in touch at all? If not, are you concerned that the project might be shut down?
No, they haven't. Games like these are problematic from a legal standpoint, no matter the intentions. In case this gets blown out of proportion on the internet and they are required to react, I'll have to face the consequences. I developed the game to completion in solitude, put it on a couple of dozen cartridges and sent these out as gifts, so as far as I'm concerned, the project is terminated already. I haven't made it available to the public, I haven't made profits from it in any way whatsoever, and the game explicitly states that there's no affiliation with Nintendo.
Frankly speaking, I do not think the game will make all that much of an impact. It's a hobbyist remake of a 30-year-old game for a 29-year-old system; a fun little anecdote for fans of the original, but I think the average consumer couldn't care less.
Thanks to ChronoMoogle for making this interview possible.
I would love that as a Christmas gift. <3
Nintendo, give this guy a job.
I stand corrected.
Brilliant/fascinating interview. I hope Nintendo doesn't issue a court order for you to give up the person's name. Maybe you should delete all record of it just in case...
So how long til Nintendo swoops in to take it down ?
How long before the rom is available online I hope not too long I could add this to the SNES mini better be quick tho Nintendo will be all over this
I get a feeling this is a veteran snes developer. Great work
@KitsuneNight take it down from what? He's flashed it to cartridge and called it a day.
WOW! It's the most impressive game I've seen on SNES since Donkey Kong Country! I hope the programmer release the source code and show how it was made possible! Thank you!
They are stil going to go after him.
Interesting, so a full blown article on hmebrew then? Can we get some other games too then? 👀 (Fireworks DS is the one that comes to mind)
@KitsuneNight you may be right, but me I'm confident that won't be the case this time. What good is a "cease and decist" when he has already ceased? What good is a lawsuit when he has made no money on the venture, not even a website to make ad revenue? Nintendo are protective of their IP but they don't go around trying to punish people.
@Gridatttack You didn't read the article at all, right? That guy build it from the scratch! All he took was inspiration from a Game Boy game.
I'm just here to see all the naysayers claiming "fake", and angrily accusing NL of posting clickbait/fake news yesterday eating crow now
Seriously impressive work. I don’t envy them having to work with the bare bones support though, even MIPS gave me a headache because it was so low level, and that has pretty great support. As much as I’d love to play it, I fully respect their decision to limit the release to close friends and family just because of how quickly Ninty would jump on it.
Just if anyone is curious, it appears to be available at archive.org. That’s all I’ll say!
Many thanks to the creator
@mazzel my bad, really thought this was an SMW mod, but wow, if it's from scratch, then it's some serious impressive works!
Like the fact that the NSMBDS graphics are in is nothing special, BUT wow, the effects such as the desert heat, the water, and more is sooooo good!
I think to Nintendo this is still crossing the line. It's not much different from AM2R. It hurts their "goodwill".
Of course, even with SML being a game still sold by Nintendo, and considering that these types of occurrences make it less of an impact when Nintendo announces Super Mario Land DX: Special Edition & Luigi for Nintendo Switch™, it's not particularly hard to figure they might try something.
He's done things the right way. Nintendo can't really come down on him or you legally if he or you are just creating something using their assets for his or your own entertainment (or even if it's for him/you and a few friends) and not charging for it in any way.
And if you think it can then so be it--it's entirely your right to believe whatever you want to believe, whether it be right or wrong or any degree in between--you lose.
Wow! What skill and dedication. Really impressive stuff. Super Mario Land was one of my favourite gameboy games, and this just looks so beautiful!
Remaking an entire game as one person is no small feat. But you really shouldn't copy other people's work to do so.
@impurekind actually they can. He used Mario's Likeness, level design, etc. all of those are copyrighted and trademarked. This doesn't fall under fair use.
The worst he could get is a cease and desist, but seems unlikely as he's not made it publicly available to anyone. He's also not profited from it. Can't see Nintendo caring.
@sanderev Fair Use basically only comes into play if money is involved in one way or another. You can do whatever the hell you want with Mario so long as you're not monetizing it, or using it in any way that directly or kinda undirectly relates to money, such as putting a logo of Mario on the front of your shop or showing lots of footage of Mario on your TV show [without permission] in order to get in more viewers or something like that. This is why no one can sue you for painting an image of Mario and posting it on Instagram, or entirely covering you school book in Mario art/stickers/prints/whatever and taking it in and showing all your classmates, or making a giant 3D sprite of Mario out of Lego blocks and sticking it in your garden, or dressing up as Mario at Halloween (although it's possibly possible in some messed up scenario that Nintendo might have a word if you get too much candy while trick or treating-- I mean some really twisted Twilight Zone scenario), or making a collage of all your favourite Mario sprites/art/images in Photoshop and using it as your PC desktop, or making a [non-commercial] video game using Mario sprites and tiles to propose to your girlfriend, etc, etc, etc.
I enjoyed his technical descriptions and his relaxed, detached attitude in this interview. The project looks quite nice. I've always liked the original Super Mario Land.
@impurekind Actually incorrect. Fair use only is in effect if you use a very small amount of content. This is an entire game, it will never fall under fair use.
@sanderev Again, like I said above, Fair Use isn't really in effect at all if you're not monetizing or commercializing said game in any way, even an entire game filled with Nintendo assets.
Like I said: Believe otherwise if you like--it's your loss.
@sanderev Well yes, that's what impurekind is saying. You're both saying this isn't fair use, but you mean something different. impurekind is saying that fair use doesn't even apply to this, and you're saying this is in violation of fair use.
@sanderev Personally I'm inclined to agree with impurekind. You can draw a picture of Mario and give it to a friend as a gift. Acceptable, right? Well this guy drew an entire game. He didn't reuse any of Nintendo's code. Not acceptable? Well then you're saying it's a matter of degree, and if it's a matter of degree, where is the line? (That's a rhetorical question.)
@nimnio In this case he could also use all the code too, so long as he does not try to sell or monetize or profit from the game in any direct or indirect way (like start a Kickstarter or something like that).
It's like the example I mentioned above about a guy making a Mario game to propose to his girlfriend; it could literally just be an entirely copied and paste Mario game with a few hacked changes to add in the proposal stuff.
None of this stuff you see in law around Patents and Copyright and so on is protected if money doesn't come into it in any way, shape or form.
You could literally go visit the Patent website and steal someone else's invention and make the same thing yourself and nothing would happen to you--so long as you don't try to get any money, or proper fame/recognition or something like that for it (as those things can also ultimately lead to money or cost the actual inventor/creator money in one way or another--but there would need to be solid proof of that, and the burden of that proof would be on Nintendo and it's very costly lawyers in this case).
I guess I should clarify that if you can be shown to be costing the company money by using its stuff then that counts too, so there is that angle they can push if they really want to. Again though, those lawyers are very costly, so it's very unlikely Nintendo will actually do much at all if you can demonstrate quite easily you're not making any money and it's not going to be losing any money as a result of what you're doing. In this case, if Nintendo really wanted to claim it's going to lose money as a result of this guy making this game, I'd say challenge them--basically, just totally ignore the letters they're sending and literally do nothing else*--and see how much time and money they're willing to spend on those lawyers to stop this [non-profit] fan-made game from being created. . . .
But, the point being, it's really just all about money at the end of the day. And if no one can show you're either making money or costing someone else or some other business money then it's all fair game really.
*Trust me on this: You will be amazed at how effective this strategy is when a company has to spend thousands upon thousands to threaten you yet knows it's going to basically get nothing back at the end of the day, even if it wins. This is basically--or one of the ways--that I ultimately beat Warner Bros. when it took legal action against me registering my iNCEPTIONAL Trademark. It was claiming that was a violation of it's own [still not actually registered at the time] Inception Trademark. And, after two years of it spending probably hundreds of thousands at that point on lawyers, and me handling my side all myself for free, I won. Part of that was I was actually in the right, but part was because at some point Warner Bros. realized there was nothing to be gained here, no money--and, again, it's all about the money.
@AlienX Having been on the development team of AM2R, we all knew the risks the entire time. We believe the unannounced remake of Metroid 2 conflicted by the end of development, and with the wave of popularity that hit AM2R, Nintendo had no choice but to intervene. They gave us about a week though, so that was something.
"Well this guy drew an entire game. "
That's exactly the kind of thing that wouldn't qualify for fair use. The fair use guidelines take into account the amount of work that is used. There are other guidelines too. The main reasons for fair use are commentary, critism, teaching, news, and parody. It's very unlikely that creating a software program that could compete with other Nintendo released games would fall within any of the protections for fair use regardless of amount of derivative work.
" Well then you're saying it's a matter of degree, and if it's a matter of degree, where is the line?"
There are no black and white guidelines because the courts prefer to look at each case and determine the facts. The reality though is Nintendo kind of decides if you violate fair use unless you want to challenge them in court which really hasn't happened in cases like this.
Wished I had his knowledge. I’d love to attempt something like this.
Nintendo could take down the video on youtube, but thats pretty much about it.
SNES Rom hacks are made all the time and nothing gets done to take them down. Known Nintendo YouTubers play them often on twitch and uploaded to YouTube.
Here’s a couple of examples: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GY0HnqnYMO8
This is a great home brew, I must have died eight times in a row on the last level. I hope the developer makes an original game in the future.
@Boxmonkey there are whole websites like romhacking.net that distribute rom hacks, not hacked roms, you still need to apply the patches to the original roms. Nintendo can't do anything about them, but it could if they only distributed modified roms.
What Nintendo can do and is doing is to make rom distributing websites stop letting people download roms of Nintendo games.
There are very well known websites that now let you download everything but Nintendo roms indeed.
Playing this on Switch just now. Pretty widely available already. Same with anything shared online. . . once the genie is out the bottle, thats it. Any cease and desist after that is futile. AM2R was "taken down".. yet its still easily available on multiple sites. NSML is really floaty which is just like the original. I'll prob see this one through till the end.
That's a lot of loving dedication for a game that will be described in the comments as "asking for it" when the inevitable C&D letter arrives.
already reported it to nintendo thanks Nintendo life.
@fluggy already emailed nintendo
Eh?... youve already emailed Nintendo? Fill your boots mate. Pretty sure Ninty had heard of before Nintendo Life ... its been reported on dozens of sites. Your such a bastion of videogame morality.
I got this to work on my 3ds haha.
It's a pretty decent remake (better than anything I could make) but the constant "wahoo" "yipee" and "woo" EVERY TIME YOU JUMP is enough for anyone to want to hang themselves. Controls are a little stiff. I don't understand why some of the music is a remake from the original SML but some of it's different. Over all though it's pretty good, despite these flaws.
Even the bahp bahp dances are in. Impressive level of detail, and it works on 3DS! Link: https://archive.org/details/New_Super_Land_Remix_2019
@RetiredR anti fan when im saying its illegal to try to use an ip without permission? oh no the horror leave
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