Nintendo used to design Super Mario levels on graph paper

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Folks with rom dumps and emulators have been doing level hacks for years.

This is a Tool Assisted Run (TAS) kaizo Mario – basically if they die, they ‘rewind’ the emulator and try again till they get it right.

There’s a Super Mario World map hack that actually plays itself, which is pretty impressive to watch:


Considering the technology of the time and the size of the maps it was probably the best way to see it in one big picture so may as well start the basic design that way as well.

Really? That’s awesome. I did the same thing in middle school making drawings in BASIC. We did mostly low res, but we did one cool high res project where I drew the out line of an F-16 and had a Top Gun-esque choose your own adventure where it fired a missile. I think the assignment was just to make a picture, but I had the short game, animation, explosion sound, and a low res medal at the end.

Too bad when I got to a real programming language I lost interest.

Years? It took them years to come up with the idea of a level editor?

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Thank you! That was awesome.

If you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t seen it all.

I used graph paper to draw a diagram of all the levels in zelda so I could beat it. (There’s all these invisible doors that you only find by pressing on every wall and bush… which can get confusing if you dont have a map). I wonder what I did with that map… hm.

This was 1985. Computer graphics was nowhere near today’s level. MS-DOS was used by nearly everyone who didn’t have a VAX or was stuck with CP/M.

I remember designing printed circuit boards at that time by drawing the changes on paper printouts, then entering the changes into the CAD system (which our company made!) the next day. But we had a big pen plotter to draw the current state of the design.

The Mario Bros. code was all being cross-compiled to 6502 code on a development system. It’s not surprising that it took years to develop a graphics generator program for it.


Maker needs to be able to reproduce this if I want to take it seriously.

When you’re coding in assembler, you’re not really thinking in terms of high-level design interfaces.

(Besides which, they’d probably have to code the level editor in assembler too. That’s a pretty significant time investment compared to just jotting the level on paper.)

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Yow, I missed that detail. My experience of assembler is maybe 1 or 2 operations. Do they even call them lines of code? I can remember a PDP with eight toggle switches on the front, plus [ENTER].

I would buy a book collecting these.

IIRC the self-playing video originated from Nico Nico Douga years ago. I had been seeking a copy of the hacked ROM image myself to run it through a proper emulator for verification, but even original ROMs are tricky to come by. The music on that track was collaboratively put together, and there’s a version recorded with lyrics too.

I recall reading that the actual production required a small button push here and there to keep it going, and a bit of timing adjustments in the transitions to line up with the music, but I think that was already a second hand or third hand source. A good bunch of the text online talking about the video is in Japanese, and I cannot yet read Japanese. With the ethereal nature of content on the net, I’m not sure what survives to this day.

The TAS run obviously can’t be done in one shot. One effect of those TAS speed runs is that the final replay appears inhumanly flawless, but I’m sure there were tons of missteps along the way, and the “go back 100 cycles” button mashed often.

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