Super Mario 64 is a wonderful, important game. Aside from its earth-shattering release back in 1996, Nintendo’s first 3D Mario game still holds up as a shining example of movement and world design. And even more than 20 years after it released, a dedicated community is still dissecting and modifying Mario 64. At the forefront of that community marches Kaze Emanuar, a full-time Mario 64 modder from the heart of Germany.
With years of experience, dozens of projects, and over 90,000 subscribers on YouTube, Kaze has solidified his place as the best Mario 64 hacker out there. He’s created crossover mods, HD reskins, entire games, and even an online multiplayer mode called Super Mario 64 Online. All of that was built solely inside Mario 64.
Recently, Culture of Gaming reached out to Kaze to discuss his history with the first 3D Mario. We learned about his process for creating mods, his schedule, his inspiration, and how he’s been able to make modding a single game into a full-time job. But before that, we took a step back to see where this wild, wild Super Mario ride all started…
Calculators and Modding
As a kid, Kaze says that he played quite a bit of Mario 64, getting all 120 stars over the course of many years. It wasn’t until he started high school as a math student that he dabbled in a bit of programming. “I had just a little bit [of programming experience] on my Ti-84 [calculator].” Aside from that, Kaze went into Mario 64 modding completely fresh.
When Kaze finds an interest, he latches on, and that was exactly the case with Mario 64 modding. “[I started modding Mario 64] around 2011. Before that, I was playing an online game, and had kind of gotten everything I needed to in the game, so I needed a new hobby. Usually, when I have a hobby, I spend all my time on it. So then I found Mario 64 modding, and I thought it might be interesting, so I dove into it.”
And boy, did he dive. For the next 8 years, Kaze honed his modding abilites, modifying the same game again and again. He’s created dozens and dozens of these mods by now, so we asked about some of his most prominent creations.
Kaze’s first major project was a full-fledged game that he called Super Mario 64: Last Impact. It took the physics and graphical style of Mario 64, but with totally revamped worlds, music, stars and characters. Last Impact nails the sense of wonder that the original Mario 64 captured us with. With more than 130 stars spread across 15 levels, Last Impact is stuffed with hidden stars, coins, and other secrets.
Each level has an overarching narrative that you can witness unfold after finding each star. For Kaze, this type of world-building was essential to keeping Mario 64’s original feel.
“A lot of mods only capitalize on Mario’s movement. I didn’t really like that as much; I like the stories that are being told throughout the world, and through the different enemies. For example, there’s this one level with a town that’s doomed. The people that live there have a story that goes on over the six acts. That’s something I really found interesting in Mario 64, when they did something similar to that.”
Super Mario 64 Online
In 2017, Kaze and two other modders created a networked multiplayer hack. Fittingly, they dubbed it Super Mario 64 Online. Through the power of the internet, up to 24 people could join each other’s Mario 64 worlds, with sometimes ridiculous results. As proven by YouTuber AlphaRad’s SM64 Online video, 3 low-poly Waluigis and a Rosalina hanging in a semi-circle around a green pipe is just as funny as you would think.
But Nintendo’s strict copyright policies prevented SM64 Online from operating for too long. After only a week, Nintendo forced Kaze to shut the service down on the grounds of copyright and IP infringement. But it didn’t take long for Kaze and his crew to revive the service with Net 64 2.0. This time around, the online service allowed users to play mods with each other, in addition to the original game. This meant that Last Impact, Kaze’s previous project, was up for online multiplayer.
In the days since it released last year, Net64 2.0 maintained a small community. While the other developers continued to support the game, Kaze decided to move on to greener pastures. The Mario Online hack had granted him a dedicated fanbase, so he decided to return the favor by dedicating more of his time to YouTubing.
Modder and YouTuber
“For a while, I tried to upload every two to three days.” To accommodate for this upload schedule, Kaze built a lot of smaller mods to showcase to his subscribers. These varied from a fidget spinner Mario head, to a playable Bowsette, to a mod replacing every sound effect with a Crash Bandicoot noise.
For Kaze, these smaller mods were more a means for constant content than anything. “I had to think of a bunch of dumb, small mod ideas,” he laments. “I really wanted to get back to developing my big games.”
Perhaps one of the best technical achievements of Kaze’s career is when he created a blend of Valve’s classic puzzler Portal and Mario 64. But don’t think for a moment that it’s simply a reskinning of either game’s story. Instead, Kaze made an entirely new world and set of levels out of the portal mechanic. You run around the labs of Aperture Laboratories, except now, it’s made up of Mario-style sand-box levels. Since Valve obviously hasn’t released a Portal game since 2011’s Portal 2, Kaze jokingly called this game Portal 3.
Implementing the portal gun into Mario 64 was no small feat, but surprisingly, it took less time than you might think. “It’s probably one of the more complicated codes I wrote, but for the first version that kind of worked and preserved the momentum, I think it took me about 6 or 7 hours.”
While the final project obviously took much longer than 6 hours, it speaks to Kaze’s talent that he’s able to write teleportation code in less than a day. This speed and productivity was what allowed him to create so many mods, even beyond Portal 3.
Super Mario 64: Ocarina of Time
Mario vs. Zelda: the eternal, unsolvable debate. The real question should be: why not both? Early last year, Kaze solved both problems with Super Mario 64: Ocarina of Time, a mash-up where Mario wanders the familiar land of Hyrule, defeating goombas, solving puzzles, and collecting stars.
For SM64: Ocarina of Time, Kaze had to make more than a few tweaks to Hyrule to accommodate for Mario’s moveset. “The dungeons are actually completely redesigned. They have little to do with the original. I just wanted to keep the feel of the original game.”
He certainly accomplished that feel. SM64: Ocarina of Time is teeming with nostalgic locations from the original Ocarina of Time. The Lost Woods, Gerudo Valley, the Temple of Time, Kakariko Village; all of these are present, with newly created NPC’s, dialogue bits, and redone soundtracks to complement.
The Mario Sound Print
Speaking of soundtracks, Kaze spends a lot of time incorporating music pieces into his mods. Mario 64 has its own unique soundprint, and Kaze always wants to make sure that every track and sound effect sounds in tune with Mario.
“First of all, you need all the different notes transcribed into MIDI file.” MIDI, short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a protocol for playing digital synths and musical instruments on computers. “Mario 64 uses something similar to a MIDI file, but it’s called M64. It’s really limited – you only get to work with about ten different instruments. So you kind of have to work with that.”
Kaze gets most of his musical inspiration from other video games. In Last Impact, he implemented a few songs from Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario 3D World. SM64: Ocarina obviously had a number of retuned soundtracks from the original game. But he also hires talented artists to arrange entirely new soundtracks for him, including this rocking synth boss fight theme from Portal 3.
Super Mario Bros 64
Sometimes, there’s no better place to go than back to your roots. That was Kaze’s intention with Super Mario Bros 64, a faithful recreation of the original Super Mario Bros, but in the Mario 64 engine. Thanks to Mario’s expanded move-set, sprinting from one end of the stage to the other is a blast; you can long-jump across gaps where it was impossible in the original game.
SMB 64 was one of Kaze’s shorter projects. “It hardly took me any time at all. One level took 15 to 30 minutes to make. [Although], it really depended on the level. Sometimes, you have levels like World 1-2 where you had a lot of regular blocks, and I had to input all the positions manually. But actually making the levels is really quick.”
One of the best features of SMB 64 shows up right when you start the game. There are four playable characters: Mario (of course), Luigi, Wario and Waluigi. Each one functions as his own difficulty, with Waluigi being the easiest, and Wario the hardest. “I found that with Mario in the game, it was way too difficult. I wanted to make the jumps higher, but if I did that, the physics would be different from Mario 64. So, I thought ‘how do I make different difficulty settings?’ And then I realized ‘Hey! Why not put in four characters?’ That’s going to be the best kind of difficulty.”
That “difficulty by character” approach is something that Nintendo has implemented in Mario games over the years, starting with Super Mario Bros 2, but never in the first game. Kaze simply took that concept used in later games and applied it to his mod. It’s little touches like that solidify Kaze as one of the best modders out there.
Kaze’s Current Projects
Currently, Kaze has a few other major projects in the works that he plans on releasing in the next couple years, and most of them relate directly to other Mario games.
Kaze’s primary solo effort is to recreate Super Mario 3D Land and World’s level design in a mod he calls Super Mario Land 64. But don’t misconstrue this; Mario 64 Land is neither a remake or reskin of either Mario 3D game. Kaze wants to create an entirely new set of levels, but with the power-ups and linear design of Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS titles. He says he ought to finish that mod in about half a year.
A remake of Nintendo’s most controversial 3D Mario, Super Mario Sunshine, is in the works as well. “For Mario Sunshine 64, I’m working with a group of people called Team Cornersoft.” Kaze states that he started this Sunshine remake from a point of criticism. “I [believe] Sunshine has a lot of design flaws, that, with the power of hindsight, we can go and fix.” One of the issues he (and many others) take with the original Sunshine are the 240 infamous collectable blue coins, which require players to complete menial fetching tasks. Kaze has but one thing to say about blue coins: “They suck!” Naturally, he intends on adjusting them in the mod.
The recent Mario Odyssey was not only a massive success, but a masterful return to Mario 64’s sandbox form. Given that, Kaze’s upcoming Mario Odyssey 64 almost makes too much sense. Not only does it add Mario’s signature dive and roll from Odyssey, but the ability to throw Cappy and capture enemies. Originally, this full-fledged game stemmed from a smaller physics mod. “I created a big Odyssey physics-set, and then I thought ‘Hey, which level themes am I going to use?’ Then I had the idea to just use the levels from Odyssey and the art-styles.”
Mario isn’t the only franchise in Kaze’s future. He has a second Ocarina of Time mod in the works, although though there’s no firm release date as of now.
You might be asking “How can one person be responsible for so many projects?” The short answer is that Kaze mods, and mods, and mods… and sleeps. Sometimes he even skips that last step. “I work really concentratedly–I don’t get distracted. I start, and then that’s all I do. Like, sometimes I’ll start at ten in the morning, and then I’ll realize it’s 2AM.”
By far, Kaze’s most intense project was Mario 64: Last Impact. “[Last Impact] was the project I spent the most time on,” Kaze explained. “It was a crazy time. I had a lot of math classes [pretty much] all day, and then I went home and hacked Mario 64 all day. I did nothing but college and working on my hack.” By the end of the two-year development process, Kaze had spent more than 4000 hours perfecting his project. Do some quick math, and that’s about 2 years-worth of forty-hour work weeks, on top of his college work-load.
With the thousands of hours he’s spent mastering his modding abilities, we had to ask: “What do you do with your free time?”
Kaze just chuckled and soberly responded: “I hack Mario. I mean, I don’t take free time.”
Mario 64 as a Living
Through commission work, modding partners, YouTube ad revenue, and Patreon, Kaze has carved a legitimate career out of modifying one of his favorite games. This certainly isn’t anything new; there are massive modding communities on sites like Nexus Mods, editing code in everything from Stardew Valley to Mass Effect 3 to No Man’s Sky. But modding in the Nintendo community is far less common. Console-only games don’t lend themselves to easy modding processes, and the Mario community doesn’t flock to the modding scene nearly as much as other fanbases.
Given that, Kaze’s 90,000+ subscriber-base is an outstanding achievement. He’s been able to accrue an audience of Mario fans, and has convinced many (including this writer) to boot up their PC and try Mario modding for the first time. And even after years and years of working with the same game, Kaze has stuck with it for thousands of hours to create some of the best mods out there.
What does the future hold for Kaze Emanuar? Someday, he plans on hurdling the Mario 64 fence and making his own original game. “Eventually, when I get really good at game design, I’ll make my own games. But before then, I’ll want to practice a lot.” If his dozens of projects are anything to go by, he’s had more than enough practice. If and when he makes the jump to independent game-development, we wish him nothing but the best.
In the meantime, Kaze has a couple Zelda-related projects up his sleeve, including something related to Majora’s Mask. For more details, make sure to subscribe to Kaze on YouTube to catch any official announcements he releases. You can also find him on Twitter, Patreon, and Twitch.
For more on Mario, Nintendo, modding, and everything else video games, stay tuned to Culture of Gaming.