Romhacking Spotlight - The Rainbow Realms. Interview with Bluecrush

This year Super Mario Bros 3 celebrates its 30th Anniversary, yes believe it or not but it was exactly 30 years ago Nintendo released this amazing game and i remember it like it was yesterday. I was walking home from school listening to the track Summertime with DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince on my Sony Walkman and just when i was about to have a relaxing time watching Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on our VHS when my parents walked in holding this shiny yellow box, it was Super Mario Bros 3 and i couldn't believe it! Well the rest is history, the game was a huge hit and is still considered today to be one of the best Mario games in video game history.

It's just a shame that there never was a sequel for Super Mario Bros 3 on the original Nintendo system right? Nintendo really worked so hard with this game, pushed the limits of the consoles hardware and maxed out the space on the cartridge to create this amazing game, so why not use the engine to create a sequel? The simple and obvious answer is that Nintendo released the Super Nintendo just two years after the release of Super Mario Bros 3 so all focus was aimed at creating Super Mario World. So Nintendo just had to move on to the next system.


But now we are moving on to my favorite part, romhacking! Nintendo didn't have time to create a new Mario adventure using the Smb3 engine, but romhackers did! We have some really amazing romhacks out there like Super Mario Ultimate, Super Mario 3mix or Super Mario Adventure that many consider to be just as good as the original. And in this segment of the Romhacking Spotlight we are going to be looking at another great romhack called "Super Mario Bros. 3: The Rainbow Realms"

The Rainbow Realms was created by the romhacker Bluecrush and was released in April 2018. This hack doesn't add any new powerups etc but instead uses every resource from the original game creating a complete new adventure with some of the best level design I have seen in a Smb3 romhack. You can tell that Bluecrush has put a lot of time and thought to each world and level. Just like the original game the difficulty curve is there making the levels harder for each world but still designed to beat without using save states.

Each world has its own theme, you can easily see this with its visual look and different layouts that changes. For example the second world called "Strawberry Plains" has a pink bright colors that just looks amazing, the third world "Mystery Caves" has a lot of underground levels and tricky mazes, the "Koopa Beach" world has more maps with water and swimming and so on.
Despite that Bluecrush didn't add any new elements or obstacles that you can see in other romhacks he managed to create some new and really clever challenges and puzzles into the level design that I have never seen in a Mario game before and these are created using the already existing elements from the original game.

The hack includes all the usual ingredients that defines a good Mario game and this is why I think this is one of the best romhacks out there for Super Mario Bros 3!

As I was playing through The Rainbow Realms I just wanted to know more about it, so I managed to get in contact with Bluecrush for a little interview to hear more about his experiences creating this amazing hack!

 

#1 How did you get into romhacking and how did you get the idea for The Rainbow Realms?

For me romhacking has primarily been an outlet to fulfill a nostalgic childhood dream of designing my own Mario game. Like a lot of kids who grew up with the Mario series, I was dazzled by it and loved SMB3 in particular - so much so, that I used to draw out and colour my own levels on large drafting paper my grandfather would bring home for me from work.

My first attempt at a SMB3 hack happened about 10-ish? years ago (before the days of SMB3 Workshop), experimenting with programs like Mario Improvement and the SMB3 discombobulator, which were much more limited in their scope, but allowed to me design basic levels with fervour and passion. At that time, I had about 6 worlds of my first hack complete before having my laptop stolen and losing all my work which was a huge blow and killed my motivation to hack for some time. That flame was reignited years later after SMB3 workshop was released along with a bunch of other tools (SMB3 map editor etc) that made it much simpler to realise the vision for levels I had in my mind.

To me, SMB3 was the apex of the Mario series in terms of level design and aesthetics, and the goal for me was to always design levels in a vein similar to the original game (with my own personal twist here and there) - levels that invoke that same feeling of creative, unpredictable design and that look like they could be a sequel.



#2 The level design in Rainbow Realms is really impressive! What are your thoughts of level design in Mario games and how did you plan and design the levels for Rainbow Realms?

Thanks for the compliment!

The trend these days seems to be increasingly niche and challenging Kaizo-style hacks for pros only, which while I find fun to play sometimes, I wish more hacks tried to emulate level design similar to the original game.

About my designs specifically, I'd often have an overarching structure or layout for a level imagined in my head before I'd attempt to design it, or sometimes just the seed of a novel idea or gimmick would be present, ie; World 3 vertical water level, World 5 flying fortress etc. Some very complicated levels (like the World 8 math castle maze) I'd design with pen and paper first before attempting to build it in the program. That level in particular took weeks to design.

Since I was working within the original data limitations assigned to each level, I kept a spreadsheet updated of what space I had left, which helped shape which ideas I could commit to. There were a lot of ideas that didn't get done because I simply didn't have the space, but having learnt more about hex editing recently, if I started a new SMB3 hack I'd work in freeform mode which would allow me to use space more efficiently and creatively.



#3 What where some of the biggest challenges when creating Rainbow Realms? And are there still things that you want to add or update to the hack?

Mmm, juggling the space allotted to me was probably the biggest challenge, as well as maintaining the internal fire to consistently work on the project and make progress. As a chronic procrastinator, there would be patches of time where I wouldn't design a level for weeks, or would simply spend far too long on one level making continual minor tweaks and adjustments for no real gain in lieu of starting new levels. That is the perpetual struggle of a perfectionist mindset though; you want to realise the vision in your head as accurately as possible and it's rewarding when you can achieve that, but you need to learn to let go sometimes and accept that something near enough is good enough, as you run the risk of going in circles over irrelevant details and burning yourself out (which happened a couple of times).

Overall, I'm 90% satisfied with my first attempt at a hack. There are little details I catch upon replaying the hack that I instinctively want to fix but aren't that big of a deal. The biggest mistake still in there is that World 8-5 can be cheesed and you don't need to solve the abstract logic puzzle to beat it.

Another lesson I've learnt is to have more beta testers, as the difficulty curve jumps a fair bit from World 6 or 7 onwards - more so than the original game, and there are perhaps too many puzzles/hidden exit/maze levels in the back half of the game that some players may get tired of. It's hard to evaluate the true difficulty of a level when you already know the layout perfectly prior to testing it. My intention was for the hack to be beaten without savestates, and I think it still can be fairly consistently by competent SMB3 players, but it is harder than the original game (and harder than I intended the hack to be).

#4 Lastly, are you currently working on a new hack or have plans for any in the future?

I've just recently started laying down the groundwork for a sequel; planning the world themes and how/where I want to spend the allotted data in the ROM, brainstorming level ideas and figuring out how I can use my newly learnt skills and knowledge to do things better. The concept will ultimately be the same; a focus on quality level design and colourful aesthetics, and maybe cutting down on the puzzle/maze levels. So far I've only designed a handful of levels for World 1, but the framework is there for each world, so output should increase in the coming weeks.

Thanks for listening!

Big thanks Bluecrush for this interview and for this amazing hack that I recommend that you all try if you are fans of Super Mario Bros 3. You can download The Rainbow Realms hack over at Romhacking.net 

Posted by @Thermoptic

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