Hacking Into the Minds of Smash 64 Modders

By Chet Dunskies

Do me a favor. Rewind the VHS tape and think back to your childhood. Some of you may still be kids but the Smash 64 community is generally a bunch of geezers at this point. Anyways, do you remember the feeling of “what if”? One idea crystallizing, only to spur on the next. I often felt this way after playing a video game. What if Pokemon existed? What’s going to happen when I finally beat Captain Falcon’s target test? What if naked Samus was a playable skin with a Gameshark code (You lied to me, Chris.)?

There are those who have gone beyond imagination and brought potential into reality, working to dissect the game we love in order to see just what is possible. These are the modders, hackers, diddlers, wizards, whatever you want to call them. Seeing how much progress and success was possible with PM begged the question of what was possible for Smash 64. Progress has been slow in 64 and there is plenty of low hanging fruit for those with the diligence to determine the functions of the mostly unidentified code. For this article I posed some questions to two Smash 64 hackers, both with different goals, in order to highlight their efforts and gain perspective from the content creators themselves.

Jordan “Jorgasms” Barkley Interview

For those unfamiliar, 19XXTE  “is a hack for SSB64 made by Jorgasms which adds stages, costumes, timers, and more to the classic and eternal SSB64.” The primary goal here has been to optimize competitive play in SSB64. Jorgasms and his work stand at the forefront in terms of earning the competitive scene’s favor and prolificity. His work is referred to as 19XXTE as a play on Dan Salvato’s 20XX melee hackpack. Using an SD card on a flash cartridge to play the patched ROM, players can utilize the new anti-camping multiplayer timer and stages like Battlefield, Metal Mario Zone, and Final Destination for the first time.

To showcase the capabilities of the hack, here’s a video for 19XXTE 0.9. The latest version, 0.11, has a salty runback function, among other additions.

Chet Dunskies: What made you want to start this project?

Jorgasms: I had been involved very heavily with the Melee Netplay Community Build for a long time. I decided to depart since Myougi, the organizer, and I did not see eye to eye on everything. The build was and still is great but I wanted more control over a project. I looked to Smash 64 and thought the game was unexplored and which meant freedom to do whatever I wanted.

Today, I’m working on it because of the comments I get from people when they find out I’m Jorgasms. People freak out and thank me for “keeping their game afloat” and other ridiculous things like that. I like the idea of being able to help a community grow so I will continue to mod this game until I truly believe there is nothing more I can give it.

CD: Are there other individuals that helped you with 19XXTE or that you would like to acknowledge?

J: I’d credit my start to InternetExplorer, Dan Salvato’s tag at the time. I watched his “Intro to Wii Modding” series on his twitch VODs when I knew virtually nothing about modding. After I had some idea what I was doing, I reached out to achilles1515 on a few occasions. His prompt responses kept me going. I’m sure there are others in the Melee workshop that aided me as well it’s just been a while.

When I started to mod Smash 64, I was mostly using the RAM addresses/Gameshark Codes found by Madao and Danny_SsB. They pretty much laid the foundation for 64 hacking in general.

Someone who reached out to me for help was pillowhead. He wanted help understanding Gameshark Codes for a casual hack he and his friends wanted. He eventually bailed on that idea and just made a ROM patch based on whatever version of 19XXTE was out at the time which he shared with me. This was my first exposure to CajeASM and the ability to actually execute my own code instead of modifying the code in game. This led to bigger hacks like playing as Polygon characters, alternate costumes, and debug menu toggles.

bomberman
A Bomberman skin had been modded into 19XXTE.

Couldn’t really find anywhere to fit him chronologically since he’s pretty much been helping the whole time. tehz always has these small tidbits of information that are so helpful. He knows a lot but has a busy schedule. He wrote two fixes for me that allowed polygons to be playable and made a slight adjustment to my stage load function to allow the cursor to remember its position. He also tends to have ideas that he can’t explore such as DMA, the big focus of 19XXTE 0.10.

Recently, I’ve annoyed Nick Mang to test my development ROMs on his Everdrive pretty much constantly and he has yet to complain.

Not modding related but I’d also like to thank Shears who has advertised this project. I look forward to working with him and Studstill in the future.

CD: Many people have seen how the Falco mod was created and assumed that we’re at a point where characters or stages can be created willy-nilly. Could you clear up why progress has been slow with hacking SSB 64?

J: I’ve spent a pretty extensive amount of time talking to the creators of the Falco Mod, Nick Mang and FrayedAdversity since we’ve all sort of explored stage hacking and character hacking. From these conversations, we’ve concluded that the following obstacles have prevented real progress.

  1. We can’t model hack efficiently. We can move vertices but everything is pretty much guess work. Roja’s “SSB Revolution” ROM uses a tool that simply does not work on console. The creator of the tool himself has made this clear on the download page.
  2. The refusal to “replace” characters. This keeps us from alienating players. The most common complaints about “SSB Revolution” is that characters are just re skinned or that they replace other characters.
  3. Polygons don’t have special moves enabled. Even when you enable them, projectiles don’t appear. This is the biggest limitation by far. Understanding file loading and the relation between characters and their polygon version is difficult to say the least.
  4. Understanding special moves in general. Their confusing.

There are things we can do for sure.

  1. While many believe that Falco’s dair is just a modified version of Kirby’s, it was written from *almost* nothing.
  2. We can swap some animations to create hacks like Falcon’s fair as a knee (the third hit of the jab) or a Mario with fox’s back air for example.
  3. Basic stage edits.

CD: After covering some of the limitations, what is your vision for 19XXTE and modding ssb64 in general?

J: 19XXTE 0.9G achieves like 90% of what I wanted initially (anti-aliasing isn’t disabled, no random music toggle, no shield colors fix) but I definitely have bigger plans now.

  1. Fix 19XXTE 0.10. As of now, 0.10 works best on emulator which is a shame and so against what 19XXTE is about.
  2. More toggles. Other surprises and fun things here. I’ll spoil one. The ability to patch a stage file. Texture hacked Dreamland without a top Platform for one of your favorite Melee stages.
  3. Look into a way to patch original carts. Don’t get too excited I’ve only theorized ways that probably (like 99% chance) won’t actually work.
  4. Clones come to 19XXTE?
300px-battlefield_64
Battlefield, one of the 3 stages previously only playable in single player mode, now fully unlocked for multiplayer in 19XXTE.

CD: Anything you would like to see added to the game that you’re not personally working towards?

J: I’d say clones but I am working towards that with the enabling of polygon specials.

CD: Are any of the debug stages worth adding, like the intro video stage?

J: Not really. The ones that aren’t in the game tend to be fairly broken. The fixes people want to see like changing the camera on the How to Play stage are not simple whatsoever. I’d rather stick to the stage patching thing I mentioned earlier.

CD: I know that you have plans to release some tutorial videos to help others learn the craft. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into hacking the game but is a filthy pleb?

J: 1. Gain some sort of programming background. C or any of its variations, Java, Python, Swift. Whatever floats your boat.

  1. Watch Dan’s “Intro to Wii Modding Video”
  2. Wait for the tutorials, they will be helpful.

CD: How can the community support 19XXTE?

J: Keep playing it. Talk about it as much as you can. Tell your friends. The bigger this project gets, the more people who play it and the more people that want to help hack this game.

I’m not providing my donation link here. Play the game first. Revisit the tread (tiny.cc/19XXTE, typed exactly like that) and then donate if you want to say thanks that way. I want it to be clear that this project is in no way a money grab for me (like “Faster Melee”).

Nick Mang Interview

One of the latest mods to come down the pipeline is the Falco mod by Nick Mang.  Applying the idea of melee clones to 64, Nick altered hitboxes so that Fox would have properties similar to Melee’s Falco. . This created a strong enough aesthetic to excite a lot of people. When people first caught wind of this mod, there was a palpable degree of hype in the Smash community as a whole, at least on r/smashbros. I asked the prodigal son Nick Mang about how the mod came to be as well as some of his ideas for the future.

*For a demonstration of the mod, please watch this SICKening montage by Michigan’s own Jinjo.  **Disclaimer: Strap on neck brace before watching. 

Chet: What gave you the inspiration for Falco?

Nick Mang: I really wanted to add Falco to the game because my roommate mains him in melee, and we thought it would be an easy addition to the game. Honestly, we just wanted to add Kirby’s dair and change the angle to shine, but once I realized how easy it was tweaking the values I decided to change the majority of his moveset.

CD: What is your realistic vision for future characters, stages, etc. for Smash 64?

N:My realistic vision for future characters for now is to just have all of the major clones in the game such as Ganondorf, Dr. Mario, Toon Link, and maybe Lucas. As for stages, reducing stages and disabling their effects are a possibility. If the code structure gets studied better, I could see Dreamland alterations.

CD: What would you most like to see added to the game?

N: I’d like to see 19XXTE 0.10 come to console because that means Jorgasms has figured out how to call DMA functions on console. Either that or having actual clones, not having to replace fox to play Falco.

falco
Falco, the first new character to be modded into Smash 64 with 19XXTE.

CDDo you think it will be possible to make these character mods playable on console via flash cartridge, e.g. Everdrive?

N:It will definitely be possible to play these character mods on console. My mod works on console, but it’s not the Falco mod that got spread around. That mod took my code and further modded it and combined it with a buggy model that doesn’t work on console. I think his changes are a lot better than mine and would advise people to use his mod over mine.

CD: What do you think the community wants the most: new characters, stages, or game mechanics?

N: I think the competitive community doesn’t want anything more than a timer because none of the stages are utilized. I think decent tournament stages should be the priority, but I think the general community would like new characters because they are really fun to play around with.

CD: How can the community support what you’re doing or modding in general?

N: Start making mods! It’s not hard at all, and the small communities on smashboards or other n64 modding websites are generally very helpful. Start small with gameshark codes and see where you can take it.

Sooooooo good. What would you like to see in the game kids? Comment below with your ideas and don’t forget to check out, like, subscribe, yelp review, and geo cache the smashboards.com Smash64 forum for more information and resources. There has never been a better time to help grow all aspects of the 64 community. One idea can change everything(something).

Chet Dunskies has argued and complained about smash bros. to himself for 10 years. He only now has decided to surface and share some of these thoughts. Thanks to both my interviewees and the guys at The Smash Writers for giving me a shot.

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