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DeppySlide VLDC Fan Judge Thread (VLDC8 Complete!)

Most Recent Update: VLDC8

To make this thread less intimidating I will be collapsing all my posts so far, as well as keeping all my files in one spot.

DeppySlide Compilation for Vanilla Level Design Contests 1 through 6
DeppySlide VLDC7 Review

DeppySlide's Review and Analysis of SMWC's Second Vanilla Level Design Contest

I have updated the thread to include a separate link for the ratings. (here)
Originally posted by DeppySlide
Now, I should mention that my only VLDC entry was a Gauntlet level, so I can sort of comment on why I think these levels get made. It’s a combination of not being confident in your design while being too confident, if that makes sense. Maybe you don’t feel like you can stretch a gimmick or idea you have to a whole level, and you don’t have (or don’t think you have) the artistic skills to make a theme in vanilla graphics unique to SMW. So instead, you try to do it all, like you’re pitching a demo reel to the judges. “Folks, I can do cave sections! A flying section! Boss battles! I’ve got it all!” Obviously I can’t speak for the developers of all these gauntlet levels, only my own decision-making, but I don’t think I’m too off-base with my theory.
Personally this is the part that's most interesting to me. I have a few theories as to why gauntlet levels were so prevalent.

I think it's important to note that at the time, VLDC was (and in many ways still is) the place to demonstrate your level making skills if you aren't interested in, or committed enough, to make a full hack. I can speak for myself when I say that 1-3 levels a year is perfectly fine by me, and I'm much more likely to enter a contest than I am to work on a hack.
This means that for many people, contests are really their only opportunity to "show off" their level design skills. So naturally people want to impress by cramming in as much stuff as possible.

And of course there's always the opposite, those level designers that are god damn machines that can just crank out entire hacks worth of content with incredibly short turnover periods just accidentally make their level 300 screens long because they dont have the tiny receptor in their brain that tells them that they should cut all of the least interesting stuff.

There's also the fact that nobody was allowed to discuss anybody else's level, maybe most people thought they were the only ones to think of making a gauntlet level #smrpg{gasp}

e: and of course with the prevalence of savestates and rewinds perhaps most people didnt even realize how long their level was, because they technically only ever played it once.
umm... can i help you!?
DeppySlide's Review and Analysis of SMWC's Third Vanilla Level Design Contest

DeppySlide's Review and Analysis of SMWC's Fourth Vanilla Level Design Contest

DeppySlide's Review and Analysis of SMWC's Fifth Vanilla Level Design Contest

Over the last few months, I’ve played through over 400 entries from the first five Vanilla Level Design Contests (2008-2012). Even though most of these levels are over a decade old, quite a few of them hold up pretty well. However, because these contests (other than VLDC1) have never been compiled into a single ROM, I think most people have missed out on some of these levels, especially if they weren’t on the site when these contests originally took place. So, I have decided to pick out the 25 levels from these contests that I consider to be the best designed.

Instead of just taking the top 5 from each contest and ranking all those, I replayed the top 10 from each contest and went from there; this turned out to be a good call, since there’s a few entries from VLDC1-3 (before rules on length and midpoints were added) that haven’t held up as much since I’ve last played them. The levels are ranked in the order of what I feel are the most fun and best designed. I could probably change the list up several times depending how I feel, but I’m satisfied with what I have here. Either way, I’d recommend playing all the levels listed.

The Top 25 Levels from Vanilla Level Design Contests 1 – 5
(download link above)

In hindsight, I maybe should’ve waited for VLDC6 before doing this, since that also came before the contest collab era. Maybe I’ll update this after I go through that. In the end, I hope you enjoy these levels as much as I did.
Happy Thanksgiving! I just realized I haven't been including Snifit (ShadedZelda on Youtube)'s VLDC video compilations in my archives, so I have handily included each one I've played (starting with VLDC2 up to VLDC6) in this 7ZIP file. From now on they will be added to each of my VLDC compilations.

Anyway, reading through the VLDC6 discussion thread right now. Once that's done I'll do the usual replaying of entries, compiling scores, etc. I'll probably have VLDC6 fully done by mid-December. VLDC7 probably won't get started until after the holidays.
DeppySlide's Review and Analysis of SMWC's Sixth Vanilla Level Design Contest

If you hadn't noticed, I have cleaned up this thread a bit to make it much easier to read through. All previous posts (except the current ones for VLDC6) have been edited to collapse the original text, so now you don't have to scroll through a giant wall of text to get to the most recent update. I have also updated the OP to include a link to the most recent update as well as the links to all my VLDC compilations thus far. I will reiterate that I am going to try to condense the links to just 1 or 2 archives to make everything easier to download.

Since I have an opportunity to update my spreadsheets, I want to address a concern which I should've brought up from the start. In my reviews, I typically include the original username of the entrant first and then include their username after (e.g. "Doopy Buckride (now DeppySlide)"). I flip it around for the user stats, but still include the old username. This is to both accurately represent the userbase of the time as well as keep track of name changes for users that submit entries in multiple contests.

However, I know that I need to keep in mind of trans users that had not transitioned at the time of the contests I'm reviewing (or at least hadn't done so publicly). There was at least one user where this was obviously the case, and I used their current name as such. I've found two other cases later, but had still used their original names when they submitted their levels. (In one case, I used their current username, while the other had not updated theirs on the site; they do mention it in their profile, though.) I am planning on update these two users' entries with their current, preferred names.

If you do not want me to include your previous username in my VLDC reviews, please let me know, either in this thread, via PM, or on Discord.

While this is intended for trans users, if you really, really, really don't want me to include an old username you previous used. I will also remove it from my compilations. Also, if you are aware that a user is trans or goes by a different name, and they are currently inactive, please let me know.

Quick status update on VLDC7. I got through almost 20 entries before having to start judging the recent 24-hour contest, which should hopefully take only a couple weeks at most. Along with the above housekeeping, it will probably take a bit longer to compile everything, since the collaboration aspect means there's a lot more resources I need to collect (overworld/music credits, individual user threads, etc.) Work is also starting to pick up again, so I don't expect to really get this done until sometime February. Not demotivated at least, so still look forward to another update! #smw{:TUP:}
DeppySlide's Review and Analysis of SMWC's Seventh Vanilla Level Design Contest

Is there any notable level you like but the judges hated/vice versa?
Cavern of Pandora and Red-Hot Ruckus spring to mind as levels that made my top 3 but were ranked much lower by the judges, mainly due to cstutor's rankings. (Less so with the former since Counterfeit also rated it as her favorite level.) I also previously mentioned Twilight Lakeside, Purple Plateau, and Vanilla Death Keep in my Worst World discussion as being severely underranked. On the flip-side, I wasn't much into Cortex Pyramid or Reset Tower, and I thought Quicksand Inc. was just an alright level. (Come to think of it, I generally don't seem to be into desert levels that much, at least for this contest anyway.)

I do a much more in-depth rank comparison in my spreadsheets, though, so I recommended downloading my archive if you are interested in that - it'll be the "Rank Eval" tab.
DeppySlide's Review and Analysis of SMWC's Eighth Vanilla Level Design Contest

NOTE: The download links to the files (including all VLDC8 patches (including the unlocked VLDC8 patch!!) and all my notes/data) are here(.7z) or here(.zip). If you just want to see the rankings for each contest, you can view them online here.

NOTE TO PLAYERS USING THE FX PAK PRO: Whenever a P-switch is activated, the musical loop does not end when it's supposed to, and just keeps going in its sped up form until the level ends or Mario enters another sublevel. I do not know what causes this (SA-1 incompatibility? One of the patches screwing up?) but it can get really annoying in certain levels. This problem never occurred on the latest version of SNES9x. The hack should otherwise play fine, though.

There is an additional VLDC8 media compilation that includes the soundtrack, overworld contest entries, and more, that can be downloaded right here. While not all entrants have been identified, all overworlds submitted to the contest have now been preserved.

1. What the Files Contain

Originally posted by the readme
This ZIP contains my mini-reviews and additional data for SMWC's 2015 Vanilla Level Design Contest. It is an extension of the same worksheet used for VLDC7. Instead of scores, the entries are ranked in order from best to worst, with tiers to better separate levels of quality. In addition to my own rankings, I have also provided:

- A compilation of judge scores, with the top 10 and bottom 10 highlighted (overall and per judge), and calculations for average and box-plot quartiles.
- A comparison of my personal ranking with the contest and judge rankings, highlighting the top 10 "positive" and "negative" differences, and levels with no difference. The judge rankings are also compared between judges, while the largest rank differences for all comparisons are shown separately.
- Lists of all collaboration-related material, including judge and staff levels, Switch Palaces, music, and entries for the overworld contest. Relevant information is included for each section.
- A list of all users that entered the contest with related data, including join date, postcount, last active date, etc.; medians and a ratio of submission post # to total postcount are calculated. Personal thread #s are also listed where applicable, and I have highlighted dates indicating users that either left before VLDC9 started or joined after VLDC7's entry deadline. Finally, I have split the table between users that submitted an entry on time with those that didn't, but otherwise indicated interest in participating in the contest.
- A comparison of entry ranks (both personal and judges) for users which submitted entries in multiple contests. Ranks are adjusted to compensate for the different number of entries in each contest. Due to the amount of users, this has been split into two tabs.
- A compilation of all users involved in hosting, judging, or collab ROM duties for all contests up to VLDC8. Additional notes are added if necessary.

Originally posted by the readme
There are two versions of the VLDC8 compilation patch provided: the official release available on the site, alongside the attached readme; and, for its first public release, the unlocked version of VLDC8. My most sincere thanks goes to HuFlungDu for making this possible. Also available are the individual entry patches in BPS format; I would like to give many thanks to Zandro for providing me those from his site. Finally, I have included the original judge files, as well as a secret exit guide written by S.N.N. in the original release thread.

2. Tier Guide

Best – The best entries of the contest. Whether they push the bar of level design higher or are just incredibly entertaining to play, they stand out as some of my favorite Mario levels I've ever played. Absolutely essential.
Honorary – Entries that deserve an honorable mention. While just short of the very best, they are well-crafted, entertaining, and well worth your time. Essential.
Upper – Great entries. Solid and well-designed; even if they aren't groundbreaking or have some issues, they stand out well against the competition. Highly recommended.
Upper-Mid – Better than the average entry. Not quite as polished, maybe not as inventive as some of the higher tier levels, but enjoyable in their own right. Recommended.
Middle – Solid entries overall. Still pretty good, but there's some elements missing that could have put these levels in the realm of greatness. Worth checking out.
Lower-Mid - These are okay entries. Either these levels suffer from significant flaws, or they play it too safe and don't stand out. Still, maybe others find them more enjoyable than I did.
Lower – Flawed entries. Much more problematic design starts appear, whether it’s too bland, broken or simply not enjoyable. Not the worst, but far from the best. Not really recommended.
Death Valley - Brutal entries. While there's enough merit to the design that I wouldn't place them any lower, I found the difficulty to be a serious issue. Not recommended unless you crave challenging levels.
Lower II – Really mediocre entries. Maybe not as flawed as levels in Lower tier, but I feel they are particularly bland and uninspired. Not recommended.
Dishonorary – Bad entries. Really poor, unfocused design, noticeable technical issues, and either boring or frustrating experiences.. Definitely not recommended.
Worst – The worst entries of the contest. The bottom of the barrel. Only play out of morbid curiosity.
Blatant Edit - Reserved for levels which copy the original SMW levels or other's work with minimal changes.
Joke - Reserved for levels that were clearly not made with a serious effort in mind.
DNF - Reserved for levels I either chose not to complete due to high difficulty or cannot be completed due to an error in the entry (not related to a broken patch).
Unfinished - Reserved for unfinished levels with available patches. While included for completion's sake, they are not ranked with the rest of the levels for obvious reasons.

[Really happy with how the collection turned out this time. As always, write-up should be coming within the next couple days. After that, it will be a little bit before I can get started on VLDC9.]
With the completion of the VLDC7 collaboration project, a paradigm shift was brought forth separating the pre-collab and post-collab eras of the contest. Now that it was proven that a compilation could be done, complete with custom overworld and soundtrack, new expectations were set; when it came time to prepare for the next contest, users were eager for another collab-contest. And so, with a few format changes, VLDC8 would follow suit; not only that, it would only take 4 months to go from the beginning submission period to its final release in April 27, 2015, a seriously impressive feat. The result is both better and worse than its predecessor, depending on how you look at it.

The Levels

For VLDC7, I spent a lot of time to talking about the planning of the contest, all the changes from previous rules, and all the work done on the collaboration side. VLDC8, on the other hand, was a pretty smooth production from start to finish; it seemed like everything that worked previously just got carried over unchanged (literally in the case of the shared Map16 page and all the remixed level music). Really the only changes of note is the removal of the sign-up system (as users were annoyed about missing out because of it) and the use of SA-1, which was already built into Lunar Magic, but not permitted during VLDC7. You would think this would lead to a similar quality of entries as the last contest, and yet…well, let’s get some more context first.

Something of note in the previous contest is that, in the VLDC7 rules thread, S.N.N. really made a big point about level theme diversity and not just sticking to the grassland theme. I think people really took it to heart; not only was grassland and forest world combined (as planned), half of the levels in there took more of a haunted theme instead. (Allegedly, this was because people just ran with a “haunted forest” idea suggested by S.N.N., but I haven’t found a post where he mentioned that.) Compare that to the VLDC8 rules, which doesn’t even mention level themes at all. It’s no surprise that 25 of the 86 submitted levels (that didn’t end up in Best/Worst world) ended up in either the Grass or Forest worlds, compared to only 11 of 82 in VLDC7’s Grass world; even the Mountain world levels felt more generic than the previous year’s. Not that these level themes are inherently bad, but there is definitely a noticeable dip in quality in those worlds than some of the other themes.

Another user suggested that this dip in quality was due to a large amount of new users participating in the contest. My own user stats show this to be accurate; 42/88 entrants (48%) made their VLDC debut this contest, versus 36/84 entrants (43%) in VLDC7. That doesn’t seem like much of a change, but keep in mind that VLDC7 had some old and experienced users appear in this contest history for the first time; FPI was hacking SMW before SMWCentral was even a site, for example. The more interesting trend I noticed was the median “join date” of users; specifically, it represents the date half of the entrants joined either before or after. (For example, in VLDC8, half the entrants joined before November 16, 2011, while the other half joined the site after.) As this chart shows, the median jumped yearly between the first few VLDCs, but only steadily moved later from VLDC3 through VLDC7. However, that jumped to a year and a half later from VLDC7 to VLDC8, marking a real shift in participants not seen in years. And again, a level from a first-time entrant isn’t automatically bad (just look at my first-place pick); at the same time, it’s telling that of my bottom 20 levels, only 4 are from users that previously entered one of these contests.

What I’m trying to say is that, on my initial playthrough, VLDC8 was a really frustrating experience. I really did think that VLDC7 marked a real step up in quality of design for these contests, given how few entries there could really be considered bad. Here, I was constantly seeing levels fall back into VLDC3 territory, sometimes even to VLDC2 standards (looking at you, Variety Path….) Ironically, I have the opposite problem with Worst World as I did last contest; instead of questioning why certain levels were placed there by the judges, here there’s too many levels that could’ve been appropriately placed there. I would still discourage a Worst World from being made, though, and frankly I’m a little shocked Epic Nothing and A Vanilla Level were even included in the collab hack at all. Still, you could make a much better case for it with this contest, given how quite a handful of the entries turned out.

If the bad levels are really bad, however, the good levels are at least still really good. Once I had my temp rankings sorted out, I found the second playthrough to be a lot more enjoyable, at least for the first half. If you want to talk about great debut levels, Dr. Tapeworm’s Purple Pyre, NGB’s Abandoned Mine, and Eminus’ Yoshi’s Starvation are all part of that conversation, all gorgeous levels with unique theming and great design; Purple Pyre deserves extra credit just for using Fishin’ Boo in a way that isn’t horrifically annoying. Speaking of creative themes, there’s Frost’s Hostel, more than just a sequel to their previous entry; Kerkec’s Cakewalk Cavern and Aquamentus’ Matrix Mines, not flawless levels but very interesting in what they do; and Morsel’s Municipal Swimming, which, save for one other top tier level, is the most creative entry this contest, with its unique underwater autoscrolling and humorous framing. On that note, lolyoshi’s HOW DOES MOLES stands out as a perfect example of a comedic level; while there’s plenty of gags throughout, it never gets in the way of some great design that I haven’t really seen in this contest before.

We’ve also got a couple milestones hit this contest by a few entrants. TriplePat and ZMann not only join Nimono in the six-time entrant club, but now have the longest streaks for entering this series of contests, starting all the way back from VLDC3. Their levels this year were St. Patrick’s Fort and Caloric Crater, respectively, and while they admittedly aren’t their best work, I still think they’re fairly solid levels. A special shoutout also goes to AxemJinx, who earns an award for “longest gap between submissions” after last appearing since VLDC1! (Not counting their years as a judge; in that case, the award would go to amhunter (VLDC2 -> VLDC7) and imamelia (VLDC3 -> VLDC8).) Their level, Peachpuff Peaks, is another entry with a real standout look to it, plus some really enjoyable design if you don’t mind a bit of tricky platforming. Finally, there’s worldpeace, whose Subterranean Canal almost got them first place for the second time in a row; even still, I haven’t given this high of accolades to any other user so far. While not as tightly connected as Cavern of Pandora, the assortment of setups is top-notch work, unmatched (at least for VLDC) in its creativity.

In the end, I gave my first-place pick to Lazy, for The Podobooru. Whereas Subterranean Canal used multiple gameplay gimmicks to explore a theme, The Podobooru took the multi-directional autoscroller in a lava setting and ran with it to the near end. The design is as close to perfect as you could get, and it beautifully rides the line of difficulty to where every jump feels terrifying without the level ever overwhelming the player. It’s one of the finest levels I’ve played for this series so far, which is doubly impressive considering they had to scrap their original entry, Gravity Screw. Along with the other great entries for this contest, it makes up for all of the Epic Nothing tier levels I had to slog through to get there.

Judging and Scores

As was made clear from VLDC7, two judges wouldn’t be enough for a contest like this anymore, especially with the rankings much more visible in a collab hack. Despite that, only one other judge was added, by which I mean S.N.N. made sure to be one of the judges this time; as far as I can tell, just two others were added to the team, without any backups. Still, it worked out pretty well; S.N.N. and MrDeePay already had plenty of experience judging VLDC, and Aeon was both a hack moderator and multi-year participant. While maybe not VLDC6-tier quality, just having three different, coherent viewpoints with complete entry comments is enough to put it as one of the better collection of judges. (Not to mention they got it done in under a month, which hasn’t happened since VLDC1.)

While I have no issues with the judges (save for some really unnecessary drama in the results thread), I do want to address the actual scoring of the levels. For it was changed once again, and even more so than last year, it resembles VLDC4’s scoresheet very closely. The rule-following freebie category was dropped, and Design was replaced with “Overall Level Quality”, though from the comments it functioned the same way. Each category was also boosted to 25 points, the first time the contest hit the 100-point total. This also meant aesthetics held the same weight as design/level quality, which is always questionable, and I’ve similarly already stated my disdain for a Difficulty category. As for point leniency, it’s not as bad this contest, though it looks more like school grading, if that makes sense; only about 30 levels got a total score under 66/100, which is a bit generous in my opinion.

Despite my scoring issues, though, I actually think the rankings came out pretty well. Aside from a few choice outliers, my own list comes fairly close, at least compared to previous contests. I’ve already said how the Worst World was pretty agreeable, concept aside, and the Best World levels also turned out really well. The top 3 in particular almost perfectly matched my own; both Lazy and worldpeace appeared in my top 3, while Roykirbs' Manic Mechanism (the 2nd place contest winner) still ended up in my #4 spot. There were a couple levels I didn’t enjoy as much as the judges, namely Monocloud Castle by Lightvayne and Throw Block Heaven by Mirann and Lumy; they’re fine levels, and the latter has superb visuals, but I didn’t find either of them to be that enjoyable in their design. Still, I’m pretty satisfied with the judge’s choices.

Music and Overworlds

With all the level remixes from VLDC7 being reused, it didn’t leave as much room for new tracks. Still, some themes needed to be filled out; Wakana added a Ghost House theme and new boss music, while Sinc-X provided a much-needed custom title track. (The intro screen and credits themes were taken from RednGreen’s previous work, but not released with the collaboration’s soundtrack.) For most people, including myself, the two standout tracks were Torchkas’ water theme and Dr. Tapeworm’s Factory theme. The latter is another catchy remix, in a similar vein to last year’s Fire remix by Lui, but it’s the Water remix that’s my personal favorite; it captures the same feelings to me as Donkey Kong Country’s Aquatic Ambiance, which is high praise.

Of course, all the overworld themes were changed from the previous contest, and it’s again an overall solid soundtrack. It’s a bit hard to say which is better, though; the VLDC8 overworld tracks feel more abrasive, particularly the Mountain and Fire themes. There’s a few tracks I really like, though; DalekSam’s Factory theme is memorable, S.N.N.’s cave theme is a definite improvement, and HaruMKT’s Worst theme is a really amusing take. Overall, I can’t really say which contest’s soundtrack is better, but I would still highly recommend both.

As for the overworld contest itself, it was a much different beast compared to VLDC7. Not only did it receive more than double the entrants as last time, but a lot of them turned out really well; it really felt like a competition this time, at least in the beginning. It was enough to cause a few users to suggest that maps should be voted separately (i.e. main map separate from the various submaps) rather than as a whole piece, to get the best combination. The most cited example was probably Nimono’s Best world map (#7), which nicely created trophies showcasing each award level. (Galactaknight’s map (#14) did something similar, if a little more rudimentary.)

Soon after the contest started, the competition went down to two maps: #3 (Dr. Tapeworm) and #17 (Lui). Lui utilized custom overworld sprites to really make his main map shine, and people were really receptive to his Water world section. Dr. Tapeworm, meanwhile, received praise for their submaps, including their amusing Worst world submap. Amazingly, the results actually ended in a tie, ultimately leading to the two maps being combined. After a second vote for the main map, which Lui handily one, the Collaboration would use Lui’s main map and Cave, Ice/Sky, and Best world submaps (with the latter receiving graphical touchups by Magi); only Dr. Tapeworm’s Fire and Worst world submaps would appear. Kind of a raw deal, if you ask me, but it seems like both parties were satisfied, at least.

As for the final product, it’s a really good map, but I feel like it’s missing something the VLDC7 map had. I think it has to do with the main map; while the Water and Factory areas are fine, a lot of space is dedicated to the Grassland, Forest, and Mountain areas due to the high number of levels they host. While each area feels distinct at least, it does all blend in together pretty easily. There are also a couple spots where, instead of linear paths, there is some branching areas where you end up having to retreading steps; at least in on case, though, there’s a specific reason it’s there. (On the flipside, I greatly appreciated the signs indicating which pipes led to which submap.) In the end, it feels unfair of me to have any gripes, considering I would’ve settled for a multicart-style compilation if that was what was offered; instead, we get a very pleasant overworld to walk through.

Collab Updates, Project X, and the Locked ROM

Real quick, let’s cover some of the quality-of-life changes added to the compilation side of things. WhiteYoshiEgg, with the help of Minimay, improved their overworld patch even further, now keeping track of both secret exits and complete Yoshi Coin collection. Vitor Vilela, meanwhile, enabled both 2-player mode and multiple file saves, which were lacking in the previous contest. The lives system would remain unchanged, and this time no levels received an extra goalpost so players could skip the level (though MariYOLO Adventure by Negativelysonette, a rereg of Confirm SMW Maker, would have its “secret” exit optional due to difficulty). With everything else covered, that just leaves the post-game, VLDC8’s biggest change from the previous collab-contest: World X.

First off, you can only unlock World X after finding every exit, not just completing every level; mercifully, S.N.N. did make a secret exit guide for those stuck. (Special shout-outs go to Matrix Mines, Variety Path, and Minimay’s Doritos Desert for their ridiculously obscure secrets.) Instead of receiving a password, however, you are to follow the instructions listed in the “Completion Road” level, which replaces the “Mystery House” from VLDC7. By moving in a figure-8 pattern in the Forest world, a hill with a rocket ship appears, originally designed by p4plus2 and Magi. This takes you to World X, home of three judge levels and a staff level with 14(!) contributors, designed in the style of SMW’s Bowser’s Castle. The overworld was made by Nimono, inspired by his OW contest submission’s highly-praised Best submap, with additional coding done by Vitor Vilela; the backgrounds behind each level dot were a really great touch.

Despite the difficulty and frustration in completing every exit in the contest entries (something I usually don’t do), I’d say it’s worth it for these levels. Aeon and MrDeePay both turn out solid entries, with a pleasant beach level and engaging castle level, respectively. Chromatic Palace also came out pretty well; while such a group effort isn’t going to be consistent in quality, I’d say nearly all the segments are at least enjoyable and interesting, and a few segments really stand out. (I think Lui also deserves an honorable mention for making the most interesting of the segments, on top of his overworld, some musical contributions, and his top 10 level entry, Exciting Expansions.) However, it’s S.N.N. that steals the show with Chasm of Scales; on top of impressive visuals, it’s a really creative take on the sinking/rising mushroom platforms that I haven’t seen done before, and it makes for some great setups. It’d easily be a top 5 level if it was submitted to the contest, and it definitely makes the challenge to unlocking World X worth it.

Unfortunately, having such a big secret meant that the compilation ROM would end up locked for release, meaning it could not be viewable in Lunar Magic. (VLDC7 was unlocked, but coded so that any edits would crash the ROM.) I haven’t talked about this before, since I normally don’t prowl through every entry unless I’m stuck, but I find locking levels for a contest to be rather baffling. There’s been entries in the past that were submitted locked, even when the rules specify they had to be unlocked; it’s something I’ve never understood for a normally open-source medium like ROM hacking, especially for a single level for a contest. (This isn’t even getting into the very heated debate of Lunar Magic being a closed-source program, which I won’t get into here.) While I get the collab organizers wanted to keep World X a surprise, it at least would’ve been nice to get an unlocked version of the hack shortly after. As it turns out, I was only able to get an unlocked version after talking with HuFlungDu, who still had his copy after wanting to make a version of the hack without SA-1, as flash carts at the time could not handle the games or hacks using the chip.


4 months after the contest started, to the exact date, VLDC8 was released to the public. Just looking at it as a collaborative project, you couldn’t ask for a smoother development; everything seemed to go right at all parts of production. And like VLDC7, everyone was willing to work together to make this a great hack, with only a few petty squabbles along the way. It just makes me wish some of the contest entries came out better, given how great everything else came out.

As far as these contests go, VLDC8 isn’t quite as interesting of a story to tell (despite having typed over 3,000 words talking about it already). It’s the middle child of the collab-contest era, sandwiched between the pioneering VLDC7 and the flashy and humongous VLDC9. While it exceeds VLDC7 in various areas, I think I still have to pick that collab as my favorite; it’s just such a great package of levels, with very few real stinkers in the bunch. At the very least, VLDC8 remains another success story in the contest’s history; if VLDC7 proved a collaboration could be done, VLDC8 confirmed it could be done regularly. As we’ll see next time, however, it wouldn’t take long for this format to be taken to its absolute limit.