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Why Kaizo is Excluded from Contests

Since this is a recurring topic of discussion during the launch of contests that do not explicitly have a Kaizo focus (i.e. contests that are not KLDC), it is long overdue that the rationale for excluding levels that are predominantly Kaizo be written up. Rather than doing this on a contest-by-contest basis, we want to broadly outline why Kaizo design is not suitable for entries to general contests.

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First, a point of clarification. It’s a bit of a misconception that Kaizo, in and of itself, is a style of difficulty. For instance, Standard: Very Hard is a hack category on the site, and there are many submissions within that category that exceed a lot of Kaizo hacks in their difficulty and do not make copious use of Kaizo design tropes.

So, when a contest says “no Kaizo” as a difficulty caveat, what that often means is that it will not be accepting levels where the difficulty comes from forcing players to flex their technical know-how or perform deliberate movement through obstacles, things that predominantly make up the difficulty found in Kaizo levels. This leaves the door wide open in contests for submissions that are still quite difficult, since Standard: Very Hard levels are eligible for entry into contests. The challenge, then, is to work within the bounds of Standard level design concepts and philosophies to create difficulty for players, if that is your desire as a creator.

With that taken care of, there are two main reasons why Kaizo is outright excluded from contests where it is not explicitly sought after:


Kaizo is Not Widely Accessible

As a type of level design, Kaizo has a high technical barrier for entry and prior-knowledge requirement in order to play which limits its broad accessibility; techniques like regrabbing, controlling Mario’s momentum and speed, and item abuse like shell or switch manipulation may be found in even the most basic Kaizo hack. In other words, to play Kaizo effectively and broadly, you need to be somewhat fluent in reading Kaizo setups and knowing how and when to apply techniques and knowledge only gained from having experience with Kaizo.

So when making a Kaizo level, by design you are excluding a large portion of the player base, which in contests that are open to the general community means alienating your submission from players relative to how all other “non-kaizo” entries in a contest will be received. The base assumption for a general contest is that anyone can pick up the entries at the end of the contest and finish them without knowing much beyond the basics of Super Mario World, despite how difficult some levels get. Since a significant portion of this audience would be excluded from a Kaizo level, we do not feel they belong in these contests.

Additionally, while there are many talented players in the judging pool, the technical demands of Kaizo does even exclude some of our judges from being able to complete levels and therefore be effective judges.


Kaizo is Philosophically Distinct

To speak broadly, the point of a Kaizo level is often to constrain the player and force them to perform or think in a way that is very specific to the author’s intent. The player is usually placed under time and space restrictions with very little forgiveness in the obstacles or room to act creatively.

The strictness placed on Kaizo players is also placed on Kaizo creators, and you have less room in which to have creative expression since the rules and expectations for Kaizo are well established. So if a contest brief has an expectation of broad creativity, you may find yourself constrained by Kaizo by virtue of it being constraining, which makes it an unideal candidate for many contest ideas or themes. Which is not to say that Kaizo hacks are uncreative or less creative than Standard ones, by any means, as there is a wealth of creativity to be found among Kaizo creators, if the hacks section is any indication. It is, however, a different type of creativity that is better applied when a contest is formulated to consider the strengths of that creativity on its own merit rather than within the bounds of a general contest.

What this means in a practical sense is that, speaking to the considerations of contest organizers and judges, it becomes difficult to assess levels on common metrics when those levels have fundamentally different core principles of design. In other words, when a contest is formulated with a specific rubric or guideline in mind for evaluation, having levels outside of those makes it difficult to have an equal playing field for all contest entrants.

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At the end of the day, there will always be a place for Kaizo on SMW Central, it is a thriving part of the community and is not going anywhere (in fact, if the Kaizo Level Design Contest of this past year is any indication, it’s only going to continue to grow). With that in mind, we are working to have KLDC be a fixture in the contest roster and potentially open up the calendar to more events tailored to Kaizo like future 24hoSMW or 72hoSMW contests with a Kaizo focus, etc.

Until then, we encourage creators who find that Kaizo is their comfort zone, open themselves up to participating in some of the other contests happening throughout the year regardless. Trying one’s hand at things outside of what one is used to is a good exercise in expanding your abilities and becoming a more well-rounded level designer, and contests are the perfect opportunity for that.

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Thanks to  Doctor No for his wisdom and assistance in editing this post and providing input.

Originally posted by AmperSam
First, a point of clarification. It’s a bit of a misconception that Kaizo, in and of itself, is a style of difficulty. For instance, Standard: Very Hard is a hack category on the site, and there are many submissions within that category that exceed a lot of Kaizo hacks in their difficulty and do not make copious use of Kaizo design tropes.

So, when a contest says “no Kaizo” as a difficulty caveat, what that often means is that it will not be accepting levels where the difficulty comes from forcing players to flex their technical know-how or perform deliberate movement through obstacles, things that predominantly make up the difficulty found in Kaizo levels. This leaves the door wide open in contests for submissions that are still quite difficult, since Standard: Very Hard levels are eligible for entry into contests. The challenge, then, is to work within the bounds of Standard level design concepts and philosophies to create difficulty for players, if that is your desire as a creator.


Bizarre timing for this post honestly, at this point almost nobody is even arguing the exclusion of kaizo levels from contests (there's maybe like 3 or 4 people total who are so set in their ways i don't think you could change their mind if you stuffed them into a prison cell and tortured them until they accept it), but I do agree with the sentiments of this post, however...

You can't just claim that Standard: Very Hard levels are allowed in contests right after disqualifying a Standard: Very Hard level for difficulty without addressing it in this post, this just feels so tone-deaf and corporate. In this current situation this post is giving me less faith in the PR team's ability to assess criticism and improve contests in the future. The precedent that Very Hard is "just too much" has been set and if you don't put in the effort to actually assess what happened and explain why it won't happen next time.
Originally posted by Valentine
Bizarre timing for this post honestly, at this point almost nobody is even arguing the exclusion of kaizo levels from contests (there's maybe like 3 or 4 people total who are so set in their ways i don't think you could change their mind if you stuffed them into a prison cell and tortured them until they accept it), but I do agree with the sentiments of this post, however...


I wouldn't read too much into its timing beyond that it coincides with my recent promotion to PR, wherein I made the case to make these points "official" and to clear up why the "No kaizo" rule is becoming a staple in contests recently. Since I have been in the Kaizo scene for awhile, the sentiments in this post extend beyond recent contest events and are things I personally have said repeatedly beyond my recent capacity as staff about Kaizo levels in contests, which with there has been agreement. Regardless of whether or not we only hear from a few "bad faith" readers of the "no kaizo" rule it will always help (both staff and community members) to be absolutely clear about the rationale of things.

Originally posted by Valentine
You can't just claim that Standard: Very Hard levels are allowed in contests right after disqualifying a Standard: Very Hard level for difficulty without addressing it in this post, this just feels so tone-deaf and corporate. In this current situation this post is giving me less faith in the PR team's ability to assess criticism and improve contests in the future. The precedent that Very Hard is "just too much" has been set and if you don't put in the effort to actually assess what happened and explain why it won't happen next time.


Recent contests aside, whether or not a site contest sets a limit on difficulty (based on the valid tiers of difficulty that the site has) is at the discretion of the contest organizers of a particular contest. Like I said above regarding how contest resources have to be specifically put in place with Kaizo in mind, so it can be adjudicated fairly, the same would apply to Standard: Very Hard especially levels on the top-end of that difficulty tier. So, it is absolutely fair to say that Standard: Very Hard is beyond a tier of difficulty appropriate for a contest if that contest's rule-set is clear in stating that. Granted, when that caveat is poorly communicated in a contest brief the disqualification of levels that are "too hard" (usually a determination that is reached by judge and organizer consensus) may appear unjust and that is always a difficult decision.

At any rate, the point of this post is not about limits on difficulty in contests but limits on Kaizo in contests, to use this thread to pivot to disqualifications of "too hard" levels contests is besides the point and an implicit acceptance of the premise that Kaizo is a tier of difficulty, which it is not. The reasons that Kaizo will be disqualified from contests broadly are not the reasons unreasonably difficult levels will be disqualified on a contest-by-contest basis.
The fact that I can expect that contests in the future to probably have a difficulty limit as well IS the bad precedent.

PS. Please lower the amount of corporate PR speak it's genuinely very difficult for me to read.
While technically a contest could state that it is not allowing Standard: Very Hard submissions, given the response to Heraga's disqualification that clearly is not something people want. Like I said in my previous post, that level was DQ'd because of a vaguely-worded rule that should have been caught before the contest began. That it wasn't is a failing on PR staff and is something we have already addressed internally.

Part of the reason that rule was included was because some users took issue with OLDC's "No Kaizo" rule (among other contests), and this thread was made to explain why that rule exists in standard contests. Even if it wasn't made explicitly in response to the last 24-hour contest (which it wasn't), it does prevent another situation like it from happening in the future.

In short, the last 24-ho contest should be considered as an exception rather than how contests will be handled going forward. This does make Heraga's DQ unfortunate, but I think going back to "un-DQ" it would open its own can of worms.
I also disagree with official contest runners being able to arbitrarily diallow/disqualify levels that hit a certain difficulty threshold. Honestly, just... get judges that are good at the game. Many people qualify.

Regarding the topic of this thread, it's just something I thought was obvious, but I suppose newer people have a much different hacking background than I do, so thanks for speaking up. Though I'll also have to agree with Val about concision being the best way to go in important announcements and replies.
Originally posted by Valentine
The fact that I can expect that contests in the future to probably have a difficulty limit as well IS the bad precedent.


I mean, current contests have a stated difficulty expectation, and past contests have implied limits when talking about "unreasonable" levels. But I think going forward, yeah, you may see more that more often just so all around people's (judges, organizers, entrants) time is respected and expectations are clear. That said, I don't think it'd be very often that you'd see "Standard: Very Hard" excluded unless there was a good reason to do so for a contest theme or that a contest was designed around one tier in particular like "24hoSMW Standard: Normal" contest or something.

Originally posted by Valentine
PS. Please lower the amount of corporate PR speak it's genuinely very difficult for me to read.


Fair, but we kinda have to be in "PR Corporate speak" mode on this topic, otherwise my/our words would be misconstrued. Already the thread is offtopic and irrelevant to kaizo in contests because you have brought up a recent level disqualification, in a contest that was already admitted to having some organizational problems and that was said to have been addressed internally multiple times. We're all just a bunch of volunteers and mistakes are made sometimes and being extra clear in contest rulesets about what is expected (including difficulty) going forward is a result of that.




Originally posted by Koopster
I also disagree with official contest runners being able to arbitrarily diallow/disqualify levels that hit a certain difficulty threshold. Honestly, just... get judges that are good at the game. Many people qualify.


It wouldn't be arbitrary like "lol this is too hard DQ", I think it tends to be a tough call to DQ and we'd like all entries to remain in contests so it'd be done rarely. The past contests rules against excessive and unreasonable levels haven't really been used to DQ to my knowledge since most people don't tend make levels like that. We could always have judges that are "good" but if there is no ceiling on difficulty sometimes, it doesn't leave the possibility of pulling in would-be judges from the community so more folks have an opportunity to be involved in contest judging. The past KLDC, for example, the overall difficulty was higher than ever and that makes the judging pool smaller and smaller when you have to find people who are willing and able to volunteer their time beat dozens of entries.

Originally posted by Koopster
Regarding the topic of this thread, it's just something I thought was obvious, but I suppose newer people have a much different hacking background than I do, so thanks for speaking up. Though I'll also have to agree with Val about concision being the best way to go in important announcements and replies.


You'd think, but like I said to  Valentine it's gonna be more helpful to have this around as a clear "document" to point to so people get where we're coming from and there isn't circular discussions about kaizo in non-kaizo contests whenever a contest is launched with a "no kaizo" rule.
Originally posted by AmperSam
...so people get where we're coming from and there isn't circular discussions about kaizo in non-kaizo contests whenever a contest is launched with a "no kaizo" rule.


I'll say this is a good initiative.

As I remarked on discord, there has been way too much outrage about what's Kaizo vs. what's not Kaizo, and I think it is good to remind that Kaizo design can easily be identified, and thus disqualified. One level can't be Kaizo and non-Kaizo at the same time.

The Kaizo toolbox is crystal clear: exploiting obscure mechanics of the game that may be unknown by a less experimented player, due to them not being actually used in the original Super Mario World.

If the Kaizo toolbox wasn't crystal clear, then moderation would be in trouble validating the difficulty flairs in romhack submissions. But I don't believe they are? Of course with the exception of romhacks that purposefully mix genres for a wide range experience.

One could say some users have tested the limits in the past contests. I just hope I won't see "suprised pikachu face" anymore when a Kaizo level gets disqualified from a contest with a no-Kaizo rule.
I thought we had Hack Equality over here on SMW Central.com?

It seems to me like you just need to get Kaizo judges for your "regular" contests.
Originally posted by Torchkas
I thought we had Hack Equality over here on SMW Central.com?

It seems to me like you just need to get Kaizo judges for your "regular" contests.

Short and over-simplified recap of the OP: Our "regular" contests are meant for a very wide audience, while kaizo levels are appreciated by a much smaller group of players. Separating the categories into their own contests ensures that the standard contests don't lose their broad appeal.

It's not solely because of the judges - it's also about the majority of people who are likely to play the entries.
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This post already mentions the considerations made towards who is readily available to judge contests while not stretching thin the few people who are willing and able to play kaizo levels (without tool assistance) alongside all the levels submitted to contests that are challenging for other reasons. So yeah, kaizo is excluded from standard contests as it narrows the judging pool. So have the expectation all judges in all contests are going to be versed in kaizo is an unreasonable one and we want to leave the door open to people throughout the community to be able to volunteer to judge some of the contests without the expectation that they have to be an experienced kaizo player.