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PASSION: A look back at 2021 in Kaizo SMW

We are not, despite what your Aunt may say on Facebook, anywhere near the end of the pandemic, but we are at the end of 2021. Mercifully, and taking its damn time, the new year is finally on the doorstep and ready to take over for the drunken sailor that was its predecessor.

Before we kick 2021 into the streets, though, we need to give it a once-over, both to make sure we have something to use in 2022 and to make sure it isn’t stealing any of the silverware on the way out.

2021 would do that, too, because 2021 was rude. It came in with two red flags: actual hope for world betterment after 2020, and a very low bar for what we could consider “world betterment.” Suffice to say, many other Year-In-Review posts will go into much better detail as to why that would feel like a betrayal for so many people.

But, as our dear, recently departed John Madden would say, “kaizo players are here to talk about kaizo.” The wisdom of the saints is eternal, but it especially rings true in 2021 because there’s a bit of a disconnect from the general population:

Originally posted by Most People
“Ugh, 2021 was awful. Had some bright spots but it feels like things just got worse.”

Originally posted by Kaizo players
“True, but 2021 was the greatest year in the history of Kaizo Super Mario World creation.”

Those facts are not mutually exclusive. Hell, the world being what it is can be seen as a direct influence of the fact that this year was such a game changer for Kaizo.

During a pandemic where people felt the need to feel and show their creative passions, many of them turned to Kaizo. In 2021, that investment of passion resulted in a communal outpouring of quality and quantity that, frankly, we may never fully be able to appreciate.

If you sort by date, the very first hack on Super Mario World Central to get the Scarlet K was Cool of Cruel Stage 12 - Tubular, with a submit date of 3/12/2014.

That’s a good 7 years from the original T. Takemoto upload of Kaizo 1 to NicoNico (side note: if you haven’t read GlitchCat7’s full history of Kaizo Mario from earlier this year, put a dollar in the jar and then go read it because it will unpack this hobby for you in a whole new way) and 9 years from SMWC’s founding in 2005. So, depending on how you look at it, it took either 7 or 9 years for the first kaizo hack to make it to the site.

Let’s take a look, then, at the number of kaizo hacks (from Beginner to Pit) added to the site every year through:

Year Hacks Uploaded
2014 12
2015 12
2016 14
2017 31
2018 55
2019 64

(No, I didn’t go through and ensure that every hack was tied to its original year of submission and not its latest revision. If you would like to submit revised numbers, you may do so and I’ll consider it for extra credit.

A bump in 2017, which you could credit to the rise of Twitch and the prominence of speedruns of Kaizo 1 and Dram World at GDQ events, but nothing too extreme, right?

Let’s add 2020.

Year Hacks Uploaded
2014 12
2015 12
2016 14
2017 31
2018 55
2019 64
2020 120

A spike in productivity, if you will, but maybe not one that was unforeseen given the continued rise of popularity the genre was seeing online, as well as the first months of the COVID lockdown.

Now, let’s add 2021.

Year Hacks Uploaded
2014 12
2015 12
2016 14
2017 31
2018 55
2019 64
2020 120
2021 212 + 6 in waiting

More hacks were submitted in 2021 than were in 2014-2019 combined, and there were more unique hack authors in 2021 than there were hacks in 2020.

Between lockdowns, quarantines, social changes, and access to tools and resources becoming more available, and a rising need to find outlets for creative expression and energy, we saw an entire new generation of creators emerge in 2021. With them, they brought new ideas, new expressions of gameplay and design, and new challenges to both the player and the conventional way of approaching a hack. Their passion, combined with their unique ideas, led this charge of a breaking wave of hacks upon the shores of moderators sitewide.

When I say “challenges to the conventional way of approaching a hack,” let’s be clear - if someone had an idea for a hack, this wasn’t the year to try and get them to fit it in any one person’s box. Exits? Who needs them, we have one screen hacks. Platforming? Sure, if you want, but I’d rather make a shoot-em-up.

There was a boldness to the community this year, pandemic-fueled or not, and it showed in the sheer bulk and diversity of the hacks on the site.

There was burnout, as there always is when people go hard on a creative idea. But in 2021, there were also avenues to create while mitigating burnout, and we saw more kaizo creators, for lack of a better word, get *weird*.

It wasn’t always the most graceful of introductions, and creative people having creative differences was unpleasant to see happen, but many creators drew their own inspiration from this new wave and jumped back into the mix, producing their own new works. Iron strengthened iron, and ideas from one corner of the community led to entire hacks from creators in the other.

In the 1940s, a bunch of people came home from war and, given access and ample motivation, went on to produce a Baby Boom that has gone on to shape more of our culture and society than we’re comfortable with. In 2021, a bunch of people were locked down for COVID reasons and, given access and ample motivation, went on to produce a Baby Boom of its own - one that didn’t require entitlements or ask to see your manager.

Imagine going to a wine store and half of the shelves are 2001 vintage, or a car dealer and half of the cars were from 2007. You’re most likely to get something from that year on sheer probability alone, but it would be nice if the product from that year was good, right? “Oh, 2001, the year we had a million grapes and all of them were mediocre.”

It’s the same in 2021 with kaizo. Pull a random hack from the pile, odds are it will be from this year. Passion is great and all, but the people who make McDonald’s can be passionate about it all they want but it’s still a mass-produced borger (no offense in any way intended to gui, who literally made Fast Food Kaizo, a hack of much better quality than a Big Mac).

Luckily, passion isn’t just expressed in bulk. It’s expressed individually, and not only did people make a lot of hacks in 2021, the hacks they made were really damn good.

This is a year-end recap, not an awards list nor an attempt to be official, so to try and list the “best hacks” of the year is kind of dumb. To be honest, there are people who played way more of them than I did who could speak to things I miss. But what I can do is pick three examples that, I feel, showcase the highest of the highs 2021 achieved, as well as include some of the hacks that fit within that category.

First Impressions Last Forever

You could have convinced me that mmBeefStew had been part of the SMW community since 2017 when I saw the first runthroughs of El Dorado. Not only is this hack extremely well-tuned from a flow and difficulty perspective, but it fits graphics, music and gameplay together so neatly in ways that can’t be taught, only experienced and learned.

El Dorado - mmBeefStew

It’s only when you learn that, yes, this is Stew’s first full hack release, and also they ported all the music themselves, that it sinks in and you start getting a bit jealous. But the jealousy should fade, fast, because what Stew did was incredible - invested a great deal into their first kaizo hack, making it not only fun to play but unique, and went to great lengths to learn and level their skills up to make this hack as strong as it could possibly be from moment one.

The amazing thing isn’t that this hack exists, and the amazing thing isn’t that mmBeefStew debuted with this hack. The amazing thing is that they are one of many others who wanted to make it right the first time, and went above, beyond and over the top to gain the skills and tools necessary to do that. Thanks to their efforts, we all leveled up for gaining them as creators and for getting to play their work.

2020 and 2021 gave people the time to learn and grow, if they chose to use it. For those who chose to use it to make kaizo, it led to some of the most jaw-dropping debut hacks we’ve ever seen.

See Also: Luminescent - TheBourgyman; Fire and Ice - quietmason; Polyphony - TomatoPhalanges; Purgatory - FYRE150; MOON - cur_

Embracing Chaos

Sickos, arrive, and be proud, for your 2021 was one for the ages.

Mario Mario vs. the Crab Army - cozyduck

I’m not sure if it’s because of Jurassic Park, or just that the word sounds ominous, but there’s a tendency to see “chaos” as a negative thing that we must seek to pull “order” from. 2021 saw a whole bunch of creators say “you know what, what if instead of working against chaos, what if we *lean into it*?”

So where other creators zigged, they zagged. They intentionally dove into the most unknown, uncontrollable aspects of the game and sought to not only control them, but force players to embrace and approach them in new ways. This isn’t always a fun experience, and it’s very hard to do even with experience and credibility to spare, but it’s a memorable one, and it forces both the player and other creators to think about the game in a brand new way (whether they wanted to or not).

For pure display of this type of philosophy, let us consider the crab. Mario Mario vs The Crab Army has a clear goal - use things cozyduck feels are underutilized, in new and interesting ways. Sounds simple? It is. But by embracing chaos energy, and having a willingness to rub the establishment the wrong way in the pursuit of a new type of experience, the result is unforgettable.

See Also: Odd Sands - Lazy/Gbreeze/MiracleWater; Shallow Pits - AmperSam; Don’t Spare the Horses - morsel; Sprites Are 1derful - NewPointless

The Passion Project

In the year of our Linkdead 2021, a lot of creators stepped up and pushed SMWC higher, farther, and weirder than in any year before. For some, it was a creative outlet, and for others it was a chance to be part of a new community.

But to me, there is a category of hack that stands out on its own that have come to define 2021. The Passion Project - a hack that has been long in the making that finally saw the light of day in 2021, after incredible love, attention to detail, and care from its creator which the restraints of the pandemic enabled them to invest into their work.

O’Ghim! - waveballet (f/k/a microwave_brother)

Art for art’s sake is always worthy to create, but art for a cause always allows the artist to invest different emotional weight to their work. In the case of O’Ghim!, that cause was honoring the years of friendship and personal connection waveballet has with white_moth. Beyond wanting to make a good hack, that cause drove the project forward. Because he cares about the person, MB wanted the hack to reflect that.

The end result hits different. It feels more personal, like we’re reading a letter or listening in on a conversation. It’s still kaizo, and as such will still drop a fish on you if you aren’t paying attention, but that fish is there not out of malice or spite. It’s there because we’re celebrating someone, and one way they would want to be honored is to have a fish dropped on them.

For others, the cause was less about celebrating someone and more about celebrating something. Maybe that cause was bringing attention back to an element of the romhacking community or history that had gone underappreciated. Maybe it was highlighting the work of a maker that influenced many who came after them. Heck, maybe it was just the passion of working to ensure your sequel was as well received as it was anticipated.

Whatever the cause, 2021 brought the chance for makers to sculpt their passion projects. The results are some of the most personal, memorable, and undeniably excellent gameplay moments of the year.

See Also: Super Amethyst Rocks! - shovda; Riff World 2 - Freakin_HA; Things.smc - Sweetdude; Waterworld - BabaYegha

Again, I don’t mean to highlight individual hacks as best or even necessarily better. Rather, the goal here is to try and put into words what I see when I look back at 2021 in terms of Kaizo SMW.

What I see is a lot of passion, up and down the board. Passion for this genre of game design, either for its own sake or for what making and playing these games brings to those who engage with it.

This doesn’t always lead to good things. No one’s kaizo is more important than another person’s right to live and exist as who they are, and even amongst those who do respect each other, sometimes disagreements turn into arguments, which turn into fights, which turn into conflicts that may not get resolved.

We, as people, have a lot to work on still. But, if we work on ourselves as much, and with the same passion, energy, and success as we worked on our kaizo hacks in 2021?

Holy shit, we might come out of this better off, after all.
I'm not a doctor.

This is a wonderful post, Doc, thank you for your effort <3
(Also the shoutout was very sweet 8>)

2021 had its fair share of problems in terms of what general life was like, to be sure, but god, what a year for kaizo (and smw hacks in general!) - so so SO many good hacks released this year, by so many talented returning AND newcomer creators. We've been blessed.

Happy new year, everyone, and I hope 2022 treats everyone well <3
Wow, this is great to hear and see.
It is good to know how not only SMW Central has grown, but also the large number of good quality projects. My sincere congratulations to all the members of this wonderful Site for having led it to grow and improve over time.
By the way, I'm sorry if there is any inconsistency in my post, I use google translate and sometimes it translates things that are mean weird ...#smw{>_>}
Even as someone who could care less about Kaizo, it's nice to see that it brought in more people into the SMW romhacking scene and has help make it more popular!!!

LINKS -> YouTube - Discord - Twitter

I noticed that we were getting more and more hacks every year, but I never realised the increase was that drastric. It's not a bad thing though, that more people get into kaizo as we get blessed by so many new, interesting and entertaining hacks.
Thanks so much doc for making this post and giving us a review of 2021. Looking forward what to expect from 2022!

The amount of hacks coming out is insane! I didn't realize the jump that we've seen in the last two years was as dramatic as it is. Thanks also for the shoutout, I am honored to be mentioned here especially among so many other great first hacks this year!
I'm also someone who doesn't play kaizo because I'm bad at video games. But I enjoy watching others play!

I'm always happy to see kaizo hacks with beautiful visuals. Making interesting kaizo levels already takes time, so it's very inspiring to see hackers going the extra mile with aesthetics #w{=)}
2020 and 2021 together were our revenge against the pandemic and its consequences. We strongly fought against the side effects of lockdown, quarantines and I’m pretty sure most of the releases we had were made as an escape of these struggled and very complicated time. This is a very delightful post, Doc. Thank you so much to every individual creator in this site to contributing kaizo to grow as much as it’s been doing it, and obviously to the entire community. I’m excited to see what will you all bring to us during 2022!!
it's so refreshing seeing great hacks
Not gonna lie here - the dark times we're living in served to unfold hidden talents. The great influx of kaizo hacks submitted as of lately are a living source of that.
Thanks for the delightfully detailed and informative thread, Doc! I wonder what awaits us this year.
Great write-up, Doc. I tend to wishfully think that the 2021 kaizo boom wasn't primarily because of the pandemic, but I'm probably wrong. Thanks so much to all the 2021 hack creators for providing us with countless hours of entertainment! Can't wait to see what the future brings.