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Kaizo Hacking 101 (tips on how to make a good kaizo hack)
Forum Index - SMW Hacking - SMW Hacking Help - Tutorials - Kaizo Hacking 101 (tips on how to make a good kaizo hack)
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This tutorial is meant to help users learn how to make a fun, high quality Kaizo hack! Hopefully, these pointers will help users new to Lunar Magic be able to make creative, quality Kaizo levels. This will also help already experienced SMW hackers with introducing them to the often ignored Kaizo genre. This tutorial mostly covers the Kaizo-light genre, although Kaizo-hard can also be applied here. I've still seen a lot of poorly made Kaizo hacks, so this should help those who would like to improve their hacks.

Sections Covered

Section 1: Kaizo Basics
A. A brief history of Kaizo
B. What is a Kaizo hack?
C. Artificial difficulty vs. fun difficulty


Section 2: General Kaizo Hacking Tips
D. Muncher placement
E. Invisible coin blocks
F. Midway points
G. Quick thinking
H. Time limits
I. Surprise fish
J. Difficulty consistency
K. Avoiding breaks
L. Out of water enemies
M. Dolphins and rng
N. Kaizo traps
O. Level length

Section 3: Perfecting Your Kaizo Hack
P. Using YY-CHR to mix tilesets
Q. Using ASM to spice up levels
R. Kaizo plots and storylines
S. ExGFX and muncher replacements
T. Creativity and uniqueness

Bonus Section
U. Pit hacks
V. How to play difficult Kaizo hacks





Section 1: Kaizo Basics

A. A brief history of Kaizo

Before the original Kaizo Mario World was created by TAKE for his friend R KIBA to play on nicovideo, the Kaizo genre of hacking was basically nonexistent. There were hard hacks, of course, but mostly muncher spam. Kaizo Mario World was the first hack to offer creative, unique, and groundbreaking level design in the name of difficulty to SMW. The literal translation of "Kaizo Mario World" is 自作の改造マリオ(スーパーマリオワールド)を友人にプレイさせる, or "making my friend play through my own super mario world hack". Kaizo is a rough translation of the word "modify" or "change" in Japanese.

Since TAKE (Takemoto) made his revolutionary hack, countless SMW hackers inspired by his work have attempted to hack SMW in the name of difficulty. Some people tried to make the most difficult levels possible, only possible with tools, which became known as pit hacks (these hacks are mostly made by TASers). Other people, many who enjoyed real-time speedrunning, tried to make Kaizo hacks that were possible savestate-less in order to speedrun. Regardless, many incorrectly think that the first priority of Kaizo is difficulty. This is not really true; a good Kaizo hack is a blend of fun and difficulty. This might seem contradictory, since it looks pretty painful to watch people play these insane hacks. However, by the end of this tutorial, you should hopefully know exactly how a Kaizo hack can be just as fun as a normal one.

B. What is a Kaizo hack?

This is a screenshot of a pretty normal level. As you can see, there are multiple "paths" to take. By paths, I mean that the player can choose to get the coins and hop over the koopa, or he can jump on the clouds and get the coins. Basically, there are many ways that the player can progress to the next screen, and danger is only present in one path (by walking dangerously near the koopa)



Here is a screenshot of a very basic Kaizo level. As you can see, there is only one path to take: jump on the goomba. The difficulty is unavoidable. unlike the easily avoidable koopa from the first screen, the chuck is right in the way of the only path. A kaizo hack forces the player to take one path, and this path contains all the difficulty.



Hopefully this explains the difference between a kaizo and a normal hack. Hard hacks like Brutal Mario are not Kaizo because they offer plenty of different options and paths for the player.

C. Artificial difficulty vs. fun difficulty

Now you know that a Kaizo hack is supposed to be difficult. How can that difficulty be fun? It takes practice at first, but unique and creative ideas are what make a level fun to play, despite the difficulty.

Artificial difficulty is to be avoided. This involves things like super low time limits, annoying repeated muncher jumps, and other generally annoying things. This area is not fun at all; the only thing it has is artificial difficulty.



This, while a bit simple, is actually fun and difficult. Instead of doing the same thing over and over, you have to solve a puzzle (although it is really easy). Use the wiggler to hit the invisible coin blocks and progress to the next screen. This is an example of fun difficulty.








Section 2: General Kaizo Hacking Tips

D. Muncher placement

One of the most iconic aspects of Kaizo hacking is the muncher. The reality, however, is that about 90% of the munchers from many kaizo hacks can be removed and it would do nothing to the difficulty (I made that percentage up, but still). Stacked munchers are obviously wrong, but even munchers lining the ceiling are unnecessary most of the time. Munchers only need to be placed where the player might actually go to. If you are testing a jump and you notice that you seem to hit the ceiling a lot in a certain spot, place a muncher there (but make sure it is upside down!). Here is a screenshot of a relatively dull jump in a Kaizo level.



It is much more creative to replace the munchers with something else. What this is exactly doesn't matter; as long as it is a threat. In this section, I replaced the munchers with a rainbow shell. If you jump too high by accident you still die. This time, it's just more interesting.



E. Invisible coin blocks

Invisible blocks are another common aspect of Kaizo hacks. It's up to the hacker on whether they will be outlined or not. It generally depends on the style of the hack; I chose to make them outlined so you could see them easily in this tutorial. Note that they still pose a threat when outlined; they simply aren't as annoying.

Invisible blocks are only as useful as their placement. A properly placed one can make a jump go from easy to pit-hack insane. In the jump below, the invisible coin block is pointless. The player will not have a tendency to hit it because most players want to jump off the falling platforms as quickly as possible. Why would anyone wait till the last possible moment to jump?



This block, however, is placed well. The falling grey platform causes the player to panic and jump to soon, hitting the block and dying. It's unusual for the player to jump at the rightmost edge of the platform. Make "unusual" the only possible way in a Kaizo hack and punish players that follow tendencies.



F. Midway points

There is absolutely nothing wrong with providing a midpoint in a Kaizo hack. In fact, it is actually preferred! Especially if this hack can be played savestate-less. The person speedrunning/playing it will appreciate a midpoint greatly. You can always patch the game to prevent it from making you big Mario.
This is Kaizo, however, so make the player work for it!



G. Quick thinking

One of the things that TAKE used a lot in the original three Kaizo Mario World hacks was a quick reaction section. This means that the player has to react often inhumanly fast to avoid getting trapped or killed. These are best placed at the beginning of a hack to immediately pose a threat to the player. After the first time dying, however, the player can pretty much avoid it any time. These traps are mostly for initial shock and annoyance, and they don't really increase the overall difficulty of a hack.



In this example, you have to run really fast to the right or you get stuck from the mole. After the first death, however, you pretty much know to run right at the start every time.
These kind of traps can create a lot of funny moments (Don't click link if you dislike language).

H. Time limits

I already mentioned this, but low time limits are not fun and should be avoided unless you are making a pit hack that purposefully sacrifices fun for the sake of difficulty. Test the level you made, and then add at least 100 seconds to your finishing time. If it is a puzzle-Kaizo level, add at least 200. You shouldn't be hearing the "hurry up music" unless it is a very short level.

I. Surprise fish

Out of nowhere jumping fish were a common element in the original Kaizo as well, but they unfortunately aren't used as much anymore. The fish that you see flying out of the sky to kill the player is sprite 18, or the surface jumping fish. If you place it on the highest tiles in Lunar Magic, it will hit the ground about 5 tiles away from where it started. Always test your flying fish to see if they are actually a threat, however. Again, placement is everything. In this example, I placed it low, meaning it would fall earlier on. I did this because the note block makes the player spring forward and want to travel quickly to the next section. The difficult jump coming up stops the player, however, and allows time for the fish to kill Mario.



In this example, the fish is placed really high up. This is because the player has to wait for the carrot lift to come back. Use waiting opportunities like these to throw a surprise at the player. The tendency is to wait as close as possible to the ledge, so make sure the fish falls there.



Flying fish can be fun once in a while, but like munchers and invisible coins, they can get annoying very quickly. Make sure you have actual fun level design in-between these annoying little things.

J. Difficulty consistency

One of the best ways to avoid inconsistency in your hack's difficulty is to play on the same emulator settings and note when something takes a long time. If it's an easy-Kaizo hack, play it without slowdown and with few savestates. If it's Kaizo-hard, play it with 75% or 50% slowdown throughout. If it's a pit hack, only use frame advance. Basically, you can tell if something is too hard because you will take an extra long time on it. Make sure to throw out easy parts as well. Nothing is more pointless than a section that's too easy in a Kaizo hack.

Also, Kaizo hacks can and should have a difficulty curve. A perfect example of a hack with a fantastic difficulty curve is Kaizo Mario World. The first level can be done pretty easily (often without savestates), but the last few levels are really challenging.

K. Avoiding breaks

The best way to truly avoid breaks is to ask a TASer to look for breaks. A much more tedious way is to study this list. There are a ton of glitches in SMW that experienced players know about, and if your hack has a Yoshi, there's a good chance that your hack will be broken like this.

Things to avoid: turn blocks next to ceilings, capes, fireflowers, Yoshi next to a powerup, A Yoshi next to a Dragon Coin, or a Yoshi and basically any chuck. Yoshi in general can often lead to breaks. If you wish, you can use a patch to prevent the player from carrying Yoshi or powerups to levels.



The above area looks fine, but a TASer could easily break it by duplicating the block upwards using a glitch and escaping through the ceiling. Fix this by making the ground tiles in the ceiling solid, or by using a patch to prevent block duplication. Note that if you use a patch to fix a glitch, you can't make that glitch required later in a level!

L. Out of water enemies

In Kaizo hacks, it is sometimes unnecessary to make sense. That is why fish out of water are okay in a Kaizo level. Urchins are particularly fun to use. Blurps can also be used out of water. Here is a list of "aquatic" sprites that are perfectly functional out of water.
18 - Surface jumping fish
3A, 3B, 3C - Urchins
3D - Rip van fish (although it only swims downward)
41, 42, 43 - Dolphins
44 - Torpedo ted
C2 - Blurp fish
C3 - Porcu-Puffer fish (again, it only swims downward)

As you may have noticed, this is all of the "aquatic sprites" except for the plain old fish. This means that all of these sprites can make up creative level design in a Kaizo hack!



Note that when using layer 3 water that you don't intend the player to swim in, make sure that you line the bottom right above the waves with invisible coins or note blocks to prevent the player from breaking it.

M. Dolphins and rng

The RNG part of the title only applies to the dolphins generator, or sprites CF and D0. There is a specific section on dolphins only because they are one of the most hated aspects of a Kaizo hack for the player. This does not mean that they should not be used. All I ask is that they are used nicely and sparingly to avoid insanity for those who play your hack.

The dolphins operate on RNG and are extremely difficult to manipulate. Some Kaizo sections, such as the one below, involve riding the dolphins and avoiding a harmful ceiling. Other sections, such as the one shown in the linked video, involve dolphins crushing the player into the harmful ceiling. Both situations can be extremely challenging because of how random they are, so use dolphin generators very cautiously. Dolphin sections should be short and few in a hack.



N. Kaizo traps

There are two different kinds of Kaizo traps, and both can be fun and unique if done correctly. The first kind is a trap right before the goal, in which something pops out of nowhere to either trap or kill the player. An example of this is depicted below. The pokey falls out the sky and traps the player if they hesitate. These traps can make a hilarious ending to a Kaizo level, but they must be used sparingly and function best at the end. If every level contains a trap, the player will either start expecting them and avoid them, or get annoyed and quit playing the hack. The traps should most importantly be unique. My trap below is not that unique, since a pokey Kaizo trap has already been done in Kaizo Mario World 3, but there are plenty of unused sprites for a unique surprise ending.



The second kind occurs after the player hits the goal tape/sphere, or during the victory walk. These traps are particularly mean, since it tricks the player into thinking they finally beat the level, only to discover they must often start all over. My example below is common of Kaizo hacks, in which an invisible coin must be hit to allow the player to do a safe victory walk. I tried to make mine more unique by requiring the p-balloon. Note that most sprites vanish after getting the goal post, but those aspects can be changed by editing the cfg file for a sprite and inserting it with SpriteTool.



O. Level length

Level length should correspond directly with difficulty. If a level is really difficult, try not to make the level super long as well. Long levels are getting to the realm of artificial difficulty and should generally be avoided; it is better to make a ton of shorter levels than a few super long ones. Long levels have a tendency to drag on and become boring, which is also true for normal, non-Kaizo levels. In Kaizo hacking, long levels also become impossible to play without savestates, which can turn off some players and speedrunners from your hack.

Most of my own kaizo hacks end on scren A or B, which is a bit on the short side. Autoscrolling levels should be shorter so that they don't take an eternity.





Section 3: Perfecting Your Kaizo Hack

P. Using YY-CHR to mix tilesets

So now you know how to make a decent, fun Kaizo level. How do you turn some Kaizo ideas and levels into a full Kaizo hack ready to be accepted to SMWCentral? It's easy; throw your own unique ideas into the hack and do something different. Kaizo is a very unexplored realm. Most Kaizo hacks unfortunately look the same, and that same is just plain bad. So many Kaizo ideas are untapped. One way to spice up your level and made it unique is by using YY-CHR to mix tilesets and allow different sprites of different GFX into your level! Just read a tutorial on it and you should be able to come up with tons of unique combinations of sprites. In this screen, there are sprites from 3 different GFX tilesets used in a unique way. The player must time the jump into the saw area, but must immediately be able to time another jump past a buzzy beetle. Avoiding the piranha plant down below distracts the player from the jump and makes it even more difficult. Lastly, this level is a vertical level, which is pretty uncommon in a Kaizo hack. This all makes for a more unique experience, even though this particular screen was really easy to make.



Q. Using ASM to spice up levels

If you thought ASM was unused in normal hacks, it is far more rare in Kaizo hacking. There are tons of sprites, blocks, and patches ready to be used for a Kaizo hack. Unfortunately, many Kaizo hackers are turned away by the difficulty of ASM to use it. You do not have to be an ASM coder to include custom sprites in your Kaizo hack. Simply insert some interesting unused patches or sprites into a level and you have an extremely unique Kaizo level (give credit of course!). Below are two screenshots from my upcoming Kaizo hack (sorry to advertise). They both use ASM, and I am absolutely not a coder or even skilled in ASM by any means. All you need is a basic idea of how it works. Also, going back to a past pointer, notice how few munchers there are.



R. Kaizo plots and storylines

Many Kaizo hacks have an intro that says something like "Welcome to my super hard Mario hack! It is really challenging and it will try your skills. Good luck!" This message is okay, but it isn't really a story. It's perfectly fine for a Kaizo hack to have a unique story, and it is actually encouraged. Remember, the only thing that separates a Kaizo hack from a normal hack here at SMWCentral is the difficulty. That means that Kaizo hacks can have complex stories and characters.

S. ExGFX and muncher replacements

This is by far the most untouched area of Kaizo hacking. Almost zero Kaizo hacks use completely custom graphics. This isn't really a big deal, but it's okay to use some custom graphics in your Kaizo hack. A really cool thing to do is to replace the munchers with another death block. Many Kaizo and pit hackers like using the skull tiles for death blocks like in this level.
The screenshot below is again from one of my Kaizo hacks (and again, sorry for blatantly advertising).



The munchers were replaced by cacti. This is a good replacement because it's pretty obvious that cacti hurt in real life. If you want to replace munchers, make sure they are with something that makes some sense. Jellyfish, cacti, jagged rocks, jagged crystals, fire, bombs, or spiky balls all work as harmful things. Munchers are iconic in Kaizo hacks, but a bit overdone at this point.

T. Creativity and various design styles

This is an important part of all SMW hacking, but Kaizo hacks in particular should feature your own creative ideas and designs implemented into the level. What those designs are exactly is completely up to you.

There are roughly two different styles of Kaizo hacks. One style puts a heavy emphasis on puzzle-like creative difficulty, which was truly first created when worldpeace made Cool or Cruel. This style was later adopted by a lot of Kaizo hackers on SMWCentral. This design style features a lot of complex sections and often requires as much knowledge and thinking as it does maneuvering and dodging abilities.

Another style is to make Kaizo levels in a similar way to the original Kaizo Mario World. These levels are often easier than the other style, but don't necessarily need to be. Hacks like Super Dram World, Worse Than Kaizo, and SMW Remix, all are examples of this style. This style does not encourage difficulty over creativity; it simply puts an emphasis on more simple, Kaizo-esque level design.





Bonus Section

U. Pit hacks

This tutorial mostly covers Kaizo hacks, but I would like to talk a bit about pit hacks. For those who don't know what these insane-difficulty hacks are, they are usually single-level hacks that put heavy emphasis on extreme difficulty through TAS-only tricks. Although a walljump can technically be done savestateless, pit hacks often require multiple walljumps in a row, and often off of just one wall. These hacks are mostly played with frame advance. Pit hacks, like Kaizo hacks, should also be fun and creative!
If you downloaded a pit hack and simply want to watch it be played, play back the smv movie file included in the download in the emulator.

V. How to play difficult Kaizo hacks

I've seen a lot of people have trouble with beating Kaizo hacks. One of the main problems is trouble with an emulator. I would recommend not using ZSNES at all for Kaizo hacking. Instead, use LSNES or SNES9x. I would also recommend not using rewind. Use two or three savestate slots at once and use the hotkey function to make them correspond to keys that are easy to reach and press quickly. Save one of the slots in a safe point, and make the other one be the main savestate. That way, if you make a "bad savestate", you can just load the one you made at the safe point.

For pit hacks, frame advance is usually required. I would also recommend a SMW lua script for the harder pit hacks, but at that point, extensive TASing skills are required.



That's it!

I hope this really helps anyone who wants to improve their Kaizo hacking skills. At the very least, I hope some people learned some things about Kaizo design and enjoyed this. Thanks for taking the time to read this as well.
This is a really great tutorial and not even just for kaizo hackers but for just concepts for hard levels in general. Very well made.

also a small nitpick on my part Kaizo actually translates to modify or change not hack.
The only real gripe I have is that creativity is only given a passing mention. The entire design philosophy of modern Kaizo is "creativity without the boundaries of fairness", something best exemplified by world peace's or Sokobansolver's Kaizo hacks. You seem to put the most emphasis on difficulty.

Other than that, you've really made a great collection of tips and pointers for aspiring Kaizo hackers.
Very nice tutorial. This surely will help beginner kaizo hackers.
Originally posted by ninja boy
also a small nitpick on my part Kaizo actually translates to modify or change not hack.


Fixed! Thanks for pointing that out.

Originally posted by MercuryPenny
The only real gripe I have is that creativity is only given a passing mention. The entire design philosophy of modern Kaizo is "creativity without the boundaries of fairness", something best exemplified by world peace's or Sokobansolver's Kaizo hacks. You seem to put the most emphasis on difficulty.

Other than that, you've really made a great collection of tips and pointers for aspiring Kaizo hackers.


Thanks for pointing this out as well. I added a section on creativity and the two different Kaizo design styles. I agree that I should have explained more explicitly that difficulty is not nearly as important as creative and actually enjoyable level design.

I also added two more "lessons" and fixed some stuff. This will pretty much be the last update though.

Thanks for the positive feedback!
At least, a Kaizo tutorial! Thank you, I needed some tips for my 'EasyKaizo' hack :)

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I live life with no fear, except for the idea that one day you won't be here
Haven't seen a similar tutorial in a while. Your tips are motivating for people who want to make their first Kaizo hack and nothing seems out of the ordinary.
This is a very useful tutorial. I wish it would be stickied in the Kaizo Hacks forum.
Originally posted by GbreezeSunset


I wonder if there are any hacks do that but either put a podobo in level C8 or 1C8 with sprite buoyancy disabled or set the music bypass to a track that isn't inserted, to troll TASers.

Originally posted by GbreezeSunset


I doubt anyone besides TASers would think of doing that.

Originally posted by GbreezeSunset
Yoshi in general can often lead to breaks. If you wish, you can use a patch to prevent the player from carrying Yoshi or powerups to levels.


That is generally a good idea.

--------------------
Legacy custom music


How am I so creative? I think taking walks might have something to do with it.
Every single level of every single ROM hack I've ever made is easier than Ultra Necrozma.
A very useful tutorial for beginners.
Good work GbreezeSunset.

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Use kaizo traps sparingly?

pfffft :D
Originally posted by ft029
Use kaizo traps sparingly?

pfffft :D


Um, let me bring something

Originally posted by GbreezeSunset
"... If every level contains a trap, the player will either start expecting them and avoid them, or get annoyed and quit playing the hack. ..."


Yeah, that's too... strange I think
Please, SomeGuy712x...
PLEASE!!!!!!!!!
List of my SMWC ranks
My hack:
he means the traditional kaizo trap, as in "hit this p-switch or else you die after you beat the level"
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