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Staff Spotlight ~ December 2018 ~ The Not-So-Impromptu Show feat. XenonZed
Forum Index - Sunken Ghost Ship - Display Case - Interview Archive - Staff Spotlight ~ December 2018 ~ The Not-So-Impromptu Show feat. XenonZed
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For the last Staff Spotlight of the year, I sat down with XenonZed and had a good talk about Yoshi's Island hacking. Enjoy!

Quote
FPzero: Welcome everyone to the final Staff Spotlight of 2018! This time around we have XenonZed with us, our resident Yoshi's Island Section Manager. He was hired on back in August to fill the hole we had in our YI staff team and has lately been in charge of leading the Yoshi's Island Level Design Contest. How are you doing today?
XenonZed: I'm doing great.
FPzero: That's good to hear.

FPzero: Well let's start off by getting right into how you found your way here. Despite hosting Yoshi's Island sections, SMWC is obviously focused on SMW. What made you interested in hacking Yoshi's Island over what most other people here hack?
XenonZed: Ever since I beat it for the first time, Yoshi's Island has been one of my favourite games. There's just so many interesting things in that game; it made making my own levels really exciting to me. I never really felt as strongly about Super Mario World.
FPzero: I can totally get that. I remember playing YI as a kid and falling in love with it. Maybe if the tools had been better back when I started romhacking I would've given it more thought.
FPzero: Did you ever have to use Eggvine?
XenonZed: No, by the time I learned about ROM hacking Golden Egg had already been released. There was a fair gap between my discovery of ROM hacks and actually using the editor, too, since my old family computer couldn't run emulators. I started messing around with Golden Egg around late 2013 or so.
FPzero: The lack of a truly graphical interface is what killed my enthusiasm for YI hacking. It's sure a good thing we have Golden Egg now.

FPzero: So Yoshi's Island levels... They're definitely structured a lot differently than SMW levels in that they usually have a good focus on exploration and puzzle solving rather than just making it to the end.
FPzero: How do you find yourself going about making levels like these? Are there any fundamentals you try to follow as you work?
XenonZed: The biggest challenge with designing exploration focused levels in Yoshi is definitely the structure. In general, I just try to keep the traversal of the level interesting, varied and active. For the more important challenges I'll try to think of clever or interesting ways to utilize the existing game assets and then figure out how to integrate them into the level.
XenonZed: For bigger puzzles, I'd definitely recommend some planning.
XenonZed: Something important with Yoshi's Island, though, is that you can easily work in smaller bits of exploration into a more fast, forward-moving level. That's the approach I've tended to take with a lot of the stages I've made.
FPzero: A sort of Bonus Room approach?
XenonZed: Definitely, or just incorporating stuff like switches, timing challenges, chomp rocks, or short branches in the path.
FPzero: I suppose the modern Mario equivalent would be things like Red Coin rings, or getting the 3 Star Coins. Which is an approach I do appreciate, because it allows the player to keep making progress while also tackling those optional challenges should they choose.
FPzero: I always felt like making a YI level seemed a little intimidating because of the puzzle design inherent to many levels, but I suppose if you think about them as bonus rooms or challenges, it's not unlike what many people already do in their SMW levels. Just done on a longer scale over the course of the whole level.
FPzero: Do you have any elements that you particularly like using in levels? Or do you try to use a little of everything when possible?
XenonZed: I really like trying to build stages around elements that appeared very rarely in the original game.
XenonZed: Sometimes it's not even a full stage, rather it's just a smaller segment built around it.
FPzero: YI stages lend themselves to multiple ideas pretty well.
XenonZed: Definitely.

FPzero: So let's talk about what you've been working on lately. I know you helped re-release Golden Yoshi's Island at the end of September. How did you end up involved with that project?
XenonZed: I became a mod for trihex's Twitch channel around late 2015. At that point, he had been speedrunning Yoshi's Island for 10 years without really taking any breaks, and he got super interested in speedrunning ROM hacks. He wanted to show off SMW2+2 at exhibitions, but the run was around 4 hours long, which was a big problem. Since he knew I was involved with Yoshi's Island hacking, he approached me in 2016 about making a shortened version of the hack for that purpose, and that became Golden Yoshi's Island.
FPzero: That's a pretty neat history behind it. What went into making a shorter version? I assume levels had to be cut, but how did you make those decisions?
XenonZed: Trihex came up with the final list of levels on his own, based on what he felt would be the most interesting or exciting to watch. We also had to modify a few levels to add speed tricks (being able to skip the train transformation in 3-5, for example), and there are a bunch of small ASM tweaks designed to reduce downtime as much as possible.
FPzero: And now he has a romhack he can show at exhibitions without going too long. Any idea what the speedrun time is down to now instead of 4 hours?
XenonZed: His old personal best was around 2 and a half hours, but sub 2 hours seems like a definite possibility.
FPzero: Wow, cutting the time in half? That's some impressive work you all did.
XenonZed: Thanks.

FPzero: So what about you? Are you working on a project right now? I tried looking in the YI subforum and didn't see a thread from you
XenonZed: The most recent thing I've done is create a level for a small collaboration hack by the Yoshi speedrunning community. I'm also interested in creating a short 1-2 world hack sometime soon, but the YI Level Design Contest has been my main focus for the time being.
FPzero: Well hopefully you're able to work on that short hack soon. There are far too few YI hacks for such a fun to play game. We can always use more.

FPzero: But speaking of the YI Level Design Contest, that still has a few weeks left for submissions. How has it been going so far? Feeling good about it?
XenonZed: I feel like it's been going well, especially with how niche YI hacking is. I'm definitely expecting some more entries to start trickling in as it comes to a close, since we're still two weeks out from the deadline.
FPzero: In my experience hosting, you usually get a few on the first day, a steady trickle throughout the majority of the period, and then a lot of entries during the last couple days as people rush to finish stuff.
FPzero: I'm looking forward to seeing the results since it's been so long since we had a YILDC.
FPzero: Anything you'd say to people reading this that might be thinking about joining the contest but are on the fence?
XenonZed: I'd say definitely try it out! Yoshi's Island is a game with some incredible untapped potential and this contest is a perfect chance to get yourself acquainted with it!
FPzero: #smw{:TUP:}

FPzero: This is probably the last topic I have.
FPzero: Let's look at Yoshi's Island hacking as a whole. Obviously compared to SMW it is a much smaller community with a much smaller scope of what's possible. I believe, though I am slightly uninformed when it comes to its tools, that Golden Egg initially released and has never really been updated since then. I see there are a number of ancillary programs listed in the Tools for YI Hacking thread in the subforum so people have been making progress on expanding what's possible.
FPzero: As the YI Section Manager, what do you see as the future of Yoshi's Island hacking? Where do you want to see this community go? Are there promising developments in YI hacking around the corner?
XenonZed: My main vision for the section is just to increase activity, more than anything. I feel like the biggest barrier to entry for YI hacking is just how cumbersome Golden Egg can be to use, even though I personally found it to be a bit more approachable than Lunar Magic. Doing anything with your level's aesthetics tends to require making small changes and then testing in emulator over and over, since it doesn't display background layers or sprite graphics, for example. That, or you have to cross-reference vanilla stages or external resources to get things working properly.
XenonZed: A new level editor getting finished would definitely be the biggest development for the scene, and lately it seems there's been a big increase in interest for making a new one.
XenonZed: Other than that, I think holding YI-based contests more frequently might help spur more activity in the section and encourage more users to try it out.
FPzero: I'd heard some talk of a new editor, so hopefully there could be some interest in one. YI hacking is criminially underappreciated in my opinion and anything to give it a sort of "renaissance" of hacking would be lovely to see.

FPzero: Well I think that's about all the questions I had for today. Is there anything else you wanted to tell me before we wrap up?
XenonZed: If anyone reading this happens to be developing a YI editor of their own, definitely hit me up. I would gladly help to test it and suggest features.
FPzero: There we have it. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, and good luck wrapping up the YILDC!
XenonZed: Thank you for having me!
Really glad to see some more Yoshi's Island representation around here, especially with the recent addition of the YI Music Section to the site. I definitely think Xenon deserved this. And hey—great interview, FPzero!
Yoshi's Island has always been my favourite 2D game, and hacks of it always blow me away. I've given a few cracks at hacking myself but it's so different from Lunar Magic that I tense up and put it down. Up until now, there really was never anyone rallying the troops around YI hacking and offering big help to those beginners that need it. Good for you Xenon! You deserve it!
I can't believe you forgot the random question section you're fired

Xenon was good though. Good interview. #smrpg{<3}
Interesting interview, I was kinda curious about your thoughts about YI Hacking. Keep doing the good work you've done :)
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Forum Index - Sunken Ghost Ship - Display Case - Interview Archive - Staff Spotlight ~ December 2018 ~ The Not-So-Impromptu Show feat. XenonZed

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