Interview with FuSoYa
Before Super Mario Marker, there was Lunar Magic.
Coded by FuSoYa, Lunar Magic is the first and only level editor for the Super NES classic Super Mario World. The program, which runs in Windows, was first released on September 24, 2000?more than 15 years ago. It's easy-to-use GUI has allowed countless fans to design their own Mario levels and helped make Super Mario World one of the most hacked game of all time.
On September 10, 2001, just about a year after the first public release of Lunar Magic, FuSoYa released his own hack, a short, seven-level game called Super Demo World, to show what the program was capable of. About two years later, he published a substantially-expanded version called Super Demo World: The Legend Continues, which he designed with his brother Zero-G.
These days, SMW Central, which was founded in 2005, is the premiere community for Super Mario World hackers. The site currently hosts hundreds of hacks, few if any of which would be possible without FuSoYa's pioneering work.
I recently spoke with FuSoYa about the history of ROM hacking and the development of Lunar Magic, and asked him to reflect on the long history of Super Mario World hacking.
I'm interested in the kind of people who get involved in the ROM hacking community. What can you tell me about yourself?
The kind of people that get involved in the community tend to be those that enjoyed playing these games as they grew up. Fortunately many of the games get re-released on newer platforms, and emulation preserves the ones that don't, so there's still a fair number of new people that get exposed to them over the years to keep things going.
As for myself, my favorite games are all RPGs (Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy II/III, Wild Arms, Tales of [Phantasia] games, etc).
When did you first become aware of ROM hacking and how did you get into it?
ROM hacking first caught my interest back when attempts were being made at translating Final Fantasy V from Japanese to English for the SNES. A lot of games in the SNES days didn't get brought over here, and the idea of being able to finally play these games in English appealed to a lot of people. When RPGe succeeded at doing this for FFV, I tried my own hand at it with an SNES RPG for Sailor Moon [Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon: Another Story]. And things just proceeded from there.
I'm really interested in the history of ROM hacking. It's been largely ignored by gaming magazines and news sites, so there isn't a lot of solid info on it. I was wondering what you can tell me about it. When did fans first start to hack video game ROM images? What do you know about different hacking communities, especially older, defunct ones that might not be very well documented? What do you consider to be the community's major milestones?
ROM hacking has probably been around nearly as long as the games themselves, as even Game Genie/Action Replay devices can be used to do minor hacking directly on the consoles. But if you're talking about hacking the ROMs on PC specifically, probably at least as long as the ROM copiers have been around.
A lot of the hacking/translating communities that sprung up hung out on various web forums and IRC. Unfortunately most of the early web forums and sites are long since gone, and memories are rapidly fading about those days. I can't even remember how many translation groups appeared then disappeared back then. The old ROM hack board (the Matt script one) and the CTC [Confederated Translation Center] board in the late 90s are ones that stick out in my mind as being the more interesting places for ROM hacking and translation, which I lurked in for quite a bit. I also remember DES [Dragon Eye Studios] and their forum, if only because that was where I first announced that Lunar Magic was going to be released. There was also CG Games [Challenge Games], which hosted my website for a long while. And Acmlm's forum, which lasted for a long time for both SMW hacking and hacking in general. Then there were the news sites (Zophar's [Domain], SGC [Snakeyes Gaming Corp.], ROMhacking.org, ROMhacking.com, Whirlpool, later cumulating into ROMhacking.net).
As for very early milestones, I'd say the FFV and SD3 [Seiken Densetsu 3 aka Secret of Mana 2] translations are the big ones that come to mind.
I noticed Super Mario World wasn't on your list of favorite games, so what inspired you to create Lunar Magic? Also, what can you tell me about the development of Lunar Magic? Did you do all the reverse engineering of SMW yourself or did you have help?
Well, one of the things to come out of the Sailor Moon RPG translation project was a basic map editor [available here] I originally created for translating some of the street signs in the game. In February of 2000, I thought it might be nifty to work on something similar for another game, so after thinking it over, I decided to go with Mario World. While I do prefer to play RPGs, when it comes to hacking a game in order to remake it, I reasoned that it would probably be more fun and broadly appealing to do it to a platform game. Making an RPG nearly always takes a fair amount of planning, but with Mario you're pretty much free to make things as long or short as you want. And I did enjoy playing the Mario games growing up... Mario 3 is even why I originally bought a NES.
The first version of the program that would eventually be called "Lunar Magic" took about eight months to build. I handled all the coding and reverse engineering myself. In fact, I was without net access during most of that time... so when I finally released it in September of that year, it came as a rather unexpected surprise for most of the community. The focus of most Mario hacking up till then had been on the NES games. News of it spread quickly after that, and even some hits from Nintendo and Sony showed up in my site's logs.
The editor turned out to be pretty popular and it wasn't too long until SMW hacking got it's own forum section at Acmlm's board, which is where most of the SMW hacking community would gather for several years. Later on came SMWCentral.net, a site that would focus on collecting resources and hacks for the game along with providing a forum that everyone could discuss and share their work on.
Are you surprised with what Lunar Magic has spawned? Did you ever expect there would be a whole community of SMW hackers and hundreds, maybe even thousands, of hacks?
Very surprised. If someone had told me back in the year 2000 that, over the next 14 years, this many people would have used Lunar Magic to create countless SMW hacks and would still be doing so, I wouldn't have believed them. Sure, Mario is popular, but... 14 years of SMW hacking? When the editor was first released, I figured I'd only spend a couple months touching things up in the program and it'd be done, and people would only be playing with it for a couple of years. Yet here we are, and it's still being actively updated and used, with a SMW community that's still going strong.
I was curious if there was a story behind the name of Lunar Magic. I'm guessing the name came from the 3-Up Moon from Super Mario World since that's what you used for the program's icon. Did you come up with the name or did someone else?
It was the other way around actually. I chose the program's icon after coming up with the name. "Lunar Magic" came partially from "Partition Magic," the name of a program that makes partitioning hard drives fairly easy (the same sort of ease I was looking to do for SMW editing). The "Lunar" bit came from the fact that "FuSoYa," the name that I use, was a character from FFII that came from the moon.
I liked the name, so I later used variations of the 3-Up Moon icon and the "Lunar" name for several other smaller programs.
I was wondering how involved you are with Super Mario World hacking these days. Have you contributed to any hacks recently? Do people come to you for technical advice often?
The majority of my SMW hacking these days is restricted to development of the editor. To make editing the game easier, it sometimes becomes necessary to reprogram parts of the original game. These ASM [assembly language] hacks then get integrated into Lunar Magic and inserted automatically whenever a feature that requires it is used.
I also give advice for people that want to check on compatibility with Lunar Magic and their ASM hacks, take feature suggestions, check on potential bugs with the program, etc.
It's been more than a decade since Super Demo World: The Legend Continues was released. SMW hacking has gotten more sophisticated since then. Looking back on it, do you think it stands the test of time? If you redid it, is there anything you'd do differently?
I think it does for the most part. Of course if it were being remade today, it could have a lot more things that weren't around then (custom music, bosses, custom code for sprites, more space for graphics, etc). And I'd probably adjust the difficulty on some bits. But it's still a hack that turned out pretty well given what was available at the time and the strict time limit I put myself and my brother on for getting it done.
Have you heard about Super Mario Maker, and what's your reaction to it?
Yes, I've heard of it. It's nice to see that Nintendo has recognized how fun it can be for players to make their own Mario levels and play them. It should be interesting to see what they come up with, and how they deal with the differences in platforms (creating levels on PC vs. doing it right on the console).
How long do you think people will continue to create SMW hacks for? How long do you expect to update Lunar Magic?
I imagine SMW hacks will continue to be created for as long as there are people who enjoy it. Which, given how popular the original game was and how easy the game is to play with, could be a long time yet.
As for how long I expect to update Lunar Magic... Well, I've taken a few guesses at that over the last 15 years and been wrong, so who can say?
This interview is based on a series of email exchanges between April and July, 2015. The questions have been reorganized in a more logical order, and the answers have been edited for typos and punctuation.
All screenshots taken from FuSoYa's Niche.