N64 Modder Reveals How He Made Graphically Impressive Mario 64 Level

Super Mario 64 modder Kaze Emanuar uploaded a video on their Twitter account last month that left viewers astonished. It showed off a level he'd created for Super Mario 64, but it looked extremely good. So good in fact that viewers thought that it was a level created to run on PC. But no. It was a level that ran entirely on the nearly 27-year-old console.

The original clip of his level was captioned "Making games for the N64 in 2022 looks like this". Showing off moving parts, impressive high-poly count textures, and impressive lighting, the level was a visual treat. That it all ran so smoothly on real N64 hardware topped it off (Go Nintendo via Time Extension).

Now, in a new video the modder has revealed how he did it, with a behind-the-scenes look at his creation that should answer the many questions people had for him, and settling the arguments that it wasn't possible on N64 hardware once and for all.

Running on a stock N64, the level runs without any lag. It's all part of Kaze's 'Return to Yoshi's Island' mod which he is still in the process of building. In the eight-and-a-half minute video Kaze runs through what he did to get the level looking so good. Part of it had to do with the lighting and the modder explains that he used baked vertex colours and "fake" point lights. In effect, Kaze had to manually design the lighting effects, almost like painting in shadows. This is not so uncommon, with games even from the PS4 era using a version of this, while the latest games can use ray tracing which actually simulates the behavior of light. This is very hardware intensive however, even in 2023, and the likes of the N64 obviously wouldn't be capable of it.

In addition, the modder used various optimisations to boost framerates, making the game that much smoother in comparison to the original game where fps could dip to 20fps and even as low as 10fps on occasion. It's an insightful video and an intriguing look at how hobbyists and modders are turning to old hardware and pushing them to their limits. Another project is demaking Portal for the N64, for example.

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