Why Super Metroid's Hacking Community is Still Going Strong
July 24, 2013 Page 2 of 6
It Starts With the Game
The most basic element of the community's success is also the only one that is entirely in the hands of the developer. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the community members cited the game itself as one of their primary reasons for joining the community. This may seem like a foregone conclusion, since Super Metroid's superb design is well recognized, but there are common threads in the members' description of their love of the game.
First, a red herring -- many fans will label their devotion to a game, particularly a classic game like Super Metroid, as "nostalgia." The problem with this is that it may fool developers into thinking that they cannot capture the same degree of devotion with a modern game. In fact, while people do often prefer games played during their formative years, nostalgia cannot sustain a dedicated fandom. On its own, it simply doesn't hold up under close scrutiny, and the Super Metroid hacking community -- like most dedicated fandoms -- examines the source material with profound meticulousness.
It is therefore vital to look beyond the labels fans use, and instead to the stories they tell. Universally, when a community member told their story of how they became a fan of Super Metroid, it involved them playing the game extensively. Many estimated their personal total playtime of the original at 100 hours or more -- either to master it, to explore it, or to simply re-experience it. This time invested is the key to the dedication that these community members have to the game, not the age at which they played it.
Truly dedicated fans help carry any community, but are particularly important for a community's longevity. They will be the ones who run fan forums, who write FAQs, and who create fan content that other players -- even those who have not spent much time with the game -- will be interested in.
They do this because they view their favorite game as unique. As community member Fizzer stated, "There's something magical about Super Metroid that separates it from every other game of [its] kind." If a developer wants someone to say that about its game, and in turn to encourage other players to become fans, the game must be designed to inspire fandom.
Merely being a fan of Super Metroid isn't enough motivation to join the hacking community. For many early adopters and expert hackers, a curiosity about the game spurs them to delve into the game's source code. Several forum members described a love of exploring behind-the-scenes to figure out how a game works -- community member JAM explained that it felt like being a "cyber-archeologist." For these explorer-type players, finding development fossils -- items that were present in the original game's code but never used -- is one of the chief rewards of ROM hacking.
Some hacks re-introduce fossils hidden in the game. The miniature enemy above, called "Stoke," is one such fossil in hack Metroid: Super Zero Mission.
The drive to pick apart a game is not unique to Super Metroid, but the extent to which some of its secrets are hidden makes it ideal for curious cyber-archaeologists. Hackers quickly discovered the usual quirks, including bizarre enemies and special block types that were never used. Even a hidden "Game Quit" menu didn't hide for long before someone found the Game Genie code that activated it.
But some fossils are better hidden -- for example, community member JAM found a new fossil in late 2010 with the help of another member, Scyzer. The fossil, dubbed the Golden Torizo cheat code, can only be triggered during a split-second window while entering a specific room. JAM actually stumbled upon it while looking through the raw assembly code for the game, then posted it on the forum for others to investigate. The community quickly figured out how to activate it -- not to try to exploit a new cheat code, which during normal play would give the player upgrades after they should have already gotten them -- but just to see why it might have been added.
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