Making an excellent game to garner fans, encouraging those fans to learn more about it, and then giving them space to create their own spin on it is key to creating a robust game community, but in order to mature from a developer-managed community to a truly fan-driven community, it needs to draw more players in on its own.
Like most communities centered around content creation, the Super Metroid ROM hacking community gains exposure through its most impressive accomplishments. The best known accomplishment, and the one that helped the community start gaining steam in 2006, is Super Metroid: Redesign. Redesign has a plethora of gameplay videos on YouTube, features on several hobbyist gaming sites, and is even part of a PC Magazine feature on noteworthy hacks. It's no wonder, then, that many members cite Redesign as their first exposure to the community. Others pointed out that Redesign was especially important as the community was forming.
How did Redesign get so much attention? Simply put, it changed the landscape of Super Metroid ROM hacks. It was the original overhaul, changing the layout, adding new items and more areas, and even changing the physics of the original game. It was seminal for the Super Metroid hacking community, and many of the techniques used in the hack have become standard since.
It thus paved the way for several other major hacks, the most prominent of which are Ice Metal: Uninstall, Phazon Hack, and Metroid: Super Zero Mission. Although they are all hacks of Super Metroid, each is unique in its approach and demonstrates how the hacking community pushes the limits of Super Metroid.
The first of these, chronologically, is Ice Metal: Uninstall, released in late 2010 by Metroid Construction forum member Crys. Whereas the original game is satisfied with just one opening cutscene and a few key events in the game, this hack focuses on creating an engaging story, inserting text into each area's map screen as clues for the player to find. Although you can recognize some areas from the original game, Ice Metal reconfigures the layout of the game significantly. Like most major hacks, Ice Metal also changes the order in which the player obtains major upgrades.
Next is Metroid: Super Zero Mission, released by Japanese hacker SB in late 2011. As its name implies, it endeavors to combine elements from both Super Metroid and a later 2D game in the Metroid franchise, Metroid: Zero Mission. It does this by adding a puzzle element to the game, frequently challenging players to use their arsenal to find the way forward rather than battling enemies. It also incorporates several key elements from Metroid: Zero Mission, including Chozo lore, invincible enemies, and mystery items. Although it is clearly intended as a hybrid of the two Nintendo-published games, the hack stands as an original game in its own right.
Some of the elements from Metroid: Zero Mission that appear in Metroid: Super Zero Mission include level gates, pictured left, and motion-sensing lasers, pictured right.
Finally, there is Super Metroid Phazon Hack, the current version of which was released by Red_M0nk3y at the end of 2011. This hack works on pushing the limits of the original game -- some areas in the hack are so large that they require a loading transition in the middle of play. Everything has been altered, from the layout to the order of items to the order in which the player fights the boss enemies. It even includes destructible crates that contain beneficial items, a staple of the modern FPS genre in general and the Metroid Prime trilogy in particular.
While all these major hacks are unique in their own ways, they are universally built for a veteran Super Metroid player. The critical path of the game is always changed around to keep players guessing at which item they'll encounter next, they are always noticeably more difficult than the original game, and they often require players to master specialized moves, like the optional wall jump move in Super Metroid.
Many make more subtle changes, including changes to the gravity or changing the effect of expansion upgrades, even when those changes aren't strictly necessary. This succinctly demonstrates that these hacks are by fans, for fans -- they aren't meant to attract players who aren't familiar with the original. Instead, they extend the amount of play the core fan base can obtain from the game. This in turn extends interest in the game, which in turn feeds the community, creating a feedback loop of hacker-created content attracting more hackers.