Mario 64 B3313, Intended Experiences, and a bit of myhouse.wad

April 9th, 2024

Mario 64 has been one of my favorite Mario games for a long time. This isn't really an uncommon opinion, as this game hits a certain nostalgic window for some people. It's a game people often remember fondly before going back and remembering how janky it is, or how rough the controls can be... how scattershot it's design was. What appeals to me about Mario 64 isn't that I was young. It is that the genre was young and it is the type of weird game that can only exist within a short window. The type of game that gets made when everyone is talented, but no one quite knows what they're doing yet.

3d Level Design in the mid 90s

Mario 64 is a game about awkward but powerful movement options paired with open concept stages that were assembled like old playgrounds, where woodworkers would concoct accidental fortresses of death because "I guess that looks fun to climb!"

These are structures begging to be used wrong. To be climbed wrong, to be fallen off of. The flat wood almost like crude polygons, begging to be grabbed onto and stood upon. To reach out of bounds, with rough, sharp edges waiting to give you horrible, dagger like splinters...

Okay maybe there's a reason we don't make playgrounds like that anymore... A reason we don't make 3d platformers like Mario 64 anymore. Yet also the reason that games keep going back, to capture that spirit, to get all those feelings but in a less cumbersome, fresh package(I'm basically talking about Breath of the Wild).

But we're not talking about that today. Today we're asking "Okay, but what if we made it worse? What if we just doubled down?"

Prototypes, Betas and B3313

An interesting thing about Mario 64, and the Nintendo 64 in general, is we have a lot of old tech reels showing really half baked experiments. You can read up on the Shoshinkai/Space World '95 Beta, look at some videos, look at promotional material and be hit with this uncanny feeling of familiarness. Things move almost but not QUITE the same. Areas have the same vibe despite being totally different.

None of these roms exist, even after the "gigaleak", but modders have spent tons of time meticulously recreating this content, just like how the BS Legend of Zelda was "preserved" from VHS tapes. This has also lead to weirder content. Weird stuff like Greenio's fake beta content, presented in the style of believable old media. Or the MIPS Hole, a weird creepypasta like take on Mario 64 as a weird AI trying to give the player unique experiences. I'm not really into the creepypasta stuff, but like the backrooms, while the horror and world building doesn't appeal to me, the uncanny, liminal sense of space does. Internal Plexus (as the kids call it) of Princess Peach's castle. The inconsistencies, the impossible space. Usual things for old videogames, or even videogames today.

B3313 presents itself as another Beta build. Unlike myhouse.wad, it seems more openly honest about it. Nothing truly seems to present it as "a real, lost beta". You know what you're getting into.

The game presents itself as the Shoshinkai beta. The same weird dialog boxes, different controls(No long jump, weird triple jump, no backflip, weird dive/kick controls...), different textures. The same stages that were seen in the old handcam footage. But then the levels start to change -- like to different versions. First resembling this video, then resembling that old photo. There is no reliable star tracker to tell you what stage is what, or which version of Thwomp's Fortress this is.

Now Thwomp's Fortress lets you go inside.

For as wrong as each of the beta recreations feel, there is something uncanny about finding a space that didn't ever exist. It feels like an inaccurate dream.

Eventually you figure out the numbers on the doors are changing. You realize this 'same lobby' is different lobbies. You find ways to control which lobby you're in. Now you go through a door and... wait this is a different lobby. You go outside and now there is a day/night cycle. You go behind the castle and... wait... since when could I go behind the castle?

Doors go one way but then not back the other. You get lost, tangled in a web of secret passages. Wait, am I in the retail version of Mario 64 now? Wait, I thought the shoshinkai beta didn't have the long jump, why is the game letting me long jump again? Wait, I have NEGATIVE lives???(I recommend figuring out how to do this. I suggest using the plexus lobby)

Even when content is new it often seems to purposefully invoke a vision of previous areas. Oh this is a Bobomb Battlefield-like. What if a whole stage was based on the city part of Wet Dry World? Or sometimes a stage is just... new. Even the new stages keep up something I feel like many Mario 64 romhacks don't. They embrace the playground. Stages have a seemingly random amount of stars and often they're easy to get. You could clear some stages in 3 or 4 minutes. Go to the highest spot, find the one weird yellow box, get 8 coins, done. It embraces the wrongness. If you know how to move, how to climb steep surfaces, how to milk your jump height to grab seemingly impossible ledges, you can just scale all over everything. The game isn't trying to be a challenging obstacle course. In fact, when stages are hard, it feels in that same almost accidental way as Mario 64. It feels like old designers trying to figure out what makes a stage, leaving you to dig through piles and piles of half baked cut content but in the best possible way.

Yeah it has some weird creepy stuff, some jump scares, and some... kind of plot. Some of it is cute. I won't say I disliked evil T-Posing Dark Mario chasing me, only to have him crash my game when he makes contact... but the weirdly evolving and devolving nature of familiar content really grabbed me, leaving me feeling both excited and uneasy.

Destroying the notion of the Intended Experience

I'm always on the cusp of some argument about difficulty in games, and difficulty settings, and something that comes up a lot is the idea of the Intended, or Optimal Experience. If you don't give the player knobs to turn and settings to change, how will they perfectly calibrate themselves to fit into the groove of the Intended Experience? Clearly, you are designing for an Intended Experience, right?

I hate this concept. At best, it is a lie designers tell themselves, tricking themselves into thinking they have that much control over how people perceive their work. At worst, it is a suffocating standard, that overs sands, over polishes, and over tunes. In fact, one of the best defenses for things like difficulty options is the fact that there is no "perfect experience" anyways. Whether you want to design around Difficulty Settings or not is another story, but either way you need to design around a range of possible experiences(Dark Souls doesn't need an easy mode because it's already designed around the potential experience of 'the player isn't good and will need help' and gives tons of in-universe ways to relieve the pressure and not recognizing this is lazy and/or cowardice!!!). Anyways, isn't about difficulty settings, the important part is the concept of Intended Experiences.

B3313 is both not that hard and EXTREMELY hard. Stars, as I said, come easy. Levels can be tricky, only slightly more so than vanilla Mario 64. This has nothing on the various romhacks out there. Instead, finding everything you need to find and actually reaching the end game feels absurd to me. We think of Mario 64 as the game you're expected to beat, and the game you get 120 stars in if you REALLY like it... but I don't think B3313 is like that.

I think the "intended experience" is you get lost what feels like an infinite play space. That the Internal Plexus seems infinite. That you can leave the game unbeaten, feeling like you've barely scratched the surface. The intended experience of B3313 doesn't seem like it's to be a game to conquer, but a weird relic you find. The relic has answers! it NEEDS answers carry any weight(This is why JJ Abrams sucks)... but it's not essential that you find them. The goal is for you to have a unique and personal experience with this object. There is no groove to fit yourself into. The only "intended" part of the experience is that you have a memorable one, and that the experience is yours.

The game even has some degree of randomization. Personalization Values, as they're listed in the game's code. These do a bit of dynamic difficulty scaling, but they do other strange things too... discolor things, change your hud, changing the SIZE AND DIMENSIONS OF WHOLE AREAS, all in an attempt to make your experience both unique, but also shareable by not being entirely random. Is that weird lobby you found one your friend didn't find? Or was it just intentionally corrupted textures for your specific playthrough?

Beating the game at all feels like "100%ing" it. 100%ing feels like... crazy person stuff. For awhile there wasn't even an official count(And the Unabandoned version still doesn't have one) of stars and some star IDs were glitched and even overlapping. Some still are, for mysterious reasons. Ultimately, they're not important. You're not really meant to get all the stars. The fact these bugs weren't a high priority for so long exposes where their priorities are. Sure, they still fixed them, but trying to do the impossible is valid too, after all. The game is confident enough to allow you to experience it under your own terms.

The best game experiences aren't consumptive. They arise in the intersection of yourself and the art you're engaging with.

Contrasting with myhouse.wad

I forgot to write about myhouse.wad when I played it but it's interesting to go over a few things quickly.

I love myhouse.wad. I might dig it more than B3313? I think it's a much cleaner package, but at the same time B3313 would be WORSE if it tried to be cleaner. You see two things playing with the same concept -- cursed old game media filled with liminal spaces and horror? I think myhouse.wad hits with it's story pretty well though. B3313 has one, but it's... not important. It's about the fucking Super Mario Bros. Meanwhile, myhouse.wad is about people and real experiences. Not literally real (maybe some of them might be), but human experiences. I think myhouse.wad wants you to finish it, to figure it out, to get the story, where B3313 want's to just overwhelm you.

I like that each has a great strength that is in direct contrast to the other. They fundamentally can't do what the other is doing, even though they both are drawing water from the same well. That's pretty cool!

Okay but which version of B3313 do I get??

God I have no fucking clue. I did the official 1.0 version. The upsides seem to be more polished and ends better. The latter only matters if you're a sicko like me. The Unabandoned version has the support of more of the original team. There is some drama going on and the original team leader seems kinda nuts, but I kinda wanted to see the weirdo's vision. Upside of the Unabandoned version is more stars(like 471 vs 450 in the official version) and "more content"(I have no idea what that means). Getting lost and fighting stuff is definitely the major draw here so that might be good? There are few resources to truly help make a good decision. That said, I don't think you can go wrong? Both are WAY WAY too much game, but in a good way, so just go with your initial impulse.

tags: Game Log
games: Mario 64 , Rom Hacks , Doom