Ever since I first started talking about videogame hacking – back during my undergraduate degree at Ryerson University – the first question folks have asked me about my practice is invariably “have you played Super Mario Clouds?”
Super Mario Clouds is, of course, Cory Arcangel’s famous art installation, which ostensibly strips away every single element from the NES classic Super Mario Bros except for the fluffy white clouds that adorn the game’s levels. Although there has been some debate as to the authenticity of Arcangel’s “hacking” process, the exact methods for manifesting the clouds seems to have become secondary to their aesthetic impact. Super Mario Clouds has proven to be one of the most prominent and enduring videogame hacks (and perhaps pieces of videogame art) in academic and popular discourses, popping up in museums, new media textbooks, and online as animated gifs and videos.
Nearly 20 years after the release of Super Mario Clouds, I have created a loving parody of the famous art piece. Super Mario: Clouds is an aesthetic hack of Super Mario Bros with a strong emphasis on visible masses of condensed water – particularly those with a sunny disposition. Although the game remains more-or-less mechanically unchanged, nearly every block and enemy has either been turned into a cloud or taken on some cloud-like attributes. A frivolous endeavour? Perhaps. But maybe we can take some joy in the hordes of smiling clouds that greet Mario as he traipses across the mushroom kingdom.
Super Mario: Clouds represents about 10-15 hours of work, including bug-testing, and will not be further updated barring the discovery of catastrophic errors. There were various reasons I decided to make this hack: to familiarize myself with SMB hacking tools; to challenge myself to make a small-scale hacking project that could be completed within a week; and to “peek under the hood,” so to speak, of one of the most popular videogames of all time. As with all hacking projects of this type, half the fun is learning the quirks and limitations of the original game and then trying to find ways to work around them. You’d be surprised how much chaos superfluous clouds can introduce into a game’s back-end.
The hack was created using a Super Mario Bros ROM and a variety of tools sourced from ROMHacking.net. TileLayerPro and SMB Graphics Workshop were used to edit the game’s sprites and reassign how they are placed in-game, while SMB Utility and the SMB Title Editor were leveraged to tweak level themes and the title screen (respectively). I also used Photoshop to create mock-ups of sprite edits before formally implementing them into the game.
Super Mario: Clouds will live on this website and on ROMHacking.net barring a frivolous lawsuit from Nintendo. If you have any questions about how it was made, please feel free to ping me via email or on Twitter.