Mario games are fun and often well-designed, that’s a given. But have you ever wanted to design your own Mario levels? Then chances are you’ve heard of Super Mario 63. Long before Mario Maker was available, SM63 was a unique 2D Mario flash game, incorporating elements primarily from Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, perhaps best remembered for its fleshed out level editor.
It currently boasts over 7 million views and 10 thousand favorites on Newgrounds, has been mirrored on hundreds of sites and has several thousand user generated levels. Suffice to say, the game has had a lasting impact on a lot of people.
As you may know, support for Flash Player comes to an end this December. But the Super Mario 63 community has taken the necessary steps to survive the end of Flash Player. So in honor of Flashcember, here’s a brief history of what SM63 is, was and will be in the near future…
Believe it or not, the inspiration for Super Mario 63 was a fan-made spritesheet of all things. Sprite artist Flare, had edited Mario sprites ripped from Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga to give Mario his water pack F.L.U.D.D., in the style of Super Mario Sunshine. Intrigued, Runouw decided to make a 2D Mario Sunshine of his own. But who was Runouw?
Runouw is not the username of a person, but in fact a team! Twins Robert and Steven Hewitt to be exact. For over a decade, the duo have used the name Runouw to upload games, videos and sprite-art to various websites. Generally for their games, Robert oversaw programming and Steven the art design.
So Runouw got to work to make their own 2D Mario Sunshine and they debuted their first demo titled Super Mario Sunshine 128 in November 2006. Although the inspiration in Super Mario Sunshine was still very much there, Runouw had decided to incorporate mechanics and assets from other Mario games as well. Right from the get-go, the game featured levels from Super Mario 64 and spin-attacks a la Super Mario Galaxy.
Over the course of the next 3 years, this game would evolve into the SM63 we all know and love today. Updates that followed introduced new levels, power-ups and of course, the beloved level-editor. The name was changed to Super Mario 63 in 2008 and you might have unknowingly also played earlier versions of the game. A thorough version history is available on Runouw wiki for any readers who want to compare the gameplay across different versions.
Super Mario 63 Classic
The most popular, and likely most familiar, version of SM63 (aka SM63 1.4) was first released on SheezyArt on June 26th 2009, followed by the Newgrounds version one day after. You have your basic premise: Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach and it’s up to Mario to save her. Instead of Stars, you’ll be collecting Shine Sprites like Super Mario Sunshine. Couple this with perfect controls, superb level design and some very creative rehashing and you have a game which is already a ten. But it was the Level Designer which really cranked it up to 11.
The level editor allowed players to make their own levels by combining, and placing items Runouw had already programmed. Tiles, enemies, sling stars etc. While not everything in game was available in the editor (such as the lack of event-triggers), it probably had 95% coverage. You could reposition, replicate or repurpose anything you saw in the game with zero programming knowledge! And even better, you could share your levels on a portal where people could rate or comment.
Ingeniously, the level editor was very well-tied into the main game! Besides the Shine Sprites, SM63 had a second collectable: Star Coins. Unlike Shine Sprites which were required to progress the story, the Star Coins were off the beaten path and were needed for unlocking new features. Most notably, unlocking Luigi and new tilesets in the level editor. If you saw lava, which was unavailable by default, in someone else’s custom level, you had to go back to the main game and hunt down some tricky star coins to be able to unlock it for yourself. Or likewise, if you blindly played through the main story while ignoring the level editor, you would constantly be notified whenever you unlocked a new tileset, encouraging you to try it out.
It was really after this version of SM63 was released that the forums on runouw.com came to life, because people needed to register if they wanted to be able publish their levels on the portal. Although it had been used to share levels directly (via save/load codes) and talk about development prior to the 1.4 release, with the game’s popularity Runouw’s audience grew quite a bit. Before they knew it, the forums were frequently having level design and art contests.
Following the astounding success of SM63, Runouw was determined to keep making more games. While not all of these projects were successful (notably a canned Super Smash Bros. engine and Star Fox engine), they seem to have sought out a style of their own. Only a few months after SM63, came GT & the Evil Factory, a real-time RPG similar to Megaman Battle Network, with entirely original (albeit simplistic) character designs.
Runouw’s legacy is, funny enough, called Last Legacy. First released in 2013, LL took a lot of influence from Zelda II and was a 2D action RPG with some interesting mechanics. Almost as a call-back to the SM63 days, the player has the ability to terraform tiles using their mana. LL (and Null Space) also featured their own level editors, although neither were as popular as the SM63 editor. A third chapter to LL has been in development for a few years now, but it’s unlikely that it will ever be released seeing as Runouw seems to have lost interest.
Between GT and LL, Super Mario 63 received a final update, sometimes referred to as 1.5 or the 2012 version. But more commonly this final version is taken to be the canonical Super Mario 63 and the 2009 version is referred to as SM63 Classic.
The 2012 version also introduced some changes to the level portal, which migrated ratings/comments to the forum. The 2009 portal was dubbed the classic version and the archive sports an astounding 45,000 levels, a few times more than the modern SM63 portal. That being said, the modern portal also has its advantages, such as being able to jump right into levels from the forum without having to copy lengthy level-sharing codes. Finally, Runouw made an .exe version of the game also available, freeing SM63 from the clutches of Adobe, at the cost of no longer being cross-platform.
From then on, Runouw wasn’t actively involved in the development of SM63 any further, having relegated the role to the forum community who kept organizing events all the while. An unfortunate event was when Nintendo, who hadn’t taken any issue with the game in its heyday, decided to issue a Cease & Desist on SM63 in 2013. This resulted in the Newgrounds version of the game being taken down and jeopardizing the runouw.com version. Couple that with the death of SheezyArt that same year and you had a recipe for disaster.
During these dark days, the player-base of the game was severely crippled and any sense of community outside of the forums was nonexistent. The saying goes that it’s darkest before the dawn, and in hindsight this C&D would prove to be a trial by fire. The retaliation of the determined community in those days will inadvertently lead to SM63 surviving the Flash Player killswitch!
The Super Mario 63 Renaissance
Contrary to initial fears, Nintendo didn’t take any further action against the runouw.com version of SM63 or the forums. So for the next two years the forum community kept the fire burning. When Discord came around, they became early supporters starting a server called PixelLoaf in early 2015. Later that same year, the C&D on SM63 would expire, at least bringing back the Newgrounds version of the game.
After helping found PixelLoaf the Runouw brothers would slowly fade out of sight, presumably since they were continuing their education. From then on, PixelLoaf gradually replaced the forums, becoming the new SM63-central. Level design contests continued, and speed-running which was considerably much less popular during the forum days started to gain a lot attention, eventually splitting off into a server of its own.
So seeing as Runouw had ended development, where did that leave PixelLoaf? The community had been testing the limits of the level editor for years at this point, so of course the next step was modding the game.
There’s also a WIP project to introduce a new level editor, which does not depend on Flash.
So much for Super Mario 63! Let’s talk spiritual successors.
Super Mario 127 is a continuation of SM63 led by SuperMakerPlayer and other community members. Oh boy do the visuals and gameplay look good! It doesn’t use Flash, it’s being made in Godot! And of course people are already speed-running it:
Another continuation of SM63 is, Super Mario 63 Redux lead by @ShibaBBQ. Where SM127 is a modernization of SM63, SM63R aims to be a more of a remake from the ground up. So that means controls more akin to SM63 and other features to improve the gameplay experience without changing the core mechanics around too much.
It’s funny how Super Mario 63 started with a spritesheet, and now, years later, Super Mario 63 inspired an artist to make spritesheet of their own.
On that note, Runouw made a brief comeback recently. Seeing as the forum activity had moved to Discord they’ve frozen the forum and are now redirecting people to the server. Before vanishing off the face of the internet once more, Runouw finally uploaded the full Source Code of SM63 to GitHub. It’s safe to say SM63 couldn’t be in a more secure place than it is today.
What the future holds
The old levels might need some organizing and the search function of the level portal definitely needs fixing. But at least levels from over 10 years ago are still up and online. The forums might be dying, but the Discord server active as ever. In fact they recently rebranded themselves as Hazy Mazy Café.
When January comes around, Super Mario 63 will still be playable through the .exe version. And what’s more, Flash Emulation is coming along nicely. You should expect to be able to play the game on Newgrounds or the Internet Archive with Ruffle. Bugs? Thanks to Runouw graciously sharing the full source code testers and developers will have the perfect reference pinpoint issues in their Actionscript implementations.
Not only has SM 63 outlived flash, through fan-sequels like Super Mario 127 and Super Mario 63 Redux, I’d say we have a lot more good news to hear about.
Long story short, the SM 63 community has set a great example by showing the world how to go around walls that you can’t bring down. Time will tell what the future holds, but things are looking bright!