This article originally appeared on VICE US
If you want to play the best online Mario game ever created, do it now while you still can.
“Mario Royale,” which is freely available to play online, is what might happen if “Fortnite,” “Super Mario Bros,” and a rabid squirrel somehow had a pixelated child.
When the game starts, you're dropped into a familiar Mario level – except this time there are 75 other Marios, all trying to outrun you or kill you. If you can make it to the end of the castle in a top 3 spot, you get a good ending. If you're 4th or below, you’re dropped into a pool of lava. Most "Mario Royale" games don’t last more than a few minutes. If you’re a newcomer, you won’t last 30 seconds.
It’s weird, it’s buggy, and it’s fun as hell. And like most unauthorized Mario games, it probably won’t be around for long.
Between “Mario,” “The Legend of Zelda,” and “Metroid,” Nintendo easily has the most recognizable stable of video game characters in the industry, so it’s no surprise their collection has sparked an unending parade of fan-created spinoffs, with names like “Another Metroid 2 Remake,” “Super Mario 64 HD,” “Zelda 30 Tribute,” and “No Mario’s Sky,” that have become viral hits after debuting on gaming sites.
But Nintendo is generally less than pleased with these efforts, and has a reputation for aggressively defending its intellectual property, in many cases telling creators to take down their spinoffs. A few months ago, a lo-fi port of "Super Mario Brothers" that took seven years to program was wiped from servers in just four days, reportedly after threats from Nintendo — despite the fact that this hobbyist project only runs on the obsolete 1980s computer system Commodore 64.
Nintendo doesn’t always stop at threats. Last year it sued the owner of Loveroms.com and LoveRETRO.co for distributing pirated Nintendo software, eventually settling for $12 million.
Despite that history, a YouTuber named InfernoPlus (he prefers not to use his real name and will only disclose that he lives “in the Southern United States”) spent months programming "Mario Royale." And now that it’s gone viral, he is constantly patching the game to keep up with bug reports and feature requests — even though he knows it’s only a matter of time before he gets a letter from the House of Mario.
Before that happens, I called him up to ask him about why he made the game, what he thinks about people using the n-word in the game, and what he’ll do when Nintendo comes knocking.
The below interview is edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you get the idea for "Mario Royale"?
It was a while back when "Tetris 99" [a “Battle Royale” version of "Tetris" on the Switch] came out. I made the joke that you could turn any game into a Battle Royale. I don’t really play Battle Royale–type games, but this seemed like a good joke.
How long did it take you to program?
About three weeks total, spread out over a few months… When you work on something for months on end or weeks on end, you get invested in it. It becomes your whole life for a while. I was definitely at that point. The week leading up to launch, I was working 16 hours a day… And then it released at 10:30 in the morning on Saturday. Wait, what day is today?
Oh. I haven’t really slept very much. I lost track of what day it is. I am hopefully at a time where I can take a break now.
That’s a lot of work. Why did you decide to make it?
I do YouTube. That’s my job: doing stuff on YouTube. This originally was just an idea for a video that turned out good.
So this project was made purely for the purpose of getting views on YouTube?
Yeah. I do a variety of things, where I make weird things and mods [for games] and then I make a video for it. One of the things I did was I ported "Desert Bus" [a notoriously and purposely boring game designed by the comedy duo Penn and Teller] into "Halo." It’s multiplayer and everyone has guns, so nobody makes it to the end because everyone shoots each other. But generally, it’s about the video.
Is this the biggest response you’ve gotten from an actual game you made?
Definitely. I’ve been modding games since I was a kid, but I think for this one, I would guess it’s gotten well over two or three hundred thousand players over the course of the past few days.
Are you seeing any interesting strategies develop?
So far, it’s been “Go really, really fast.” But I think the smart people go really high, because the chaos is on the ground level. You can get knocked out on the ground.
You’re still modifying the game now, right?
Yeah, there’s already been six to seven patches in the last few days. I think I’ll open-source the code down the line. But for now I really don’t want people to reverse-engineer it.
Cheating. I don’t want to say too much about what I’m doing, though, because it makes it easier for people [to cheat].
When you’re making updates, how are you getting feedback and ideas on what to fix?
A lot of it is Twitter, and then people linking me to threads on 4chan. On 4chan, though, it’s more yelling at me. On Twitter, it’s like, ‘Hey, I found this thing; this might help you.’ 4chan is more like ‘Hey, idiot dev, you broke this random thing.’ Both are helpful, I guess.
Speaking of 4chan, I saw that there was a group of people from 4chan playing together in a “squad”, and I tried playing in that group. And some of the display names people are using are, uh, pretty bad. There’s a lot of offensive language. When you create an online space where people interact, you have some power and control over that. How are you thinking about that now that the game has gotten bigger?
That’s 4chan. Personally, I don’t care. No matter what I do, they’d do that stuff. If I put a name filter [to censor offensive words], they’d find a way around it. But I’m thinking of adding an option to turn off all names, because for Twitch streamers, having bad words on screen can get them in trouble. So if there’s someone who really doesn’t like that stuff, they can turn it off. It’s all a bunch of edgy 13 year olds…
Yeah, when I logged in, there was someone whose username was just “nigger.”
Yeah. That is a 13 year old’s favorite word.
On 4chan at least, I guess. So, either way, you’ve made a game that is using a Nintendo character. What’s the best case scenario for you here?
Best case? If Nintendo wants me to make a version for the Switch [laughs]. I mean, honestly, the best case for me is that they leave it alone, as they have with some fan projects.
What’s the worst case scenario?
That they get their legal team involved. I don’t think they’ve done that before, not going after a fan game with serious intent. They tell them to stop, but they don’t go after them. Eventually, I’m gonna get an email, for sure. In a way, it is their property. But it’s intended to be fun. I’m not making money on this. In fact, I’m spending money, hosting the server.
I figured. How much does it cost?
It’s about $120 a month, and people on my Patreon are now helping to cover $60 of it. I just wanna break even.
If Nintendo gets aggressive, though, it could cost more. LOVERoms got sued for $12 million.
Roms are weird, though. Nintendo doesn’t like rom sites because Nintendo has online stores for their games on the Wii U. The rom sites are redistributing [copyrighted] work, verbatim. But for the most part, the precedent is set that if you make a fan game, Nintendo will C&D [Cease and Desist] you. If you ignore [that notice], of course they’ll sue you. But fan game, it’s usually C&D, or ignore.
So are you worried about getting a letter from Nintendo?
I just expect it. I anticipate it to happen. If it doesn’t, it’s great. But it’s more likely to happen. I’d say it’s 50/50, maybe more, because it got so big all of a sudden. If it does, I can just re-skin it.
You’ll redo the artwork?
Yeah. Everything except the sprite [art] work and the music is mine. I’m free to make it into something else and put it up.
Do you think people will still play it?
I think people who are playing "Mario Royale" will keep playing it. Most people who are playing it a lot now are playing it because they enjoy it. They came for the Mario, but they stayed for the game itself. I’ve had people offer to do stuff, like make [new artwork] for me [for when it gets taken down]. I’ll kinda just go with whatever way it goes.
It sounds like a lot of work to make something that gets taken down. Has it been worth it?
Definitely. I was able to create a game that so many people love to play.
Cover image: Screenshot from "Mario Royale."