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How to cheat at Super Mario Maker and get away with it for years

Behind the screens — How to cheat at Super Mario Maker and get away with it for years Creator says he “was just at the right place at the right time” to abuse TAS techniques.

Kyle Orland – Apr 11, 2024 10:45 am UTC reader comments 54 The Frankenstein’s monster of a GamePad hack responsible for the creation of Trimming the Herbs. Ahoyo A cardboard box provides the inelegant case for Ahoyo’s Arduino-and-breadboard TAS solution. Ahoyo Close-up of the Arduino connections necessary to control the Wii U GamePad. Ahoyo Ribbon cables feed into holes cut through the back of the gamepad to connect directly to the mainboard. Ahoyo

Further ReadingSuper Mario Makers final boss was a fraud all alongLast month, the Super Mario Maker community was rocked by the shocking admission that the game’s last uncleared levelan ultra-hard reflex test named “Trimming the Herbs” (TTH)had been secretly created and uploaded using the assistance of automated, tool-assisted speedrun (TAS) techniques back in 2017. That admission didn’t stop Super Mario Maker streamer Sanyx from finally pulling off a confirmed human-powered clear of the level last Friday, just days before Nintendo’s final shutdown of the Wii U’s online servers Sunday would have made that an impossibility.

But while “Trimming the Herbs” itself was solved in the nick of time, the mystery of the level’s creation remained at least partially unsolved. Before TTH creator Ahoyo admitted to his TAS exploit last month, the player community at large didn’t think it was even possible to precisely automate such pre-recorded inputs on the Wii U. The first confirmed clear of Trimming the Herbs by a human.

Now, speaking to Ars, Ahoyo has finally explained the console hacking that went into his clandestine TAS so many years ago and opened up about the physical and psychological motivations for the level’s creation. He also discussed the remorse he feels over what ended up being a years-long fraud on the community, which is still struggling with frame-perfect input timing issues that seem inherent to the Wii U hardware.

“I see discussing it as sort of a reputation damage control,” Ahoyo told Ars. “I saw value in the ‘ruckus’ that TTH would cause, in that it would bring in outside eyes to look at SMM with uncertainty and excitement… but it was a betrayal of my competitive values.” Advertisement Hardware hacking

Further ReadingThe Super Mario Maker community faces its final bossAhoyo recalled first hearing of the possibility of a Super Mario Maker TAS in “late 2015 or early 2016” when a viewer of his Twitch streams messaged him about a Wii U TAS project they had been tinkering with. In response to a follow-up in June 2016, the viewer sent a video “showing a controller attached to a Raspberry Pi and showed how it was controlling Mario on the screen,” Ahoyo told Ars.

While the viewer told Ahoyo they had since “abandoned” their efforts to get reliable TAS recording on the Wii U, Ahoyo said he “showed the video of their hardware to my friend, and he told me he thought it would be easy to replicate, so after an Amazon order, he built it.” This kind of level of automation was “not something I [had] thought about before,” Ahoyo said. “In the video demo I was sent about the TAS, it appeared to me like it was working fine. I thought it was a waste to abandon the project, so I pursued it spontaneously. I was just at the right place at the right time.” Enlarge / The inner workings of the Wii U GamePad mainboard.Koushirowolf / Reddit

As you can see from the pictures atop this article, setting up a Wii U to play back pre-recorded inputs isn’t exactly a plug-and-play affair. Ahoyo’s setup involves an Arduino with multiple external connections to a breadboard, each one representing a button on the Wii U GamePad. Those outputs are first fed into a pair of 10-pin converter boards, then directly onto the Wii U gamepad mainboard via ribbon cables (fed through holes cut into the existing rear mounting holes on the GamePad). A separate set of colored physical buttons connects to the breadboard to control the playback of the TAS scripts through the Arduino, Ahoyo said.

“It turns out my hunch was correct; this was a bespoke, hand-crafted solution specifically for Super Mario Maker,” tool-assisted speedrun expert and TASbot keeper Allan “dwangoAC” Cecil told Ars after seeing the setup. The solution Ahoyo and his friend rigged up “isn’t general purpose in any way that likely wouldn’t have worked for anything else,” Cecil added. Page: 1 2 3 4 Next → reader comments 54 Kyle Orland Kyle Orland has been the Senior Gaming Editor at Ars Technica since 2012, writing primarily about the business, tech, and culture behind video games. He has journalism and computer science degrees from University of Maryland. He once wrote a whole book about Minesweeper. Advertisement Promoted Comments dwrd I was humming SummoningSalt’s background music the entire time I was reading this article. 😀 April 11, 2024 at 12:54 pm marsilies Although I know every move in TTH must be frame- and pixel-perfect, the clear video looked oddly effortless. Only sanyx91smm2 breathing at the end like they’d just seen the face of God really gives any indication of the difficulty.I think that’s part of what caused Ahoyo’s troll to stay hidden for so long: it’s much harder than it looks. I think that’s also why it became the last uncleared level in the Team 0% project before it was disqualified: it’s so hort and deceptively simply that when players couldn’t clear it right away, they thought "Oh well, time to move on and work on another level, that’ll take more time/effort to beat. I’ll either then come back to this level at some point, or someone else will have cleared it." The fiendish difficulty of it was hiding in plain sight.

I think sanyx91smm2 should get some sort of "John Henry" award for beating a level thought only beatable by machine by the creator. April 11, 2024 at 1:00 pm dwangoAC It would be interesting to see if they got more consistent results with a wired connection. Does the Wii U even support that?I’m hopeful we can find a path forward to perform some kind of tests on unmodified hardware but the Wii U GameCube controller adapter only works with Super Smash Bros and we don’t currently have a way to determine the frame-perfect accuracy of that. However, I’ve worked with Ownasaurus and other folks in my TASBot community to play back perfect inputs on a GameCube so we know that part can be reliable. April 11, 2024 at 1:09 pm Channel Ars Technica ← Previous story Next story → Related Stories Today on Ars

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