When it comes to Mario Kart mods, it’s usually the more modern games that get the lion’s share of them. Oh sure, Super Mario Kart got some ROM hacks, and Mario Kart Double Dash got a few custom tracks, but the number pales in comparison to the amount available for Mario Kart Wii, 7 and 8, with the former having by far the most of any Mario Kart game in existence.
But there are awesome projects for these games nonetheless, including the topic of today’s interview, Mario Kart 64: Amped Up. Developed by Litronom, the title adds a whole host of awesome custom tracks and characters to the original game, along with all manner of interesting UI and quality of life features.
It’s an amazing mod, and one which the trailer does an awesome job of highlighting too:
So today, we’re going to talk to Litronom about it, and see what goes into Mario Kart 64: Amped Up. You ready? Let’s a go!
The Actual Interview
Starting with a bit of background info. So who are you? Who is Litronom?
I am a 33 year old guy from Germany who often uses an alpaca as his avatar on various websites.
And where did that username come from?
Back in 2010, I needed a username for my YouTube channel. I couldn’t think of anything better, haha. It just had to be unique and recognizable. But yeah, it doesn’t really mean anything.
What was your first game?
In the early 90s, the only two games I can vividly remember that might have been my first games were either “Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi” or the original “Sonic the Hedgehog”, both on the Sega Mega Drive (yes, it’s not called Genesis here in Europe).
I recall always asking my dad to unlock the secret debug mode in Sonic for me so I could fly around and spawn objects. That might have sparked my interest in game development.
What ones are you currently playing?
I try not to play too many games at the same time. Right now, my preferred multiplayer title on the PC is “Hunt: Showdown” with some friends.
On the Nintendo Switch, it’s currently “Made in Abyss: Binary Star falling into Darkness”. That will likely change when the next Zelda game comes out!
How about your first Mario Kart game? How did you get introduced to that series?
Actually, it was “Super Mario Kart” on the SNES, but that one never really clicked for me. The real fun started with Mario Kart 64. My brother used to play with me all the time and we would try to discover everything we could in the game (we even figured out how to knock each other through walls to get past the level boundaries!).
Do you think the later Mario Kart games are better than 64, or worse?
Each game in the series has its strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I find that 64 has a steep learning curve to master the game, which makes it interesting for me. The later games make it easier for completely new players to compete with experienced racers.
Either way, onto ROM hacking now. How did you get into the hobby?
For a while I watched Simpleflips’ videos about the many custom mods of Super Mario 64, and they had some incredibly beautiful ideas and designs.
But at that time, I couldn’t really get into the game or the community.
Coincidentally, I stumbled across a video of DeadHamster (the creator of OverKart 64 and the associated modding tools) explaining the inner workings of Mario Kart 64 and started creating his own race tracks. That sparked my inner fire!
And what was your first mod/hack?
I started working on some of my own courses in 2020, all of which are now integrated into Amped Up. There are also two other MK64 mods of mine: “Stomper Mod” and “Mayro Kratt 64”, which have been released in the meantime.
What made you decide to mod Mario Kart 64 anyway? Why not one of the other Mario Kart games, or a different N64 title?
It’s a mix of nostalgia for Mario Kart 64, the sheer endless modding possibilities (since nothing similar has ever been done for the game), and the lack of oversaturation with custom game content.
Did you play many Mario Kart 64 hacks beforehand?
No, simply because there weren’t really any. A few texture/sprite/sound replacements here and there, but nothing really major in that regard. Things didn’t really take off until I had already joined the modding community.
Let’s talk Amped Up now. What inspired you to start this project?
As described above, after seeing DeadHamster’s progress on modifying the game, I wanted to get involved as well. Initially there weren’t really any plans for a standalone project, but I created a number of custom courses and they needed to be bundled together somehow, haha.
Soon after, we had the opportunity to compile our own code into the game, so with DeadHamster’s help and a good amount of research into the game’s original code, I started writing many lines of custom code to improve the mod even more!
And why did you choose that name? Why Amped Up?
Because it’s a version of Mario Kart 64 with amped up content! The name “OverKart” was already taken anyway!
One thing I’ve always found awesome about the game is the sheer number of new tracks added. How did you make those for MK64?
The courses are all made with Blender 2.79b (All newer versions made it difficult to work with vertex colors like I was used to, but I digress…)
A lot of time went into testing certain sections and unfinished parts of those tracks (e.g. “Can I make this jump? No… back to lowering those vertices”), so I often compiled the course over and over to get everything right.
Mostly shower thoughts! In my head, I go over the layout and ideas for a racing track to know if they are even possible within the scope of Mario Kart 64 modding and the game itself. The track begins to shape itself once I start working on it.
Besides, some of those ideas are predetermined. Why not drive down the Secret Slide in a kart instead of sliding on your butt?
Are there any favourites so far?
That’s a tough question! But I really like the tracks “Green Greens” and “KiKi KaiKai Shrine” because I had to research the original games they were based on to capture their spirit. (Also, they have some fancy custom objects, hehe).
How about least favourites? Any you might change in future?
That’s another tough question! At the time of this interview, I have already gone through and improved all 16 courses (minus one)! So the least popular course would be “Carnival Realm”, which hasn’t been updated yet, and honestly I don’t know how it will fare. It’s the course that people either love or hate, so it will be a fun exercise to balance that out!
Have there been any track ideas that didn’t work out? Perhaps because of technical reasons?
There were actually a few! One was a version of “Airship Fortress” from “Mario Kart DS”, which I discarded because we didn’t have working cannon sections. We would have them now, since I’ve learned how to program things into the game, but at that time, it wasn’t possible.
That one would have even had a single lap, but was more of a proof of concept. There are gameplay recordings of it on my Twitter page:
An old, cut MK64 Amped Up course:
Potato Ruins from Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure!
I've worked on this back in November '20 and didn't have any of my code running then.
Also this course would have featured a single lap with checkpoints.
It's very rough and glitched pic.twitter.com/kGnsX1TXeG
— Litronom (@Litronom) April 1, 2022
It’s also neat to see new track objects and obstacles too. How hard is it to add those to Mario Kart 64?
This is all custom code that I wrote on my own, and I did a lot of research to create them. There was also no way to integrate custom animated models into the game, so I had to write my own Python exporter script for Blender. (Without any programming knowledge, this was a really exciting experiment for me!)
The MK64 modding tools provide support for some common objects and their behaviors, but I needed more freedom for all the charming residents of the Amped Up courses. Biting Piranha Plants, jumping bipedal fish men, reckless taxi drivers on a motorway, bouncing big apples, and a tree that blows wind, which slows down the players. All this was added with careful attention to detail!
What about items? A fair few of those have been added here, and they’re rarely seen in other Mario Kart mods…
Personally, I think that the default set of items is already a perfect mix of utilities. I would rather tie new items to separate game modes where they are used exclusively. But who knows! Maybe we’ll see more and more new items appear in the future.
How does it feel seeing how far the Mario Kart 64 modding scene has come?
Caption: Early Mario Kart 64 mods were very different indeed…
It’s heartwarming! We have so many friendly and helpful people on our Discord server and I am so happy to be a part of it. We share our research and discuss possible ideas. (Shoutouts to DeadHamster for his course compiling tools and all the work he did to make modding this game possible in the first place).
All the mods and custom courses from other people are very cool and innovative too!
But we’re nowhere near as big as other N64 modding communities, so there’s still room for more unique ideas.
Whoever wants to contribute should join us!
Regardless, Amped Up has been a huge hit, and got quite a lot of attention online. Were you surprised by how well it’s been received?
I feel a little bad for taking the spotlight away from the other Mario Kart 64 mods, but at the same time it’s a perfect example of what can be done with the game and that it will get more people interested in creating content.
MarioPower55 also regularly features my work on his YouTube channel. It fits perfectly into his “Mario Kart Custom Tracks” video series.
Do you ever worry that Nintendo will shut down the project?
No, not at all. I don’t earn anything from it, so I don’t have to worry about not being able to pay my rent if that happens.
What other things do you want to work on after this mod? Any other ideas for mods and indie games you’ve got lined up?
At the moment there are no real plans. I still want to update Amped Up with more features. Maybe more Mario Kart 64 mods. But I also dream of making a small standalone game for Nintendo 64. Either way, I definitely don’t want to stop releasing content. There’s always something new to learn and experience in the world of game development!
Finally, what advice would you give to anyone else wanting to get into Mario Kart modding, or game development as a whole?
If you have cool ideas and want to start developing games, then go for it! And if you are not sure how to achieve your goal, then try to proceed step by step. Achieving smaller goals will encourage you even more. Do your research, try things out, ask others for help! We have the internet with all its infinite knowledge at our disposal. Take advantage of all the tools that are out there!
If you want to create something for Mario Kart 64 specifically, join our modding Discord server OverKart 64
Our community members will help you and provide all the necessary tools and information.
Thanks Litronom! It’s lovely to see such a friendly community for the game, and we definitely hope any future Mario Kart 64 modders out there check it out soon. It may not be as flashy as Wii or 8, but it’s a great game nonetheless, and one which deserves as many awesome mods as it can get.
Still, whether you’re a modder in training or just a keen Mario Kart fan reading this interview, what did you think of it? Did you enjoy hearing about Litronom’s work on Mario Kart 64: Amped Up, and the awesome stuff the project has in store for the future? What do you hope to see in Mario Kart 64 mods going forward?
Leave your thoughts on those questions and more in the comments below, over on social media, or on our Discord server today!