Let’s Interview: The Render96 Dev Team!

Render96 Interview Image

When Super Mario 64 was ported to PC in 2020, it opened the floodgates for a lot of awesome fan projects. These included new takes on the original that updated the game’s visuals, music and features to the modern era. Total conversions that added all manner of insane features, including mechanics from other games, new enemies and bosses and entirely unique player characters from other series.

And one of the most impressive of these projects is an interesting little mod called Render96. Designed to make the game resemble the official artwork for the title, the mod updates all the models and textures to their original quality in order to make the game look far more like Nintendo originally envisioned it to. It’s an amazing looking project, and one of the best the community has ever seen.

It’s also a masterclass in video game preservation too, since the team behind it have gone to great lengths to track down the original resources on various workstations and devices the Super Mario 64 dev team may have used back in the 90s.

So in today’s interview, we’re gonna talk to the team behind it, and see what they’ve got to say. You ready? Let’s go!

The Interview

Please note that some questions were only answered by either DorfDork or Fanamel due to their role on the project and involvement in that part of the project.

First up, who are you guys? What’s your role on the Render96 development team?

DorfDork:

Hey I’m DorfDork and I lead the Render96 Project. The main job for me is to help team members be consistent with the style we are going for.

Fanamel:

Hello there, I’m Fanamel. I’m mostly just one of the many hobbyist artists drifting around online but my role on Render96 was finding source textures, contributing textures, and some small modeling contributions.

And how did you learn about the project?

DorfDork:

I made the project on June 2nd 2020.

Fanamel:

I heard of the SM64 PC Port happening and later discovered the discord server for SM64 PC had a little something called the SGI Project (Now Render96) happening and Dorf added me to the team from my previous work.

What about video games in general? What was your first game?

DorfDork:

My first video game console and video game was given to me as a gift on my 5th birthday which was a N64/BIO Freaks.
I didn’t like BIO Freaks that much and it traumatized me so my second game I played was Super Mario 64 and ever since I loved video games.

Fanamel:

My first games were Sonic 1 and The Lion King on Genesis, blew my freaking little 3 year old mind. Later discovered SM64 and I haven’t been the same since.

How about your intro to the modding world? How did you learn about mods and ROM hacks?

DorfDork:

This was the first SM64 Mod/Hack I have ever done. I have always seen videos by Kaze on youtube showing off his wonderful hacks but I never was interested in learning how to do so.

My first mod ever was when I was using the source engine to make CSGO Maps in 2013. I don’t think they exist online anymore and my old hard drive had died in 2015 so I don’t have a copy either sadly.

Fanamel:

I learned about rom hacks from seeing Super Mario World hacks on youtube and was in awe that you could make your own Mario game. I later discovered Toad’s Tools 64 for SM64 and went crazy with my 12 year old mind trying to create Wario and my own levels in the game. It went horribly with what was available at that time and I stayed away from hacking until Render96 became a thing.

Early Fanamel ROM Hack
Before Render96, Fanamel worked on some other Mario 64 hacks

Onto Render96 now. What was the main reason for this project?

DorfDork:

I always loved looking at the N64 Era Renders from Nintendo Power covers as well as N64 box art. I had wished that someone would consider make SM64 look like that one day but anytime I looked at a project someone was making it was using the modern style of Mario. In May 2020 I heard about the decompilation of SM64 and that it was ported to PC.

Soon after that I started Render96.

Why the Spaceworld 96 art style rather than say, any other Mario art style?

DorfDork:

I like the N64 promotional art a lot and nothing would fit better!

How do you get the resources here? What’s the process behind tracking down the original resources Nintendo used back in the 90s?

DorfDork:

For source textures it all started when some members on the team quite literally googled “Material Library 1996” translated to japanese. We got a hit on a website called http://www.sozaijiten.com/cdrom/lineup.asp?pt=0 and originally found matches there. We then started looking at Auction sites that contained old material libraries and got very lucky at finding more matches on other brands.

Fanamel:

I first discovered it by attempting to dig through 90’s Silicon Graphic Computer program files for images after ecumber05 on twitter posted that an image from those files was the same reflection texture used on Metal Mario.

Reflection Used Metal Mario
The source of the reflection used for Metal Mario was found in a Silicon Graphic Computer program

I found a similar texture for the kickable board in Whomp’s Fortress but was left unsatisfied that I couldn’t find more inside the SGI files.

Kickable Board Texture Explanation
The texture used for this kickable board was found in a Silicon Graphic Computer program

I then turned to google with the simple idea “okay this game was made in Japan so maybe there’s textures made at that time inside the region” and simply searched “texture cd 1994” translated to Japanese. To my surprise I quickly found exactly what I wanted on a CD case and shared it with the Render96 dev chat.

Mountain Texture Source
These mountain textures were originally found on a CD case

Someone else discovered that the CD company name Datacraft Sozaijiten had a website hosting all those images, we flocked to it comparing textures with images and kept finding more and more matches and the rest was history.

Tiny Huge Island Wall Textures
Datacraft Sozaijiten had the textures for the cliffs in Tiny Huge Island, among other things

Also shout-outs to Kid Leaves Stoop on youtube for making an awesomely detailed video on this subject if you want to see more.

Are there any you’re really struggling to locate?

DorfDork:

Anything listed here

Fanamel:

The rocky snow textures in Cool Cool Mountain are a pain in the ass to figure out. They’re a few of the only significant textures left.

Fittingly Wet Dry World remains a mystery as well. We have the source photos from google thanks to CharlyCN’s impressive sleuthing skills, but we still have no clue how Nintendo sourced them.

What’s going to happen with characters and enemies that don’t have official artwork? Like say, the Mad Piano or Spindrifts or those giant Cheep Cheeps in Tiny-Huge Island?

DorfDork:

The team makes their best effort to try and come up with an idea that would work for characters that don’t exist.

Other similar characters in the game that do have renders helps a lot in that regard.

Fanamel:

We just come up with our own interpretations, funny enough these can be easier because it means nobody has reference material to be very picky with if a single vertice isn’t aligned exactly the same.

Are there any issues if the models don’t really fit the game’s model size/collision?

DorfDork:

It is a challenge to make remodeled characters fit back into their original collisions, thankfully they are small enough to where an average player wouldn’t notice unless they are looking for them.

Fanamel:

Clipping is a hassle to watch for, proportional sacrifices do have to be made on models for hitbox and animation reasons. Bowser for example is fairly different in-game than he is on his promotional model which I hear has been incredibly tricky for the people who work on him.

Were there any ideas that didn’t pan out there?

DorfDork:

A few ideas did get thrown out the window. A lot of people have their own ideas that they would love to have in SM64, which is apparent with rom hacking.

One idea was to have an alternate version of the game where if you are playing Luigi then daisy would appear at the ending cutscene. Another is having the MK64 track in the background of peach’s castle.

Fanamel:

Something I was experimenting with was the RTX Raytracing that Dario miraculously created. I’ve had a lot of ideas to recreate 90’s renders as custom levels inside SM64 but haven’t developed it into something interesting to play yet as my focus keeps jumping between projects. I only have a test level as of now that I use to experiment with the raytracing features and poor coding attempts I do.

Raytracing Test
Fanamel messed around with Raytracing for this demo room

Interestingly, it seems like Render96 has gotten more ambitious than just a graphics overhaul, with new characters and content as well. What made you decide to expand the scope of the project there?

DorfDork:

Luigi was added because of the entire “L is real” shenanigans and it was requested a lot by the public.

For Wario, I saw that a lot of people liked SM64DS (I personally never played SM64DS) so I decided to add him. Anything else that was added is because the team wanted to do more.

Do you plan to redo the music in any way? Hearing uncompressed songs from the game in place of the originals would be interesting to say the least…

DorfDork:

The music in fact is replaced like that already. A lot of tracks are going to be replaced in the near future because of more uncompressed samples coming to light.

What made you decide to partner with projects like Mario Kart 64 HD and Project Pop-Up?

DorfDork:

Pop-Up was a project that was similar to Render96 but for Paper Mario 64. I too enjoyed playing Paper Mario a lot when I was younger so I decided to obtain it and give it new life. Mario Kart 64 HD started with a lot of Render96 members so they were already working with us, just not announced!

Are there any other similar projects you find interesting? Or that you may want to work with in future?

DorfDork:

I’m always on the lookout to see creative talent take the initiative and show off their work.

Fanamel:

The work of people inside Curiomatic such as the Mother 3 Tribute is very inspiring to me. I love seeing how ambitious and skillful they are as it makes me want to push further with my own skills.

Any games you hope get projects like this down the line? Like others from the N64 era?

DorfDork:

Any main Nintendo / Rareware games are on the table. They are the most requested ones by fans as well.

Fanamel:

I’m fairly satisfied with what exists already but I wouldn’t mind seeing how Yoichi Kotabe’s 2D Mario style could look in a remake of the 2D Mario games or a new game entirely. Kirby Super Star in HD gets my mind going with ideas as well.

Do you ever worry about Nintendo shutting down any of these projects? What’s your backup plan if so?

DorfDork:

I used to but if Nintendo decides that what I’m trying to do is DMCA-able then so be it. I don’t have a back up plan at all. I can only say that I enjoyed doing what I do.

Fanamel:

Sometimes but it’s not something I’m too worried about as my main focus is to grow my own skill set from these projects. I honestly have no plans but hope there’s enough interest in this work that people will keep it archived somewhere.

What thoughts do you have about the state of video game preservation as a whole? Should companies take it more seriously?

DorfDork:

Definitely. It’s a joke on how many games get lost to time. Without emulation not a lot of people would be able to enjoy games that can’t be bought anymore, or have to fork up a couple hundred dollars to pay a reseller. It’s ridiculous.

Fanamel:

I wish there were more community efforts to scan Japanese material such as game guidebooks because those can contain information and artwork not online yet. Example being these Kirby Super Star renders that were hard to find online until I scanned them despite these existing for over 25 years.

Kirby Guidebooks
Fanamel is disappointed that guidebooks like these aren’t scanned often enough

It’s easy to feel like those bases are covered but it’s honestly a small handful of people who do it as it’s tedious and underappreciated work, so massive props to the people making preservation attempts.

As for companies it’s a massive shame they mostly treat their back catalogs as disposable and force the hand of players to piracy and outrageous second-hand prices. I’d like to see new creative ways for them to present old content to players that’s a worthwhile alternative to piracy instead of fighting people for using the easier methods of access.

What advice would you give people wanting to get into video game modding and why?

DorfDork:

Mute the comments section always. Having a group of people willing to work on a project with you will boost morale and help keep everything on track. Also helps with burnout.

Fanamel:

Plan an idea you highly desire to create to help pull you through the work and experiment a lot. Modding is often someone’s first attempts at game development so don’t be discouraged if your work feels lacking or you never complete it, you can only grow from the experience even if nothing goes how you want it to.

What were the most difficult challenges you faced with this project so far?

DorfDork:

Keeping everything on track has been challenging for sure. Again people love SM64 a lot and I understand that they want to take things into their own direction, but it’s not my vision.

Fanamel:

Learning the modding tools and forcing myself to understand code was a struggle. The tools can lack documentation so it can leave you cluelessly fiddling around until you figure things out.

With your own contributions, what were you the most satisfied and dissatisfied with, and what gave you the most trouble?

DorfDork:

The model I loved the most were the trees. It was annoying to line up with references but they are so pretty to look at.

I am dissatisfied with Ukiki and I am going to personally remake him at some point in the future. The most trouble I had was with Bob-ombs, but looking at the game code helped a lot with figuring out switches for characters.

Fanamel:

I’m pretty judgemental with my own work but I really enjoy the little camera HUD icon I modeled for the Render96 B-Side texture pack. I just think it’s neat.

Camera HUD Icon

I’m dissatisfied with my ending cake animation I created to celebrate Luigi being found inside SM64 and his inclusion to Render96. I spent a long time recreating the entire ending cake scene only to animate it too damn slow. Not to mention the awfully quiet sound. I’m still not a good sound person yet but I’ll get good I swear.

What I struggled the most with was surprisingly the ground texture for Tall Tall Mountain’s Render96 B-Side pack. I’m embarrassed to admit I spent at least 2-3 days reiterating on it only to still feel like there’s something to be left desired with it.

Original Vs Render 96 Tall Tall Mountain
Fanamel struggled a lot with the ground textures for Tall Tall Mountain

What do you feel like was the most important things you learned and gained from working on Render96?

DorfDork:

Communication is very important when running a project like this. Keep everything clear and straight to the point.

Fanamel:

My ability in 3D modeling skyrocketed from this project. I knew next to nothing beforehand but now I feel fairly comfortable with it. I also insanely appreciate all the cool people I met along the way and understand better how group projects like these can go.

What would you say is your greatest strengths, greatest potential, and what do you think you could improve on?

DorfDork:

I would say my greatest strength is being able to bring people together. I’m always trying to keep my community a nice and healthy environment where artists can grow and learn. I can improve on time management 100%. I have a huge backlog of things I need to do (more information will be announced whenever it’s time!).

Fanamel:

I think I’m good at analyzing things and figuring out how to improve them. I feel like I have a lot of potential to grow with art and coding still and hope to make use of those skills on games people can enjoy someday. For improvement I think I struggle with focus and communication, I could get a lot more things done if I learned to be more efficient with my time.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to share my thoughts and answer these questions you made. I hope to bring more fun content for people in the future and hope to see your own website grow with more insights that delve into the mysterious scene of modding.

No problem! We’re excited for the future of Render96 too, and we definitely want to cover more interesting game development insights in our future interviews here at Gaming Reinvented too. It’s definitely an exciting time for ROM hackers and fan game devs for sure, and we’re sure plenty of other interesting teams and projects will get interviews here as well.

Either way, what did you folks at home think of the interview? Does it make you interested in seeing what Render96 has to offer?

Let us know in the comments below, and check out their social media channels today!

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