I recently listened to someone explain why they felt no guilt about hacking Mario Kart so that they could cheat in it. "Morality holds progress back," he said.
Huntereb has been uploading proof of his various Nintendo hacks for the past year or so. His most notable hacks involved the 2011 3DS game Mario Kart 7. He's hacked the successful Mario racer to give him an edge over people unfortunate enough to wind up in an online match against him.
It's how he summoned items whenever he wanted:
Or forced online matches to award him first place within seconds:
It's one thing to manipulate how a game functions offline, but it's much harder to carry those hacks online, where most game companies are able to detect and punish those who are trying to break the rules. The thing is, Nintendo's not a company known for being Internet experts and he's somehow been able to slip some of these hacks by.
(Nintendo has and does regularly issue patches to try and plug these holes, however.)
Huntereb described his feelings about online cheating as "pretty relaxed," which is probably an understatement.
"I do hax and show people them. Sometimes it's controversial... Also, morals don't belong on a hacking scene. Don't be stupid."
Hacking is not inherently good or evil but a function of curiosity. What one does with their hacks defines who they are. Some hackers make changes in games to help other players, to be the hero. Others play the villain, hacking games for advantages regardless of who it pisses off. Huntereb is more from that side of things.
His taste for hacking came from an Action Replay. Like GameSharks, these accessories allowed players to modify game code to unlock unlimited lives, hit points or whatever else you wanted in a game running on a Nintendo 64 or PlayStation 2 or the like. In other words, the Action Replay let you do things in games that you weren't supposed to do.
There is no Action Replay or GameShark equivalent in 2016. Console developers have largely stopped players from going under a game's hood. (It's a different story on PC.) Huntereb feels this has prevented people from understanding how software and hardware truly work, measures taken ostensibly to protect people, but often to obfuscate and remove control.
"I find happiness in doing things that would normally not be done by a rule-abiding user," he said. " [...] Any time I do things online in regards to cheating and modifications, it's only because I can. As long as there's not a permanent repercussion from my actions, I'll test things to the maximum possible."
He's been pushing that to the limit lately with Super Mario Maker, a game that's gotten him in trouble with Nintendo. The company recently banned his Wii U from online play and deployed YouTube copyright takedowns to take his hacking videos removed from the service. He's resorted to uploading videos with non-Mario music and flipping the video, hoping to avoid them.
(If that video suddenly stops worrying, you probably know why.)
Huntereb's hacking comes with one rule, though: no permanent consequences. He broke that rule with Mario Maker, and it's gotten him into hot water. He used Mario Maker hacks and exploits to mess around with people's levels online, allowing him to finish them in ways the designers never intended. He was able to achieve world record times in some of them, defeating the purpose of the world record marker that the game puts in a given shared level. That marker is supposed to measure genuine runs.
While Huntereb is careful about how many of his hacks have a permanent history on the Internet, he's demonstrated several of his "techniques," such as the ability to summon items:
You can quickly imagine how that might break a lot of levels.
He started breaking records using the cheat, one after the other. People were pissed, obviously.
"I will admit that I may have gone a little overboard by breaking records in more than a few levels during some streams of mine, just to show that it was possible," he said. "I didn't expect the kind of reaction I got from this to be so extreme."
Going overboard doesn't mean he regrets his actions, however.
"I don't really feel any guilt," he said. "I guess I'm just not a very remorseful guy. That's probably a good thing for the stuff I like to do. [...] I do care what others have to say about my work, but only to the extent of agreement. If they support what I do, fine. If you don't, you don't have to watch. I'm not going to change my stance because of your feelings."
MrBean35000vr, a hacker Kotaku interviewed in 2014 as part of a story on hacking Mario Kart 8, isn't a huge fan of folks like Huntereb. MrBean35000vr might respect the work being put into understanding these games, but when it's used to ruin people's fun, that's a line too far.
"My brother [Chadderz, another hacker] likes to relate modding and hacking to being kinda like the usage of a hammer," he said. "You can use it to build something, or you can use it to smash someone else's thing to pieces. And how one chooses to use it is very much dependent on the person. Regrettably, the destructive usage is what typically gets modding and hacking a bad name, rather unnecessarily, perhaps, as you can really can do amazing things with it."
MrBean35000vr and Chadderz have gone in the opposite direction. The two started out by hacking Mario Kart Wii, hoping to build new tracks to race on. It took six months of tinkering to craft their first track, but the response was huge, and they started building custom tools for others to use. Flash forward several years later and hundreds of fans have used the brothers' hacks to create thousands of tracks for Mario Kart Wii, fruitfully extending the game's life long after Nintendo had moved on.
The brothers created their own track pack, CTGP Revolution, that contains stages built by themselves and others. The pack has 218 curated tracks, and people are still regularly playing them.
"We're way more interested in messing around with the game rather than ruining the online fun," said MrBean35000vr, "but also we're interested in letting others participate in said fun. Watching other people play things that you create is amazing. Where's the fun in messing things up for everyone?"
MrBean35000vr closely watches those new to the scene, especially those he deems "destructive." Any hacker, regardless of intent, has talent, and if it can be harnessed differently, it could benefit everyone. Some of these people have joined the brothers' team.
"We often try to convince them to swap over to more constructive modding," he said, "as ultimately they're looking to get noticed for their coding skills but perhaps feel that the only way to get said attention is to troll and cause trouble."
MrLuigi35000Vr — yes, that's different than MrBean35000vr — was one of those people.
MrLuigi35000Vr was in the midst of learning assembly code when he decided there was a more interesting application for his lessons: hacking Mario Kart Wii. He found ways to disrupt players online and force them to lose.
"Making such hacks makes you focus on the end result," he said, giving hackers tunnel vision as they ignore everything interesting about a game's inner workings that allows the hack to work at all. ""It was fun, I guess."
For a while, this amused MrLuigi35000Vr , but it didn't last.
MrLuigi35000Vr gained notoriety for being disruptive. He wanted to team up with other hackers, but his reputation in the community meant others wouldn't take him.
"I saw [others] use their knowledge to create something bigger and helpful," he said.
Eventually, he convinced some hackers to give him a shot, and he quickly converted to the other side. Now he collaborates with MrBean35000vr, Chadderz, and others in the community who want to know more about how Nintendo's games work, not tear them down. Even when the group comes up with a new hack, they will debate over releasing it to the public. If it might do more harm than good, they will keep the information among themselves.
One project that MrLuigi35000Vr worked on was upping the maximum lap count for Mario Kart Wii:
"You could say that my passion and dedication to gain more and more knowledge, and to help the community grew thanks to them, their work, and the example they have given us," he said.
As for other hackers?
"I'll stream Terraria tonight on YouTube," wrote Huntereb on Twitter recently. "Let's say 7PM EST? I'll use my own modified client to troll online. ;)"