When Nintendo turned off the Super Mario Maker servers this week, it didn't explain why. Would you have guessed that LinkedIn was involved? The company merely cited "emergency maintenance" related to a glitch in the creation tool... and didn't elaborate. But based on my reporting, a major exploit was discovered that would have quickly wrecked the competitive community.
A Mario Maker player by the name of Joseph, who asked for his last name to be kept private, stumbled upon the original glitch. Joseph discovered a video where another player claimed their level had been hacked, as someone else had managed to achieve a world record on a puzzle level in less than three seconds.
"I tried to study the screenshot and use different things to try to reproduce this as it looked like a glitch rather than an actual hack," he said.
Joseph realised the "hacker" had access to items that weren't in the original level. In Mario Maker, it's possible to download other people's levels and edit them, but that's not what was happening here. The "hacker" was playing the level on the server, which is why their world record times were being recorded.
Though some experimentation in the editor, Joseph reproduced the glitch.
Here's a simple example of a level being completed the intended way:
This is where things get a little tricky. The above GIF is what the level looks like on the server, but as mentioned, if you download it you can edit it yourself. And if you edit it in a very specific way, players can get some weird things to happen.
"I saw a couple of tech videos with rails," said Joseph, "and combined it with swapping items and using the main menu screen to refresh 'the lock' on the level created by undoing the rail changes."
What that practically means is Joseph can bring edits into the level when he's playing online. He's not actually editing the level server-side, but the game become confused, and mixes the two stages together. From the same level:
There wasn't a feather there before, but now there is, and the game can't tell the difference, which means you can do nasty things to Mario Maker's hardest stages. This glitch could instantly render world record runs meaningless.
This glitch is especially dangerous for kaizo-like Mario Maker stages:
Alarmed at what he'd found, Joseph reached out to Matt "Jaku" Jakubowski, one of his favourite Mario Maker streamers because he "has a reputation which helps me trust him more and connections [to help] get this out."
Jakubowski started by confirming the glitch for himself, recording a video and uploading it to YouTube. (The images in this article are taken from that video.)
The next step was finding a way to get in touch with Nintendo without the glitch becoming widespread. Shouting on Twitter or the game's subreddit would only lead to troublemakers exploiting the glitch, so Jakubowski got creative.
"I knew I wouldn't be able to get a hold of anyone though customer service that would have gotten it to the right people," he said. "So I went to LinkedIn and reached out to three people that had their names in the credits of Mario Maker and sent them a message with the link."
Yes, someone managed to find a use for LinkedIn. It's pretty remarkable.
One of the people Jakubowski wrote to was Treehouse senior localisation manager Nate Bihldorff. Inside the message was an explanation of the glitch and a link to a YouTube video. Miraculously, Bihldorff actually responded!
Jakubowski didn't really buy what Bihldorff was saying, though.
"It seems that they didn't actually have this glitch on their radar," he said, "since typical maintenance is done on Monday for [Mario Maker] and now we have this emergency maintenance."
As a thank you, Nintendo ripped Jakubowski's video down from YouTube.
"So much for biting the hand that feeds you," said Jakubowski, who called the YouTube takedown "rude".
Nintendo did not respond to my requests for comment about this story.
Mario Maker's servers soon went down for that "emergency maintenance", and Jakubowski's brief communication with Nintendo went silent. All Nintendo would publicly say is a glitch was found in the creation tool, a glitch apparently so significant that Nintendo disabled a core component of Mario Maker.
The glitch in this article, the one discovered by Joseph, meets that criteria.
Though Mario Maker was supposed to be offline for a while, it came back online much earlier than anticipated with a patch. In the patch notes, Nintendo only said "adjustments have been made for a more pleasant gaming experience".
The glitch appears to have been fixed. Joseph and Jakubowski both tested the exploit this morning, and told me they have been unable to reproduce it.