Beyond emulation: The massive effort to reverse-engineer N64 source code

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Early this week, with little warning, the Internet was graced with a Windows executable containing a fully playable PC port of Super Mario 64. Far from being just a usual emulated ROM, this self-contained program enables features like automatic scaling to any screen resolution, and players are already experimenting with adding simple graphics-card level reshaders, including ray-tracing as well.

The PC port—which was released with little build-up and almost no promotion—wasn’t built from scratch in a modern game engine, in the manner of some other now-defunct Super Mario 64 porting projects. And its release has nothing to do with a recent leak of internal Nintendo files dating back to the Gamecube days.

Instead, the port seems to be a direct result of a years-long effort to decompile the Super Mario 64 ROM into parseable C code. This kind of reverse engineering from raw binary to easy-to-read code isn’t a simple process, but it’s an effort that a growing community of hobbyist decompilers are undertaking to unlock the secrets behind some of their favorite games.

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