[2012] Super Mario Bros. Z Episode 9, and the Slow, Tortuous Death of Fan Projects

Nerds of a certain age are highly likely to have seen Super Mario Bros. Z. If you liked video games and had internet access between the years of 2006 and 2009, you either watched Super Mario Bros. Z, or at the very least heard about it. There is very little on this Earth that exemplifies the late 00s more than a Newgrounds flash animation crossover of Mario and Sonic filled with anime fight scenes and chugga chugga guitar tracks.

However, this isn’t an 00s Retrospective series; this is about the 10s. And the only relationship with the 10s Super Mario Bros. Z has is that this was the decade wherein the whole project perished, and the world was taught a lesson on the folly of fan fiction passion projects.

Super Mario Bros. Z always faced the problem that its entire existence was owed to one man working for free. Alvin Earthworm, the quite talented series creator, did the writing, the direction, the animation, and even most of the custom spritework all by himself, with no chance of compensation. Solo or near-solo efforts on larger projects can work out well (see Stardew Valley and Undertale, whose creators are multi-millionaires now), but for a fan project? It can be a dicey proposition.

The series, as it grew and grew in popularity, grew just the same in scope and ambition. Each new episode was longer, the plot more “intense” (this is a Newgrounds flash animation so don’t expect Shane Black writing here), and the fights more inventive and dynamic. The first couple episodes were not too much more than your everyday average let’s-animate-a-DBZ-fight-with-Mario-sprites silliness, but once it got onto later episodes, especially everything starting with episode 5, things ramped up into action insanity.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Super Mario Bros. Z has some of the coolest action setpieces in 2D animation, and these are with friggin’ Mario sprites. I mean, LOOK at clips from these episodes:

Whereas the animation in actual Dragon Ball Z is mostly stilted and static aside from brief moments of energy, Super Mario Bros. Z cuts out all the fat and shows only the parts of fight scenes that you will actually care about seeing.

You simply don’t get this in traditional animation, or even much in CGI animation, because of the cost of actually animating all the action going on. When you use sprites taken and edited from video games, obviously things get a lot easier, but I imagine it’s still an incredible undertaking that Alvin Earthworm was able to pull most of this off.

The problem is that these really impressive fights are done in a Mario and Sonic crossover fan fiction, and the amount of effort needed to create each episode was far too much for anyone to consider a worthy use of time. And not saying fan fiction isn’t worth your time–I mean I wrote a 100-chapter Bowsette story—but it was clear the series was too much of a time sink to keep going with just one person at the helm working for free.

You can see a narrative form from the release dates alone:

Episode 5: February 2007

Episode 6: May 2007

Episode 7: October 2008

Episode 8: October 2009

Fan projects rarely succeed, and ones this big, ones with only one guy working at it, are almost universally doomed. And that’s OK. Alvin Earthworm grew in experience and used his impressive talent for ridiculous fight scene choreography to create an entire career out of it, and that’s what matters.

…Oh, uh, wait. No, he didn’t.

You see, I didn’t even know this until several years later, but he didn’t stop with Episode 8. He continued to work on Episode 9 for years, until finally, just to appease clamoring fans, he released “Episode 9 Part 1” in 2012, just an opening scene to what would come next.

The problem was, this was 2012.

I first found the series in like, 2006. I was in elementary school. When this episode came out in 2012, I was an ADULT! This is the case for practically anyone who followed the Super Mario Bros. Z series; we were just a bunch of silly kids, but the updates took so long that some of us already had kids by the time it ended.

Episode 9 didn’t come out, in the end, being canceled in 2013 with Alvin Earthworm citing time commitments and having written himself into a hole with the cliffhanger ending of Episode 8 (???). And that was fine. Sad, but fine.

Until he remade Episode 1 and released it in 2016.

Long, long after the point that anyone could possibly still be waiting for more Super Mario Bros. Z, we get a remake of Episode 1, to coincide with a new Patreon to support this new series. It’s still impressive stuff, I’ll admit, even better than the original series at creating interesting, dynamic fights. But the Patreon was almost immediately shut down by Nintendo because, well, it’s Nintendo.

And so this new series, supposedly filled with promise and hope for Alvin Earthworm, was over from the get-go. With no funding, there was no chance he could keep making new episodes, especially if they were going to all be as long as this new one. And so that was the final end of Super Mario Bros. Z.

…He’s still going, isn’t he?

Alvin Earthworm has essentially wasted an entire decade’s worth of his skills toiling away at a flash animation series that is long past the point of relevance. There is so much he could have done with himself, and he chose to work on Super Mario Bros. Z, almost exclusively, for the entire 10s.

And his folly is sadly not uncommon in the world of fan projects.

A very sad trend with creators of these sorts of niche, free passion projects is that they don’t get canceled abruptly. They fade away into the night like the flame on a candle, only instead of a gust of wind knocking that last bit of light away, it’s a post saying, “Update! I’m still alive!”

I’m singling out Alvin Earthworm because he is one of the most prominent examples, but he is far from the only one.

Take, for example, Tails Gets Trolled, one of the seminal ironic masterpieces of the early 2010s. The creator made a bunch and bunch of content, then slowed down a lot… then hiatuses took over… then the project eventually died and the creator started over brand new with… the same exact series but original characters now…? Then uncanceled years later??

Then there is the infamous Mother 4 fan game. Fan games are already one of the least productive uses of time for fans of any media, but there have been some legitimately incredible fan games (MFGG, lookin’ at you buddy), and Mother 4 genuinely looked like an amazing game. It even had a release target: Winter 2014! …It still isn’t out, and finally rebranded to Oddity and removed all Earthbound references so that it could be sold for actual money.

In almost all of these cases, the creators restarted their projects, with so much time having passed that they decided to go back and “do it right this time.” But their fanbases had already close to disappeared by then; did they really think anyone would care if they were starting from scratch all these years later?

It’s sunk cost fallacy meeting passion projects in a sad collision that ends up wasting more of the time these creators could have spent making something new and maybe even getting money out of it someday.

I’m certainly not above any of this. I know full well that I will one day return to Sandswept: The Squiddle Session, spending months and thousands of dollars on a project to a franchise so far past its popularity that its official sequel has to be funded via Patreon. Sandswept means so much to me that I couldn’t leave it unfinished forever. Maybe it’s a bit of a different story considering this comic has literally hundreds of pages of scripts, storyboards, and not-yet-used art assets, including multiple fully-designed walkaround minigames. But even so, any time I spent continuing Sandswept will have been time spent on a project nobody else will ever care about but its creators, and even knowing that I will surely do it anyway.

Therefore, I am not condemning any fan who tirelessly works on a project far past its point of relevancy out of sheer love for it. But when I see it from the outside, it always breaks my heart.

One day, perhaps, Alvin Earthworm will make something that is wholly original, and it’ll suddenly revive the whole sprite-animation-battle genre into the big craze hit of the 20s. I really hope that does happen because I am always in the mood for ridiculous anime fight scenes. But the fact we didn’t get that in the 10s is a small tragedy.

[2013] An Attempt at Summer Internet Seclusion

Did you know I took the Summer of 2013 off the internet?

I don’t know why you would know that… It’d be kind of weird if you did. But, and this is extremely weird to say, but after I graduated high school I made the firm decision to avoid the internet for a whole two months because I thought it would help me spend a lot more time with friends and family before I went off to college.

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[2016] Hibike Euphonium and Actual Anxiety over Queer Baiting

What I’ll talk about here has already been covered very well by other authors and sumarized quite succinctly in some quite biting memes, so I’ll be somewhat brief about my feelings on Hibike! Euphonium and what its decision to queer bait the audience meant to me.

I think Kyoto Animation is for sure one of the best animation studios in the world today. Even when they make work far below their usual standard, it’s still mediocre at worst. To call them the Pixar of anime is probably only a slight exaggeration. Have they even made a genuinely bad show? I don’t know.

My problem with Hibike! Euphonium lies in the fact that it is NOT a subpar show in any way. It was well-written, filled with memorable characters with interesting characters arcs, and it was beautiful, with gorgeous artwork complimenting the lovely music (both in the OST and in the show itself).

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[2012-2013] Super Mario Dance Bros., Irony, and My First Semester of College

This is not a 2010s video. In fact, everything about it reeks 00s—All-American Rejects, Windows Movie Maker, 3D modelling and animation done by a teen in the pre-Gmod, pre-Blender era, and that overall since that a video like this could only ever have been created while George W. Bush presided over the U.S.

But Super Mario Dance Bros., one of the all-time greatest videos on Youtube, is part of the 2010s Retrospectives Series not because its own creation because of what it created in me.

Watch the video for yourself and watch what happens to the rest of your life:

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[2014-2015] The Sundance Tintype Photos

One thing I really, really love is using old technology to create new things in a way more streamlined and successful processes can’t fully capture.

In the same way that adding digital film grain to your camcorder movie will never match actually shooting on 35mm, it’s a completely different feeling when you listen to electronic music that uses chiptune samples versus using tracker technology to make chiptunes that can actually run on the hardware they are designed for.

And one of my absolute favorite uses of old technology is ancient, antiquated 19th-century photography equipment in modern day.

Yeah, I’m sure someone with a powerful enough digital camera and enough time spent in photoshop can replicate most of the feeling of a daguerreotype or talbotypes or, as this article is about, tintypes. But with very few exceptions, it won’t be close enough to the real thing.

Case in point, in 2014 and 2015, movie stars at the Sundance Film Festival were captured with tintype cameras. The results are striking and gorgeous, and most of all completely authentic.

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[2010] My First “Real” Short Story

It’s been about ten years since I started writing original prose fiction and posting it on the internet. I don’t think I was really conscious of it at the time, since I was still busy making fan fictions and sprite comics and all that sort of stuff, but it took until high school for me to really start making the things that would eventually make me the writer I am today.

Of course, because I was a little shit, though, one of the first short stories I finished was an “experimental” piece of trash called “An Hero is a Hero.”

(Read it and try to make sense of anything in it. I dare you.)

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[2010-2019] The Web Fiction Community

Introduction

I’ve been writing on the web since the time I joined my first internet forum (Nintendo City.com) at the end of 2005. In some form or another, whether that be sprite comics, fan fiction, short stories, video game reviews, ironic audio dramas, web serials, I’ve been writing for fifteen years and almost all of that was on the internet (sadly you can still find most of it, too).

For all of that, then, it is interesting to me that the first time I really found a community around writing web fiction was only in 2019. And it is interesting to me that that community is both dying and thriving at the same time.

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[2018] Big Dumbass Movies

I don’t know what it was about 2018 that made movie studios stampede in and decide that this would be the year, that this would be their grand artistic statement to the masses, but for some reason, they went and did it.

They made an entire year filled to the brim with idiot movies for morons. Gigantic, mega-sized movies consisting of dumb bullshit and gleefully stupid nonsense. Blockbusters whose only purposes were to entertain and to befuddle.

And it was fairly amazing, I will admit.

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[2012] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: The Avengers

Everyone remembers the moment Avengers came out and changed cinema forever. I’m sure it was widely expected that, after the rousing success of the first two Iron Man movies and the decent runs by the first Thor and Captain America, this whole Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment was going to work. A crossover between a bunch of popular movies into one big adventure was always going to be a hit. But just how much of a hit, I’m not sure anyone could have guessed.

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[2019] The Day Box Office Mojo Died

Nobody likes website redesigns. Even when the redesigns are pretty damn good and add some sorely needed features, like most of Youtube’s, there will always be a ton of complaints for a short time afterwards from people who aren’t yet used to the changes.

And it can get annoying when websites (namely those run by Google) are constantly updating, changing around visual design and icon placement and destroying your muscle memory a couple times a year for the sake of theoretically improving its layouts.

But there is one instance where a website redesign was done with malicious intent and ended up destroying an entire internet hobby, and that’s Box Office Mojo.

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