There's something about the very best video games which inspires obsession over the smallest details. Whether it involves (over)analysing a blurry texture, trying to decipher a muffled audio clip or simply experimenting in the world for the fun of it, some games lend themselves to being endlessly broken down and forensically examined. It's the kind of thing that keeps the Stop 'n' Swop legend from Banjo-Kazooie alive in the minds of fans long after the mundane reality of the abandoned feature was revealed. There's something delicious in the mystery of it all!
Super Mario 64 is one of those classics which still holds riches to discover even over two decades since release. Arguably its most tantalising mystery is the blurry text found in the Castle courtyard beneath a statue of a Power Star (pictured above). This statue, sometimes referred to as the 'Eternal Star', has been the subject of much speculation and heated debate over the years and still inspires curious minds to this day. Daniel Nodd, also known as No64DD, has been examining the evidence and believes he has found the truth behind the myth.
Legend (or was it an April Fool's Day joke?) has it that the blurry text on the plaque reads either 'Eternal Star' or 'L Is Real 2401', the latter apparently referring to Luigi being a playable character in the game. Despite multiple supposed methods to unlock the lankier Mario brother circulating back in the day, he was never found in the game even with N64.com offering $100 to anyone who could prove Luigi was playable (and remember, $100 in 1996 money could buy you a race horse or small semi-detached residence). The mystery was compounded when the plaque also appeared in Dodongo's Cavern in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
In the intervening years the question of the blurry text on the courtyard statue would bubble up every now and then, but a letter which appeared on reddit from a Nintendo Game Play Counselor in reply to a query back in 1998 arguably put a lid on the issue - it was simply a joke from the developers. The letter still didn't clear up exactly what the joke was, though...
Daniel wasn't satisfied that the mystery had been solved and set about his own analysis of the plaques in both Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time using a couple of N64s and some image techniques to enhance the text. Let's have a look at his work...
Note: Minor spoilers for Super Mario Odyssey follow, if you care about that sort of thing. You have been warned!
With the use of multiple television screens and smartphone cameras, I was able to capture, categorize, and display the best possible examples of the image(s).
To begin, I basically turned down all color and adjusted brightness and contrast on the CRT units, as well as turning up sharpness. The Nintendo 64s are running on AV and RF. Out of all the experimenting, taking photos in an inverted negative mode worked best.
These are unmodded N64 consoles. The device on the blue console is simply a universal adapter to play Japanese games.
The inscription uses the same in-game font from Super Mario 64. I applied it to each shot for better visual comparison. It reads:
A Secret star lie here ~
I attempted to adjust the images even further through a few image apps you find on smartphones. Things like sharpness, shadows, white balance, etc. Finely tuning them worked to a point before affecting overall quality, but I also isolated and focused each section for a side-by-side comparison.
You can start to recognize the curvature, and how much anti-aliasing begins distorting the graphic.
This was taken in Ocarina of Time. Here, the inscription appears slightly bolder than SM64, but can clearly see the capital "S".
This area begins to become affected by the grain smear of the marble-like texture, but you can make out the silhouette of the lowercase "e".
Here, I wanted to point out the curvature of the lowercase "c", because this letter is also affected by smearing.
This normal Elgato screen grab illustrates a primary line of distortion running diagonally, and areas of text that are affected by this in the path.
Notice both lowercase "t"s in Secret star have the same slant at the bottom.
The "Eternal star" theorists did get this one correct. Lowercase star is clearly visible.
For the second line, the text gets smaller and more difficult to decipher. The lowercase "l" is heavily affected by the darkest streak on the memorial plaque, but the contours are still visible.
here is almost italic in appearance, but the angle of the lowercase "h" starts to become visible. This image also displays the lowercase "e" in lie much better.
And lastly, the final piece, which is actually a tilde. SM64 seems to have the best example. This was taken in black and white in 2015, back when I really started analyzing 'L is Real 2401'.
These tildes "~" are commonly used as memorial scribes on tombstones, which is what is represented in both games. The dead Dodongo that resides in its cavern in OoT, and a castle Secret star that metaphorically resides in the courtyard of SM64.
That was until Super Mario Odyssey.
Daniel's reference to Super Mario Odyssey is a secret star found by donning the Mario 64 cap and suit and transforming the portly plumber into his 64-bit self. This enables you to enter the courtyard in that game (in all its polygonal retro glory) and finally find the fabled 'secret star' by spinning Cappy on the statue, putting a cap on a 21-year mystery.
Or has it? In this day and age, why let facts and evidence get in the way of things - especially a good mystery - eh?!