Super Smash Bros. Brawl was released in 2008 to instant commercial and critical acclaim. Everyone loved the updated graphics, the new characters, the robust single-player modes, the music, the refined mechanics… everyone just loved Brawl.
Everyone, that is, except for the tens of thousands of people who absolutely hated it. To them, Brawl was floaty, unbalanced, imprecise, drab, boring, shallow and slow. It lacked everything that made its predecessors, Melee and Smash 64, such great competitive games. Nobody wanted to play it in tournament.
Smashers saw only one path forward: mod Brawl to be more like Melee. Thanks to an exploit in Brawl's stage builder, this was well within reach. Project M, as this mod would eventually become known, was not just a Brawl patch, though. It grew to be something much, much more.
"At a certain point, they stopped making Smash games that I liked, so people had to make it instead of the company." — Jason Waterfalls
Jason "Jason Waterfalls" Treul, PMDT member: People figured out how to mod the Wii really quickly… It all kind of started with texture hacks, where it's like, “Oh, dude, you can make Captain Falcon orange instead of like, the regular colors… You can play Peach in like a checkered dress, or whatever.”
Jason Waterfalls: Then they introduced vertex hacking, which was a really big thing. Now you can make the characters anything you want. Then they allowed you to import models, so you're playing as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, or Bruce Willis, and just like random, random ass stuff.
David V. Kimball, Legacy TE developer: The very early days, I just replaced some textures and replaced some audio files. That's how everyone starts pretty much with Brawl modding, and then you go on from there and discover other things you can do.
Alex "Vicksin" Vickery, competitor: The Brawl engine was just so different [from Melee's]. A lot of the Melee players just couldn't get into Brawl because… so many of the mechanics were changed or removed altogether. That really stifled the competitive aspect of it.
Kimball: There are so many things about [Brawl] that are great, there's tons of content, there's this amazing engine, it just needs to be tweaked.
Vicksin: Brawl was hype because we could mod it so heavily. You could put your own characters in it, you could animate their own movesets, we really cracked the engine open.
Kimball: I think that was always kind of the goal, [to] just see how far we can push the Brawl engine with the tools that the modders and the tinkerers have created.
Jason Waterfalls: The biggest mod at the time was Brawl+, which was like, let's take Brawl, right? And then we're gonna make every character super good, so you don't have to only play [top tiers characters like] Meta Knight and Ice Climbers.
Rayjay "Ca$ino Wolf" Adger, Legacy TE developer: Brawl+ at the time was a conglomeration of gameplay changes along with maybe a couple of new stages.
Jason Waterfalls: Every character was super viable, it was really fun. You could mix it with all the mods that you already had on your Wii. They had nightly builds, it was always being updated. There was one update where they gave Dedede an earthquake hammer, so you forward smash and the entire stage would trip. Random stuff like that, super busted. But it kind of makes you really feel excited about the game in the way that I feel like a lot of people were about Brawl before Brawl came out, right? It's like, "Oh shoot, Sonic is in this game! Oh, man, I'm gonna be able to play as Toon Link!" but then you end up playing Brawl and it kind of sucks. Brawl+ was the Brawl that I wanted at release.
Ca$ino Wolf: It's not really a big surprise, but Project M is built off of Brawl+... Project M definitely refined it in every way, shape and form.
Jason Waterfalls: PM was like Brawl+ but mature… PM always had a goal at the beginning to Melee-ize every character, and I love Melee. So even though PM had like, one fifth of the characters of every other Brawl mod, I immediately stopped playing Brawl+ and just started playing PM because it just felt so good… And if I thought that Brawl+ was what I wanted, it turns out PM is what I wanted the whole time.
Jason Waterfalls: The modders chopped up parts of Brawl and reconstructed it in God's image, like this was the game that we actually wanted, dude. And it was really exciting to see it happen in real time.
Ryan "Sabre" Weinberg, PMBR member: I played Brawl for countless hours and when I saw Project M, it was a new game. It was like they took this game I loved and they added new characters and they added new mechanics. It was a whole other way to experience a game that I already really enjoyed.
Vicksin: Back in the day, just having the ability to move like you could back in Melee — with the wavedashes and wavelanding and L-canceling and all of the stuff that was just removed from Brawl being back in — it was just something that no one else did at the time. It was really making Melee in Brawl, which was why it took off so much. It picked up so much steam.
Jason Waterfalls: PM is sort of like the end of evolution of a lot of Brawl mods.
"PM was the new thing." — Nezergy
In 2013, Travis "Samox" Beauchamp released "The Smash Brothers", a nine-part documentary chronicling competitive Melee from the scene's inception to its inclusion at EVO 2013. It led to a dramatic increase in popularity in Melee, and among Melee community members it is often referred to simply as "The Doc."
Jason Waterfalls: The Documentary had also just come out. There's a lot of excitement around that kind of stuff — [PM version] 3.02, Documentary, EVO. I know that Melee had a renaissance. And PM also got some of that.
Jake "Nezergy" Maldonado, top competitor: I joined the PM scene around 2012, 2013… Right around the time that the Smash Doc had come out. It wasn't exactly the thing that got me into the game, my brother had showed me EVO 2013. And I got to see that Mango run as my first real perception of the Smash community. And from there, he brought home an SD card with PM on it, glitched out my Wii, and then the rest is history.
Kevin "The Doctor" Ascate, top competitor: I had also watched the Melee Doc, and that was another reason I ended up really getting into the Smash scene.
Devin "Reslived" Gajewski, PMBR member: The weird thing about PM is that PM grew out of being at [Maryland tournament series] Xanadu, as far as a mass appeal was concerned. Obviously it already had its own community and tournaments and top players and whatnot. But shortly after the Documentary and EVO, Smash starts entering this weird 2010s renaissance and everyone starts watching Xanadu.
Nezergy: Being able to watch Smash at Xanadu in particular was a big way of me seeing all the cool things that different characters could do. There's a lot of character diversity in PM.
Jason Waterfalls: [In 3.0] we have all the characters. I think that's when everyone kind of felt like they had the go ahead to actually start taking the game seriously. They added Roy and Mewtwo, which was mind blowing. The clone engine [that made it possible to play as characters not originally in Brawl] was something that was, again, so incredibly technically complicated. People didn't even think that stuff was possible.
Reslived: Adding Roy and Mewtwo back into the game was a huge reveal. VGBC had this special showcase where they had JCaesar play Mewtwo, and then they had Neo play Roy… Neo is probably the greatest Melee Roy player who ever lived, and here he is playing the 3.02 Roy rebirth on Project M.
Sabre: [In 2013 and 2014] Project M was a merger between the Melee and the Brawl communities. The top players were largely people who were already pro Smash players coming into Project M and competing against each other in this level playing field… The game was huge, it was at one point in contention for being larger as a competitive game than Brawl or Melee. But it was, by and large, just a merging of those two games.
Ca$ino Wolf: At that point it was like four years into Brawl's competitive play and no one wanted to play that game anymore. So Brawl was really the side event that I went for and PM was the main event.
Reslived: The locals were springing up left and right. You could just throw on a stream for your local area… and you were getting a few hundred viewers on YouTube and Twitch at the very least. We had thousands of concurrent viewers at tiny locals and we were getting these hundred-plus-person Tuesday night weeklies that were running until four in the morning. It only lasted a year, and yet at the same time, it was like it was the party that never stopped.
"There's always people screaming for certain characters to be nerfed or buffed." — The Doctor
Reslived: PM and 3.02 has evolved to become this meme of "PM 3.02 was jank." But I think that every character had something uniquely overpowered that was character specific. It never felt like this character was broken for the same reason this other character is broken.
Giuseppe "Messi" Messina, TO and commentator: Everyone who I talk to about 3.02 has complaints about it, but it’s always about a different character, and that’s kinda cool… Isn’t that technically balanced in the most messed up, chaotic way?
Reslived: Your character does some thing and that thing is awesome. I thought that was really, really, really cool. And specifically those traits are what they decided to tone down in 3.5.
Paul "Motobug" Canavan, P+ community lead: [In 3.02] a lot of the characters were very, very strong, had a lot of really good tools, killed very early — especially the top tiers like Mewtwo, Lucas, Pit. The power reduction in [3.5] was a lot.
Mr. Fabulous, TO: I liked 3.5. I thought it was a good direction for the game, but I understood why a lot of people thought it wasn't.
Reslived: I was livid. I remember because I got flamed real hard for my opinions. In patch 3.5 they took out Ness's ability for PK Fire to explode on shield. And I think many people would argue that I was a one trick pony who just used one move — and that’s not to say that I wasn't — but it definitely forced me to relearn how I played the game.
Motobug: Whenever your character gets nerfed, it kind of feels bad, but at the same time, it's something you gotta accept for the health of the game. If your character is broken, they gotta be toned down a little bit.
Motobug: Not everyone agreed with it, but I think most people did. And I think looking back it’s definitely the right move, because that meta will get annoying very quickly, I think it was around for the perfect amount of time. A year was like the most that people would be able to reasonably handle it.
Jason Waterfalls: 3.5 comes out, they nerf basically the whole cast, and then 3.6 comes out and they nerf even more characters. Some people were like, "I spent all this time learning my character, and now they kind of suck." But if you made it through 3.6, then boy oh boy, did you have a really great game.
Jack Roscoe is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. When he's not playing Smash or D&D, he's posting to his blog at jackroscoe.me.