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When I was a kid I just drew these things in margins of my notes for math
July 19, 2011 9:06 AM   Subscribe

ROM hacking, the act of modifying the "cartridge" data for a video game played in an emulator, has been covered before (and before). What you may not know is that intrepid hackers have been at work on more modern systems, producing a wide array of new takes on old classics. New worlds for Mario to explore (also, also, also). A new adventure for Link. Goldeneye levels that are a bit... different. A whole new universe of classes and challenges in Final Fantasy Tactics (gameplay). And HD texture packs for games that haven't aged as well as others.

Tutorials exist that will walk you through the basics.

RomHacking.net offers a non-comprehensive list of some hacks available: N64, Playstation. A large portion of this post was derived from links gathered in this excellent thread over at the saltw.net game design forums.
posted by codacorolla (23 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Agghh, I can't wait to get home and plow through these.
posted by griphus at 9:29 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hell, for N64 games, I'd be thrilled with SD texture packs. The console supported, what, 32x32 textures*?

*Okay, it was a 4KB limit, but seriously those games were blurry
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 9:30 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never tried hacking a cartridge ROM, but I remember back in the days of Mac OS 7 it was trivially easy to use ResEdit to do this sort of thing. I spent probably a couple of months of my sophomore year at university trying to make a playable Star Wars Monopoly game by converting all the art and sound assets in the official Monopoly for Mac game.

On the other hand, these hacks make anything I ever dreamt of doing look like the proverbial weak sauce.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:36 AM on July 19, 2011


One of the better things to come out of that FF Hacktics community you linked was the FFT Rebirth mod that just patches all the bugs out of the game, rebalances some of the jobs, and adds some harder fights in.

Oh, and it adds Moon Knights. Not sure what a moon knight is yet, but they're in there.
posted by cirrostratus at 9:36 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Amazing how fast Goldeneye came back to me. Tanks for the memories!
posted by stinkycheese at 9:43 AM on July 19, 2011


FWIW the Goldeneye reboot for Wii is pretty fun too, stinkycheese
posted by Hoopo at 9:46 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


On N64 and blurry textures: This is a result of the system's tiny texture caches, a design flaw. The PS1, on the other hand, could use more memory for textures but had no hardware-based smoothing for them. Neither system's 3D graphics have aged particularly well.

I will go on record as not being a fan of Final Fantasy Tactics, I played the game a fair bit and found it slow and with absurdly annoying random encounters (herd of self-healing Chocobos I hate you), as well as the same kind of enemy level scaling that wrecks Oblivion. Tactics Ogre had some of the same problems (it had a very similar style, fitting considering Square poached the Ogre Battle guy to make it for them) but for some reason didn't seem as obnoxious to me.
posted by JHarris at 9:52 AM on July 19, 2011


Amazing how fast Goldeneye came back to me. Tanks for the memories!

Klob wars.

Oh, and if you pick Odd Job, you're a dick.

Good times.
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:53 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


May I also add Michael Iantorno's hack of Earthbound, Hyperbound (you can download it for free).

It's notable because it uses Earthbound's game engine, but takes an entirely different route in pursuing an interactive story, rather than an RPG with combat and leveling.

The Earthbound hacking community is quite active, in part due to AnyoneEB's Java-based editting tool, PK Hack.
posted by lemuring at 9:55 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


That little tank in the "different" link is just the cutest thing.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:13 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Final Fantasy Tactics becomes super easy once you get some Calculators.

Tactics Ogre wasn't as bad because you could train your guys against each other for real xp.
posted by kenko at 10:32 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


That Goldeneye level brings back me right back to college staying up all night trying to beat it faster than 2 minutes 5 seconds on 00 Agent (difficultest) to unlock invulnerability. There was a mouse in my dorm room, rustling around. At some point, the sleep deprivation and frustration of DR DOAK NOT BEING WHERE HE FUCKING NEEDED TO BE got to be too much, and I lost it and went chasing after the mouse with a length of PVC (the nearest stick-shaped object I had on hand - long story). I didn't actually think I caught it, until next morning when my roommate found the injured mouse had made it to the kitchen. He tried to nurse it back to health (if putting it in a bucket with food counts as that) but to no avail.

I don't think the tank would have made that any easier. Honestly I was expecting something a lot differenter. That's silly, but a pretty minor tweak.

Anyway, eventually I unlocked the cheat. That one, plus the All Guns and Unlimited Ammo cheats made for a lot of fun. My roommates and I would just screw around for hours on the levels where the baddies respawned indefinitely (e.g., Jungle), teaching Russians to fly (via remote mines).

Except the clunky N64 graphics, I love everything about that game. I love the "no secret agents" sign in the facility (you can see it after he goes through the second security door and turns left in that video), I love the elevator music rendition of the James Bond theme, and I love the multiplayer so so much. (The Stacks, w/ Slappers Only, License to Kill.)
posted by aubilenon at 10:48 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Final Fantasy Tactics becomes super easy once you get some Calculators.

The trick to FFT was figuring out ways to constantly suck up JP's even when you're "doing nothing".

For me, this led to two paths of victory:

The Shoryuken Path:

1. Take a squire, have them do a lot of "Accumulate" (I think that's what it's called? Buffs your attacks). Have your team find a nice defensive position, and wait for the enemies, accumulating the whole way. By the time the enemies get to you, you one-shot them to death.

For bonus munchkin factor, simply sit there and take hits allowing your healers to use their skills, earning them JP, then kill the enemies when you get sick of it. Useful for early game twinking.

2. Then turn these folks into monks, and give them the Accumulate skill. Now they can heal with Aura or Accumulate, and you can suck up stupid amounts of JP and kick ass when you need to.

The Calculator/Dancer Path:

1. Get someone into the Dancer Path and give them a bunch of skills.
2. Turn them into a Calculator, but have them Dance every turn. Dance kicks off relatively fast, which makes it the quickest way for Calculators to suck up JP, which they desperately need.
3. After you've bought all the Calculator skills, change them back into a Dancer, but bring their calculator skills back with them.
4. Unleash doom at high turn orders.
posted by yeloson at 10:48 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Imagine how awesome video games could be if you didn't have to hack them to do this kind of thing. Free Culture.
posted by DU at 10:51 AM on July 19, 2011


Imagine how awesome video games could be if you didn't have to hack them to do this kind of thing. Free Culture.

This is essentially how a lot of modern FPSes have been since Half-Life, which was (maybe?) one of the first modern, 3D games to bundle its editor entirely for free with the program. It lead to mods which are still popular today, and hundreds of others with niche audiences. Half-Life 2 continued that trend with the Source engine.

Part of the appeal, at least for me, is that consoles, and especially early 3D consoles, were black boxes, where you could only ever play the game that was on the cartridge. I remember playing the first level of Twisted Metal 2 over and over with a friend, trying to find "secret" levels, because the games had yet to be picked over on the Internet by analyzing the data on their ROMs. One thing that I envy kids today for is that all of this stuff is lying there, waiting to be discovered and fooled around with. Anyone with a little bit of technical skill can be a bricoleur of game design, and can play with what (for people of my generation) totally sealed and opaque systems. This is especially clear with one of the Mario links in my FPP, MarioMario54321 who mashes together ten different games at once, his own custom hacked creations, and text annotations on YouTube to create these insane, amazing windows into his mind. I think most people imagined this sort of thing (my title refers to the way I experienced it - as doodles in margins) but now it's actually possible.

I can't wait to see what this generation does with a few more years of experience and better tech.
posted by codacorolla at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2011


Also:

The Calculator/Dancer Path:

1. Get someone into the Dancer Path and give them a bunch of skills.
2. Turn them into a Calculator, but have them Dance every turn. Dance kicks off relatively fast, which makes it the quickest way for Calculators to suck up JP, which they desperately need.
3. After you've bought all the Calculator skills, change them back into a Dancer, but bring their calculator skills back with them.
4. Unleash doom at high turn orders.


One thing that the FFT hacks do, is to completely demolish these strategies. So if you've destroyed vanilla FFT, then it might be worth your time to look into the hacks for it.
posted by codacorolla at 11:11 AM on July 19, 2011


The Final Fantasy Hacktics mods are pretty extensive. They do some that get rid of the cheap JP tricks and punish you for overlevelling (basically through brute force, setting levels/equipment of story battle opponents to be a function of your party's average level and not present). They've also have translation patches (to get you the War of the Lions translation, which is more coherent than the original but loses some of it's charm - no "Surrender or die in obscurity!") if you want to just play through the original game without any of the job changes.

Personally I think the 're-balancing' overdoes it, but some people seem to like it.
posted by dismas at 11:29 AM on July 19, 2011


I love Zelda mods for a discrepancy: While it's clear most of their creators love the game, they seem to underemphasize or misunderstand some of the elements that make the game successful (exploration, dungeon layout, hidden spots etc.)

as well as the same kind of enemy level scaling that wrecks Oblivion.

Oblivion is a great example of the usefuleness of game modding. A game I wouldn't have enjoyed was lovely with 20 mods. Morrowind had offered this possibility before, but iirc more people found vanilla Morrowind more agreeable. You can find Oblivion mods for content, textures, the interface or new adventures. The beauty of Skyrim is that it will probably be a far better game in November 2012 than in November 2011.

This is essentially how a lot of modern FPSes have been since Half-Life, which was (maybe?) one of the first modern, 3D games to bundle its editor entirely for free with the program.

On a more basic level, the maps created with the map editor of Doom were quite popular. There were also plenty of mods and total conversions of Quake. I remember wanting to try a sword & sorcery rpg mod for it, but its size was ridiculous, something like 20 MB.
posted by ersatz at 12:04 PM on July 19, 2011


I meant Quake mods. Also.
posted by ersatz at 12:05 PM on July 19, 2011


Doom was where the customized levels really took off (and a lot of hacking as well), but Duke3D was the first major game I remember that actually came with it's editor.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2011


Fave it for lay-tah! Love these things. Every once in a while I get deeply into some old ROMs and this is as good an excuse as any.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:16 PM on July 19, 2011


I sector-edited 8-bit RPGs like Ultima ][ as a kid, but the tools they have for hacking 3D Mario 64 levels are very full-featured. The heroes are the ones that reverse engineer the level formats and build the tools.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:04 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Super Catholic Bros.:
Help a pious young Catholic rescue his alter boy friends from the cruel intentions of pederast priests. Fight your way through Lutherans, gay pride logos and more across thirty-two levels of lush Vatican scenery, all set to popular new age music. Fiat lux!
posted by markkraft at 2:05 PM on July 19, 2011


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