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Author Topic: How to increase interest in hacking?  (Read 36599 times)

zonk47

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How to increase interest in hacking?
« on: February 26, 2016, 09:42:50 am »
Increasingly on these boards there is a sense of lethargy and exhaustion. The original generation of ROM hackers grows older and burdened by real life issues. Hackers and translators want to keep going but don't have the time. Meanwhile, the games industry continues to grow... content is being put out at a pace that is impossible to keep up with.

What can be done to increase interest and participation in rom hacking?
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Pennywise

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2016, 10:02:36 am »
Support emulator development and encourage devs to include powerful debugging tools in their emulators. With great tools comes great hacks.

RyanfaeScotland

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2016, 10:09:20 am »
Provide brilliant ideas which inspire people to want to do it. Example 101 Player Mario Kart.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2016, 06:12:14 pm by RyanfaeScotland »

FAST6191

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2016, 10:20:20 am »
I am not seeing the "lethargy and exhaustion" thing (give or take General Discussion but that is a different matter) but even if it was the case here then other places are doing fine. Many of those seem to be going game/series specific but that is nothing new and I have yet to see a game/series specific forum get those with skills that could truly benefit those outside it be caught up in it all. Minor exception might be for some of the cheat making people.

Still it is something I would consider as a general concept

Land of wishes. The barrier to entry has to be less. I am not entirely sure how that could happen though as the barriers are knowledge, maths and computing based (we are not going to see a solution to the halting problem any time soon after all), and all for a pretty thankless task at the end -- nobody is here to get paid, hired or famous, and I saw what happened to the DS homebrew scene when IOS rose up (and android is now bigger than that). We could build fancy GUI tools but for the most part those that could not wrap their heads around the command line were probably never going to hack it anyway.

More doable. I guess we could get some truly polished up docs, list of quirks and debugging grade emulators sorted for most systems. Debuggers are probably the bigger work but also more important.

Something to consider. ROM hacks for the masses. During the DS lifetime there were a few tools and techniques that basically anybody could fathom (undubs and some general file system manipulation). I  wrote up a few things like this and it went over well. Or if you prefer we can all sit around discussing the speed penalties of DMA vs CPU memory access for a VFW font and I love those discussions but they are impenetrable for most that are not already there. Make some effort to do more basic stuff and show what you could do with a couple of weekends reading and fiddling and that works. I would specifically design much of this to avoid the tool user problem but I imagine most would not have led with that anyway.

Chronosplit

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2016, 12:47:33 pm »
Quote
More doable. I guess we could get some truly polished up docs, list of quirks and debugging grade emulators sorted for most systems. Debuggers are probably the bigger work but also more important.
This is pretty much what I was going to say.

Another idea would be tutorials and guided beginner's exercises for simple things, for new hackers to learn by doing.  The Pokemon scene has a whole bunch of these for example, and a lot of hackers have thrown their hats in the ring because of these.

Gi Nattak

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2016, 12:55:33 pm »
Perhaps inspire yourself by smoking some marijuana and let the ideas and interest flow back into your cerebral cortex baby yeah!

Dr. Floppy

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2016, 01:10:19 pm »
Adderallâ„¢.

BlackDog61

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2016, 01:14:31 pm »
The statistics of patches and transltions coming out shows an increase over time when looking at recent years. When I look at what is happening on SRW, I'm very impressed!

I was going to touch about the same points as FAST. Almost. :)
- More polished documentation with existing contents, as well as latform-specific intro docs. (How many times are we asked how to start for this or that? I know most techniques are common, but it would help to have a concrete "tutorial-style" example per platform.)
- Nowadays media used to advertise these contents. THAT is where i think the age of the people here shows. Having facebook stuff, a couple of videos and ok-to-nice looking intro sites would probably help. And an RHDN youtube channel, too. (To that end, the effort to interview hackers is an interesting one that needs to keep going! ;D ) Maybe a true wikipedia-style knowledge base would do better than a forum,too. It would mean a ton of work, but work that could be done by someone in the learning.
- Also a note that, when I came here, I didn't think it was possible to translate games like we do now. (That may be backwards compared to newbs that come asking for a translation the day after release of a Japanese game, but I'm sure I'm not the only one among those who value the amount of work to be done because they have even a limited understanding.)
- From these will probably rise the need to explain some of the computer / math / logic things we expect people to have as a minimum knowledge.
- I believe in common tools, like Nightcrawler started to advertise with the table standard and TextAngel (any news on that?), and Atlas+Cartographer or crazy QuickBMS started to propose implementations.
- I've stayed very shy on the sharing of source code,or even info. Probably due to the nature of what we're talking about. Not sure how that can improve.

FAST, I'm starting to pick up your long post habits...  8)

zonk47

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2016, 01:57:37 pm »
The doc situation is indeed quite serious. NES technical documentation is strewn about this site, nesdev, Zophar and a couple other places.

It might be helpful to have a kind of "learning tree" for newcomers to follow on their road to technical familiarity, with nodes branching out from an "intro" into more in-depth topics.

I think there may also be room for new technologies. We're using tools designed in the early 2000s (with some exceptions), despite the fact that many of those designs were held back by hardware limitations. If we could develop tools that could make rom hacking seem less overwhelming, that might encourage more experimentation.
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FAST6191

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2016, 05:31:46 pm »
I would have said the NES is the least worrisome platform, give or take some of the FDS stuff, until you hit things like chip8. After that it is SNES, anything http://problemkaputt.de/ has tackled, MAME/MESS and the older "home computers" and then it gets fun.

On a "tree" then I am not sure how much different it would ultimately be to what http://www.romhacking.net/start/ has now.

"If we could develop tools that could make rom hacking seem less overwhelming"
Tile editors are about as basic as they are going to get*, I am not seeing how assembly could get much easier**, atlas and cartographer (or kruptar and oriton) are as complex as they are by necessity ( http://transcorp.romhacking.net/scratchpad/Table%20File%20Format.txt makes as convincing a case as any), a hex editor is a hex editor and as we have had to say on many occasions are hardly elegant tools but brutally simple things without much nuance to them. This leaves getting debuggers up to scratch (we have had high level discussions before but "like fceux but for ?" is what it usually boils down to or going down the path of pokemon hacking, which is to say lots of tools but not much for those wanting to learn hacking.
"We're using tools designed in the early 2000s" and it shows in the UI and languages used but I am not seeing the great issues/new things afforded by improved hardware beyond being able to emulate newer systems -- even something as powerful as IDA we largely saw in X86 at least in the late 1980's if you left debug flags in. It is nice being able to do a find and replace in a fraction of a second or a full relinking search but they are niceties on the high end rather than lowering the bar type changes.
Several have considered some kind of code fragments written in python or something to help people with building their own game specific tools but this is perhaps a slightly different matter.

*there is a tile viewer called tileggd which eschews console naming conventions (NES 2bpp, GBA 8BPP....) in favour of more graphics and code focused approaches (in the end there are only so many ways to order alpha, define the number of bits per pixel and whether said bits are in big or little endian after all) and gains a tiny bit of flexibility in the process.

**I guess if someone wants to develop GBAATM and DSATM style cheat injection tools for older platforms but with a more ROM hacking twist it could help, not by much though. ROM hacking is hardly a good candidate for HLA style ( http://www.plantation-productions.com/Webster/HighLevelAsm/index.html ) "libraries" either.

"a couple of videos"
I like video, I like film making, I would consider myself reasonably proficient at editing video and I also like ROM hacking and would consider myself reasonably proficient there too. Despite thinking about it on several occasions now I am at a complete loss on how to make a worthwhile hacking tutorial video though, save for things I could probably summarise in a paragraph. If someone can crack that though (choice video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFfq2zblGXw ) then I am there.
More generally then sure you hear stories of people discovering emulation or people discovering translated games despite using emulators/hacked devices for years but the awareness among those sets is not bad, even if ROM hacking= user driven translation/localisation more often than might be ideal. Raising a bit of awareness there is not a bad thing and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmLi8Mx7Yf0 makes me cringe every time* (some seem to like it though) but is one of the more popular examples of non translation hacking out there.

*I figure it must be like what the youtube safety patrol feel when they see various machining and woodwork channels.

CM30

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2016, 07:25:43 pm »
More ambitious projects.

Yeah, vague, but people tend to be interested in things like this if they see a bunch of awesome looking games or hacks in development. For instance, URA Zelda brought a lot of people to the Ocarina of Time hacking scene, since they saw the trailers and coverage on fan sites and wanted to try something similar. Brutal Mario inspired a lot of people to hack Super Mario World, as did the other impressive mods of old.  People wanted to make Super Mario 64 mods after Super Mario Star Road came out.

So you want ambitious ROM hacks that basically promise the world and make for good Youtube viewing. Which also appeals to the media and to famous Let's Play creators on Youtube and other sites.

Of course, most of these projects would never get finished... but hey, you'll get an influx of members!  And free press coverage!

Another possibility is to try and modernise things like the site layout, the UI of the various tools, etc.  Okay, the command line interface is cool for programmers and people who grew up in the 80s, and the current ROM Hacking.net layout is certainly usable.  But people like minimalism, flat design, lots of icons and effects, etc. Basically, reskin the average ROM hacking tool so it looks more like an iPhone app. And redo the average ROM hacking site so it looks like something made by Apple, or Google, or Facebook or whoever.

Talking of apps, making ROM hacking something doable on smartphones would help a lot.  Like it or not, the desktop PC and tablet are losing out to smartphones and mobile apps, and the fact that ROM hacking is literally impossible on the latter is not helping newbies get into it.
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Isao Kronos

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2016, 07:36:44 pm »
much like pimpin', romhacking ain't easy

zonk47

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2016, 08:44:29 pm »
http://www.romhacking.net/documents/37/ - this document is in text format. I open it and Notepad comes up with it messed up due to DOS-style formatting. Of course it opens fine in Notepad++, but where in the previous documents did we tell people to install that? These documents are but a small selection of the 100 or more docs available for the NES alone. I agree that the learners guide is a good starting point, but people waste hours trying to hunt down additional info, which is scattered all over the place. I also think maybe a little too much is being made of the complexity of ASM (which it's not, just time consuming). A proper intro to ASM, to my mind, would take an "A+ study guide" approach, with detailed, professional diagrams which focus on the components of the system and work down (while avoiding the stuff that only emulator authors actually need to know). "ASM for NES hackers", "for SNES hackers", etc.

Quote from: CM30
Talking of apps, making ROM hacking something doable on smartphones would help a lot.  Like it or not, the desktop PC and tablet are losing out to smartphones and mobile apps, and the fact that ROM hacking is literally impossible on the latter is not helping newbies get into it.

Agree on this 100%.

On the technical side, I think the further opportunities lie in dissassembly. We have RAM capacity now to mark code characteristics that we didn't before, which can be used for visualization and documenting. And, we have much better ability to manage CD-ROM binaries than we did 10 years ago. One note about the debuggers as they stand: I notice that they try to interpret ROM as code without verifying it's not data. I don't think they should try, unless that information has already been processed. Instead, I think they should only process up to the next unconditional jump. A lot more attention needs to be paid to the "cartography" aspect of disassembly.
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FAST6191

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2016, 09:04:34 pm »
Okay, the command line interface is cool for programmers and people who grew up in the 80s

Talking of apps, making ROM hacking something doable on smartphones would help a lot.  Like it or not, the desktop PC and tablet are losing out to smartphones and mobile apps, and the fact that ROM hacking is literally impossible on the latter is not helping newbies get into it.
People do not stick with command line because it looks cool on TV but because it is still one of the best ways for heavy automation and combining tasks, something with ROM hacking does in spades, and something the average graphical UI fails spectacularly in facilitating (3 clicks to do something is 3000 clicks if I have 1000 sections to treat, or a couple of minutes to build a script or even the option to feed a directory/naming wildcard into a command line). I have seen the effects of people trying to solve the problem in the freeware video world as well and it usually ends up with people creating their own poor quasi scripting language which is never good (see also the endless security woes of PDF readers for a similar story).

Anyway screen resolution is now these but can I expect mouse like precision and keyboard like variability on said andrios devices? That would probably be the biggest stumbling block.

As for the "But people like minimalism, flat design, lots of icons and effects, etc. Basically, reskin the average ROM hacking tool so it looks more like an iPhone app. And redo the average ROM hacking site so it looks like something made by Apple, or Google, or Facebook or whoever." I have to wonder if that is not the side effects but not the cause, or if you prefer I see people ask about making popular youtube channels and some chime up with talk of schedules where most would say schedules come as a result and are not the cause.

Now if you want to talk about end users then absolutely are things lacking. Something rock solid or even reference grade, preferably all in one, for applying IPS, Xdelta, bsdiff, ups and I guess PPF patches, preferably with patches housed in archives to ROMs presently located in archives too, really needs to be made for andrios (and a backport to the PC would probably not hurt either). That would solve a lot of problems and probably without too much effort, give or take some of the oddities of PPF and IPS.

much like pimpin', romhacking ain't easy
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zonk47

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2016, 10:12:37 pm »
I agree that command line is good for batch tasks, but it's implemented poorly on Windows (always has been). Path variables are something people are loathe to experiment with; cmd is a pain to copy to every directory; and nobody wants to deal with path names running into the hundreds of characters. Maybe a "hacking station": a build of Linux designed specifically for hackers, with all the necessary tools pre-installed and ready to go?

There is just so much anymore that has to be learned from the outset... you have to have degrees in both comp sci history and comp sci itself to know where to begin (unless you grew up with it).
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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #15 on: February 26, 2016, 11:33:50 pm »
I agree that command line is good for batch tasks, but it's implemented poorly on Windows (always has been). Path variables are something people are loathe to experiment with; cmd is a pain to copy to every directory; and nobody wants to deal with path names running into the hundreds of characters.

I don't agree with this at all. Windows Command line can easily be set up if you take the time to learn. Just as easy as Linux and in some cases, easier. Why the hell would you copy cmd to every directory?? (In file explorer, in any folder, as long as no files are selected, shift+right-click open command prompt here... Or make a batch file using a relative path.) And long path names? Just put your files elsewhere-- but this is not really relevant if you know what you're doing either.

There is always more to learn. I just posted a video on YouTube about locating and changing pointer tables... If people want more like that, I can work on other topics. Video editing isn't my favorite thing, but I can at least get the information together.

Here's the post with video tutorial: http://www.romhacking.net/forum/index.php/topic,7783.msg298509.html#msg298509
« Last Edit: February 27, 2016, 12:03:17 am by DackR »

dACE

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #16 on: February 27, 2016, 06:23:16 am »
The only reason, as I see it, to engage in romhacking is because YOU yourself want to modify a existing game/program to your specific liking. If others appreciate the hack, that should be considered a bonus - not the main objective of the project.

With that in mind, why would we increase interest in hacking? So that people would be reminded to go back and 'fix' the old games from their youth? For who - if not for themselves?

/dACE

FAST6191

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #17 on: February 27, 2016, 07:32:25 am »
I agree that command line is good for batch tasks, but it's implemented poorly on Windows (always has been). Path variables are something people are loathe to experiment with; cmd is a pain to copy to every directory; and nobody wants to deal with path names running into the hundreds of characters. Maybe a "hacking station": a build of Linux designed specifically for hackers, with all the necessary tools pre-installed and ready to go?

There is just so much anymore that has to be learned from the outset... you have to have degrees in both comp sci history and comp sci itself to know where to begin (unless you grew up with it).

Powershell makes up for a lot but I am not inclined to foist that on people. Also yeah Linux's various command lines are far better thought out (proper wildcards, proper pipes, symbolic links worth the effort, some easier ways to do some basic logic... all things I miss when playing with the windows command line) but the issues you bring up are non issues from where I sit. DackR took most of them but long names can be annoying, fortunately I can mount folders as drives (if I don't already outright have another drive/partition on the system I can use for fiddling), somewhere along the line windows gained tab autocomplete and good old relative mode is fine as well.

History of computer science... I have never been one for web dev and reading http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/a-brief-history-of-html5--net-23064 (or something like it) was pretty eye opening and taught me a lot. In this case though the history having already happened means it should not take long to learn enough of it. Similarly it is all coming back around again, save perhaps for BCD, as programmable electronics rises up so it is not like you have to read some arcane 1970's/1980's.

"Why would we increase interest in hacking?"
I like hacks, I like having people to share complex or tedious tasks with and often enough people showcase things I might never have seen. More people means more of that so I am quite onboard with attracting more people and considering how to do so.

Nightcrawler

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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #18 on: February 27, 2016, 10:11:05 am »
http://www.romhacking.net/documents/37/ - this document is in text format. I open it and Notepad comes up with it messed up due to DOS-style formatting. Of course it opens fine in Notepad++, but where in the previous documents did we tell people to install that?

That's not DOS-style anything... That document simply uses Unix style line-breaks rather than Windows. That would be true for any text file created in a Unix/Linux environment made today if they used the default line-breaks. Notepad handles windows style line breaks only. This problem is not related to ROM hacking or outdated documents, but general computing platform differences.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newline#Common_problems
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Re: How to increase interest in hacking?
« Reply #19 on: February 27, 2016, 11:14:29 am »
With that in mind, why would we increase interest in hacking? So that people would be reminded to go back and 'fix' the old games from their youth? For who - if not for themselves?
Just because I have more games I'd love to see translated than I can translated, and it so happens there are others who love these games too.
Rephrased maybe better to the point: I'd raise interest in others for this just to get free presents in return, in the form of hacks or translations. Is that egocentric enough? ;D