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What happened to ROMhacking culture?

Started by BlazeHeatnix, June 01, 2019, 09:00:19 PM

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No, I don't mean the website's culture. I'm talking about the culture behind romhacks themselves. If you look at many of the hacks made prior to 2009 or so, most of them are either spoofs or trying to remake the game into something original.

Here's 3 romhacks for Simon's Quest from 1998-2002:
Notice that the first and third are spoofs that add in a bunch of things from other NES games and changes much of the text to be mostly edgy or unfunny one-liners. These kinds of hacks were VERY common back in the day, especially with RPGs like Final Fantasy. The second is a total conversion with a new story, new sprites, and new level design. It's not even labeled as a Castlevania game anymore.

But then, compare the most recent hacks from 2016-2018:
These hacks are taken much more seriously in approach. They don't do anything wholly original: rather they're focused on taking the game that's already there, and improving it in an objectively superior way. The goal of these hacks is to rewrite history. To be so seamless that they make you believe this is what the game was all along. To combine with each other to make what will eventually be the "definitive" version of the game that everyone plays by default.

Another example is Mega Man 1. Sorted by date, take a look at how the hacks for this game have changed since 2001. We've gone from people remaking the game into brand new MM games with new graphics to just...adding the Rockman title screen and changing the R to an M. Something as simple as a title screen edit is getting more and more popular nowadays. 15 years ago, such a hack would've been considered so minor and so pointless it probably would've been rejected by whoever hosted the hack.

So, I have to wonder how this change in hacking philosophy came about. It kinda fascinates me. What was the catalyst? Was it Sonic 3 Complete? Simon's Quest: Redacted? I'm not trying to suggest that new or old hacks are better, I'm just genuinely curious looking at how people's tastes have changed.


I think it's because a lot of us grew up and the spoofs where viewed as a waste of time, rightly so..


I don't feel like it has to do with tastes honestly. :laugh:

I think it's because people have been getting more advanced at ROM hacking.

Back then there weren't as many tools and resources as there are now. And there are lots of people who really want to create their own version of their favorite game! :D And they are available to now, with the current knowledge and resources provided on this site.

The more time passes, it'll only get even more advanced. 8)

Though those types of simple hacks from simpler times are fun and nostalgic every once and a while. :laugh:


I think to some extent it has to do with more people knowing at least a little assembly. Older hacks were more asset-focused (text, graphics, maps, etc). I feel like there are more behavior-focused hacks now that involve modifying existing routines or creating new ones. Doesn't explain everything you mentioned, but I think it at least explains part of it.

Sliver X

Quote from: Reld on June 01, 2019, 09:46:44 PM
I think to some extent it has to do with more people knowing at least a little assembly. Older hacks were more asset-focused (text, graphics, maps, etc). I feel like there are more behavior-focused hacks now that involve modifying existing routines or creating new ones. Doesn't explain everything you mentioned, but I think it at least explains part of it.

This, basically.

Back in the Dark Ages, knowledge of assembly was extremely rare. This was due to lack of documentation more than anything, in combination with a lack of good debuggers/IDEs to work with.

Emulators like NESticle allowed non-programmers to create their own graphics edits, and utilities like Hexposure and Thingy allowed easy text editing. While a handful of good hacks were made at this time, most were poor (And typically immature as hell) graphics edits and/or spoofs.

A bit later the first level editing utilites started to show up (Mario Improvement being the first one I can recall), so that started becoming a prolific feature in hacks.

I remember things started getting better for assembly level hacking when Parasyte created a debugger and bolted it on to FCE Ultra (FCEUD), which was then further improved by bbitmaster (FCEUXD): For the first time good, powerful debugging capabilities were available and hacks that would have been fantasies just a few years earlier were suddenly pretty easy to pull off if you read a few documents.

It's easy to take for granted how relatively easy it is to find utilities and information now unless you were there in the 90s/early 2000s. The tools available now vs when the old hacks were done is like comparing an atlatl to an assault rifle in terms of technical sophistication and power.

As far as hacks that create original games and such: I can't stress how fucking difficult and time consuming it is to do a "total conversion" type of hack: Those have never been common, at least ones that were ever completed.

(As an aside, Vengeance on Hell is what originally inspired me to do conversion type hacks: The quality wasn't very good, but it showed me that much more was possible with ROM hacking than the naked Mario and racist as hell hacks that were common at the time).


Another thing is perhaps that in the early days, ROM hackers were assumed to be mostly teenagers. Probably some were older.

Whereas now some of those same teenagers are still in the scene but well-grown adults, perhaps with different tastes in humor.
Among the younger ROM hackers, creating another generation.
"My watch says 30 chickens" Google, 2018


Thoughtful spoof and glitch hacks that present the game in a new light are very difficult to make.
You need something pretty spectacular, or spectacularly offensive, to achieve lasting recognition in the game's fanbase.


I've been working, mostly alone, on the same complete new game hack of FFIV for 6.5 years now.

Sometimes I have daydreams of starting a new spoof hack that could be doine entirely on FF4kster in under a year, but it doesn't seem like a worthwhile use of my time. At least I will enjoy the thing I'm working on whenever I finally finish it.

By the way, one of my earliest ventures into ROM hacking, 1998 while I was a freshman in college:
Ongoing project: "Final Fantasy IV: A Threat From Within"

Latest Demo


I can only speak for the Prince Of Persia DOS and SNES hacks, as I have worked on that modding community and have made at least one hack for the SNES port. For both systems they have done some wonderful hacks, and most of them try to tell a different story and expand what its possible for gameplay, without necessarily fixing ''broken'' stuff.
My own SNES hack has a different story (within the limits of what its shown, as custom sprites is still not a possibility, but custom palettes are), at least one original tune composed by myself and some new mechanics in addition to the old ones, just to try to bring something different and maybe fresh for this hack.
Coming Soon: The Beatles Adventures In Pepperland (SMB2 NES Hack with Nesdraug!)
Prince Of Persia: 30th Anniversary Port. Download it today!: viewtopic.php?f=116&t=4535
Prince of Persia: The Queen Of Light. Download it today! viewtopic.php?f=116&t=4270&p=25473#p25440


I definitely agree that the amount of tools and info has grown dramatically over the years. There wasn't even a 16th about of documents and knowledge out there in the 90s and early 2000s as it is now. I aslo agree that it was mostly teenagers and young adults in college who did a lot of the hacking back then. I know my own personal schedule was very busy back then with working multiple jobs and taking care of family to invest must time hacking. Now that my life has slowed down some, I have a little more free time to work on a hack. I also see there are more people close to my age that are doing more hacks. Their tastes have changed from back in the day. Games are being reimagined in exciting ways, and I think it's a big plus for the hacking community. Soon, all hacks from pre hd days will be able to be done for hd.  I look forward to seeing how things continue to develop.
Trust in the Heart of the Cards


I have to agree with the consensus here: the average age of ROM hackers has risen precisely because the most popular systems to hack are getting older. If you think about it, the most likely person in the year 2000 who would be interested in hacking an NES game would be someone who remembers it from their childhood, and at that time they would likely be no older than 20. Naturally, give some teenage nerds the chance to hack a game and the likely result is boobs, swearing and Nazis. :D

Two decades on from that, I can't imagine there are many teenage boys wanting to hack the NES for nostalgia. The idea of a 35-year-old father making Super Dickio Brothers is... unlikely. :) But of course, the technology aspect is very important too. I can't imagine hacking the SNES without bsnes-plus, and as good as Nesticle was with its debugging features, it still can't have been all that accurate. So yeah, those two factors are key.


I'm waiting for the year 2050. By then we are all grumpy old people that make rom hacks like ''Stroller Mario'' . In wich Mario walks around with a stroler at half speed. Make a version of Final Fantasy with constant reminders becouse people at the age of 80 have amnesia. Also there will be The Legend of Zelda with Link carying a cane instead of a sword.
Interesting topic.


I am loving this topic. I remember playing a dirty romhack of Link's Awakening years ago. Definitely not my favored method of hacking (I prefer translation) but some of the difficulty hacks and such could get really interesting. I believe the community has improved as a whole and is all the better for it.  :thumbsup:
Currently working on Project Hacker: Kakusei.


People have grown up, times have changed, and people have gotten more serious when it comes to romhacking. We also have better tools, so we can change more of the game now.


I'll provide an example since it just came up in another thread.
About a half billion years ago when I was still a teenager I worked on a hack for Castlevania called "Castlevania Extreme".
Now that a vital component to my concept has been figured out, I'm going to go back and finish it.
But I have no intention of using that title.
It's just so juvenile and cliche sounding to me now.
I'd never even think of using that title now.


I was not around for the earlier days of ROM hacking (was around for games of the era -- I have hundreds of hours in carmageddon for instance) so can't do the "I was there, man" thing here too much. Some of my earlier memories of playing hacks (several years before I got into hacking in earnest) do include several of these.

Ask me what my favourite hack is and to this day the first thing that pops into my head is the Link gets laid hack for the gameboy (probably the one CrackZero was referring to). This is of all hacks, not just spoofs. Given half a chance I will also sneak it into pictures if I am doing a review of something that involves a GB/GBC emulator.

That said I will not bemoan the passing of spoof hacks from prominence. Were people in a hurry to forget that era I would however be one to keep it memory. I can't say I feel especially compelled to work up spoof hacks (my focuses would be general pulling apart of games, and improving them sometimes as well), though if I am doing a proof of concept then the draw will be there to make it one for that.