ROM Hacks: Family Basic hacks for NES released

Started by RHDNBot, August 21, 2022, 09:02:52 AM

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Update By: tygerbug

Home-made games for the NES are as old as the NES itself. In Japan, the console was of course known as the Family Computer, or Famicom, and there were plans in 1982-83 to release it with a keyboard and floppy drive (or cassette recorder), which were cancelled because this might seem intimidating to casual consumers. Plans for Atari to release the system in the US with a keyboard, cassette recorder, and joystick were also cancelled.

But the system got its keyboard with Family BASIC, released by Hudson Soft in 1984. This was originally Playbox BASIC, bundled with Sharp televisions, a version which is now rare. Family BASIC V2 allowed for users to program their own minigames within a limited 2k of RAM, and using a fixed set of graphics derived from games like Mario Bros. A background editor, message board, music board and built-in games were also included. The system allowed for saving and loading programs via audio tape. 1985's Family Basic V3, which allowed for 4k RAM rather than 2K, is also rare.

Many copycat systems followed, such as some Subor and Dendy systems sold in China and Russia in the 90s and 00s, with bootleg cartridges like Braversoft Windows 2000, which resembled a Windows PC.

In the 80s and 90s, magazines for programming hobbyists would often include programs that you could type in yourself at home. Japan's Micom BASIC magazine often featured clever minigames for the Famicom in Family BASIC format, published over three pages or so, and running about 100 lines of code. In some cases this was early work from programmers who went on to work on more famous properties.

Recently, efforts by ozidual and others at Gaming Alexandria have shed more light on this early amateur NES programming subculture, by transcribing minigames published in now-rare magazines and converting them to standalone NES ROMs. Over 100 minigames have been preserved so far, preserved at the Internet Archive by ozidual, and a Typing Taskforce effort is underway at the Gaming Alexandria Discord.

Romhacking now also features four Family Basic hacks from Garrett Gilchrist, which preserve some of these minigames with new hacked graphics to enrich the experience. This includes an "Among Us" hack of "The Tragedy of Ryohyukan," a 1993 effort in which you must find imposters before they kill the rest of the crew. There also the 1987 mini-RPG "Excalibur 2: Get Even with Dragon," in which you fight monsters and find three legendary swords to level up, fight a dragon and rescue your fiancée. Finally, to show it's still being done today, there's two recent 2022 efforts programmed by Masando, recreating Tetris and the early SNK arcade game Woodcutter Yosaku.

These preserved minigames provide a fascinating glimpse into the little-discussed early homebrew subculture of the NES/Famicom in the 80s and 90s, and beyond.

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Nintendo had a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure thing of Dragon Warrior in an issue of Nintendo Power. That would work great as a Family Basic game!