An Introduction to ROMhacking
By Ti Dragon
Ti Dragon's speaking... Hey, it's me, Ti Dragon! Come on, do not run away. Well, alright *hm*. I did not expect anyone here to know me (that would have been surprising... oh, well). I would like to write a small introduction to the fantastic world of romhacking in which I spend most of my spare time. Indeed, I come from the French Romhacking scene. What am I doing here? Well, I post news about French romhacking, I manage the website where I post those news (but I AM NOT the webmaster - http://traf.romhack.org/ for those who want to have a look). I'm also a basic romhacker and a translator (you'll see why later).
Though it seems to have nothing to do with the Demo Scene, Romhacking can be interesting for its 'technical' aspect.
What is ROMhacking (and, sometimes, ISOhacking)?
The words ROMhacking and ISOhacking are made of two words. Think of a ROM (Read Only Memory) as an electronic structure (a game cartridge, for example) saved as a hexadecimal file usable on a computer via an emulator. ISO is typically the image of a CD. Both terms, in our case, are related to gaming. As for "hacking", this word frightens people because it often refers to piracy. Originally, this is just about modifying a file without having the source code. We also call this "reverse-engineering".
ROM-hacking and ISO-hacking simply mean "modification of a console game without any source code". Most of the time, you can hear (well, "read" actually) "romhacking" for anything related to the modification of a console game.
Why do you "romhack"?
Modifying a game is what every gamer wants... Eer, sorry... kind of. The reasons are simple. Virtually, you can:
- enhance or decrease the difficulty of a game (infinite amount of money for
Shining Force 2, yahooooo!!),
- edit maps of the game,
- edit graphics, more generally,
- translate a game from incomprehensible Japanese to a cool fine and nice English language (or others, to your convenience),
- edit sounds (yes! sometimes...)
The "easiest" thing to do is to translate games. And this is what you can see most of the time if you look through the internet (enter "romhacking" or "romhack" in your favourite search engine bar, then you'll see). I don't think speaking of the technique to translate games would be a relevant idea to present the so-called "romhacking scene". You'll find technical information in the links given below. Romhacking can be easy (the data appears "clearly" in any hexadecimal editor, the main tool for a romhacker) or sometimes very hard (the script and gfx are compressed - the main difficulty is to find what compression scheme is used, how to extract / insert the scripts, etc.).
Let's see the result of what we can get:
- Seiken Densetsu 3 (Super NES - Neill Corlett)
Excellent Action RPG. Very nice example of GFX romhacking for the title screen.
- Tales of Phantasia (Super NES - Dejap)
One of the best RPG on this console: features excellent gfx and sounds. In-battle menus translated.
- Wonder Project J (Super NES - Wackdhacks)
Very wierd yet surprising and addictive RPG. Main menu texts / Prologue text.
- Sylvan Tale (Game Gear - AGTP)
Nice Action RPG on Game Gear (which is something quite rare). Dialogues.
- Monster World VI - Wonder Boy IV (Megadrive - Neo Demiforce)
Famous Platform RPG. It kicks ass! Prologue.
Star Ocean was sound-romhacked by Dejap (but never released due to data loss). Some attempt has been made on Tales of Phantasia voices as well. Wonder Project J was also sound-hacked (by another group of people) but the project has never been fulfilled.
You may understand that most of translated games are RPGs because players need to understand the scenario, where to go, what to do, etc.
Oooh, nice! Who can do such things?
Actually, anyone can start with "easy romhacking" by reading some tutorials, step by step (see below). Then, you may translate your favourite NES game or simply change its texts because you don't like the way they are. You may also change the horrible face of your (nevertheless) favourite hero...
However, to perform advanced romhacking, you'll need to study the architecture of the consoles you want to romhack when it's about compression and stuff like that (for example, ASM like Z80 or Motorola 68000). You'll also need to be good at programming (your own software and tools, although some generic ones already exist - they're made specifically for translation purposes by people who have spent a bit of time in the romhacking scene). One more suggestion: use your brain...
A romhacker can't do a thing (well, kind of) if he does not have a translator and someone good at graphics (except if HE can translate as well and / or edit graphics).
Those two two three people can enjoy working together: they'll make something great for sure.
Where can I find docs/tools/groups?
"Gimme, gimme, gimmeeeeeeee!" (a romhacker after midniiiiiiight - famous song)!
Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of websites you should give a look (sorry if I forgot anyone):
Romhacking.com - The Repository (was www.romhacking.com but the domain expired): This is where you can get documents, tutorials, tools, etc. about romhacking. The website will soon merge with 'The Whirlpool' to be re-designed (most likely, it will be found on www.romhacking.net).
Eidolon's Inn: This website is SEGA oriented. You can find many tools/tutorials/docs about all the SEGA consoles.
Dorando: A HUGE international translation patchs database (also: emulators, video game companies, ROMs, systems, etc.).
The Whirlpool The US scene. You want to be daily (or so) informed about Jap -> US translation patches? Then go there! You may also ask for help in order to fulfill your projects.
T.R.A.F: The French scene (news, tools, tutorials, etc.).
BR Games: The Brazilian (Portuguese) scene (news, tools, tutorials, etc.).
Todo Traducciones: The Spanish scene (news, tools, tutorials, etc.).
The German Alternative: The German scene (news, tools, tutorials, etc.).
Clomax Dominion: The Italian scene (news, tools, tutorials, etc.).
Shedevr Translations: The Russian scene (seems to be... Also a very active translation group).
GreekRoms: The Greek scene (news, tools, tutorials, etc.).
ROM hacking - Wikipedia: A small introduction to the romhacking community / method.
ROM hack city - Wikicities: The same as above.
Nobis Crew - Pixel's Romhacking Wiki: Another (yet older) wiki about romhacking. By now, it's mostly Playstation oriented (one of only a few websites about it).
Zophar's Domain: While focused on emulation, this website is a fairly nice romhacking/translation resource (a bit old though).
Aeon Genesis Translation Proclamation (AKA AGTP...) The 1000-translation Man's website. The webmaster is just crazy but we love him this way. You can find many translations made by this group here.
Troughout the net, you may also find famous groups like Dejap, Transcorp, J2E, Magic Destiny, RPGOne, etc. or people like Lord Tech, Gideon Zhi, Dark Force, F.H, Nightcrawler, Neo Demiforce, Neill Corlett, Cyber Warrior X, Mr. D, Byuu, etc. I can't list every website and every romhacker of this world. I'm really sorry for those I could not mention here.