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-   -   On The Essence of ROM Hacking (http://www.zophar.net/forums/showthread.php?t=10584)

InVerse 03-14-2009 02:44 AM

On The Essence of ROM Hacking
 
This is something I wrote a few years ago. Based on a couple of current threads, I thought it might be a good idea to repost it on this forum.


ON THE ESSENCE OF ROM HACKING

Often times, people ask for help on a messageboard and donít understand why the answers they seek arenít placed in their lap, wrapped up in a nice, neat package with a shiny silver bow. These people only see the end result of romhacking, they miss the underlying process that is the very essence of romhacking.

What many people fail to realize is that hacking is all about the process, not the outcome. Hacking is a journey, not a destination. Itís about figuring out technology, not manipulating it. Downloading a level editor and using it to modify a game is not hacking, no matter how great the final result.

Hacking is about taking a piece of technology, a game for instance, ripping it to shreds and figuring out how it works. The person who uncovers the data used to build a level editor is a hacker. The person who uses that editor is not. At best, theyíre a low-grade designer, a tracer of someone elseís art.

Iím not trying to rip on people who like to use level editors, do whatever it is you enjoy. Iím just trying to show you the viewpoint of the average romhacker and explain why they expect you to put some effort into finding the information you need to do whatever it is you hope to accomplish.

No successful romhacker was taught how to romhack. They may have received personal lessons on a specific subject, but nobody babied them through the entire process with step-by-step instructions on what to do. Learning to hack requires, above all else, a desire to figure things out for yourself.

This isnít to say youíre on your own. On the contrary, learning to romhack is now easier than ever before, thanks to a wide variety of tools and tutorials. The first thing you should do is get a good tutorial and read all of it. Once youíve done that, then feel free to ask questions about anything you donít understand. If you havenít read a tutorial and at least attempted to figure it out, however, any questions about what to do will invariably result in being told to read such-and-such tutorial.

Hacking requires a particular mindset. A hacker must be capable of figuring things out on their own and must have a burning desire to learn. Without these qualities, youíll never make it far, either losing interest or just treading water in the shallow end with the most basic techniques. Not everyone is capable of being a romhacker, no matter how badly they might want to be.

Thereís an old joke that goes ďHow do I get to Carnegie Hall?Ē ďWith lots and lots of practice.Ē Well, you learn to hack by hacking. You might wonder how you can do something if you havenít learned how to do it yet, but thatís the very nature of the beast. When you were a baby, nobody taught you how to walk, you just kept trying until you figured it out. And just like youíll occasionally trip and stumble as an adult, even the most accomplished romhacker will routinely screw something up or run into a problem when hacking a ROM. No matter how advanced your skills might become, when you stop learning new things, you stop being a hacker.

So decide what it is you want to be. If itís a hacker, then get out there and hack. If you just want to design games, then do so. But remember: You couldnít do what you do without romhackers, but they hack to satisfy their own pursuits. So feel free to ask for a particular bit of information, but remember, no one is obligated to find it for you.

k0k0them0nkey 03-14-2009 12:55 PM

Very true. When using a level editor, you're definitely not hacking. But then again, it could go deeper. If you're using a hex editor someone else made...is that hacking? You're relying on an editor that someone else programmed. I guess what is and isn't hacking is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. Most of the games I use are just graphics and text so far, but I'm learning so much each time and have fun with it. I agree with a lot of what you said...especially the figuring things out by yourself thing. The people who rely on level editors probably wouldn't be the same people who sit there corrupting bit by bit to try and get a reaction from the game. I think a lot are looking for the easy score. I'm no expert yet so if I said anything stupid, just give me an e-crotch punch.

InVerse 03-14-2009 01:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by k0k0them0nkey (Post 87364)
Very true. When using a level editor, you're definitely not hacking. But then again, it could go deeper. If you're using a hex editor someone else made...is that hacking? You're relying on an editor that someone else programmed.

The difference between using a hex editor and using a level editor is that a hex editor doesn't actually know how the file you're editing works, whereas a level editor does. So to use a hex editor, you're still hacking because you're figuring out how the file you're hex editing is built. Of course, if you were given a bookmark file for a particular file (or were following a ROM map) then editing the hex under those circumstances wouldn't qualify as hacking either, because you're not trying to figure anything out.

I think a good analogy is this: Knowing how to mix particular chemicals together with pigments to form paint doesn't make you an artist. Knowing how to apply paint to a canvas to form a beautiful portrait doesn't make you a scientist. One can certainly be both, but most aren't.

Reaper man 03-14-2009 06:16 PM

I like this. *waves a magic wand* POOF!

Koolboyman 03-15-2009 09:10 AM

Very well put! I approve your message :)

It is very tough at times to figure out how a game is put together when nobody else has already. Using programs is more "game modification" than hacking in my opinion.

gqfan2009 04-06-2009 12:02 PM

This is a great information. I am a gratefully user of the hacking results (level editors ....). You guys earned the respect of the emu-users!

Lazy Bastard 04-17-2009 03:39 PM

Nice bit. Mind if I add it to the Library on GSHI.org?

InVerse 04-19-2009 01:48 PM

Feel free, though I'd appreciate if you could include a link to Suicidal Translations with it.

Gil-Galad 05-16-2009 04:37 PM

I somewhat agree and disagree with what was stated about level editors. While it's true, the more easier to use editors are often used by people that really don't know how to hack. On the other hand, I'd rather use a level editor as it's way less tedious than editing via a hex editor, or dealing with compression, etc. When there are times when I would rather concentrate on the design, than the technical aspects of the ROM.

Also, some people consider cheat codes as not hacking. I mostly disagree with that statement and opinion. For example, NES Game Genie codes. Yes, you probably could enter in random letters/numbers and even modify existing codes using letters. However, this method tends to be unreliable with various side effects.

So, that being said, you really have to hack a game in order to make decent cheat codes. I've made a number of them myself and have done minor ASM hacks in order to make sure that said codes work and only apply to a certain bank(s).

I've been around for along time, and I know all about the division and difference of opinion between the hacking community and the translation hacking community. For as long as I can remember, other hackers really haven't gotten the respect that they deserve until the last few years.

Noted that NESticle pattern table editing doesn't take much skill, but is still an aid to help people edit games. So, you could say that NESticle more or less is accessable to hackers both skilled and unskilled alike. Just like level editors would be.

I myself, I do a broad variety of game hacking, on a few systems, but mostly NES/Famicom type games. I find merit in each of these things that I do.

Fla Flash 05-17-2009 03:34 PM

I agree with you, but not totally. I'm leaning a little more toward Inverse's statement. I've previously edited with a hex editor, but the current game I'm working on has a gazillion premade editors - which I'm taking advantage of.
I don't consider myself a romhacker..I'm a game modifier. I like making the play more difficult and challenging. Therefore, the precreated editors work perfectly for me.

Gil-Galad 05-17-2009 04:25 PM

Hey there, Fla Flash, long time no see.

I've been tinkering with a lot of editors myself, off and on. My FF3 US SNES hack is about the farthest along. However, I'm considering on starting from scratch since it's way too hard. I've been trying to rethink my approach of hacking the game.

hx2 06-15-2009 04:51 AM

Hi, i'm new in this endless journey of rom hacking, or what i like to call it, "game editing." I would love to get a tutorial in order to do it, because is easy just to ask someone to do it, but I would like to do it in order to appreciate the work, and they say' "if you want something to be done perfectly, then do it yourself." I join this domain in order to find help and for lots of advice. If there is someone that can teach me it will be eternally appreciated. (Sorry about the misspelling or bad language, but English is my second lenguage.)

Gil 06-15-2009 07:29 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by hx2 (Post 90297)
Hi, i'm new in this endless journey of rom hacking, or what i like to call it, "game editing." I would love to get a tutorial in order to do it, because is easy just to ask someone to do it, but I would like to do it in order to appreciate the work, and they say' "if you want something to be done perfectly, then do it yourself." I join this domain in order to find help and for lots of advice. If there is someone that can teach me it will be eternally appreciated. (Sorry about the misspelling or bad language, but English is my second lenguage.)

welcome. no worries about language, a good talking you can do still :p
now, as for getting a tutorial, that is a nice step, but...tutorial for WHAT exactly?
what part of what game are you trying to edit?
you need to be a bit more specific, and I am sure you will get plenty of help.

hx2 06-15-2009 07:32 PM

Thanks Gil, it is nice to know that there's some that can help. Well what i would like to do is to edit "a fighting game," like changing names and outfits, storyline (like the the winning phrases and what is displayed on the ending screen.) And is just to amaze my friends and spend time beating ourselves every time we can. So what I'm trying to say is that i would like to edit text, colors, and the tittle (at least the subtitles). I know is not easy, but if I can't learn how to, I hope one of you could help me doing the changes. Gracias, Amigo!

Sliver-X 11-25-2009 01:06 AM

Yes, editors are the primary reason for the flood of shitty SMW hacks, etc that abound on the internet.

Editors are also the primary reason you have hacks like Dragoon X Omega 1 & 2, though, so it's very much a double edged sword: what would've taken us a decade to pull off was accomplished in several years with the aid of great tools like TownEdit and FFHackster.

The 9th Sage 11-25-2009 02:26 AM

Very true. It makes it easier for people with a vision to see that vision out, but then it also floods us with half-baked, half-finished hacks that are random as hell.

Pattywick 04-20-2010 08:52 AM

Painstaking graphics modification of a game that hasn't been hacked before
+ Learning a few things along the way
= Real Actual Hacking

Using Lunar Magic to create Obligatory Impossibly Difficult Super Mario World Level Hack for the millionth fucking time
= Being a Script Kiddie

InVerse 04-20-2010 08:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Pattywick (Post 98832)
Painstaking graphics modification of a game that hasn't been hacked before
+ Learning a few things along the way
= Real Actual Hacking

That is incorrect. By that reasoning, Photoshopping a picture qualifies as hacking.

Quote:

Using Lunar Magic to create Obligatory Impossibly Difficult Super Mario World Level Hack for the millionth fucking time
= Being a Script Kiddie
Again, that is incorrect. A script kiddie is someone who uses a utility to accomplish his goals without having to put in any effort himself. Last I knew, Lunar Magic doesn't hack SMW for you, you still have to do the work yourself. While it doesn't constitute hacking, level editing with Lunar Magic is a far cry from being a script kiddy.

Of course, seeing as how you're a piece of shit spammer who has already pissed off almost every other ROM hacking board today for flooding your retarded site everywhere, except this one where you just had your hair ruffled, it seems, I wouldn't expect you to actually have any clue what you were talking about.

With that said, please do the ROM hacking scene as a whole a favor and develop a fast acting form of cancer. And, in the meantime, place your computer under a running shower to test it for waterproofocity.

kone191 09-24-2010 12:36 PM

Everything you pointed out, so true.

"The difference between using a hex editor and using a level editor is that a hex editor doesn't actually know how the file you're editing works, whereas a level editor does. So to use a hex editor, you're still hacking because you're figuring out how the file you're hex editing is built. Of course, if you were given a bookmark file for a particular file (or were following a ROM map) then editing the hex under those circumstances wouldn't qualify as hacking either, because you're not trying to figure anything out."

And, I totally agree with this.
Half a year ago, I thought hacking was just editing data with a hex editor by using tutorials which point you stuff out but if you already know how to edit in hex, that's not even a bit of a challenge and can't qualify as hacking. So now I've started to think in a different way; scientists do research to figure something out, that's exactly what rom hacking can be compared with.

Dream Weaver 01-04-2013 09:26 PM

I see where you guys and gals are coming from, but at the same time, us noobs have to start somewhere. And using someone else's expertly crafted editor is no bad place to do that...

And to paraphrase InVerse (slightly), "it's about the journey, not the destination", so if a noob is on the path toward being a ROM-hacker, why is it suddenly their current location rather than the journey they're on that matters?

Just curious, is all. ( :liar: ) :moon:

InVerse 01-05-2013 12:58 PM

You're not going to learn anything at all about ROM hacking from using an editor. You might learn a thing or two about game design, but that has nothing to do with ROM hacking.

Using an editor is no more being on the path toward becoming a ROM hacker than reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book is being on the path of becoming an author.

Dream Weaver 01-05-2013 03:14 PM

With the greatest respect - and I mean that, genuinely - I heartily disagree...

I want to be come a ROM hacker. And because I've set my mind to it, that's what I'll do. But until such time as I learn all the stuff I need to - and it will take a lot of time, and effort, all of which I'm not only prepared for but positively looking forward to - then I don't quite see how using other's tools in the meantime changes the path I have personally chosen, or somehow lessens my intentions.

A good tool, such as Lord J's FF3usME, only serves to inspire the would-be ROM hacker. Yes, using it doesn't make you one, but it might just start you off thinking about what you would like to create all for yourself. That also doesn't make you a ROM hacker, but I would argue that if you persue it, then it very much puts you on the path towards being one...

I'm probably being overly semantic here... lol As I said, I mostly agree with you, but I'm just not sure the distinction is quite as black and white as you maintain.

InVerse 01-06-2013 04:21 PM

Watching movies is an important part of becoming a filmmaker. Most great filmmaker scan tell you the specific movie they were watching when they decided they wanted to become a filmmaker. Would you say that everyone who uses Netflix has started along the path of becoming a filmmaker?

Edit: An even more on point question might be... Is everyone who uploads a video to YouTube on track to become a film producer?

Dream Weaver 01-06-2013 10:03 PM

No, I wouldn't say either of those, but to be fair, you're talking in absolutes. Life isn't made of absolutes. If a person decides they want to be a ROM-hacker, then they've already started on the path. Maybe they'll get no further, it depends on the person, but to say they're not on the path because they're "not there yet" is stretching credibility somewhat, no?

pi3 04-13-2013 02:19 PM

I think there's something in between. For the software I develop - Synalyze It! ( [url]http://www.synalysis.net[/url] ) - users who know ROMs in depth (e. g. Pokťmon) created "grammars" that describe whole ROMs. I'd consider them ROM hackers however the users just downloading the grammar need much less knowledge about all the structures so I'd not call them ROM hackers anymore.

InVerse 04-13-2013 02:30 PM

Way to spam your software, you worthless piece of shit. I've filed a complaint with Hetzner Online, requesting that they suspend your account for abuse.

Gotgull 04-19-2013 12:10 PM

I agree somewhat and I admit I'm not much of a romhacker myself though I've been hacking roms for about 15 years, My first hack was made with Nesticle, I changed the color of the coin block in SMB1 and flattened mario's head. Super Flat head bros. That was me. But even for that hack I had to read a document on how to hack roms. It basically told me what to do with Nesticle to alter a rom. After that I became interested in level hacking and use the YYMario program to make a full level hack back then you had to read a lot, then change one brick or thing at a time play though the game make sure it still worked correctly go back change the next thing it was like using an elephant on a pig farm, and it took me 2 full years to make a complete level hack of SMB toward the end I got lazy and only changed a few little cosmetic things for level 8-1 to 8-4. I had created a unseen glith in the finished hack and people still ask today what that enemy is in my first level hack. I played with other more complex tools that are easier to use and can change a lot more stuff but they never really did it for me so I learned Hex Editing cause I wanted to change the text in SMB1 there was a tool but I didn't like it cause you couldn't change everything at the time. Then I went a step further and I discovered how to map the levels of SMB1 myself with out any editor with help from a document that gave me a starting point. Then I wrote my own SMB1 Level Map doc. So well you could say I cheated but I put in the hours in my own work and I made my very own hacks, nobody held my hand. lol

I'm on Romhacking.net Ranked Number #62, and I have just one hack on Zophars Domain where I used two different editor's but in the making of said hack I played through the entire game before completing it. Super Mario RPGed. http://www.romhacking.net/community/868/


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