Sunday, January 12, 2014

Discussion #2 - ROM Hacks (Fan Created Works)

There are often times when a gamer will be motivated to do something more than to just complete a game 100%. Sometimes a gamer will look at a game, especially an older generation game, and think "You know what? If I were able to make some changes to this game it might create a different experience altogether!" I'm pretty sure there have been times when we were young that we had this thought hover over us like a big raincloud, and I'm sure that as kids we would make sketches on notebook paper and make our own interpretations of our adventures in a video game. Using your imagination is sometimes undervalued but it's your imagination that can help carry you to a point where you make the most interesting discoveries.

As time has moved along in the Video Game Industry, gamers have discovered different platforms to use in order to get a better idea of what the game development process is like, and the old act of hacking would be one of these platforms. One successful game in particular has had a large library of hacks developed out of its programming system, and the results have been very interesting to say the least. The older generation game I am talking about would be Super Mario World, which was released for the SNES. There are many gamers who are fans of the original Super Mario World game and when they found out that there was a program on the internet that they could use to make their own custom Mario game out of the Super Mario World programming system, their imaginations would certainly run wild.

It amazes me how creative the hacking community really is, and especially considering the program they use to alter the universe of Super Mario World, it makes me smile because I believe many good ideas have been developed from Super Mario World ROM hacks. ROM hacks in general are nothing new as they have been around for quite some time, but Super Mario World ROM hacks stand out in more ways than one. Depending on how skilled the hackers are, the range of creativity that a Mario ROM hack can have can be almost unlimited. Mario ROM hacks are basically an extension of interpretations that gamers have on the original Super Mario World game and the execution of these hacks can be awesome.

The amount of time that goes into these hacks must be respected because hackers who don't put in the time to make sure that their hacks are squeaky clean without glitches and neglect the basic principles of how a game flows will not be rewarded with high praise from the gaming community. Gamers can tell almost right away if a hack was treated with care or not and gamers won't willingly support a hack that is a scrambled mess in code and design. There is one user on YouTube I normally follow to get updates on Mario ROM hacks.

His username is TheRealNinjaBoy and while he may not be the only one who plays Mario ROM hacks, he certainly is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of the use of Super Mario World ROM hacks. Through TheRealNinjaBoy alone I have seen a good amount of successful hacks made by people who I believe would probably stand a good chance of becoming serious game developers in the future if they chose to venture down that path. Some of these hackers do an absolutely unbelievable job of expanding on the Super Mario world engine, changing the routes in the overworlds, placing the secret exits in specific spots of a level, creating visually appealing settings on world maps, and some hackers will even take it a step further and add in completely custom made graphics for levels.

Hackers of Super Mario World will change the color templates of enemies, the interior designs of the castles that Mario will enter, the backgrounds of levels and so on, and some of these creations that I have seen are very creative. Considering that there are plenty of social, mobile and handheld games that still cater to the 16-bit environments of games, some of these skilled hackers have a legitimate possibility of being able to program such games for development teams if they continue to work hard on their craft. That's all it really takes. Consistency.

There has to be consistency with the work that is done to programming and implementation. There has to be some sort of routine developed by game designers, hackers or not, to consistently hit a target of development. There has to be thorough planning involved in what kind of design a developer wants for a game. What kind of look do I want my custom game to have? What is the theme I want to present in front of gamers? How different is my hack compared to the original thing? What can I add in my hack that players haven't seen before? What feature could I have in my hack that I believe players would find fun and intriguing?

Going back to TheRealNinjaBoy, he will voice his opinions on Super Mario World hacks once he completes them, or in the worst case scenario, he will stop the hack in mid stride simply because that the hack he played was so badly broken, and he will be honest about what he sees. He likes to pick apart these hacks and rightfully so. He has knowledge on how to hack Super Mario World and he pays attention to detail, which is what programmers and designers should do as well. You will often hear terms used by him such as Layer 2 or Layer 3 and these terms are used to define the objects that the hacker uses. Placing sprites throughout a level isn't as easy as some people believe. A hacked level is a canvas that the hacker paints on and it's essential that he or she doesn't place sprites in the wrong areas or else even the most miniscule of errors could result in an unplayable game.

It's easy to break a hack by way of a hacker's own doing. There are often times when a hacker will overlook certain details of game design and the hacker won't go back and address those details. I have seen good Mario ROM hacks and I have seen... well... really terrible Mario ROM hacks. When I see the terrible ROM hacks I have to sit back and ask myself "What exactly am I seeing here? What was the hacker thinking? How much care was put into this hack? What was the point of this hack?" Good ROM hacks are rewarded with praise because the hackers responsible for these interesting takes on Super Mario World took the time to make the good hacks worthwhile for the gamer. Terrible ROM hacks will be quickly forgotten about because of the lack of care put in. That's just how it goes.

ROM hacks are a good way for aspiring designers to express themselves and they present opportunities for designers to expand on what they already know in the field. Whether it's of the more simplistic variety with Super Mario World or something more advanced with 64-bit games, it's a challenge for the designer to change something, to make it different and to make it look good. Success and failure both have their benefits. You learn from both results. There are often times when initial failure leads to eventual success and I believe in some way ROM hacks can symbolize that.

For more information on Super Mario World ROM hacks, feel free to visit this website. Hopefully you will find this useful.

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