zandravandra’s List Of Mega Man Romhacks

It’s too light to make it an official Romhack Thursday post, but it is Thursday, so…. or rather, it was, yesterday, when this was slated to go originally, except Fully Ramblomatic premiered and I figured I should strike while that iron was hot. This iron, after all, is more malleable at lower temperatures.

Alex Zandra on Mastodon, @zandra@mastodon.social, who is @zandravandra on Cohost, put together a list of her favorite Mega Man romhacks that looks pretty interesting.

The games are (in order through the series): Mega Man Speed Bomber, Rollchan No Constancy, Rollchan At The Tokyo Olympics, Mega Man 4 Voyage, Mega Man 5 Double Jumper, and Rockman 6 Spirit of Hackers. The closest I’ve come to playing any of them was Rockman No Constancy, before Roll was put into it. There are lots of hacks that are difficult even to play, so curated lists of them are very useful!

Alex Zandra’s list of Mega Man Romhacks (cohost.org)

Romhack Thursday: Ultima Underworld on Playstation, in English

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

The critical consensus on Ultima Underworld is that it was a high point of the Ultima franchise, a then-unique (and still fairly distinctive) kind of game, a 3D fantasy adventure released nine months before Doom, with a detailed dungeon and a high degree of player agency.

Ultima Underworld got a Playstation release, but only in Japan. It is not a straight upgrade from the DOS version, it’s got different cutscenes and anime character portraits, as well as interface differences. Still, it could well be worth playing for its own sake.

Often for these romhack posts I’ll try to apply the patch myself and take my own screenshots, but in this case the patch is over 120 megabytes, and itself to be applied to a CD game ISO, and a substantial game to learn and navigate in itself, so I’m going to pass this time and just use screenshots from the game’s romhacking.net entry.

Look at that anime-style character art. I guess this counts as the third JRPG post in a row.

English Fan Translation of Ultima Underworld for Playstation (romhacking.net)

Romhack Thursday: Snooplax Explains the History of Mario 64 Hacks

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

It’s another video! And it’s Nintendo related! I bet you’re just thrilled!

This is one, however, is far from something the Big N would approve of. Snooplax goes into great detail in explaining the history of hacking Super Mario 64, the first 3D game to really have a substantial hacking scene–I don’t count things like DOOM, since to a degree it was made to be extensible. Nintendo never dreamed that people would do the things to the Mario 64 engine that they have, which has included optimizing it to the extent that it can run at 60 fps on original hardware!

Seeing all these hacks together in one video is rather inspiring. There’s been not one, but at least three, major Super Mario 64 level editors, with different degrees of flexibility and detail. What enthusiasts have done with the engine over the years is surprising, and there’s no end in sight, so please enjoy this look back at this prolific scene.

History of SM64 Rom Hacks (Youtube, 37 minutes)

Romhack Thursday: Doom on a Commodore 64, kinda-sorta

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Look at that title and marvel a bit. Doom on a C64! What an idea. How could it even be possible? What an age we live in. It is a time of wonders. Children are our future.

Of course there’s more to it than that. There is a whole class of “retro” game that amounts to implementing the actual game on separate hardware, and using the supposed host platform as a glorified display and input device. That’s what’s going on in this case. Doom is really being run on a Raspberry Pi in a plug-in cartridge on a processor that’s underpowered by modern standards but far outpaces that of even Doom’s base configuration, and is thousands of times more powerful than the Commodore 64 to which it pipes its output.

But there’s still some technical interest in the means. The device that runs it is a “RAD Expansion Unit,” a DIY device that emulates a C64 RAM expansion, and apparently can even take over from the 6510 CPU and drive the system’s hardware directly. It works by writing to the VIC-II video and SID sound chips itself.

There was still a lot of coding work required to make this possible. A C64 has somewhat decent sound hardware, but the VIC-II chip has severe limitations on what it can display. The Raspberry Pi has to take the game’s display and port it, in real-time, to a graphics chip that can only display up to four colors (out of only 16) in each character cell, and that’s by sacrificing half of its horizontal resolution. Doing that on the fly itself is a noteworthy hack.

Could it be possible to run DOOM on a C64 without such assistance? At native resolution, ha ha ha: no. The memory limitations are too grievous, so at the very least you’ll need a RAM expansion.

I’ve mused at times on whether it might be possible if one uses the character screen as a kind of super-low-resolution graphics mode, each 8×8 character block representing either a 2×2 pixel grid (so, a resolution of 80×50) or a single pixel (40×25). Even at such a resolution 60 fps is probably out of the question, for it takes a lot of cycles to change every tile every frame, but maybe at 30 or 20? 15, 12, 10? (60 is divisible by a lot of numbers.) I will leave that question to people who are more current with C64 assembly coding.

Here is a demonstration video:

Doom on C64 – A playable tech demo for the RAD Expansion Unit for Commodore 64/128 (Youtube, 19 minutes) – Github repository

Romhack Thursday: Speculative Super Mario Bros. Prototype Recreation

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Some months ago there were the “Gigaleaks,” huge troves of internal Nintendo files and documents that revealed a lot about abandoned projects and the development history of popular games.

There was so much information in them that people are still discovering new details. One thing that was surprisingly overlooked was source code for the version of Super Mario Bros. included in the SNES remake within Super Mario All-Stars. The source contained quite a lot of interesting commented-out lines and other data, that seemed to indicate that it may have been a hacked-up version of the source to the original Super Mario Bros.

A lot (but not all!) of this has been covered on the Prerelease page for Super Mario Bros. on The Cutting Room Floor. You can go read about it there. There resides information on scrapped enemies and objects, weird modes and behaviors of existing objects, and lots of other curiosities.

For the 38th anniversary of the release of Super Mario Bros., Nimaginendo Games made a romhack that seeks to recreate many of these abandoned elements, and shows it off in a Youtube video. The hack can be downloaded from a link in the video’s description, but only for a little while! I should emphasize that it’s not a real prototype, but a speculative recreation based on information from the leaked source. It even has an older version of SMB’s title screen.

Extra! Did you know that an early working English title for Super Mario Bros. was Mario’s Adventure? And Nintendo of America even made a promotional flyer with that name! These images come from Flyer Fever:

Super Mario Bros. Beta/Prototype recreated in 2023 (Youtube, 8 minutes, link to rom in the video’s description)

Romhack(ish) Thursday: 21st Century Roguelike Pac-Man

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

It’s another romhack post that’s really not a romhack, but kind of pretends to be one. Gridlock’s 21st Century Roguelike Pac-Man (which I’m going to call 21CRPM) at first looks a lot like the arcade classic, but then becomes something really, really different.

It becomes so different that the game it most brings to mind isn’t Pac-Man but Frog Fractions. It keeps piling on the play mechanics, in a way that the game makes apparent is meant to be humorous, but also sort of, kind of works. I mean of course it’s me saying this, ๐–ณ๐—๐–พ ๐–ฏ๐–พ๐—‹๐—Œ๐—ˆ๐—‡ ๐–ถ๐—ˆ๐— ๐–ช๐–พ๐—‰๐— ๐–ก๐–บ๐—‡๐—€๐—‚๐—‡๐—€ ๐–ฎ๐—‡ ๐– ๐–ป๐—ˆ๐—Ž๐— ๐–ฑ๐—ˆ๐—€๐—Ž๐–พ๐—…๐—‚๐—„๐–พ๐—Œ, so maybe I just like that sort of thing. Although the way it’s the most like roguelikes, permadeath, making you start completely over after losing, is possibly the weakest part of it. I had to start over a lot.

You start in the middle of the normal Pac-Man board, in a field of dots, and the ghosts roaming around as usual. It’s not exactly like classic Pac-Man; ghosts can catch you much more easily on corners (you’ll get caught this way frequently times before you adjust), and the AI is a little different. The Red monster, Blinky/Shadow/Akabei/Oikake, can actually turn right after coming out of the box, and move up through the paths above it.

Also, eating the Energizers in the corners doesn’t make the ghosts vulnerable. Instead, Pac-Man can shoot the dots he eats at the ghosts to defeat them, and while an Energizer is active his shots are stronger. Pac-Man must be facing into a corridor in order to fire, meaning he must often be running directly towards a ghost before he can shoot it. The Red ghost has the least health, and can often be gunned down even without an Energizer, while the Orange ghost has a lot of health, and usually must be shot while it’s traveling away down a long corridor. Fortunately, he’s not any smarter than he was in the arcade game.

A big difference is the Hunger meter at the side of the screen. It constantly runs down, at an alarming rate, as you play. If it runs completely out, the game ends immediately, regardless of how many lives you have left! You have to make sure to keep tabs on your hunger. And dots and ghosts don’t refill it, only fruit does, and only a bit of it. What Pac-Man can do, however, is save it for later: he has an inventory now, and grabbed fruit go right into it. You press the X button to bring up a menu, and can then pick out the fruit and munch it on down.

If you had to rely on the fruit from the center of the board though you’d starve pretty fast, so now Pac-Man has the ability to plant fruit in the maze. If you plant it, of course, then you can’t eat it, but it doesn’t take long for it to sprout and start generating new fruit of its own. You’ll soon have to start relying on this to survive.

When you clear the board of dots, the monster box opens up and when you go inside you get this screen:

This somewhat sarcastic screen appears to suggest that there’s more to the game than the starting screen. And it’s right.

Once you clear the board of dots, the game doesn’t end. Ooooh no, you’re just getting started. No, the board you start in is the “home” location in a much larger maze, accessed through the tunnels on the sides of the screen. As you explore this maze, new locations will be filled in on a map in the lower-left corner. The borders of this map aren’t the ultimate edges either. This greater map is created anew with each play; sometimes you’ll have tricky situations right near outside the starting board, and sometimes it’ll be fairly easy going. There are ghosts and dots and fruit in these boards too, and sometimes more Energizers, but there are no regeneration boxes. Ghosts you defeat out there turn into eyes, but have no way to turn back into ghosts, and eventually just fly away.

Out there in the maze there’s a lot of weird things to find. Like shops.

And quest givers:

And locked treasure rooms:

And areas of solid stone, and ore, that must be dug through Minecraft-style with a Pick (go into the Tools section of the menu to use it):

And a whole Pokemon-themed area:

And there’s crafting! And you can spend Galaxians you find to enhance stats! And boss ghosts to defeat! And probably more! I keep finding new parts to the game as I play. The game’s itch.io page even claims there’s a final boss to defeat, in the form of an evil version of Pac-Man, but I haven’t found it.

You can save your game, but in roguelike style, your session ends when you do it, and its deleted when you resume. Your game ends either when you run out of lives or your Hunger meter depletes, and both are way too easy to have happen. I find it helps to plant at least one fruit on each screen, but don’t carry around too many: if you’re holding too many things you become “Encumbered” and slow way down!

It’s an enjoyable game, for awhile at least. Pac-Man’s movement speed quickly feel much too slow for exploring the huge over-maze. His movement speed is one of the things you can upgrade by spending Galaxians, but I’ve only just recently even found one of those in the maze, and it was in a locked treasure room. It feels like there’s a lot more to the game than the permadeath feature allows me to see, but I’m still trying.

It is true that, ultimately, 21CRPM is a joke game, and the point is that Pac-Man doesn’t need elaboration upon, and the extra mechanics exist mostly to feel tacked on. There may not even be a real point to them. But neither is there a point to video games in general, and it’s still fun to explore them, for a while.

One of those boss ghosts you can receive a quest to defeat. They take a lot of damage, speed up as you deplete it, and can even fire back at you. You might want to craft a shield before taking one on, out of three Iron Bars (made from ore) and a piece of Wood (bought in a shop or acquired from using the Pick on a tree). You might be able to use a Sword on one, but they break quickly and I haven’t tried it yet.

21st Century Roguelike Pac-Man (itch.io, $0)

Romhack Thursday: Sonic 2 Score Rush

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

The gaming world is abuzz about speedruns. Speedruns are what gaming since at least Sonic CD call “time attacks,” attempts to play a game while minimizing the completion time. The phrase is a somewhat awkward borrowing from Japanese, as are a number of other gaming terms, like “stage clear” or “level up,” that happened when their gaming culture began to seep out overseas with the popularity of Japanese consoles and games from the time of the NES and SNES. (I am not certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised that the earliest English use of “level up” was in a Final Fantasy game.)

But that’s a digression. Sorry, I tend to make them a lot. Let’s go back to time attacks. Another version of the idea is a score attack, a play of a game with the intent to get a high score. For a lot of the arcade era, score attacks were just how you played video games, and there didn’t need to be a special term for them.

The title screen of the subject of this post (keep reading, it takes me a few paragraphs to get there)

Score in games has become much less important over the years, but it still persists in places. Super Mario Bros. is a notable early game that still has score, but devalues it. If you find a repeatable extra life (like from using a turtle shell to defeat a lot of enemies), you can mint points, that is to say, earn scores that are arbitrarily high, by getting the life and all the points up to it on a level, dying on purpose, then repeating those actions on the next and successive lives.

It took a long time but that was the beginning of the death knell for the importance of score in games. It didn’t help that, while score is important in a way in Super Mario Bros., since it’s a frequent award and needed as a spacer before the game starts awarding extra lives, it’s used for nothing else. Super Mario games will grant extra lives at the drop of Mario’s ubiquitous hat, but they won’t give you any just for earning points.

One game that does earn you extra lives for scoring points, interestingly, is Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Not the first Sonic game, which takes more of a Super Mario approach, but both Sonic 2, and all the versions of Sonic 3, give you an extra life for every 50,000 points you earn. They also copy Mario’s gimmick of scoring more points if you can defeat enemies without landing from a jump, or destroying blocks. Although unlike Mario’s progression of something like 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, it’s more like 100, 200, 500, then 1,000 a few times, then suddenly 10,000.

Both series are keen to give you all these points, but other than Sonic’s extra lives, they aren’t good for much. Super Mario Bros. 3 gives you a card-matching minigame for every 80,000 points you collect, and sometimes other rewards if you match score digits with each other. Sonic was content to have extra lives be the main reward for high scores, even if the rest of the game gives you plenty of extra lives anyway. More recent games seem to be phasing out even the notion of a life counter, which has given them rather a dearth of things to reward players with.

Well, my plea to gamedevs of the current age is to reconsider score! It’s not a bad measure of player skill, if you design it carefully! It’s easy, if you’re careless, to allow the player to create score loops, which make a mockery of scoreboards, but it gives players something to shoot for other than just game completion.

Score can make for an interesting alternative to plain old time attacks, since it lets the designer create alternative rewards for skillful play. That is why I find score attack romhacks to be interesting, especially when they provide a purpose for score beyond just an increasing number.

That number at the top of the screen is your score. It quickly counts down; don’t let it hit zero!

The focus of this post is a score attack mod for Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Even though it uses score to award extra lives, this hack rips that out, and instead makes the player’s score into a life meter of a sort. You start out with 5,000 points, but rapidly lose points. In addition to the normal kinds of in-level scoring, you get 50 points for every ring you collect, 1,000 for crossing a checkpoint (which otherwise don’t work) and 2,000 points for each extra life found in a level. When you get hit you lose some points, but can earn some of them back by collecting the rings that spill out. On the other hand, you don’t get the score awards you would normally get for finishing a level, so no 50,000-point time bonus if you can finish Emerald Hill Zone 1 in less than 30 seconds. The Special Stages have also been disabled, so those can’t be used to milk bonus points either. The score countdown stops when you don’t have control over Sonic, when you’re invincible, and when you each the end of a level (passing the goal sign or beating a boss).

The game has included instruction screens, which is a nice touch even if not strictly necessary with romhacks.

There are no lives really; if your character dies, you restart the level with the score you had when it began, mine 5,000 points. That takes care of score loops, since you don’t carry over any points you earned before dying. That makes the game a bit hard for casual play, a frequent issue with romhacks, but an interesting challenge for Sonic 2 experts.

You can customize the game to your liking with a variety of cool options!

The hack is playable under a number of rules, and with either Sonic, Tails or Knuckles, with each character’s signature moves and abilities. The drop dash from Sonic Mania is even enabled by default. And SRAM support has been hacked in, in order to save your best scores.

It’s an interesting modification to the game to support a different style of playing. If you enjoy the classic Sonic games, you might want to give it a shot!

Romhack Thursday: Snail Maze in a Cartridge

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Early Sega Master System units released in the US had a small game included on the system ROM. It’s not as cool as the Space Harrier music with FM synthesis included on some Japanese Mark III units, but it’s at least a playable game.

Snail Maze, a really simple game (image from article)

It’s not really that deep a game, just a simple timed maze race, but it’s something, in case you got tired of Hang-On and Astro Warrior. Mike (no last name given), the maintainer of the blog Leaded Solder, decided to take that game and make a cartridge for it, so it can be played on any Master System, not just the early units that had it built-in. It’s a story of electronics work and 3D printing, of ColecoVision cartridge simultarity, roadblocks overcome, and ultimate victory. Here’s some appropriate music to listen to while reading it.

Breaking out of the Snail Maze (leadedsolder.com)

Romhack Thursday: Segapede (not really a hack)

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Screenshot of Segapede prototype (image from hiddenpalace.org)

In the 90s, there was effectively two Segas, Sega of Japan and Sega of America. Unlike with Nintendo though, where it’s fairly obvious that the Japanese division called the shots, Sega was a little more evenly split. Despite the company mostly being known nowadays for their Japanese productions, Sega was originally an American company, founded in Honolulu making entertainment devices for U.S. military bases. Indeed, SEGA originally stood for SErvice GAmes.

The Japanese branch began to pull out ahead when they started making home computers for that market, but by the time of the Mega Drive/Genesis there was Sega Technical Institute on the American side, which employed some talented developers, including Yuji Naka.

The story of STI is part of that of Segapede, a game created by Craig Stitt. Originally pitched as a Sonic spinoff, it would eventually be cancelled, but not before a demo ROM was created, which saw the light of day for the first time late last year. Not only available is the ROM image itself, but the story of its inspiration, development, and ultimate cancellation, all on its suitably-named home hiddenpalace.org.

The Story of SegapedeSegapede Prototype ROM (hiddenpalace.org)

Romhack Thursday: Winner of QLDC2023

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Super Mario World is one of the most hacked games of all. There’s a whole website devoted to hacking it, SMWCentral. They do have Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario 64 hacks too, but SMW is the main attraction.

They’ve done a bunch of contests over the years, where different members compete in judged hacking competitions to make hacks to various criteria. In April they wrapped up their second “Questionable Level Design Contest,” QLDC. And the gimmick of the winner is… pretty special.

Please overlooked the glitchy title screen. In this one, the presentation isn’t the main attraction.

A long walkway to the right from the starting location.

What? Is this a troll hack? One that just makes you run everywhere and nothing ever really happens?

Hmm. This screen looks like it’s full of levels, but none of the circles or houses work. The object is to get to that red pipe.

You hold X or Y to run, or, as this screen mentions, don’t hold X or Y to not run. That Pirhana Plant is animated, and if you run into it while it’s in your way, you have to restart the screen. A fun gimmick, sure, but we’re just getting started.

In case you haven’t cottoned to the gimmick yet–there is no actual level. The whole game is played on a series of connected map screens. You’d think not a lot would be possible, but in this hack, Mario can actually “jump” on enemies if his feet touch them. On this screen, Bullet Bills enter from the right, and you have to use the curved paths, along with judicious running, to “stomp” them with the right timing. When you reach the OFF circles to the right you clear the green blocks, and then have to work your way back left to get to the pipe.

And on this screen, the Thwimps jump back and forth, and you have to avoid them as you pass around the screen. If you touch an enemy you don’t “die” so much as get sent back to the start.

Then you get to this screen, which is a remake of a portion of the first level, and you wonder how far they’re willing to go with this gimmick.

As it turns out, they’re (“they” being Faro and MM102) not even close to being done. This level introduces these Stars that, when you press A on them, cause Mario to do a spin jump. This jump, however, actually activates the standard SMW platforming engine. Mario can move around as if he were in a level. Here you have to use that jump to bounce off the Big Boo and land on the other Star, which puts you back into map travel mode and lets you go to the pipe. The following levels make extensive use of this feature, and there’s lots left to explore.

The creators made a playthrough video, embedded below (it’s about nine minutes), but they suggest that you try the hack yourself first. You can do what you want, but it’s a joy discovering how they unveil progressively crazier gimmicks as you go. Consider trying it our yourself first, if you have the mind and means.

Patch for “My QUDC Level” in BPS format (SMWCentral, use flips.exe to patch an unmodified Super Mario World ROM-you’re on your own for obtaining that, of course)

Romhack Thursday: The Legend of Zelda for SNES

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

It’s not easy to find romhacks that measure up to our exacting standards, that strike me in just “that way,” but a conversion of the NES Legend of Zelda, one of the few mainline Zeldas never to have been really remade in any form (unless you count the abandoned Satellaview versions), fits the bill like a duck in well-made dentures.

This screenshot may look nearly exactly like The Legend of Zelda. In fact it is the Legend of Zelda, just converted, nearly exactly, to the SNES.

Link doesn’t wait for the transition to finish to start climbing out of caves.

The question has to be asked: why? I mean, to a degree it is kind of pointless. There’s been nearly exact (although always unofficial) re-implementations of The Original The Legend of Zelda since Zelda Classic (Set Side B). All of Nintendo’s own rereleases, from Virtual Console to Gamecube bonus disks to a stand-alone Game & Watch unit. But recreating it on SNES does have certain uses. First, it fixes a handful of issues with the earlier game, notably it doesn’t have flicker or slowdown. It also uses the L and R buttons to allow for quick inventory cycling without having to go into the subscreen.

The colors are slightly better as well. And the top of the screen display labels the buttons Y and B, instead of B and A.

It speeds up game transitions: it uses the Link to the Past-style iris in and out effects, using the SNES’ display masking feature, instead of the slower curtain closes and opens from the NES version. It allows you to use custom soundtracks via MSU-1 support. Health refills instantly instead of pausing the game for up to 15 seconds while all your hearts load up with red. And the sound is very slightly different: by default the low-health beep is less insistent, there’s an extra sound when you kill an enemy, and the candle sound is a little higher in pitch.

But perhaps the best reason to convert it to the SNES is, SNES emulators are nearly as common as NES emulators. You can play this modestly improves version of LoZ on anything with an SNES emulator, which isn’t something you can say of Zelda Classic.

Yes, I used this hack as an excuse to play completely through the first quest again. And yes, I did it without dying. I still got it.

I’m kind of an outspoken fan of the original LoZ, I still think it’s well worth playing today, although I think you should seek out its manual should you do so. (The opening demo even tells you to look there for details!) You’ll die a lot, it’s true, but there’s little penalty for it except for going back to start or the beginning of a dungeon, and having to go refill your health before you try again. It takes real skill to weave around its fast-moving enemies and projectiles, but it’s doable, and you don’t need speedrun skillz to do it.

It is rather difficult to find it through search. It’s not on romhacking.net. Creator infidelity’s announcement was on Twitter, where he offered only a direct download.

Here’s Wes Fenlon’s post enthusing over the port. And here’s where it can be obtained, although links to previous versions have been disabled, so this one may be too if it receives another update.

Romhack Thursday: All Mario 64 Levels Combined Into One Huge Map

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Another of Mario 64 internals expert Maze Emanuar’s amazing hacks, this puts the geometry of all of the levels of Mario 64 into into huge world! It does offer gameplay in that you can collect some stars that are scattered around the huge area, but few of the original objectives remain. For more information and the download link to the hack, check the description of the video.

Super Mario “All Levels In One” Hack (Youtube, 13 minutes, download link to hack in video description)