Romhack Thursday: Advanced NES Rom Utility

Edit the Frog would like you to know that he has no relationship with that meme frog going around.

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

We’re starting another weekly feature on Set Side B, where we try to regularly bring you news on new romhacks and romhack-related items. Big websites sometimes seem like they try to appease publishers, whose good graces they rely upon for news and review copies, by not mentioning hacks too prominently, at least if they’re of console games. Whether this happens, or if it merely seems like it may happen, we don’t ask big publishers for review copies so we don’t have to avoid talking about them, and are free to tell you about the most interesting of these game edits that we can find.

To start us out though, something you’ll find you’ll need if you make heavy use of hacks, are good rom patchers. To shield themselves from legal liability, hack authors usually distribute their modifications through the use of patches, which are in essence lists of modifications that can be applied in an automated way to a source rom file, which you’ll have to source by some other means.

Two good such utilities are Floating IPS, which can apply IPS patches, and (the sadly departed) Near’s beat, which can apply BPS patch files. IPS is the most commonly-used utility, and functions mostly as a kind of binary diff, but it’s limited to source files of a maximum size of 16 megabytes, and doesn’t offer any error detection features, so if the file you’re patching isn’t exactly what the patch expects (which happens frequently, as bad dumps or headerless roms often turn up), not only will you end up with a corrupted file, but you won’t even have any indication something has gone wrong-in most cases, you’ll still be told the file patched successfully. BPS is a more intelligently-designed system, and has some error detection built-in.

A new utility that can be of use is “Advanced NES Rom Utility,” a program that can not only apply both IPS and BPS patches but several other types as well, and can also fix many common problems with NES dumps in particular, including fixing checksums and metadata. But patches are usually source platform agnostic, so you might get some use out of it even if NES romhacks are not interesting to you.

Romhack: Raggedy Land with Ann & Andy

Here at Set Side B our purview is “Indie, Retro, Niche,” and we consider romhacks, of the niche, to be among the the nicheist. (Nietzsche-est?) But there are lots of romhacks, with more every day, and most just aren’t that newsworthy.

This one’s pretty interesting though? As the Romhacking.net entry mentions, Raggedy Ann, while once a pretty big pop culture property with an animated movie and two TV specials directed by Chuck Jones, has fallen into disuse for decades due to rights issues.

The linked hack, for Data East’s Famicom McDonalds tie-in game Donald Land, is an attempt by Garrett Gilchrist and Brooklyn Williams to simulate what a Raggedy Ann game from the NES era would have been like, using graphics and characters from different iterations. Here’s a scene with The Greedy, from the feature cartoon, that once inspired many a nightmare:

Pretty cool, and rather more ambitious than your standard pedestrian graphics swap!

Lost Ed Logg Developed Prototype of Millipede for Famicom Found

If you dig around the forums of AtariAge, sometimes there are wonders to be found.

It’s been known for a while that three classic-era Atari arcade games were produced by HAL for the Famicom and NES: Defender II a.k.a. Stargate, Millipede, and Joust. Nicole Express recently did her typically excellent job discussing them and what makes them interesting. Such as, among other things: they use music that was later reused in NES Punch-Out!!, they are subtly different between their Famicom and NES versions, Satoru Iwata may have personally worked on them, and they were developed as part of Nintendo’s pitch to Atari to have them distribute the NES in the United States.

Something that one might overlook reading the article, however, is the news that this isn’t the only version of Millipede made for the Famicom hardware. As an in-house project at Atari Games/Tengen, Ed Logg himself implemented Millipede for it, before they discovered that the publishing rights in the US resided with the other Atari, the one that got bought by Jack Tramiel.

The source was recently found on a backup tape from Atari, and hand-assembled. The resulting rom file can be downloaded from the AtariAge thread on it. It has no sound, because that hasn’t been implemented yet, the colorful alternate palettes of the arcade version are missing, there are some bugs (I mean program bugs, not enemies), and the DDT Bomb objects hadn’t been put in yet, but a lot of the game is still there. There are even multiplayer modes, supporting up to four players playing alternating or simultaneously! It’s especially interesting since Ed Logg assisted Centipede’s creator Dona Bailey in creating the original game.

The NES Sample Encoding Error

There was an error in the data prep in many NES games that caused them to reverse the bit order of samples. Or more accurately, the games encoded the samples correctly, but the flaw is in the NES sound hardware.

The result is, many games with samples sound notably worse than they should. The most infamous example of this is the sound in Double Dribble, which sounds particularly bad on its title screen. The difference can be heard on the game’s page on The Cutting Room Floor. There’s a hack for Double Dribble on romhacking.net that corrects the samples in-game.

Another game this affects is the unlicensed Tengen NES game KLAX. In the arcade KLAX had very little music, but the NES version has excellent music that relies heavily on sampled instruments. There’s a fixed patch for that game on romhacking.net, too!

Chrontendo #60

Chrontendo’s back! Dr. Sparkle’s long-running journey through the entire library of the Famicom and NES continues. He’s been doing this for at least 15 years! Chrontendo got its start as a blog, then moved to a YouTube format, although every episode is also uploaded to the Internet Archive. Dr. Sparkle tries to complete the games he covers, meaning, sometimes it takes a very long time to construct an episode, especially when it contains a lengthy JRPG.

In addition to being generally watchable by anyone with even a passing interest in video gaming history, Chrontendo is a good series just to have on in the background while you do other things. What I’m saying is that it’s comfortable. Like Comfortable Doug! (warning: earworm)

Chrontendo 60 is subtitled “The Most Perverted Episode,” covers April through May of 1990, and features:

  • horse racing sim Kurogane Hiroshi No Yosou Daisuki! Kachiuma Densetsu,
  • a long section the original Fire Emblem and the series in general,
  • Rare’s PinBot, a very unique and interesting simulation of a real Williams pinball table with some unique video extras,
  • GameTek’s home version of the Nickelodeon game show Double Dare, which was also made by Rare,
  • the ludicrously-titled Dinowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus,
  • Imagineering’s Ghostbusters II,
  • Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road, by Rare,
  • a very long section on the epic Final Fantasy III, from and by Square, which Dr. Sparkle proclaims to be the best JRPG on the system,
  • Kagerou Densetsu, a “sorta action RPG thing” published by “Pixel,” but we’re not sure who exactly that is, and may have been intended, it is speculated, to be a kind of RPG-ish sequel to The Legend of Kage, and
  • Nintendo World Cup (forgive me for not typing out the entire Japanese title), that weird Kunio soccer game that Nintendo published under their own banner, just with all the story and setting removed. It’s a decent soccer game even so.

With this episode, Dr. Sparkle is declaring a dividing point for the series. Up until now has been the rise of the Famicom; the rest covers its fall, what he calls the “Byzantine Empire” phase of the system’s life. This doesn’t mean the series is almost over though. Far, far from it.

Chrontendo #60 (YouTube, 2h 36m) – archivespreviously