Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer

The Challenges of Hacking

One question that gets tossed around the hacking community often is “why aren’t there more game hacks being made?” My general response to this is simple: there are a lot of hacks being made just very few that actually get finished. Game hackers are very inclined to abandon their projects before they are finished!

By why is this? I can’t speak for every hacking community, but I know at least a few reasons why this happens to EarthBound hackers.

1) EarthBound is an enormously glitchy ROM to hack. It is not unusual for a hacker to put hours and hours of work into a game, only to discover they’ve damaged the ROM irreparably in the process! At the very least this is an annoyance, but it could be disastrous if proper backups  have not been made.

2) Hacking is a slow and arduous process. Many people hack EarthBound because they think it will only take a few days for them to put together a fully functioning game. They don’t realize that the work could easily span into months maybe even years, and when they do they often drop the project.

3) Sometimes stupid stuff happens during the hacking process and you don’t know why. For example, check out what happened to all the sprites in my game after I did the Lost Crevasse Edits:

I did manage to fix the problem, but it isn’t fun to open up your game to discover almost all your sprites have been turned into police cruisers and errant protagonists. I can imagine something like that would be very discouraging for first time hackers especially!

With all these issues it is amazing that anybody hacks EarthBound at all, but the community has still managed to put together some real top notch games. I highly recommend checking out some of the completed projects when you get the chance.



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  • Huh. I tried poking at the Earthbound hacks, but each one I tried came out with garbage sprites. I get that the fine line of legality is divided between distribution of ROMs and distribution of IPSs which merely alter ROMs, but can this POSSIBLY get any more user-unfriendly?

  • The whole IPS situation deters a lot of people from playing ROMs. I tried to mitigate this by hosting a full ROM for HyperBound on my website, but most people are not willing to take the legal risk of hosting anything beyond an IPS.

  • What makes matters worse is that even if you get the IPS and the ROM, then you sometimes have to deal with the SIZE of the ROM — having to use yet another program (in addition to the IPS patcher) to create several copies of the ROM of various filesizes, patch each one, then test them all to see which (if any of them) work properly. All this for something of dubious value, often presented with no more promising word recommendation beyond a couple of sentences which often do more to highlight the game’s inanity than anything.

    I’d like to, really I would, but just above that on my priority list is giving myself a root canal with a Black & Decker.

By Michael
Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer