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Destiny of a Fan

posted on November 12th, 2007 by chris

Everyone has a couple of games they particularly like, regardless of how good they are, because of the memories they have of them. Unless, of course, they don’t like video games, in which case they must be card-carrying communists. For me, one of those games is Capcom’s greatest RPG: Destiny of an Emperor for NES.

I have to avoid making this into a Best Game Ever, but I still want to summarize: The game runs very quickly, with fast text speed and auto-battling. You can recruit many enemy generals after defeating them, over 100 in total. The tactic system is somewhat more fleshed out than many other RPGs magic systems, although it can also be more restrictive. The game’s backdrop of China’s Three Kingdoms period makes the world a bit more solid than many other games of the time. What I’m trying to say is, this game still holds appeal for me, and is still pretty accessible after playing all those namby-pamby current-gen RPGs.

And I’m not the only one, either. DoaE is one of those games that has a cult following, based around a couple of Three Kingdoms forums. Among other things, there have been multiple game challenges posed (similar to, say, the White Mages challenge of FF1) and debates of where in the world the few Capcom-made generals came from.

A little over a month ago, I was chatting with a fellow fan of the game. He was attempting a challenge posed by yet another fan, in which he tried to beat the game while keeping three early optional-recruits in his party. Since only a handful of officers gain more soldiers on level-up, this becomes frustrating when even the normal enemies can kill in one hit.

Joking, I asked “Well, what if we could make those characters level up? Would it be a bit easier?” Of course, about five minutes later it hit me; I’ve done some of this stuff before. I could open it in a hex editor, poke around, see if it would be feasible. If not, well, no harm done. If it were… it opened up some interesting possibilities.

That weekend, I got to work. I found the officers were stored in a set order, with set stats in certain places, et cetera. Nothing too complicated, really. After a while, fellow DoaE fan James joined in, and together we figured out roughly how things were arranged. Within a few days, I released a patch that allowed the extra characters to level up, and all was well.

But then, I thought… what if we changed more? Renamed officers, tweaked stats, made the game a little tougher? James had already set to work on a hack of this nature by the time I thought of it, so I went another route. I set out to make an officer editor, so anyone could change nearly all the stuff I could. I won’t bore you with too many details; suffice it to say much of it was easy, but some parts were hard. Pointers are nasty beings, especially when cornered.

After a somewhat rocky start, the editor was complete. It was rough around the edges, but it was all there – you could modify the usual stuff, as well as multiple hidden stats, names, tactics, the character’s sprite and the portrait. Everything clicked into place; to make things even better, the game used pointers to the officer when referring to them. For example, if you changed Liu Bei’s name to Cao Cao, every time Bei’s name would normally pop up, you’d see Cao’s instead.

My editor is just one of many. Romhacking may have a pretty small following, but there are still several editors – and hacks – out there. For example, there are many Super Mario Bros hacks, there are a few RPG hacks (some complete redesigns, some changing difficulty or other features). Some have even gone a more complete overhaul route; for example, there is a group working on an impressive hack of Final Fantasy VI.

So, keep in mind – when you see the “Congratulations” screen, it doesn’t have to mean the end. There might be more out there. And with a bit of persistence, you can add a few touches to make a game feel entirely different. Who knows, in another 10 years there might be a hack of Shadow of the Colossus.

Destiny of an Editor

11 Comments

  1. Stefan said on November 12, 2007:

    So what’s this “impressive hack” of FFVI, and do you have a link?

  2. chris said on November 12, 2007:

    The one I’m referring to is called “Pandora’s Box”.
    http://www.romhacking.net/forum/index.php/topic,1113.0.html is the topic for it, but it’s 1200 posts long. Not all of them talk specifically about the hack, obviously :)
    To summarize some of the high points: characters gain stats on level-up, dialogue rewrite, difficulty and character rebalancing…

  3. DeeMer said on November 12, 2007:

    I think they’re also tweaking the music (the instruments, not the actual songs), fixing bugs, adding bonuses for excellent fighting, and some other fun stuff like that.

    Anyhow, I love ROM editors and utilities and whatnot. The concept of peeling back to the core of the game, scribing new code, and declaring, “This is now LAW!” is highly enjoyable.

  4. chris said on November 12, 2007:

    That’s what I enjoyed most about doing this: first, the detective-work finding all the stats and soldier counts. Then, the text dictionary, items, and tactics. The coolest was (nerd hat on) getting the editor to fix officer pointers, so I could make officer names longer than the original ones.

  5. TrueTallus said on November 14, 2007:

    That’s really cool! I was always enamored with the idea of laying bare the clockwork of my favorite games, stat flavored ones especially. FFT in particular always made me want to wade into the code and somehow find out why flails sucked or how attack power actually affected damage (I know people have since beaten me to the punch). How long did it take to get the editor working to your satisfaction?

  6. pat said on November 14, 2007:

    dont flails (and possibly axes) suck because the damage is random?

  7. TrueTallus said on November 14, 2007:

    Yeah, but outside of crazy stuff like Whale Whiskers and Chaos Swords, flails have some of the highest attack values and (I assume) damage potential in the game. I always wondered if the algorithm for flail damage wasn’t actually random and had ties to any number of weird, unguessable factors like unit height, turn order or equipped abilities. If I could somehow jerry rig a negotiator to stay at 12.5 height with calculator skills and a green beret equipped who always took her turn right before Ramza, maybe I’d end up constantly hitting for 999.

  8. pat said on November 14, 2007:

    at risk of completely derailing this topic as an excuse to talk about fft, i checked the battle mechanics guide (which is apparently indispensable if you want to do some of the challenges in the game). flails (hammers, axes, etc) actually do have a random component in the damage formula. its something like: (random number between 1 and your physical attack power) * weapon attack power = damage

    http://www.gamefaqs.com/console/psx/file/197339/3876

  9. jay said on November 14, 2007:

    Chris, does editing and tinkering with the guts of games make you want to design your own? Or is that like asking an auto mechanic if he plans on building his own car from scratch?

    DeeMer, your website has some Flash games you wrote so would it be a good guess to say you’re interested in game design?

  10. chris said on November 14, 2007:

    I’ve wanted to design my own games for a while, but I don’t think this has particularly changed it that much. Most of what I’m doing has barely rubbed the surface – like changing the tires on a car or putting a new paint job on it. I may have opened the hood and looked at the engine every so often, but I never tried doing anything to it.

  11. DeeMer said on November 15, 2007:

    Why yes, Jay, like so many others I’ve been interested in game design since quite a young age. I’ve got doodles and scribbles and ponderings of games ideas all over. And like so many others, I rarely act upon these ideas. I get hooked on the idea that it has to be “good enough” before I even start, and therefore never do so.

    The few ‘games’ I have on my site are client work I did about a year or so ago. They are riddled with scope creep, resulting sub-par in my eyes. Especially the “Beta Force.” Every week I had to add a new feature or system and in the end I’m not even sure my client used it.

    But I do enjoy putting these things together and tinkering and Flash and whatnot every once and again. So, once again, “Yes.”

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