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-Dustin Gulley
In the beginning, God created Nintendo, and it was good; shortly after she created man, and quickly realized she
should have stuck with Nintendo. Then around 20 years went by and man asked himself, ―Hey, if God can do it, why
can I?‖ And thus, the ROM hacker was born.
ROM hacking is a fun, and possibly illegal way to breathe life back into those stale ROMs idly sitting on your hard
drive twiddling their thumbs in boredom. In fact, you can take the worst game ever created; I'm talking about Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of course, and turn it into an enjoyable afternoon. The majority of ROM hacking is done by edit-
ing graphics using a tile editor, and editing code using a hex editor. Since this article is meant for beginners, I'm
going to discuss how to edit the graphics in a ROM. Editing graphics is pretty simple, and provides quicker results,
then learning how to edit hex. However, if you really want to alter a ROM, you will need to learn how to edit the
hexadecimal code.
To get started, you'll need a tile editor. There are several free tile editors available that will work just fine; I will be
using Tile Layer Pro for this article. Many people have different tile editors they prefer to use, and I really don‘t care
which one you choose…as long as it‘s Tile Layer Pro. You can download Tile Layer Pro by visiting, and clicking the Download File Now link.
The next thing you‘ll need is a ROM. In this article, we will be using NES ROMs, though Tile Layer Pro is capable of
editing ROMs for most of the 8 and 16 bit systems. In all likelihood, you already have a nice library of ROMs sitting
on your hard drive; if not, I can‘t legally tell you where to get them, but if you Google it, I‘m sure you‘ll figure it out.
Last, you will need an emulator. I use Nestopia for my NES ROMs and it works fine. Much like the tile editor, there
are several free emulators available. If you don‘t have an emulator, Google Nestopia, then download and install it.
Before editing any of your ROMs, you should make a copy of them. It‘s a good idea to have one folder for unaltered
ROMs and another for altered ROMs. This will allow you to have a copy of the original ROM when, I mean if, you
mess something up.
First open the tile editor, then go to
File/Open, and select the ROM you
would like to edit. You will notice that
four boxes appear. The first box, lo-
cated on the left-hand side of the
screen, holds the graphics which are
stored in the game. In all likelihood,
the box you are looking at is filled with
garbage, very similar to the white
noise seen on a television. You are
seeing this white noise because the tile
editor is creating an image based on
the data stored in the ROM. Simply
use the arrow on the right side of the
box to scroll down, and you should
eventually reach images you recognize.
You will notice that the graphics are
You may first notice “garbage” (left) just scroll down to see the graphics (right) stored in small squares called tiles.
These tiles are usually made of 64 pixels, and contain four colors, one corresponding to transparency. You will also
notice that the graphics may be stored irregularly. For instance, a character‘s head may be stored in one space, the
arms and legs in another, and the body in yet another. This brings us comfortably to the tile arranger box.
The tile arranger box lets you drag
tiles to it, and recreate the image to
make it easier to see. Try it out, just
left click on a tile and drag it to the
tile arranger box. You may select a
tile for editing by left clicking either a
tile in the box containing the graph-
ics, or by left clicking a tile in the tile
arranger box.
When a tile is clicked to edit, it will
appear in the tile editor box. The
palette editor box will contain the
colors you can use to edit the tile. It
doesn‘t matter what colors are shown
in the palette editor box, the actual
colors that you would see when play-
ing the unaltered game are the colors
that are available to edit the tile with.
The colors you see in the palette box Drag the graphic from the left side to the tile arranger on the right
are to make it easier for you to see,
and do not correspond to the actual colors you will see when playing the game.
(Continued on page 34)
33 | Video Game Trader Magazine | June 2008 |
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