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My Ten Cents
On ROM hacking and translating

          The cursor blinks as I sit and watch the endless messages and sayings go by on irc. People talk about anything that comes to their minds. In particular, there is one channel that sparks the inspiration of many people to make games more enjoyable for a wider area of people. #romhack has been around since early 1998, and is has started to get people into the moods to start translating some of the games people now enjoy in different languages. Yet the role of a translator and ROM hacker remains to be unseen to the general public for reasons still unknown to myself. They don't know of all the hard work and dedication that goes into making the games they enjoy even more enjoyable by being able to understand what the characters are saying and doing. They just think to themselves, "Hey, lookie there. A game I haven't played has been translated. Guess I'll play it, " and think nothing other than that. This simple mindedness is okay for some, but I believe that the groups of people that have spent their time to make those games "playable" to some who can't read different languages (primarily Japanese) deserve credit.

          There are some out there who believe that the hardest thing to do in the emulation world is to make a great emulator. This is hard, but I don't think it should hold the throne as hardest alone. The weight could also be held by ROM hackers and translators. Lets explore exactly what has to go on to make the games that many previously saw as "impossible to play because I couldn't read it" to the games they now know and love dearly (well.. maybe not love dearly).

          First off, you have to have a brain. This is an aspect I can safely say is sort of rare in the emulation community. You have to be able to know what you're about to do (whether it is translate a ROM completely, or just change one graphic in it) before you screw around. Otherwise, you'll end up with more problems than you ever dreamed. For hacking, sometimes all you have to know is where the graphical data is stored in the game. This requires the use of some knowledge of hex and binary numbers (or, if it's for NES ROM's, Nesticle). Once you know where they are, you can go and attempt to change the characters/graphics. This brings me to another thing that some (sometimes many) can screw up on. People don't understand that in every ROM, there is some sort of compression somewhere to either lower the size of the game, stop piracy of the game, or even both. Most of the time this compression (whether is be as advanced as Huffman compression, or as primitive as a ziplock bad {figuratively speaking, of course.. I don't know of and ROM that uses a ziplock bad for compression, but it could happen...}), and will be located in the area of the ROM that uses the most space (as one would rightfully assume). Nine times out of ten, there will be more text in the game than graphics, so as you could see, the compression is most often located in the text of the game. Compression proves time and time again to be one of the most annoying things ROM hackers and translators have to deal with. Sometimes they can ASM hack (requires a lot of knowledge of the actual game's inner workings) the ROM to make more space, but sometimes they can't (due to a compression unknown to them, or a lack of a good ASM hacker). This poses a problem for some who have to deal with changing the text so it'll fit in the ROM. The actual ROM could also be hacked to expand the available size so text could be inserted that is more true to the translation (as was done with the Final Fantasy 5 translation by RPGe), but if done incorrectly, or not done fully, it could screw up certain parts of the game, making for crashes, freezes, or general fuck ups (as is seen in the current patch of Seiken Densetsu 3) that prove to be very annoying. This requires the working of people who are very advanced in the knowledge of the games inner workings, as well as a high knowledge of hex, and a patience that could outlast infinity. This can't even be attempted until the person(s) working on the translation/hack know what they are working on in the first place. It would be pointless to expand a ROM that has more than enough space at the get go. The person(s) have to delve deep into the ROM and see exactly how much space they have that's available, and then decide if they need to expand it, and if so, how much. This can be done with the help of some programs that can manipulate the available space and move it to different areas of the ROM, but once again, it requires at the very least, some knowledge of hex (you've got to know WHERE exactly it's all being moved to). Once that's determined, the person(s) can finally move on to changing the ROM to what they want it to be. If they're hacking the graphics, they can use a variety of tools and programs to find exactly where the graphics are, and then convert them to whatever they like. This can cause some problems, as some graphics might be linked to others that may screw up certain parts of the games. If done correctly, they can make an ips patch out of their work and show it to the world (if they want to).

          Translating is a totally different deal. Most of the time translating takes the combined efforts of teams of people to successfully finish. They need translators (go figure), experienced hackers, people with knowledge of ASM, text converters (grammar and whatnot), and sometimes, beta testers. Translations also take a great deal of time to finish. Patience is the key to a great translation. If you have a group of people that just do translations in their spare time, you're not going to have nearly as good of a translation as if you had a group that was dedicated to the translation. I'm not saying that you should have a group of people that spend every last waking moment of their lives working on the translation (but then again.. it could be nice..), but if you have at least a few people that will at least offer more work than a monthly reminder of two words they they're still there, then you're in luck. Once there's a good team established, (or if you decide to work alone), the translation can begin. First off, they have to find the text in the game (requires a knowledge of hex). Once it's found, it has to either be hacked and changed, or dumped, changed, and inserted (usually requires some expansion of the ROM). Then, once it's translated, it has to be tested to make sure there are no errors that occur throughout the game with the patch they produce (as was in J2e's translation of Final Fantasy 4, where the game would freeze in the underworld). The group also has to look for areas they might have missed with the translation, and check for spelling and grammatical errors throughout the text. This is why they will get a group of beta testers to check out the game. It is much quicker to have a large group of people looking for errors than it is to have just one doing the same thing. Once that's done, and they are fully happy with what they have accomplished, they can release a patch, and prey for the best from the general public. From beginning to end, this process could take anywhere from six months to over a year depending on the game.

          The role of the translator in the emulation community is one that is fairly unknown. Yet the translator and ROM hacker provide the general people with many great games they previously couldn't enjoy because of language barriers. Still, they remain unseen in the eyes of many, and their hard work is hardly ever noticed by even themselves. I would like to say to everybody out there who has, is , or is thinking of, hacking a ROM, translating a ROM, or just changing a couple of graphics in a ROM, if you decide to release your work to the general public, then I commend you. It takes a great deal of work to make a good translation or ROM hack, and it should be shown. Sometimes even, translations and ROM hacks can be just as hard as, or even harder than, making the emulators to run the ROM's on. To all the people who have just taken the ROM's without thinking of the people who translated or hacked them, I suggest you find out who they are and send them some kind of thank you. They attempt to make people happy with no personal gain, sometimes with more of a personal loss, and are hardly ever commended on their works. But, hey..

Just my ten cents...