Modding and ROM Hacking

A few days ago, I decided to play a bit of Skyrim, an almost decade old game. That got me thinking, how is this game still relevant? The answer to that is mods. Today, I want to explore how modding and ROM hacking can revitalize a game or help it maintain its relevancy. 

To start, I should mention what modding and ROM hacking do to maintain interest in a game. The encompassing answer is that these two hobbies add content or give a new experience to the players. However, they achieve this in two very different ways. From what I know, modding adds completely new assets into the game, without altering anything else unless specified too. On the other hand, ROM hacking takes the existing assets and manipulates them into something else. For example, let’s say a game has an iron sword. With a mod, you could add in a completely different sword without altering the existing iron sword. In ROM hacking, to add in that new sword, it would need to take the iron swords place. 

So, how does this help? In RPGs like Skyrim, modders have achieved a bunch of crazy stuff. People have created entire maps, some could even be considered on par with DLC. There have also been mods that add new features like flying, and there’ve even been cases were modders have created their own patches. And this is all on top of the original game, nothing is lost. My personal favourite has to be the Beyond Skyrim project. In terms of map creation and adding in assets, it has to be the most ambitious project ever. For some background, Bethesda the people behind Skyrim have created their own little continent called Tamriel, were their Elder Scrolls series takes place. Starting in 1994 with the release of the first Elder Scrolls game, Bethesda have constantly expanded Tamriel, with each game take place in a new province. From Bethesda’s preestablish lore there are nine provinces, with the Elder Scroll series only covering five provinces in its twenty six years of existence. The goal of Beyond Skyrim is to eventually add in all of these provinces into Skyrim through mods. As of now, Beyond Skyrim has already added one province, Cyrodiil which was previously featured in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls Oblivion. It is admittedly a colossal effort, however, you can’t help but admire the dedication modders bring to keep a game like Skyrim alive.   

ROM hacking on the other hand, essentially creates an entire new game. Like I said before, it manipulates and replaces most of the assets in the original game. Because of the nature of how ROM hacking is, it’s more commonly seen in older games. From personal experience, almost all the ROM hacking I’ve seen done has been accomplished on the GBA platform, though this is mainly because of how much more complex 3D can be. However, just because it’s being done on an older platform doesn’t diminish its prominence in the gaming community. For example, there was a Pokemon Fire Red ROM hack called Pokemon Ash Gray which followed the events of the anime to a tea. 

Unfortunately, we get to the legitimacy of these hobbies. Fortunately, modding seems to be completely legal, with companies like Bethesda embracing it. For its more recent releases like Skyrim and Fallout 4, Bethesda has a free creation tool, allowing more people access to modding. In fact, Bethesda has embraced modding so much they monetized it through their creation club. It was a move that raised many eyebrows and certainly still does today. Most still question why Bethesda is charging people for mods that have been free in the past or have free counterparts, but in my mind it at least cements modding as a perfectly legitiment hobby. Unfortunately, ROM hacking is a little more grey. From what I’ve seen, the act of altering the game code doesn’t seem to be the problem. Rather it’s how one gains access to a game, and later it’s redistribution after its alteration. The legitimate way of getting your hands on these ROMs is to buy them. Usually this entails purchasing a legit cartridge and covering it into a ROM with special software. The less legitimate way is to pirate these games through the internet, this is why no one will point you in the direction of where to find them. Regardless of how you obtain your game, the manipulation of data should be fine under fair use. 

Overall, modding and ROM hacking can breath life into old games. Personally, I have my eyes on a small group of modders trying to create a multiplayer version of Skyrim, and of course the Beyond Skyrim project. In the future, I can’t wait to see how modding and ROM hacking will evolve, and hopefully expand into an entirely ligament hobby.  

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