Just Slap EarthBound On It
Ever since I finished working on the MOTHER 3 fan translation, people have been asking what’s up with my old EarthBound Zero remake hack project. I probably should’ve made this post a good while ago, but I only remembered now after playing the hack on my Wii the other day and being surprised by stuff I had forgotten about in it.
Anyway, the short answer is that the hack’s not going anywhere at the moment due to extreme busy-ness with other things, and like I always mention, it’s not something I absolutely feel I have to get done, it’s just a pet project that I’ve had fun working on. Some people like to take car engines apart and put them back together, other people like to make spice racks and sheds and junk like that, taking ROMs (especially EarthBound) apart and messing with them is what I do. There are also other non-hacking projects out there to remake EarthBound Zero using RPG Maker and such, so if you want to put your anticipation into anything, I recommend them 😛
If you’re not sure what this EarthBound Zero remake hack is, basically back in early 2007 I decided to start hacking the EarthBound ROM to try to recreate EarthBound Zero. A lot of people have a hard time getting into EarthBound Zero, and this hack addresses many of those issues. No more insane random encounter rate – you can see the enemies walking around just like in EarthBound. Better-flowing text, more colors, better presentation, the list goes on.
Anyway, if you’re interested, read on to see a quick history of the project, pics, a link to the latest version patch I have, a quick rundown of what you can do in the early beta build, some MP3 links, and other stuff!
One of the biggest mistakes that many fan game creators make is starting by making the game’s content first and continually making up new content as they go along. This almost always ends with the game getting nowhere. I know this from personal experience – so many of the games I made growing up went nowhere because I did things wrong.
The first thing that a project needs is design. After you’ve designed the game, then you work on the engine. Once the engine is done, you work on the content. And then from there you polish stuff up, fix bugs, etc. So for this project, this is the same process I started with. I even mapped out the map layout on posterboard before actually hacking EarthBound’s maps:
Another problem with fan hacks, especially with EarthBound, is that the tools available only really let you edit existing stuff in the games. What I wanted was to start with a clean slate. So I wrote a program to clear out all the map data, text data, NPC data, etc. Another thing that’s really bad about EarthBound hacking is that the text system is absolute craziness. So I wrote a custom program that made things a lot easier and gave me much more control now that the game was cleared out. It’s now easy to place NPCs anywhere in the game and assign them text and events and have complex scripts take place.
With that in place, I pulled the text from the EB0 ROM and converted it into a format for EarthBound to handle. I turned off most of the lines after seeing that this worked, and the plan was that I would come back later and edit the text to be a little less bland, while also assigning NPC data to each line and placing the NPCs in the appropriate locations.
Thanks to the help of BlueAntoid, who had tried to make an EB0 remake hack years before, I imported EarthBound Zero enemy graphics into the hack. The cool thing about this is that the SNES allows for more colors, and BlueAntoid had updated all the enemies with a nice 16-bit graphic treatment:
I quickly gave the enemies their new names, but giving them all their proper actions would have to come another day, as that’s a ton of work in itself.
After doing lots of tool testing and adding new capabilities to the tools as needed, I started to put together a small testing area in the game. After that, I started putting the basic map layouts together, basically segmenting which area will be which map. I should mention that maps in EarthBound are actually technically just one giant map. This giant map’s size is 8192×10240 pixels. EarthBound Zero’s map, though, is 16384×14336 pixels. So the maps in the remake hack would have to be squished down, and the free-roaming aspect would have to be taken out due to other technical reasons.
Anyway, I implemented the basic map layout design and started on some early maps of Podunk. You can see how squished things had to be from a very early version of Podunk compared to the actual EB0 version of Podunk. I also made a quick graveyard area as a test and connected the two maps.
It was around this time that I realized that EarthBound’s map system was really not suited for heavy editing. In fact, the map system was apparently one of the main reasons MOTHER 2 was nearly cancelled back in like 1993. It’s hard to explain in easy terms, but besides arcane technical reasons, almost all the tiles were drawn in a specific way. It was almost like if you drew a complex map by hand, then cut it into tiles. I can’t make the buildings I want, the tiles only allow for specific buildings in specific situations. Try editing the EarthBound maps sometimes and this’ll make more sense 😛
So, the obvious answer to that is, “Then just redraw the tiles!” Which I did of course, but the two main map editors that exist both cause major bugs in different ways. Long story short, map data gets crazy corrupted, and after having to fight this for several days, I just decided to put everything on hold since I was getting nowhere:
So I set it aside and started working on the MOTHER 3 fan translation. Now that that’s done, I’ve been busy with EarthBound Central, the MOTHER 1+2 translation, work, and trying to catch up on sleep. Until a better map editor comes along, I don’t think I can do much more with the project – I need to have the maps in place before I place NPCs around and set up the string of key events needed to finishing the game. I don’t have the skill to program a Windows app like that, I’ve been starting to dabble in C# and .Net stuff, but at this rate, it’ll be years before I get around to making a good map editor of my own. So I’m hoping, praying that someone will be able to do that 😛
Besides the map editor (which is quite complicated, it’s also a tile editor, a mini-tile editor, a property editor, and many other crazy things), I’d probably need to get the help of a really skilled map editing person to create new minitiles with which we can create new custom tiles. The technical limits are pretty strict though, and I imagine just making the tiles themselves would take many months. This is one aspect where I envy RPG Maker enthusiasts. Editing maps in EarthBound is hell and creating entirely new maps in EarthBound is super hell.
While all this was going on, helpful folks on the PK Hack boards offered things like custom overworld sprites, and lewahi even did some early music editing. Editing music in EarthBound is also hellish, so that was impressive.
All of this took place in just a few weeks’ time in 2007. I started to document things here, but then the map problem showed up. Looking back, for the amount of time spent, a whole lot actually got done. It’s a shame progress had to stop there.
The Latest Beta Build
I guess technically this would be an alpha not a beta, but oh well. If you want to see the latest patch version I released back in 2007, here you go:
- Get an EarthBound ROM from somewhere
- Download the patch here, unzip it – My guess of 5% done is just a rough estimate
- Download the EarthBound patching program – use this, NOT a standard IPS patcher!
- Unzip the patcher program. Move the ROM, the patch, and the patcher program into a folder
- Run the patcher program. Select the ROM and then select the patch, then press the button to patch the game.
- It’ll ask if you want to make a backup of your ROM. Choose Yes or No. The program might pop up and tell you some other things, read these then continue
- Once the game is patched, run the ROM in a Super NES emulator
When you start the game, the intro stuff and the title screen will still be the same. Changing that stuff wasn’t a priority and will be one of the last things to be changed probably. Because I changed map data though, the intro credits are kind of goofy looking 😛
At the naming screen, some of this stuff has already been changed. The biggest thing of note is that Pippi is going to take King’s place, so when it asks you what the pet’s name is, you should probably name her Pippi instead of Doggy. It doesn’t really matter though.
After this, the game will do its usual flyover intro stuff, but with weird maps and weird music changes going on. Ignore that for now, that’s the kind of stuff that would be changed near the end of the project when putting everything together.
Anyway, you’ll eventually see a bright green area. You can walk around and stuff, but just wait a few seconds. The screen will shake and then you’ll be free to do whatever you want from then on.
This is the first area I made, it’s a little debug area where I tested my tools, scripts, and other things. Some of the objects will give you items. The cat changes the palette. Talking to the Mr. Saturn will send you to Podunk. But before talking to him, you can check out stuff to the north.
The Mr. T guy will initiate Random Fight Club, in which you basically fight a random enemy. Almost all enemies have 1 HP for testing purposes. The Starman guy will make you fight the Starman Prototyper. He’s tough and can kill you if you don’t raise your level beforehand. I forget why he was there. If you die, you might get stuck and have to reset the game.
The Star Master will let you change your level. The slot machine will give you any item you want. The jukebox will let you hear any song in the game. Just know that if you walk too far away, the music will reset to the proper music for the area. So if you want to listen to a song, you shouldn’t walk around and go anywhere, it’s the way the game’s engine works.
Even further north you can check out an early version of all the eight melodies you get in the game. They use existing EarthBound instruments, so if they sound weird, that’s why.
Talk to the Mr. Saturn and he’ll set up some event flags and send you to your home in Podunk.
You can go into your house and talk to your mom, your sisters, and use the phone. I was testing stuff out here, so the sisters will get you into some fights.
One of the latest things I had created was the “Debugalizer”, which is a really useful tool for debugging and checking stuff. With it, you can do all kinds of stuff and warp to any area of the game.
For testing purposes, I littered Podunk with all the first enemies in the game and gave them decent stats and actions and all that. What’s cool is that unlike EarthBound Zero, there are no random encounters – you see enemies walking around just like in EarthBound 😀
I also tested out my tools a bit by having a few of the Podunk NPCs show up. For the most part, they say exactly what they say in EarthBound Zero. Text editing would come much later.
By the way, southwest of Pippi’s house is the entrance to Canary Village. There’s nothing there right now, but a different, sadder song plays there currently.
Far north of Podunk is a wild area with lots of trees and a gift box. Further north of that is where the zoo would be. You can go east from the Zoo to eventually wind up where the cave to Magicant would be.
East of Podunk is the entrance to Merrysville, which also has a new song, which is my favorite out of all the new music.
Keep in mind that the map layouts were all super-basic and would be made MUCH better later on. Even Podunk’s current layout is temporary and mostly for testing.
Talk to the mayor, and he’ll set an event flag. Southeast of town, you’ll run into some zombies. You can talk to one of them and fight him, though he doesn’t disappear afterward at the moment. If you’ve played EarthBound Zero, you might remember that some of the townspeople are actually zombies in disguise and will attack you if you talk to them. He’s like an early version of that that I was testing.
Anyway, go south and you’ll enter the very temporary cemetery area. Inside the cabin is a gift box, there’s usually a zombie in there too, though. The cemetery is full of the appropriate enemies with decent playable stats and actions. In the very top right corner of the cemetery, sometimes a special enemy will appear – he looks like a regular gangster zombie but in battle he has a different palette. I added him for fun, but I don’t think he’d have been in the final version 😛
If you talked to the mayor, then one of the graves in the south area of the cemetery will be open and you can climb down it. Inside, you’ll find four coffins and the missing Pippi. I know that in the original game she’s IN one of the coffins, but that would require a ton of work and this was for quick fun and testing purposes. Anyway, talk to her and she’ll join you and give you the Franklin Badge.
Head back out… but wait, there’s a zombie boss in the way! If you’re at the right level, then he should be pretty hard, but since he uses PSI Thunder, it’ll bounce off your badge and kill him. Afterward, Pippi will say something and then you can go. Here, I was testing more complex scripting.
That’s as far as the mini-demo goes. You can’t even leave the cemetery it looks like, I remember that the map editors were giving me trouble connecting the cemetery to Podunk. There are still a few more things you can do if you want though. Use the Debugalizer to warp to anywhere in the game. Most maps are still early placeholders, but in Magicant I left some of EB0’s script accessible, mostly just the end credit names though. You might also want to try the Mt. Itoi Trail, which is a quick maze I made. It’s kind of fun, and I even managed to get myself lost in the maze two years later. The cave at the end of the maze doesn’t work, but the gift box was meant to be a goofy “hurray you made it to the end” thing.
Not all of the items have descriptions yet, but those that do are kind of neat. I also added a number of different items, so you can look through those if you want, using the Debugalizer or the slot machine in the debug area.
Here are three of the very early new songs, my favorite being “Bein’ Friends”. EarthBound’s music is very hard to edit, you almost need a degree in Computer Science and Music to get anything done with it 😯
Pollyanna (Sad, meant to be used in Canary Village):
Future of the Hack
Like I mentioned before, this is more of a project that gives me fun rather than something I want to get done right away. It could take me 50 years to finish for all I know. Or I could never finish it, who knows. It’s just fun to work on (except for the damn maps) so I’m going to keep having fun tinkering with it.
That said, I probably won’t be able to do any more work on it for a while, especially without a decent map editor. If I wind up having to make one myself, it’ll be quite a while longer. In the meantime, there are RPG Maker projects and such which attempt to recreate EarthBound Zero with better graphics and all that, so look around for those if you’re hungering for a remake of the game. My translation of MOTHER 1+2 might also satisfy that need, if I go through with the super-colorization thing, but that’s another thing altogether.
I probably won’t have any updates to make until I do continue work on this, so if you don’t hear anything for a long while, that’s why. But you can check out the beta patch above, the simple progress log from days of yore, and some of the early development videos. Also, if you’re curious, check out the to-do list.
Until another time, in another space!
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- Mike: Also, I have to post once more to say: The cover texture effect is incredible and so Earthboundy. So many details like that make this utterly...
- Mike: I just received my copy this week, and it is amazing. The fact that you didn’t just throw a bunch of Earthbound localization facts, but...
- Jeff Shot First: My copy arrived today! It is… amazing. I haven’t put it down yet. I don’t really know what else to say. I think...
- TanukiDan: I can’t wait to get it! Would you mind if I talked about it on my lame youtube once I get it?
- Lochy: This looks awesome. Hopefully I can buy it as an after christmas present for myself. What an absolute treat!