What Is a ROM Hack?


In recent times, there have been more and more incredible ROM hacks popping up. These hacks take classic video games and give them renewed vigor by either changing the difficulty, putting them into a new setting or creating an entirely different experience altogether.

Once you discover the world of ROM hacking, you’ll have walked into a separate realm of video games where it feels like almost anything is possible.

What Is A ROM Hack?

To start, ROM stands for read-only memory, which comes from the chip inside video game cartridges that holds all the data pertaining to that specific game. This data can be copied via a ROM image or a ROM file, and this is what’s used for ROM hacks.

ROM hacking is the process of taking a game’s files and altering them to create a new experience using the old game’s engine. With the proper editing tools, a ROM hacker can change things ranging simply from dialogue options to core gameplay mechanics and level design.

ROM hacks will generally stay faithful to the original game design, opting instead to create new levels, introduce new music and game elements, and aim to create a totally new way to experience the original game.

How Does ROM Hacking Work?

Most ROM hacks are done through the use of a hex editor, which focuses on editing text as well foundational concepts in any particular game such as item properties and assembly hacking. Learn to use a hex editor is the bedrock for anyone looking to work on a ROM hack.

There are also additional editing systems depending on the task at hand, such as a tile editor to use for changing graphics and a level editor for redesigning levels already in the game. Which tools a hacker will use depends entirely on the scope and goal of the specific hack they are working on.

When the ROM hack is completed, it is almost always played via emulator, as this is the easiest way to transfer and upload the files. However, there are certain patched ROMs which are playable with the original cartridges and hardware, and finding ways to incorporate emulated experiences on the original consoles has become a more popular pursuit.

Why Do People Make ROM Hacks?

For those who love classic games, and also have the technical and creative eye for it, ROM hacks are a perfect way to breathe new life into these iconic video games. It can be as simple as incorporating Super Mario 64 physics into Super Smash Bros. Melee, or it can be as advanced as creating a whole new game. These are all passion projects from people who love these titles.

Aside from the creators, there is a steadily growing hunger for people who play ROM hacks, as these often present new and exciting challenges to games that are several decades old. The Kaizo ROM hacks were one of the early examples of how far you could push a game’s mechanics to create insane difficulty, and the fact that people have risen to the challenge has helped spawn this type of ROM hack across the gaming world.

Essential, ROM hacks are a way to potentially create endless new experiences with a game engine that players already love. And the growing resources and community surrounding ROM hacks are making it that much more accessible.

How Do I Learn More About Different ROM Hacks?

The website ROMhacking.net is a great place to start, as there are plenty of documents, forums, FAQs and articles that answer just about any question one can have when starting to look into the world of ROM hacking. It also provides a list of games so that you can narrow your search down to things that actually interest you.

Checking things out on YouTube is also a good start, and oftentimes the more popular channels and/or the creators of the particular ROM will have the patches somewhere in the description, making those ROMs an easy find. But at the end of the day, discovering the right ROM hack for you will be a bit of a journey.