The Weekly Geekout: Fan Translation, Rom Hackers, Cartridge Makers

Nostalgia is something powerful in society but even more so Geek Culture. It is used to sell us new products, it compels us to buy old products, and most of all it gives us something to debate. After all, my nostalgia is far different than yours even if we grew up during the same time and watched or did the same things.

Geeks talk about nostalgia a lot and video games are no exception. Every retro game site out there reminisces about past consoles, past characters. Emulators help us relive nostalgia in significant ways by allowing us to not forget the older procedural rhetoric, or as I want to call it our procedural folklore. This allows us to know that Mario’s abilities haven’t really changed too much even with the addition of a 3rd axis or that games themselves haven’t truly escaped their initial configurations.

While this cataloging is important, there is a form of nostalgia that we might often miss unless we specifically seek it out. You could call this form of nostalgia enthusiast-oriented. It isn’t that this nostalgia is different, it just takes a few steps past consumption or re-consumption of goods.

In essence, these fans, through their nostalgia, do not simply stop at purchasing old things that make them smile. These fans take action.

The easiest way to refer to these fans are Fan Translators or those who rip apart the language of a game in order to localize it into another language, Rom Hackers or those who rip apart the procedures and art assets of a game in order to reconfigure it how they see fit, and Custom Cartridge Makers who seek to reproduce the former’s work on an authentic cartridge for that game’s original system. These manipulators of nostalgia re-formulate classic ideas and procedures and update them into the epistemologies of the present. Old, forgotten video games or never translated gems are suddenly reconfigured or thrust into a language that never had a chance to experience them.

These games, this subculture is a strange but wonderful peak into how potent fandom is.

Translations

Mother 3 (GBA, original release, 2006, fan-translation, 2008): http://mother3.fobby.net/

One powerful game during the era of the SNES was Earthbound. This game, commonly referred to as Mother 2, actually has a sequel that was never released in English. We often talk about “adult” video games but typically that means violence, nudity, or things otherwise reserved for Rated R movies. What Mother 3 provides is some complex emotional content as a town comes to grips with events that will forever change its innocence. Originally released in 2006, a group of fans of the game got together and produced an English translation in 2008.

Policenauts (PC-9821, 3D0, PS1, Sega Saturn, 1994-1996, fan translation finished 2009): http://policenauts.net/

The next translation product comes from the Metal Gear designer Hideo Kojima and is called Policenauts. This game was also never released in the United States but is mostly due to the fact that the Sega Saturn did so terribly in this country. Policenauts is a hard science fiction game about the police force assigned to maintain order on the first man-made space colony. For the most part, this point and click adventure style game pays homage to all manner of science fiction. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for an experience that simply doesn’t exist anymore in video games.

Rom Hackers

Legend of Zelda: Parallel Worlds (ROM Hack, 2008): https://sites.google.com/site/zeldaparallelworlds/home

If you enjoy pain, try this game out. It takes the sprites and mechanics of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and uses them in ways that only the most hardcore of fans could comprehend. If you’d like to know just how difficult the games of the past could be, I highly recommend this game. From blink glitching to wall hacks, this game does more than just break the wall between the player and the game, it makes you use it to full effect.

Super Metroid Redesign (ROM HACK, 2006): http://drewseph.zophar.net/

This redesign not only moves sprites around but also manipulates mechanics in a way to make the game longer, more challenging, and almost completely new. To demonstrate just how much more there is in this game, consider the map of the original Super Metroid and the map of Super Metroid Re-Design.

Cartridge Makers

This group of fans not only geek out at the sight of their passion, they also take them apart and reformulate their contents at a physical level. Below, you will find places where  you can purchase a re-design or translation and have it printed on to its own cartridge.

NES Reproductions: http://www.nesreproductions.com/

Retrofools: https://www.etsy.com/shop/RetroFools

OCDReproductions: http://www.ocdreproductions.com/

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About Nick LaLone

PhD Student at Penn State in Information Sciences and Technology. Interested in how ideas move through society and how different translations of those ideas manifest.

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