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Make new cartridge based, hardware playable games for the NES.  No programming required.
Make new cartridge based, hardware playable games for the NES. No programming required.
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Answering the most frequently asked question...

Posted by Joe Granato (Creator)

If there is one question I get asked more than any other, it's "will NESmaker be able to do _______".  Most times, the question is broad, like "will NESmaker be able to make a game like Battletoads".  Sometimes it's more specific, like "will NESmaker be able to use advanced sound chips".  Because I routinely have to answer these questions across 10 different social media accounts AND here on KS, and the answer is generally the same, I thought I'd post it in one place for reference.

All NES games run on long strings of HEX values.  An assembler takes 6502 Assembly Language and turns it into the hex values that the NES reads.  One hex value might give a command, the other might be some sort of argument, another pair might be pointers to a new location in memory, and so on.  When you play with hex editors, you're directly modifying that output hex data.  When you write ASM code, you're seeing the data in a more logical way, which then "assembles" into the HEX values the NES needs to see.

Games created with NESmaker are no different.  The difference is, we've developed a front end to do a lot of the 6502 ASM choices for you.  What is assembling when you hit "test game" is still a hundred thousand lines of ASM code, turning it into hex values which a system or emulator can than properly interpret.  The difference is, we are providing a drag and drop / wysiwyg style method of manipulating that code, rather than you having to write it in an code editor manually.  

How does this answer the question?  Well...simple.  NESmaker can do whatever the code underneath can do, and could be made to do anything that a user updates the code to do.  So when someone asks a quest like, "can NESmaker make a game like Battletoads?", it becomes very difficult to answer.  What part of Battletoads are you referring to?  Just being a beat-em-up style game?  Sure.  The parallax scrolling?  Probably not with it's existing mapper, as that sort of thing generally requires a mapper that supports better frame timing, but if someone is super proficient in ASM and really understands frame counting (if you want a long look at this, take a look at this Mystic Searches update!), they could likely figure out a clever way to split the screen to get this effect.  Are we talking about the depth of the graphics?  Sure...if one is skilled enough at graphic creation.  Are we talking about having pingponging levels, where some are vertical scrollers and some horizontal?  Sort of, though mirroring is static with this mapper so you'd have to be clever.  And so on, and so forth.

So questions like these are really hard to answer, because the code underneath coupled with how the user cleverly employs it through the tool is what determines what is possible.  For instance, years ago when we just had a top down demo, someone asked if we could repurpose it to make a beat em up.  We explained that it didn't really work like that.  We turned our back, and about half hour later, he had what looked like a Double Dragon game, just by changing the perspective of graphics and disallowing graphical direction changes based on up and down pushes.  

This is why the question is so hard to answer.  The answer, really, is NESmaker can do whatever a mapper 30 game can do, which is pretty much whatever a standard NES game can do.  However, more advanced tricks require more advanced usage, just like anything else.  Once, I swear I had someone ask me something like, "Can I have it where, like, you have a boss, and he taunts you, and then he like goes up off the screen, and then, like, you have to hit a bunch of switches, and then the music and colors change, and then he appears and you have to fight him, but then he turns out to be an NPC, and then he gives you a key or something?"  Those are the types of questions that are impossible to answer.  The answer will always be "if you can concieve of a way to do it...but there won't be a single button you push called the "boss-taunts-flies-switches-musicChange-appear-fight-NPC-key" button in NESmaker.  One would have to walk through the logic.  What NESmaker is allowing a user to do is to be able to start conceiving it without having to write it all in ASM code, but rather a more intuitive front end interface.

Think about it like this - if someone was talking about word processing software like Microsoft word, the equivalent question might be "Can I make a script for an action movie like Terminator 2 with this?!".  Which, of course, is really hard to answer.  Sure, it can handle the formatting fine.  But it's still up to the user to actually create a compelling script, understand dramatic timing, understand how to create evocative scene descriptions, character arcs, etc. 

I hope this makes sense!  If you ever feel compelled to ask "can NESmaker...", refer to this post for the best answer.  :-)

Gary Kind, Christopher Favreau, and 28 more people like this update.


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    1. Missing avatar

      James Purcell on

      The only thing I'm really curious about, is will NES Maker and Mapper 30 allow me to easily create games with gameplay areas several screens in size? I know 4 way screen scrolling isn't the easiest thing for the NES to pull off.

    2. Missing avatar

      Robert on

      I think a lot of aspiring game designers can't really fathom the constraints in the hardware, many are probably used to seeing what more capable systems like the snes and genesis can do and don't really understand the creativity that had to go into nes games to even make them as broad as they were. They have a lot of ideas and ambitions and I'm sure original nes developers did too, Like with Miyamoto who wanted mario's hair and hat to fly up as he fell down from a jump. Sometimes you have to trim expectations. Keep experimenting but also understand the nes isn't magic or like developing for the PC.

    3. Jason McMillen on

      Just think Joe; all these questions you get, once you launch the tool, can finally turn into "can you make the tools able to do this and that" questions instead. :P

      I think once people start getting their hands on it and start talking about it and showing off what they're doing with it (unless you want us to not show it off until we get the one in August?) you'll get less of the "can it do...?" and more feature requests, however those are a bit more useful to a project than the entry level of curiosity and confusion.

      Seeing is believing yeah? :)

      Plus if you can find a way to include the community in part of the request-development it'll help off-load these feature requests onto the hands developers who use it and they can make their own modules so there isn't all that pressure to create every individual idea each person has into the toolset. Things that can be added later and such.

    4. Technetium on

      I got another "can NESMaker..." question:
      assuming a platform puzzler, where you can enter rooms with e.g. items (weapons, life, keys) to collect etc. Now these rooms play a minor role and might all look the same, hence I only create it once. Now I create ONE room holding a bomb, ONE room holding a key, ONE room holding a life and ONE empty room. My level has 10 room doors, 7 empty from the beginning, the other 3 hold a bomb.
      - when entering one of the doors to an empty room, the character always gets into the same empty room, but when exiting, he needs to stand in front of the correct door (1:n relationship)
      - when entering an door to a bomb room, character gets into the ONE bomb room, can pick up the bomb, and exiting the room. when entering that door again, he is technically entering the ONE predefined empty room.
      - when entering a door to another bomb room (one of the 2 remaining ones), he is technically entering the ONE bomb room again, rest applies as before
      Hope my description is clear.
      Can I do this in NESMaker's WYSIWYG frontend w/o any coding required?

    5. Releasethedogs on

      So, can I make a light gun game with this?
      How about a game like Battletoads?

    6. ronald clarke on

      Can the NESMaker make a game like Battletoads & Double Dragon?

    7. Chris Nelson on

      So I get that NESmaker can allow one to streamline the process of getting ASM to do the things we want it to do, at the expense of very fine control that one can go in and edit manually with the proper know-how. But that all still leaves one burning question regarding the full potential of the software.

      Can NESmaker see why kids love Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

    8. Mike J Ferens on

      Weird. I mean I figured I would likely start off by making a Black Box era type of game as the tool would probably have no problem in facilitating that. Then as I get more ambitious, say an '88-'89 era game, I would experiment with both the tools's and my own capabilities.
      Or likely, as was the case using old programs like photoshop 4 and such back in the day, if the program doesn't have an easy option, I'd just get creative and find a way to actualize my will within the parameters available to me.
      Sound like an accurate assessment?

    9. Peter Paltridge on

      At what point in a game's development should you whip out the editor and start altering code to your specific liking? The beginning, the middle, or close to the end?

      You;'ll probably say "it depends on what you're trying to do." So let me put it this way.....I've spoken in the past about how desperately I need cutscenes, and I've been told you have no plans to automate such a thing. So I'm trying to work out a way to do them in the code:…

      One of the mystery questions is: where's a safe address I can store the cutscene data so NES Maker won't explode the next time I open it? You would know better than I.

    10. Joe Granato 5-time creator on

      @Jason - the main problem is the very dramatically different way the different mappers handle memory management, the different ways in which they load banks, the different sizes of these banks. Essentially, just about every routine's placement would have to be changed, and several of their methods. It's totally possible, but would be quicker to write an engine rom scratch.

    11. Missing avatar

      Fotios Zemenides

      As usual, very thorough and informative update Joe, however, I believe I speak for everyone here when I ask: Can NESmaker make a game EXACTLY like Chubby Cherub?

    12. Joe Granato 5-time creator on

      @J - I'm...not sure how above wasn't a sufficient answer to this question. You want to open up the ASM in a notepad and start futzing, go to town, but you'll likely begin to quickly break the tethers to the tool. There are places where it's relatively safe to customize the code, and those are exposable to the tool. All parts would be able to be modified by a text editor. Again, though, at some point you'd be better off just writing your own engine.

    13. Missing avatar

      J on

      To what degree will we be able to alter ASM code on top of using the program itself?

      Will we be able to use things like bankswitching to get a larger game than we normally could?

      And would we theoretically be able to use ASM code to create a ROM that does things outside of the limits of normal NES hardware, where you'd need a modified emulator to run it?

    14. Jason McMillen on

      I can see the team being able to do it, but it's WAY too early to be thinking about such a grand shift in the overall mapper support of the tool. Adding a few (essential) mappers could be done by use of an added abstraction layer between the resulting code/compiler/linker and the editor, however at this juncture its far too much of a workload to place on everyone on the team to make deadlines. This would be a major shift in the scope of the project out of the blue. Just not realistic at this point is how I'm thinking of it. And I'm cool with that!

      That said, having had worked with compilers and interpreters myself. I think it can still be done by using a way to interpret the project data using some kind of extra code in the middle that changes the resulting code based on the type of mapper you want to use... but it just needs WAY MORE development than what the team should have on their shoulders right now.

      Joe has the right mindset right now to make the tool as a viable NES Maker as his goal now and leave earth shattering technical features and such for beyond the end product we have funded them to do for now.

      1 mapper, more mappers, doesn't matter this is going to be an amazing tool and we have much reason to be excited about it as it's played out. We'll pull his ear in about a year or so when it's towards competition then. ;)

    15. Joe Granato 5-time creator on

      @Daniel - the problem is, each handles memory completely differently. The point one would have to go to in order to choose a dramatically different mapper would likely negate the benefit gained from the tool. They may as well write from scratch.

    16. Missing avatar

      Daniel Joel Yetman on

      It'd be neat to see (in the future) the ability to choose from a set group of different mappers. Mapper 30 is great for most things the NES can do, but being able to use VRC6-capable mappers would be BRILLIANT. Fairly sure someone had already mentioned that, but it'd be fun to play with those extra channels on an Everdrive or with the Analogue NT

    17. Joe Granato 5-time creator on

      @Manoel - yes, but that's exactly why this was a GOOD example to use. What if someone JUST means "make a beatem up game" when they say "like battletoads*? What if they just mean the visual aesthetic, or the combo punches? That's why the question is too broad and too hard to answer. That's exactly the point. :-)

    18. Manoël Trapier on

      Not sure if battletoad is a good example as the mapper use is really similar to mapper 30, and provide no facility whatsoever on line counting.

      The game is optimised on a cycle based and that’s why it is :
      - one of he hardest games to emulate
      - the PAL version don’t work fine in NTSC and vice versa

      This game used a really precise (and clever) cycle count to do all of its effects...