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So, you want to start hacking Sonic? PART 1: Newbie starting guide.

#1 User is offline Jayextee 

Posted 28 May 2008 - 01:56 PM

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In this post, I attempt to reach out to the newcomers who don't know where to begin. (Mods, if this is out of line I'll gladly see this post trashed and my wrists slapped. No worries.)

So you love Sonic the Hedgehog and always wanted to make your own, but Sega won't return your calls? This is the place. Or rather, that is the place that this is the message board to. Before you ask any questions, you should read this.


The wiki here contains many guides to Sonic hacking, and is the definitive source of information for doing so. However, you can't charge in without knowing a few things. First, the difference between hex and a split disassembly.

Hex hacking was the first method by which a Sonic ROM was hacked. What this entails is opening up the binary ROM in a Hex Editor to see the various bytes that make up the ROM image. There needs to be some understanding as to what exactly these bytes are before you start changing them, otherwise it's a chaotic process and you won't get a lot done, and everything essentially needs to be the same size, in the same locations as when you started.

A split disassembly is the binary ROM image split into various files, the code and the data. This is the more modern, arguably more powerful way to hack a ROM. Files can be edited separately and put back together.

Of course, you can hack a ROM without either of these two methods, by using utilities designed for hacking the ROM directly (Sort of automating the hex-hacking process), but this is more than a little bit limiting; you'll be able to change palettes, object positions and level layouts but very little else.

Secondly, it's worth stating that the most is known about hacking for Sonic the Hedgehog (1), followed very closely by Sonic 2. Anything else has information in various quantities, but if you're totally new you should stick to 1 or 2.


You've decided how you're going to hack your game. You need tools!

Hacking with a utility
SonEd (1) is a very easy place to start. You'll need a Sonic 1, 2 or Sonic 3 & Knuckles ROM, and a savestate (Not for Sonic 2) of the level you wish to edit, but you are limited to (As stated above) palettes, layouts and objects. In the case of Sonic 2, you can also edit graphics, pixel by pixel in the editor.
Esrael Sonic Editor (Or ESE) is a little more powerful. Unlike SonEd, for example, it can edit Sonic 1 special stages.

There is an important thing to note, though. With one exception, if you have hacked a ROM directly with one utility, another won't be able to 'read' it properly. The exception is that any program can seemingly read a Sonic 1 ROM hacked with SonEd1*, but not the other way around. You have been warned; this is a very limited way to hack. If you really don't want to learn anything technical, though - this is the place to start.

*; Remember this, for a point I'll make later.

Hex-hacking is definitely not something I could tell you how to do. To me, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack, and replacing the needle with one of a different colour (That absolutely has got to be the same size and weight) without moving a single other straw of hay. Repeat until you've changed everything you wish.
If this didn't put you off, Hex Workshop will be a good ally to assist you in figuring out most of the hacking guides here: on the Sonic Community Hacking Guide (The ones that aren't, say, SonEd2 specific). Because I'm dyslexic, all these tables of numbers and values make me dizzy (Occasionally physically sick). If that doesn't bother you in the slightest, you may wish to take a look.

Incidentally, you may need to hex-hack some things in a split disassembly, depending on how you wish to edit them (For example, it is possible to port some songs from other games into Sonic games).

Split disassembly hacking
Okay, first you NEED SonEd2. This is a program designed specifically to work on the files split from the ROM. I'll tell you how to edit Sonic 1 in this way.

There is a nice guide here by Qjimbo on how to start, but since I am a very simple person, I can tell you in simple language. Disassemblies are found on this page, and any of the ones by Hivebrain will be good to go for; they should include two important things you'll need;
split.bat -- a batch file which can be double-clicked to split your Sonic 1 ROM (Which must be renamed s1.bin) into the various chunks.
build.bat -- this can be double-clicked to put it all together again.

It has to be noted that SonEd2 initially doesn't handle Green Hill Zone very well. A workaround with this is to simply edit your Green Hill Zone layouts in SonEd1 first before splitting. However, to fix it properly something else has to be done. I'll detail this later.

Before you go any further I recommend you play around a little with the tools you've been given. This is not the time to work on your superüberleet hack, but to experiment and make some things work. Try a new layout or two, go on. Make the hardest (Or easiest) level you can. Or, draw some basic level tiles in SonEd2's tile editor. Knock yourself out. Just make sure you read every possible thing that comes with the programs, or even the Sonic Retro wiki before you post here, and you're more likely to get a good answer as to your problem.

In part two, I help out people who want to make sweet music, fix Green Hill Zone with absolutely no technical know-how, and start on their brave journey into ASM.
This post has been edited by love.self.hate: 28 May 2008 - 02:19 PM

#2 User is offline Dark Sonic 

Posted 28 May 2008 - 02:34 PM

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Talk about properly changing the Sonic 1 sprites to those of Sonic 2. That might help me out.

#3 User is offline Spanner 

Posted 28 May 2008 - 02:49 PM

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fix Green Hill Zone with absolutely no technical know-how

Don't click here then, just don't.
Nice work on this guide by the way, looking forward to part 2.

#4 User is offline redhotsonic 

Posted 28 May 2008 - 03:40 PM

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Yay, I can start hacking Sonic games!

Good guide for newbies.

#5 User is offline Shoemanbundy 

Posted 28 May 2008 - 05:54 PM

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Glad to see someone finally doing something like this. I look forward to when/if you get to the art import feature, among other things :)

#6 User is offline Tweaker 

Posted 28 May 2008 - 05:55 PM

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Interesting. Hoping you'll consider slamming this on the Wiki when all is said and done.

#7 User is offline Scarred Sun 

Posted 28 May 2008 - 07:36 PM

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I approve with full force~

#8 User is offline Shoemanbundy 

Posted 11 June 2008 - 09:30 PM

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Is there gonna be a sequel to this? Besides art, which got a pretty good guide, there are still some things that confuse major noobies( I.e me), like getting GHZ to display like you said you'd do in the next part. I swear I try everything and it still shows up wrong. So this is pretty much to just state, we want more :P

#9 User is offline Elratauru 

Posted 12 June 2008 - 06:37 AM

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Well, nice guide for newbies ^^... By the way, I'll be waiting for a part about "art replacement" =P

#10 User is offline Typhlosion0221 

Posted 03 December 2008 - 11:56 PM

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This sounds really helpful, I am looking forward to the completed guide!

#11 User is offline filmzombie 

Posted 19 December 2008 - 02:39 PM

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This seems like an excellent guide. I'm willing to give it a go. However, I feel no shame in saying the baby steps still seem oddly scary.

I have just downloaded the latest SonicED. However, very suprisingly my current problem seems not to be with SonicED itself. Its obtaining a save state for the original Sonic 1 I am remarkably struggling with.

I have downloaded various hacks on this site now and Kega plays them perfectly well. However, when it comes to downloading a basic Sonic 1 or 2 original game it doesn't even load. A tad ironic. I've tried finding or adding seperate BIOS and I've downloaded different versions but it still remains a blank screen. Still working on it. Shouldn't take too long to fix.

Being a newbie I just have a question for the more skillful hackers before I start.

How long did it take you guys to come to grips with getting the basics? Hearing snippets from your earlier stories when you were all still in nappies might prove comforting.

#12 User is offline Phos 

Posted 04 January 2009 - 10:43 PM

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I've had similar problems with ROM's I've downloaded. I think what happens is the ROM site owner doesn't want to post any ESA protected ROMs, so they act like they have the ROM available for download (they have the page for it and such), but the file is bunk. I downloaded an "F-Zero" (fingerquotes) ROM that didn't work, and ZSNES behaved as though I hadn't loaded anything.

#13 User is offline Bareirito 

Posted 06 January 2009 - 04:09 PM

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Excellent guide. I think is very useful for newbies as me. =P But well, when is coming part two?

#14 User is offline Watkins 

Posted 23 February 2009 - 11:04 PM

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Very nice, I'm a newb at hacking and I found this very useful when I found it awhile ago.

Granted, I have nothing worth showing here yet, but this certainly helped me with my first few steps into the hacking world and someday you might even see a pretty decent hack from me. ;P

#15 User is offline MooMoo 

Posted 08 June 2009 - 11:54 AM

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I don't suppose theres a Mac version of those user-friendly programs? v.png

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