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The man... The legend... Brett Kosinski! (a brief history)

Discussion in 'Engineering & Reverse Engineering' started by saxman, Sep 27, 2022.

  1. saxman


    Oldbie Tech Member
    I have no clue where this thread will go (if anywhere), but I felt like sharing this just because. I came across some old stuff and decided to put together a timeline...

    My biggest inspiration for Sonic ROM hacking was trying to get to a point where we could edit levels. I had wanted to make my own levels since I was a young kid playing those Genesis games when they were new. It was an exciting time for me when I was putting together my hacking guides, and I think many others had their own sense of excitement as well (although I personally believe nobody was ever quite as enthusiastic about Sonic ROM hacking generally as I was).

    In my opinion, the biggest discovery was the level floor layout. To me, that did a lot to widen the appeal of ROM hacking beyond where it had been. And while I did figure out the format in savestates/RAM, and I figured out where the floor layout was in the ROM, I failed miserably at understanding the compression scheme. But when Brett Kosinski came around, that was a game changer. He was clearly way smarter than I was. I felt so positive about his contribution that I decided instead of calling it something like "level floor layout compression", I would simply call it "Kosinski compression". Obviously, the name stuck. But I want to briefly share the timeline here, because it really was quite a big deal as far as I'm concerned.

    I found the level floor layout data (aka metablocks, chunks, tiles, whatever you want to call it).

    The Sonic 2 Compression Spec v1.00 by Brett Kosinski is released.

    Brett updates the Sonic 2 Compression Spec to v2.00.

    Brett reveals to me that he's working on an editor incorporating his findings.

    Brett is still hard at work on the program. He sends me a hack with HPZ restored inside the Sonic 2 ROM. (Huge deal in its own right)

    I have tried the editor (called Chaos) by this point. I'm impressed with it. Brett plans to add art editing, import/export, and support for other games.

    First public screenshots are released.

    Brett is too busy to continue working on Chaos. He is deciding whether to release it as-is, or finish it at a later date.

    Brett releases the Chaos source code.

    I e-mailed him a few more times to seek help in understanding his notes (binary -- as in literal 1s and 0s -- stumped me). I also e-mailed him about helping me crack the art compression format (which Nemesis would later figure out). After that, I never spoke to him again. To the best of my knowledge, he never joined the community. He never showed up on any forums. It's kind of interesting that he contacted me out of the blue with this information, spent some time creating the tool, and then left it at that.

    That was almost 22 years ago. O_O
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2022
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  2. MarkeyJester


    Nothing's Impossible Resident Jester
    I'm glad you brought this up.

    A few years back I heavily considered making a post asking who the hell Brett even was, because many times I had searched out of curiosity and found next to nothing other than Sonic Retro's wiki describing him and the compression format.

    I hessitated under the assumption my searching skills were poor, and I didn't want to be embarrased later with a response post linking something so obviously under my nose, so it's a bit of comfort to know there always was very little about him.

    This was a fantastic read, thank you for sharing! It's answered a few questions I had.

    I noticed you have the exact timestamps, would you consider sharing the emails (I assume you still have them), obviously at the expense of possible embarrassment (and omitting his email address of course), or is this a bit too personal?
  3. Billy


    RIP Oderus Urungus Member
    Colorado, USA
    Indie games
    Interesting! What an enigma. I had no idea he likely had no idea of his influence on the greater hacking community... that we know of. It seems obvious that he had a background in computer science or software engineering of some kind. I'd guess he was a professional (could explain his hesitance to get involved with the community, maybe?), or at the very least was one hell of a hobbyist programmer.
  4. saxman


    Oldbie Tech Member
    I definitely think he was older than me. I seem to recall him saying he was in college? I'm not 100% sure on that. Definitely could have been a computer science major.

    That was one reason I thought it'd be fun to make this thread: I don't think many people know one thing about him, and yet his name is so prominent. That's not how that usually works out!

    I don't think he interfaced with anyone else; just me. And it makes a certain amount of sense, because I don't think Nemesis and Esrael were around yet, so I was basically *the* Sonic 2 ROM expert. And I had the information he needed to get started.

    My Shentel and Rocket Mail accounts don't exist anymore, because those entities no longer exist. As far as I know, those e-mails are long gone. I still want to check my Hotmail and Yahoo accounts just to be sure I'm not confused with what e-mail address I would have been using, but I'm pretty sure those wouldn't have been it.

    I actually pulled dates from SHaC and Sonic 2 Hacking Guide. SHaC at the time was, and I think the Sonic 2 Hacking Guide was still firmly on SSRG at I have always had a habit of writing things that nobody but myself really cares about, and for historical purposes, it has shown to be quite useful. The News updates on those sites gives a good account for what those e-mails said. I also remember a lot of it from memory, so I can also personally validate it on my own.

    I was originally looking for something completely unrelated, and on my journey, saw the Brett Kosinski stuff.
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  5. Jeffery Mewtamer

    Jeffery Mewtamer

    Blind Bookworm Member
    I'll be honest, I didn't even know the compression format was named for a person... Still a nice peek into the ancient history of Sonic Hacking.
  6. Brainulator


    Regular garden-variety member Member
    Fascinating. Do you remember how exactly you first got into contact with him?
  7. saxman


    Oldbie Tech Member
    He e-mailed me out of nowhere and presented me with the Sonic 2 Compression Spec, which was a text file explaining how the format worked. I had been very interested in figuring the format out. I seem to recall (though I can't seem to locate the evidence through the Way Back Machine) advertising on one of my many pages, asking for someone to come forward and try cracking the format. So maybe he saw this and decided to take a whack at it? I don't know exactly how he found me, why he took an interest in doing it, and so forth.

    To tell you the truth, he's pretty easy to find online (I did a quick search earlier today, because I was curious). So I could very well just ask him.
  8. MarkeyJester


    Nothing's Impossible Resident Jester
    It might be worth asking, perhaps in the style of an interview or something to add to the wiki, if you've got the right email address that is (when trying to search who the guy was years back myself, I was intrigued to find many people appear to have the name Brett Kosinski).
  9. saxman


    Oldbie Tech Member
    I was on the fence about it, but you and a couple others seem interested. So I sent him an e-mail earlier today. I haven't gotten anything back yet, but we'll see what happens.

    My intent is very much to do an interview-style conversation, if he's up for it. I've actually been wanting to do a podcast where I can interview some folks from the Sonic hacking/research scene's past for a couple years now. With my deep ties to it, I figure I can probably do some interesting interviews. So far, I haven't gotten my hands on the quality video equipment I really want for it. But if we do audio rather than text, that'll at least be a step closer to where I'd like to be.
  10. saxman


    Oldbie Tech Member
    I still haven't heard from him, and each passing day I'm having my doubts I get a response. I'm 100% sure I'm e-mailing the correct person. So maybe he just isn't interested, or maybe he doesn't check his e-mail very often. Either way, I'll leave him be unless by chance he gets back to me.

    In the meantime, I updated his page on the wiki. I incorporated the timeline.

    I'm not sure about some "standards" for writing these. For instance, once he's named, do I afterward refer to him as "Brett", or "Kosinski", or maintain "Brett Kosinski"? Also, Tweaker years ago changed all "Saxman" references to "saxman", but I always felt that was dumb since it is still a proper noun. Are there any objections to "Saxman"? And finally, should I relink over and over, or just link the first reference for an item?

    If anyone wants to improve the page, have at it. I just want to get the basic history right.