How Long Would it Take for A Newbie to Make a ROM Hack?

Title, basically, but first, some background.

I’m currently a junior in high school. My school has all the seniors do a big, semester long project on a topic of their choosing during the last semester of their high school life. I expressed interest in making an FE ROM hack for my project, now there are a lot of problems here, so I’ll just try and list them.

  1. I am not an experienced coder.
    • I have some experience in basic languages like HTML, Java, and PHP, I also used Construct 2 to build a lot of really basic games, but I have no real experience in hex editing, which, from what I've gathered, is a lot of the work for a totally new ROM hack.
  2. I need to get 180+ hours of work out of this
    • Maybe this would be easier than I think, but again, I have no idea if I could get that much time out of reading "how to"s, importing other people's code/sprites, making some custom maps, and hex editing. Or if 180 hours would be enough time to make a good 15+ map hack.
  3. I would need a mentor.
    • One of the other requirements is a mentor, someone experienced in the field I would be researching to teach me how to do XYZ and make sure I'm actually progressing and getting a satisfactory result. From what I know, most of the experienced hackers are quite busy being university students/adults, so I'd hate to take time out of their lives to help me work on a project that, for them, is probably just a hobby.
  4. I have no clue where to start.
    • I imagine this is quite easily remedied with a google search or a quick question around here, but I've seen what feels like 6 different places to start, each one seemingly recommending different things and ways of working.
So, yeah, that's my situation. And I suppose it really does come down to that initial question, how long would it take for me, someone who has no experience ROM hacking, to make an original, say, 15 map ROM hack?

Well, it all depends on how motivated and willing to learn you are. Assuming this is a larger ROM hack, you’d likely want to learn buildfiles instead of using FEBuilderGBA. That’s not to say you couldn’t use FEBuilder, but debugging issues that you find can cause you to have to revert to backups from days or even weeks ago.

I’d say a good place to start would be joining the Discord server, so that you’re able to get ahold of people if and when you need help with anything. This can also help with the mentor bit, as there are plenty of people that hang around there that are willing and able to help beginner ROMhackers get started.

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I would be quite motivated and willing to learn, again, I need to get a lot of hours of work out of this. I’ve heard plenty of tales of hacks lost to hitting a major wall, or simply not having enough time to finish it up. If I had a proper mentor, someone who was experienced enough to guide me through this, I wouldn’t really have either of those issues. (Unless I went into something that no one in this English speaking community has solved yet, in which case I’d be on my own unless someone in Japan figured it out.)

I’ll gladly join the server, maybe I’ll ask around there to see if I could get more answers. Thank you for your recommendation.

I too would definitely recommend checking out buildfiles. Give this a read to get yourself started.
This is the Ultimate Tutorial 2. It has information on pretty much anything you’d need to create a ROM hack. If you’re confused about anything, just pop in Discord and ask.
If you really want a concrete mentor, you could go ahead and DM me and I’d be willing to help you. :slight_smile: Although I’m not sure if that would be necessary with UT2 and Discord.
I think you could pull of a project before it’s due. With your even minor coding experience, buildfile should come fairly easily, I’d bet.

  1. Thanks to FEBuilder, you don’t have to have any experience at all with coding to make a hack. That said, you would have to learn at least the bare minimum of how assembly code works if you wanted to make an expansive hack and not a reskin.

  2. I’ve worked for nearly 500 hours on a hack that is planned to be 20 chapters long, and I’m about 85% of the way to a presentable beta. If you were to use pre-existing FE maps, 180 hours is probably about right for a 15 map hack but maybe a little less that most people would need for a 20 map hack. Unless you’re some kind of mapping savant (or you simply don’t care about quality), you’re gonna need far more than 180 hours to make a game with 15+ original maps.

  3. If it were just a normal ROM hack, I wouldn’t say that a mentor is either desirable or necessary, but you could probably find one on the discord.

  4. Download FEBuilder, watch MarkyJoe’s video on it, mess around with stuff.


If this is over the course of a semester you’ll have what ~16-18 weeks for your project? A 15 chapter ROMhack would be a chapter a week essentially and that’s not very feasible with only 10 hrs a week in labor.

If you want to make a fully custom ROMhack by yourself (+tutoring) in that time, you’ll reasonably want to cut that down to 5-8 chapters so that you have time to a) practice b) PLAN (seriously plan plan plan and stick to your plan so your project doesn’t explode) and c) make the custom characters, balance everything, music, classes, plot… Otherwise expect to put in way more time over the course of a semester, even with the simplest method: FEBuilder.

Side note for q1. Hex editing is really simple and can be learned at a basic level in probably under an hour, especially if you’ve programmed before. You probably won’t need to do it, though. At least not anything more serious than copying and writing code into certain offsets. Buildfiles with EA bypasses Hex editing and FEBuilder does, too.

FE Builder is a godsend for me. I’ve worked for 4 days and I already have a full reskin and rebalance of Fe7 with 7 unique maps. Still, we’re in similar situations here