Short stories as Fire Emblem ROM hacks

#1

Everyone knows that a finished FE ROM hack is incredibly rare. People who have no hacking experience frequently enter with the expectation of completing a full-length ROM hack of 25-30 chapters with a completely original story featuring an original setting and original characters. Needless to say, those will never get finished.

Obviously there’s a reason why newcomers to FE ROM hacking have those sorts of expectations: they have never experienced working on such a project before (thereby greatly underestimating the amount of work needed to deliver a finished product), and every official FE game is a full campaign in the range of at least 25-30 chapters in length. It doesn’t help that even veterans in the community take up these lengthy projects, because it further establishes the expectation that one should or must design a full campaign and it also contributes to the syndrome of ROM hackers never finishing anything.

I think that we should start encouraging ourselves and others to aim a little lower in this respect. It’s fully possible to deliver a compelling story with fleshed out characters without spending 25-30 chapters to do so - in literature, writers write short stories all the time, and they are by no means insubstantial. We’re well aware that many FE ROM hacking projects do tend to stall at around the 10-chapter mark, which means that a short campaign of 10 chapters or less is an ideal target. Of course, one can’t go about designing a short campaign the same way as a full campaign, much like how a short story is structurally distinct from a novel:

  • There must be a smaller conflict than the typical FE-style two-powerful-nations-duke-it-out type of conflict.
  • The plot has to progress at a faster pace. A typical FE game starts with small chapters and few characters. Although this is beneficial for the main series games because they serve dual function as a tutorial, this is wasted effort in a ROM hack because the people who play ROM hacks are not likely series newcomers.
  • If one wants to deliver content in fewer chapters, then larger, somewhat more complex chapters are desirable.
  • FE’s standard pace of units leveling up, gaining experience, and promoting doesn’t fit a short campaign. There are some options here: let units start at a higher base level (e.g., L5 instead of L1), accelerate the experience curve, or eschew promotion altogether. I’m sure there are other ideas.
  • FE’s standard formula of giving the player far more units that they can use must be abandoned. A cast of even 20 playable units is probably too large for a campaign that’s less than 10 chapters long. This also defeats the purpose of really complex class trees, but I think that’s a good thing.

I can completely understand why this concept might not be palatable to all, especially because it’s different from what we are familiar with. However, I think that being able to produce complete and high-quality ROM hacks has the potential to attract more attention to this community and its efforts. It may even give ROM hacks a niche that the main series games don’t fill - the ability to tell a high quality story that doesn’t rely on stock caricatures and fanservice for mass appeal - and I encourage you to seriously entertain this idea.

5 Likes
#2

Personally I was aiming for about a dozen in my own thing for this raisin. Most fe games seem too drawn out anyway

#3

Pretty much full agreement, especially after doing the trial maps in FE7x.

3 Likes
#4

Hehehe. :stuck_out_tongue: #damnyouawakening

I’ve actually considered doing something like this myself, but with someone else since I don’t actually hack (yet.) I wonder why many people haven’t tried this before, especially with our no-long-hacks-ever-get-finished problem. (Though part of it is that FE is part RPG, and RPGs have character progression at their core, which doesn’t work well with short fiction. But, as you said, there are workarounds around that.)

2 Likes
#5

i feel the reason most people choose to go full length rom hack, partly because they want to come across as if there writing a massive, epic tale (stuff like that happens alot in fanfics as well), and partly because they dont feel as if they can properly balance a shorter length game, most likely cause theres so few examples of shorter length stuff to work from.

though i wont say that i wouldnt mind seeing shorter length hacks, but id say to be cautios cause most shorter length stuff that first comes out, if this idea dose pick up, iss probably gonna be shit.

#6

A short campaign is, if anything, easier to balance for because there’s less play time possible for the player to deviate from “perfect” balance.

I wouldn’t even say that IS has done well when it comes to balancing any of their games. FE12 is probably the closest they’ve come, and that’s only with respect to a small handful of characters on the hardest difficulty.

#7

yes but newer hackers on the playing field will often times not feel that way, because when people start getting into rom hacking they look at existing examples, of which is the very few actually completed hacks that are well known, and the main series games, all of which are full length, and so thats all they can really see in terms of game design balance. (note this is and assumption of the majority of people, not the minority or all of them)

as a veteran of the hacking scene you can say from experience what works and doesn’t work, bu a newbie will only have what they have played to draw upon, often times which is gonna be a full length game, partially cause its what everyone ultimately wants to make one day, and partially cause there is nothing else to draw from for inspiration. really any craftsman starts with replication before they move into making original things.

#8

That’s correct, hence the point of this topic where I exhort readers to try making the short campaign a standard idea in FE ROM hacking and I propose ideas for how to address structural differences between short and long campaigns.

So long as we’re making quippy analogies, any craftsman starts small before they move into making bigger things.

Like, Isaac Asimov didn’t start writing science fiction novellas since he was a teenager; he started on short stories and he wrote tons of them.

1 Like
#9

I could’t agree more.

#10

I’d definitely agree that the short format is far more feasible as a ROM hacking project, but as far as creativity goes, I can’t imagine anything more boring to write for. I like FE for its large-scale, epic stories, where the fate of the land is at stake and only one man or woman can save everyone. Certainly there’s merit in telling more nuanced, shorter stories, but that’s a very difficult medium to deal with in a game limited to communication via talking heads.

I’ve personally come up with some of my own short stories that would take place in the universe of Eternal Bond, but I can’t imagine taking on any more projects than that at the moment. Something to consider for the future, I suppose.

2 Likes
#11

Of course, that doesn’t mean that short stories are easy. They’re just easier than the alternative of longer stories, and what inexperienced writers should work on first, since they’re managable and less to think about (but still a lot, just not a massive amount.) It’s still very hard to write a good short story, but it’s far more feasible to write a short story at all than a novel. Though you probably already know that - I just don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.

1 Like
#12

Personally I think it’s fine to start with a big story or a long-term project, so long as you understand that it’s going to be a long-term project, and set small term goals for yourself as opposed to just tackling everything in one giant blob. Work on things one at a time, and polish them to the best of your ability.

A working prologue with dialogue and maybe a village to visit. The first few chapters, with some more complicated events. The end of the first act of your story. Things like that. Those are all short term goals, just as attainable as making a shorter hack, but you still have the absolute end goal of a larger hack.

The problem isn’t so much ‘people starting with big ideas,’ as it is ‘people starting with big ideas and absolutely no idea how idea how much work they’ll take.’ Which, I agree, making shorter hacks is one way to solve - certainly, that work will give you a sense of scale - but I don’t think people should be discouraged from making larger hacks if that’s what they want to make. They should just be aware of what they’re getting into, and approach it smartly.

#13

I see your point, but personal stories of a smaller scope can still be just as epic. I somewhat disagree with your impression that Fire Emblem is a game suited for telling large-scale stories; I would even suggest that it’s better suited for telling smaller stories.

The reasons for this are twofold: first, the nature of Fire Emblem combat means that every battle that you participate in can only be a microcosm of a larger battle. Individual units fight against individual units, and at maximum you can only deploy 18 units at a time, which is only the size of an army squad. Second, you can only understand the story told through limited text from the perspectives of limited characters, so a large conflict would have so many events going on in the periphery that actually keeping track of them would be confusing.

I actually can’t help but to disagree. The vast majority of ROM hacking projects fail because of length. Even expert ROM hackers don’t finish their work due to time allocation, and they should be aware of the time commitment necessary. The vaster majority of first ROM hacking projects also fail. Let’s go by example here: our beloved Arch abandoned at least one project before EN (and it’s hard to argue that FE4A wasn’t too big of a bite to chew at that time). Alfred Kamon restarted Midnight Sun at one point. fuzz restarted his project (I can’t remember what it’s called) as well. Skitty or Dancer_A or however he prefers to call himself has rebooted Fractured Realms numerous times, some due to hardware errors. I abandoned Project dondon when 4 out of 6 total planned chapters were mostly finished. I am only scratching the surface; I’m sure some other user can come along and regale you with tales of feats discarded.

So it makes sense to start with a short story to flex your hex editing and eventing and writing muscles before embarking on a search for the holy grail: a complete full length ROM hack.

1 Like
#14

Just my 2 cents:
@namelessRegent and myself were planning on doing one of these. Just 3 parts. Short hack. Unfortunately, we haven’t started yet nor announced it, but it’s in the planning.

3 Likes
#15

While conceptually I agree with the premise here, given that most peoples’ desires in creating Fire Emblem-based projects stems from having played through one or more of the official games, I don’t know if it’s quite easy for people wanting to delve into this to not immediately jump to crafting a long winded epic like what they’ve already experienced. I mean, for some people, that’s part of the reason that they play the games in the first place - not necessarily the overall story (because, let’s face it, they’re only sitting at about “just okay” on the scale), but the combination of the characters, their development, and how those intertwine with the plot and other characters. (Also, don, you forgot about all of the people that want to dive right in and make cliche hack #467 (Scouring, Black Fang prequel, Black Fang sequel, crossovers / reskins, etc.) - I’d say that they’re overall more prevalent that people that want to build their own world from the get-go.)

In regards to the bullet points in the opening post (before I delve into my personal suggestion), I think the last two should be of special merit. Some other options for those two points which I didn’t see further discussed would be to craft an experience where you’re already in control of stronger units (high tens and low promoted) as opposed to even something as low as Level 5. When you have stronger units with built up stats and weapon levels, it can open up more possibilities for unit loadouts and, consequently, greater enemy diversity in a quicker buildup across the much shorter campaign. Especially if the author is dictating what the possible loadouts are (i.e. no shops, limited weapon drops or chests) and what enemies the group would be thrown up against.

Furthermore, I think you can kind of replicate the feeling of a complex class tree by making the characters and classes much more unique and less “generic” than their standard counterparts - as you’re building something specifically small, you can repurpose swaths of lower-tier classes that aren’t being used into giving each individual character a personal class of sorts or trying new things instead of just going with the stock class types. And, I’m not even referring to something that would involve large amounts of work (i.e. making new animations for new classes or upon adding weapons to old classes) - consider just how much could be changed by tweaking the roles of the standard classes and converting them into something different. Take for consideration converting the Swordmaster class into (conceptually) a class that’s adept at skillfully blocking/parrying attacks with its sword - change the class caps of Swordmaster (M) to 60 HP, 23 Str, 30 Skl, 24 Spd, 28 Def, & 22 Res (though I suppose that’s conceptually close to a Hero, albeit mono-weapon…). Or, convert the Druid into the Mage’s promotion and give it only Anima and Dark (and, if you’re hacking FE8, throw it on top of one of the three characters that can summon and give it that too). There’s several possibilities to spice things up, especially when you have a much smaller cast to focus on and a smaller scope to plan for instead of making sure all of your ducks are in a row over the long haul of a full-blown campaign.

That being said, my overall suggestion would be that if you’re world building your own story and setting, craft a small corner of it to set up as a demo / proof-of-concept / introduction to your world that sows the seeds of the larger project you inevitably want to tackle. Heck, plan out a couple of them - they don’t need to be actual short stories or analogues of them, just something “canon” to your setting to get your feet wet. I mean, Yeti said it already, that’s kinda what works with his Trial Maps (although, the specific purpose between this and those would be different since his were ostensibly to code mechanics into the engine and then test them, not expressly to world build, but that happened as a result); all you’d be doing would be forming a small-ish, cohesive tale with each chapter carrying over to the next like a regular FE (unless you’ve specifically crafted something where you don’t want that to be the case) with a known, early end-point that in some way sets up what you want to make in full.

Heck, half of the ROM hacks that I’ve actually found fun and enjoyable were things that were like 1-2 chapters long and were solely challenge map / chapter mini-looks at things the creators were working on, simply because they focus on one small set of things, go relatively wild with character distribution, new items, etc. and let you play around and experiment/explore what they’ve made.

2 Likes
#16

I don’t think I completely excluded these from my generalization, although I can see how you would think so because I did mention the trifecta of original story, setting, and characters. Cliche hacks still have to come up with an original story that takes place in previously unexplored settings and features some new characters.

Regardless, I won’t get hung up on this, because I wasn’t very careful with my wording. That’s my mistake.

I did imply this with “eschew promotion altogether” - again, probably not the clearest wording on my part. Your rationale for crafting such an experience is spot-on.

I think one advantage of this approach (aside from trial maps being easier to finish) is that if the ROM hacker discovers that a prolonged endeavor is too time-consuming to delve into, he still has the ability to expand the trial maps into something slightly bigger and more cohesive, whereas a full campaign is much less malleable in terms of length.

#17

Hopping on a little late, and repeating some stuff I said on reddit, but I like the idea of shorter hacks essentially for two reasons:

  1. More effort put into each moment of gameplay (theoretically). I don’t actually have that much time to play hacks, so I only play hacks I feel are the highest quality, making me miss out on many hackers efforts and ideas.
  2. More objective focuses, rather than unit focused, gameplay. Shorter hacks have the ability to encourage the use of all units to be used appropriately (rather than raising a few juggernaughts). I like level ups as more of an afterthought, and think promotion can be used to show unit growth. Limited promotion items (and perhaps the use of master seals) can let players still choose their favourites.
#18

Y’know, I had an idea after beating Gen 1 of FE4 the first time to make a short hack about Holyn and some arena mooks doing things. The concept doesn’t sound too interesting, but I’ll be racking my brain for some ideas.

#19

I’m personally a fan of the short story as a storytelling medium. By using that as the basis for a hack, there are ideas you can explore, like a ragtag group without a real leader, or something that’s a short glimpse into a world. It’s like the difference between a feature length sci-fi movie, and an episode of the twilight zone. They’ve both got the same idea behind them, but they can tell vastly different stories.