It’s an exciting time - hacking has never been more accessible, and the culture around how we share, give feedback to one another, and collaborate has never been better.
It is interesting to think about general design trends over time. We have over a decade of progress in hacking, and I personally enjoy figuring out the timeline of the trends and how they’ve changed over time.
I don’t think we as a community have thought about how we define the “ages” of FE hacking, but I think we’re far enough in the future we can start to think about how we categorize our history.
I’d argue pre-Builder and Buildfiles era, we’ve shifted from focusing predominantly on “big maps, sucker punch difficulty, high effort presentation” from the TLP era of like 2009-2013 (Ragefest, Elibean Nights, Dream of Five, Requiem, Death or Glory), to “vanilla-like experiences with focus on presentation and writing over gameplay” in 2013-2017 (Sword of Heaven and Earth, Road to Ruin, Order of the Crimson Arm). Biggest difference in these years IMO was the shift away from “Rage-inducing” difficulty moments over the years, but it’s not clearly defined. Most notably tho I can tell the change in philosophy about difficulty and map size over time, but there was always a strong emphasis on good presentation.
Builder and Buildfiles, as well as the many advancements in FE8 hacking (which I think are owed largely to the revival of this FEU, but historians pls keep me honest), we started becoming much more collaborative in our work, and there was a burst of [complete] projects that focused on making a complete game and the novelty of quickly being able to assemble a custom, full-length hack.
Honestly I don’t think anything pre-Builder deviates that much from vanilla FE7/FE8 numbers and gameplay design, and I think only in the past two/three years have we seen a lot more emphasis on non-vanilla experiences in GBA. The amount of cool tech available when I started VQ and where I ended is insane. Even Builder’s UI and features have grown tremendously during my hack’s development (late 2017 - mid 2020)
I think now with how many hacks there are, presentation is swinging back into the forefront as it did in the old days (man some of the old hacks are so pretty), but also with a combination of unique gameplay concepts and ideas.
It’s never been easier to build something and get feedback, so it allows us to be more bold in our designs, but also harder to stand out without some type of guiding gameplay philosophy that differs from vanilla GBA, and that’s generally built on the backbone of technical achievements from the mountain of ASM hacks.
You can see that many of the hacks that started development in the past year generally have a distinct aesthetic (narrowfont, dark colors for everything, use of specific map sprites and anims), but also have a non-vanilla gameplay philosophy (even just in the past 2-3 months, we’ve seen Vestrian Tale w/ focus on capture, and Starlit Souls, which draws a lot of inspiration from FE12/Berwick, and Storge, featuring lots of funky unit designs to choose for your journey, leveraging some of the newest animations).
It’s interesting to mull over and I’m keen to see what’s next. It’s never been easier to get started. Kinda mumbled through this I didn’t have my coffee yet. Apologies.