Raise the Bar on Repros

If you’re a fan of the NES and SNES eras of gaming, we’re living in a New Golden Age.  Not only do we have the ability to get any games we may have wanted back in the day, but there are new games being made on a regular basis.  As if that weren’t enough, prototypes of previously unreleased games are now circulating, so you can play games that might have been best-sellers, but were almost lost to the pages of history.  And the best part of all of this is, you can take these games and play them on your original system, just like you always have.

The problem is, when fans put games into actual cartridges, it has usually meant destroying an existing game that had a compatible board.  Sometimes the donor game is an incredibly common title, on occasion it has to be a rarer game.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s been seen as a necessary evil if you want to play something like Earthbound or Legend of Zelda: Outlands on your NES.

I own a few of these games, and I’m glad that I do, as I’ve had hours of fun with them.  However, I think it’s time to say this:  we need to stop destroying old games to make new ones.  What we gain is no longer outweighed by what we lose.

The following video, from the #CUPodcast, sums up my feelings nicely:

In short, cutting up old games to make new ones was reasonable when that was the only way to do the job.  However, in 2016, we now have flashcarts  and reproduction NES boards and cartridge shells.   It’s now entirely possible to get that ROM onto your NES without ever harming an old game, so let’s stop doing it.

Why, you ask?  What’s the harm?  Aren’t there a bajillion NES carts out there, and lots of them made in the hundreds of thousands?  Well, yes, there were.  However, the number may be large, but it’s still finite, and lots of these have already found their way into landfills.  Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt might be an insanely common game, but taking care of the existing supply will keep it that way, to say nothing of genuinely rare games like Batman: Return of the Joker, another commonly used donor cartridge.

It just boils down to an issue of waste, in my mind.  If you have the ability to play a new game, without destroying an old one, why wouldn’t you?  Isn’t it better to buy an Everdrive than to slice up a rare game?  And if you’re a homebrew developer, wouldn’t it be better to use factory-fresh virginal boards than to re-solder EPROMs onto old carts?  We need to protect the hobby from ourselves.  Gutting donor carts might seem harmless now, but 60 years ago, so did sticking a baseball card into your bike spokes.  Nowadays, lots of enthusiasts mourn the loss of their extra 1955 Sandy Koufax.  Don’t be that guy.

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8 Comments

  1. Excellent article and solid point. I think, however, as is with years of price gouging and such, the sheer lack of education (and more so, those willing to obtain it) is not great enough to make this was strong of a point that it needs to be. Articles upon articles have been written about the necessary duty as gamers to preserve the past. Things that were once common, once easy to find, are now becoming scarce because of greed. This is another one of those moments where I wish there was some governing body for retro games and its followers, to have someone stand in a room, in front of a camera, or whatever, and say “That’s it, this stops now.” Because all those parents who are doing parenting right by showing their kids there’s more out there than the $60 “must have” game of 2016 are going to have a more difficult time getting their kids to understand, and when those kids are old enough to really get into this, it just won’t be as fun, because it won’t be anywhere near as easy as it is right now (which isn’t to say that’s true right now across the board). Here’s hoping this gets into the hands of enough repro developers/sellers to change the way we do things.

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  2. Great article. It’s easy to discount the common titles when reprogramming something shiny in their shell, but physical media regardless or type will inevitably fail.

    With the options available it’s interesting to me that original carts are being used at all. What’s more homebrew than a custom shell on a custom board to go with the custom label and software?

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  3. “Factory-fresh virginal boards” for many mappers are available from Infinite NES Lives and the like. But MMC5 and the VRCs aren’t among them, and an EverDrive for each copy is cost-prohibitive. So if you’re developing a brand new NES game, whether loose or CIB, it’s either donors or don’t use MMC5.

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    1. At this point, I think the responsible thing to do is play those on an everdrive. It’s a one-time purchase, it’s not like the homebrewer needs to buy an ED for every customer. Charge people $5 for the ROM alone

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    2. You wont be able sell your game for $30+ if buy $22 flash board from Infinite NES Lives id go with retrostage an build/program them yourself

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  4. All comes down to prices if buy new boards in bulk you will sav but you have build an program them but with donars theres thing called TSOP Adapter III $6-$12 once programmed all have do is switch out maskrom of the donar TSOP Adapter III is able to hold 32mb (4mb) ROM with 256K SRAM so for basically $8-$15 you got yourself 32mb (4mb) ROM with 256K SRAM snes repro .

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  5. Not an expert on this but for snes repros why not just use the japanese cart? Those are mostly common as muck and cheap as hell. So if u want a jrpg repro that has been translated into english why not just get the original and use it as a donor cart? There might be some exceptions where even the jap cart is rare but many are so common they are worthless.

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