Let’s Talk: Ethics on Randomizers


by Jason Parker (Ragachak)

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Something special was had in this game.

Let’s talk about a “hot button” topic today: ROMs and Randomizers. To those who aren’t aware, Randomizers are a fresh, unique way to play a host of retro RPGs. One of the closest things to a comparison I can make in the retail gaming scene is “Super Mario Maker”. That or the absolute host of Roguelikes on the market. Though players make those stages, they are, for all intents and purposes, random Mario stages for people who are simply playing the game and not building. It’s a collection of randomized stages from various Super Mario Bros. games, and players can upload their own onto the Internet, be they easy or be they insane. The idea behind these Randomizers is that they take a game that is already out, and randomize as many elements as possible. One of the best examples is Final Fantasy VI Randomizer. FFVI is one of the most sprawling, epic RPGs on the Super Nintendo, and frankly, it’s been done to death. There’s nothing new to explore.

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This is a South Figaro shop. Just look at it carefully.

So this version of the game randomizes the following elements: What each characters skillset is, what they come equipped with, what they can equip, what, if any starting magic they have, their name/color palette, what every chest in the game has, what each Esper can teach, and at what percentages. It also fixes a bunch of bugs (Vanish+Doom, fixed Defenses, so many more), and removed the stat bonuses you gain per level from Magicite.  Now the game is brand new! You have new challenges, use different characters, and are forced to approach the game in a way you did not before. Some of the exploits you once used are gone, characters that were considered “weak” may not be anymore. It also randomizes the lores that Strago (or whoever gets lore) starts with, as well as Gau. There are so many retro games that have had Randomizers made for them: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy 1, Dragon Warrior 1, Super Mario 3, Super Mario World, Final Fantasy IV, EarthBound (which is the worst one I’ve ever experienced), and so on and so forth.

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This is a menu from setting up a Super Metroid randomizer.

The problem lies in that these are technically morally and legally wrong. Emulators are not illegal, they do nothing wrong. However, the ROM itself is a Copyright issue. Even if you own the game, there is no 24/48 hour rule (it used to be said that you can have the ROM for a 24 hour period and then you have to get rid of it), though different countries have different Copyright rules. On one hand, we should not support Software Piracy, but on the other hand, this really opens up so many games for incredible new adventures. So where do we go from here? Just stop having fun? Here’s where I think a lot of software developers/publishers are missing the boat. Especially for sidescrollers, Metroidvanias, and RPGs. Nintendo, Square-Enix, and companies in this group could be making quite a lot of money if they got on board and created randomizers for some of their biggest retro hits. It worked for Super Mario Maker. Super Mario Maker sold almost 4 million units on the Wii U ALONE. And many consider the Wii U to be a terrible, terrible failure. I don’t even have a 3DS anymore, and I still have my Mario Maker 3DS cart. Over 7 million units of this game sold across all platforms. What about games with hundreds of things to capture/tame, like Pokemon? Legit Pokemon Randomizers? I’d put my hard-earned money down for insane new ways to play Pokemon with none of the guilt attached to it.

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Encounter any Pokemon in the wild? Random starters? Mmm.

How is that not a hint? These don’t have to be visual remakes (and should not be). All you have to do is get some code to randomize certain elements of the game, depending on what style of game it is. There is so much that can be done here. And I know that there are companies that are always looking to bring retro games out of retirement, to find new ways to market them. This is it, guys. I’m handing you actual gold. People will buy them. Most of these games that are randomized are played by sincere fans of the game, and a lot of them still own the original cartridges and just want new ways to challenge themselves, race their friends, or use them in charity events to help raise awareness/fight terrible diseases. And the best part of these? They would surely not require million dollar budgets. Sure, they’d probably be sold fairly cheap, but I imagine a lot of that would wind up as revenue/profit. You could offer copies to certain charity groups/high-profile streamers/press to show them off and why people need them. The marketing would be terribly simple. There are plenty of options to pick from, even if you just release a Lufia 2 “Ancient Cave” game. That’s 99 floors of random right there. Some of the ones on offer are wonderful. Some of them are a broken mess. But it’s a wonderful idea, and one I think larger companies ought to explore.

Where do you guys stand? Would you buy legit Randomizers made by the companies that produce them? I know I would!

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  • Mike Guzman

    If they released legit randomizers I’d legit buy them