Aussie Rules Footy - Modding Thread

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D1Matman

Debutant
Apr 2, 2020
61
29
AFL Club
West Coast
Other Teams
Jays,Pens,Steel,Raps, CFC,PG,Scorch
TL;DR - So far have edited team names where possible to reflect modern AFL era. But there is still a few screens where I was unable to edit them.

62074-aussie-rules-footy-nes-front-cover.jpg Aussie_Rules_Footy_2020_cover_art.jpg
(click thumbnail)

I like to look at this discussion thread as a tribute thread as much as a modding thread.

Like many people who had this game on Nintendo when they were younger, I have fond memories of playing the heck out of Aussie Rules Footy. And while beating the weakish AI got boring after a while, the real magic was playing a mate 1 vs 1, or playing a season with several mates in a 4 or 6 team competition.

Anyways. So I thought it would be a fun exercise to see if I could modify the ROM file for Aussie Rules Footy that is used to play the game in an NES emulator. So I started reading up about modding NES games and the various hack tools. I recommend FCEUX and Mesen so far, these are pretty awesome all-in-1 emulator and tool suites - but there are a bunch of others out there.

I was under no illusions it would be easy to mod anything in the ROM file, but at the least my goal was to edit the team names so I could finally put right (after 29 years) the fact the West Coast Eagles were simply named "Perth" in-game. I'm sure its an interesting story as to how they ended up with the original list of 18 team names they did back in 1991, including a fictional team for each capital city without an AFL team: Hobart, Canberra, Darwin!? I imagine the answer is something along the lines of licensing, marketing and technical issues with trying to make late changes before release. Interesting as well is that the packaging of the game did carry the 'AFL' logo and feature West Coast Eagles and Collingwood players (albeit with badges/sponsors removed).

Anyways. Who knew that it would turn out just great for a modder in the year 2020? The AFL having 18 teams now, perfect!

I was able to edit the team names that appear in several places (see screenshots below), as well as the between quarters commentary text. To make these edits I used a Hex editor tool to modify the ROM file data. However, there were still a few screens in the game where team names are dynamically populated from code that I was still unable to affect any change (I will detail these in another post - I have dug into debugging assembly code to try and trace back where I could possibly find the data I need to Hex edit, but so far no dice - its complicated!).

ARF2020_screenshots.png
(click thumbnail)

You'll see in the team selection screen where I could not name the teams perfectly but in other screenshots I could (eg. score screens), this is due to technical limitations with the existing memory address allocations, so had to settle for abbreviated names, ie.
- Fremantle: replaced Fitzroy, so was only enough characters to call them "Dockers" instead. Beats calling them "Freo".
- Port Adelaide: replaced Darwin, so I went with "Port" for same reason.
- West Coast: replaced Perth, had to settle for "WCE", as didnt have enough allocation space for "West Coast" or "Eagles".
- GWS: replaced Hobart, had to stick with just "GWS". Could have gone "Giants" but hey, we all call them GWS most the time anyway.
- Gold Coast: replaced Canberra, I went with "GC Suns".
- Bulldogs: replaced Footscray with "Bulldogs".

Just for fun, and because of all the recent spare time, I came up with a mock NES box cover (at top of post) for "Aussie Rules Footy 2020" :D Enjoy!

The collection of screenshots I pieced together here are to show the team name edits, but also just for fun to showcase the different areas of the game in what is a true classic in Aussie sports video game history (having its 30th Anniversary soon!).

Feel free to PM me if you want a closer insight about how the mod works. I will not be posting any download links. But otherwise happy to discuss here on topic and reminisce about playing the game. Maybe someone out there may be able to crack it as to how to edit other stuff!? Who knows.

FootyField_nes.png
(click thumbnail)

Just a note: Much love and respect to the original creators of the game. It truly is a cherished childhood memory. I can still remember the first time I saw the game in action when walking into my local Kmart in 1991 and seeing it on a small television behind the counter in the electronics department. Then immediately wishing I had the money to buy myself an NES, having only had a C64 up until that point. I had to settle for renting an NES system from the local video store along with the game (a buncha times), until I gathered enough cash - and permission from my parents!
 
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stattosoftware

Debutant
Jun 8, 2014
52
57
AFL Club
North Melbourne
Very neat.

If you only get X digits for specific team names, that means there's almost certainly a memory bank somewhere storing the lengths of each team name. Still you only have 40 available bytes for 53 possible characters, but that should give you an extra 10 characters to play with for all those teams. Gets you Fremantle at least!

If team names don't change and you can't find them and there's no compression it's likely they're stored in image files
 

D1Matman

Debutant
Apr 2, 2020
61
29
AFL Club
West Coast
Other Teams
Jays,Pens,Steel,Raps, CFC,PG,Scorch
If team names don't change and you can't find them and there's no compression it's likely they're stored in image files
On that team select screen for example, the team name characters each consist of two sprites (or 'tiles'). A top and a bottom half. And the way these are populated on screen are that one line of tiles is written at a time.
The way these are stored in the ROM file (at least when looking at it in hex editor) is that they are jammed in tight, with it basically being impossible to add additional characters that you want eg. to write out "FREMANTLE" in full without breaking the screen (and essentially corrupting the whole game). Where there are blank tiles after any team name, the space is actually filled out by hex numbers as per following:
0B = 1 blank space tile
84 = 4 blank tiles
85 = 5 blank tiles
86 = 6 blank tiles
etc
This ensures that each line of tiles is fully populated as needed.
Taking the '85' blank space instruction away from the end of "DOCKERS" doesn't help, because in the end it only gives me one characters worth of room back, but it also destroys 4 other tiles worth of blank spaces on that particular line... breaking the screen (and well, the rest of the ROM file).

When it comes to the team select screen, I'm resigned to the fact I'm kinda stuck with only having enough characters to work with for each team name, based on the original team name length. I don't have the technical ability to work out how to extend the ROM size to accommodate such changes and still make everything work again. Seems like a large can of worms to an amateur like me, who has never dealt old with assembly languages before.

But the team names on the scoreboard screens are a different story and are stored in a different area of the ROM file. These translate directly from alphabet characters, and do have some leeway on length, mainly because the tile/sprite character set used for the font on those screens fit one character per tile. So you can type text, ie. "FREMANTLE" into the alphanumeric window in the hex editor (the characters get converted to corresponding hex numbers in the stack), and "FREMANTLE" is exactly what you will see in-game when scores popup on screen. Actually its the teamnames in this same location of the ROM file, that are used in the Ladder table on the Newspaper screen. In this case where you can just write the names, there is no concern really about tile/sprite composition or translating text to tile hex numbers manually (like have to with team select screen).

There are several locations where teamname lists are pulled into memory from the ROM file, but some make it easier to modify than others. And then there are other screens where I have no idea how or where the name data is coming from.. I'll post about this issue shortly, and will get some screenshots to show examples.
 
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stattosoftware

Debutant
Jun 8, 2014
52
57
AFL Club
North Melbourne
I'd have to take a look at the bank. It's possible there's a workaround (used to play around with ROM editing) but you've done good work. Interested to see what else you come up with.
 

D1Matman

Debutant
Apr 2, 2020
61
29
AFL Club
West Coast
Other Teams
Jays,Pens,Steel,Raps, CFC,PG,Scorch
These are the 4 screens I've not had luck with so far, when trying to figure out where or what the data is within the ROM file that I need to edit to fix the names. These are screens with dynamically populated team names based on which team is team 1 and team 2 for a given match, or the Newspaper headline is usually based on the top team in the Ladder (except before Grand Final).

The teams in the ladder table on the Newspaper screen however, are all good - as it takes these ones from same place the scoreboard screen does.

AussieRulesFooty2020 -22 (4).png
AussieRulesFooty2020 -22 (2).png

AussieRulesFooty2020 -22 (8).png
AussieRulesFooty2020 -22 (6).png
AussieRulesFooty2020 -22 (5).png
 

D1Matman

Debutant
Apr 2, 2020
61
29
AFL Club
West Coast
Other Teams
Jays,Pens,Steel,Raps, CFC,PG,Scorch
I'd have to take a look at the bank. It's possible there's a workaround (used to play around with ROM editing) but you've done good work. Interested to see what else you come up with.
Cheers mate :thumbsu: , I'll keep digging. I'm hoping by delving into debugging and memory tracing and really stepping through things slowly when memory is read and written for these screens, it will lead me to a Eureka moment so I can fix these other teamname instances. We'll see how it goes.

Feel free to poke around in the ROM if you get a chance. Maybe it just needs another set of eyes.

This whole exercise has reminded me how I don't envy the game devs from that era! But its amazing what was achieved with the old tech and how differently things were pieced together.
 

D1Matman

Debutant
Apr 2, 2020
61
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AFL Club
West Coast
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Just for fun I tidied up and edited a bunch of my quarter time commentary text. I also managed to workout how to improve the team names that get inserted into the comments - so that he can call every team by the club nickname: Hawks, Bombers, Cats, Demons, etc. Only one that I had to compromise on was Eagles (since original name 'Perth') which only allowed for 5 characters or less... so I decided to let the commentator call them "Eags", not too bad since people often call them that anyways. Note: I found it after previous screenshots I'd posted with "Eagles" that it was breaking the Saints name (eg. "aints") so this now solves that issue too.

The tricky part with writing the comments he says is that again, like mentioned with other stuff that can be edited, there is only so much tilespace to work with in the ROM file. You can't just write whatever you like, it needs to conform to the exact length of existing comments.

Here is a bunch of screenshots I took while doing my test playthroughs, thank goodness for being able to pump up emulation speed and just let the CPU team go at it! Hence some of the blowouts.

ARF2020QtrComm_screenshots.png
(click thumbnail)
 

D1Matman

Debutant
Apr 2, 2020
61
29
AFL Club
West Coast
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Jays,Pens,Steel,Raps, CFC,PG,Scorch
Oh and brief update: No luck yet with fixing the teamnames on the 'Brickwall' pre-match screen, Newspaper Headline, or the Team Banner screen. Haven't given up hope yet, just haven't spent much time on it lately.
 

D1Matman

Debutant
Apr 2, 2020
61
29
AFL Club
West Coast
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Jays,Pens,Steel,Raps, CFC,PG,Scorch
A note for folks who have the game ROM and might be new to emulation, just make sure you set region in your NES emulator to PAL , this is the games native region. Otherwise game will run tad too fast when in NTSC mode. Some emulators auto-detect the region, but the others that don't are usually defaulted to NTSC (North America). Worth checking.
 

Gibbsy

Moderator
Oct 12, 2009
22,842
25,566
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Just jumping in to say that I know very little about modding (my extent was hex-editing NBA Live 2005 to add in my own custom soundtrack, and I remember running into similar issues with character limits), but this is pretty awesome. Keep it up.
 

D1Matman

Debutant
Apr 2, 2020
61
29
AFL Club
West Coast
Other Teams
Jays,Pens,Steel,Raps, CFC,PG,Scorch
Just jumping in to say that I know very little about modding (my extent was hex-editing NBA Live 2005 to add in my own custom soundtrack, and I remember running into similar issues with character limits), but this is pretty awesome. Keep it up.
Cheers, I kinda hit a brickwall in trying to track down how to edit the teamnames that are getting written on those 4 dynamic screens mentioned. Might have to try a new strategy, namely enlist some help. Or if there is any 6502 Assembler language ninjas out there reading this, feel free to give me a shout.
 

SugarShane

C6 H12 O6
Sep 9, 2007
16,406
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Strikers, BMS Goats
Love this. I read something on reddit once about how "easy" modding Nes games were and this was the first game I thought of (getting the team names up to date).

If you're dishing out copies of it (even if it's not 100%) I'd love a PM.
 

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D1Matman

Debutant
Apr 2, 2020
61
29
AFL Club
West Coast
Other Teams
Jays,Pens,Steel,Raps, CFC,PG,Scorch
I figured I might as well tweak the menu cursor too, to fit with the yellow ball theme. :grinning:

AussieRulesFooty2020_wip6_000.png
AussieRulesFooty2020_wip6_001.png
Aussie_Rules_Footy_2020_cover_art_sml.jpg


AussieRulesFooty2020_wip6_004.png
AussieRulesFooty2020_wip6_007.png
 

josh the gent

The Pieman
Sep 25, 2008
2,313
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I figured I might as well tweak the menu cursor too, to fit with the yellow ball theme. :grinning:

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I just bought a snes mini off ebay (awaiting its arrival in post) and was looking up rom hacks for download on google.

Some of the stuff available is incredible - Street Fighter 2 characters in Mario Kart, Iss deluxe with real names, list goes on.

I actually found this thread through google searching in vain hope that someone would have done exactly what you’ve accomplished here! Looks amazing!

Any chance i could have a copy? Pretty please?
 

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