Part 44: Tales of ROMhacking: Part 3Tales of ROMhacking
One of my weirder nerd experiences was meeting Fragmaster, who used to head up the SA forums when Lowtax stepped down. He was in New York on business and a couple of us got together for drinks/food. He was a really nice guy, for what it's worth, and later when he stepped down, he mentioned it was cool to meet me in person, and I seemed like I knew my shit when it came to Let's Play, etc.
This was a huge relief, because for awhile, it's possible he thought I was a major creep.
I'd just started on the ROMhack project; I'd been the Let's Play mod for a few months, but I didn't post too much in the mod forum. One day, Toby, the GBS mod posted something about a cool Firefox extension he'd found.
"Nice post, nerd! *continues working on ROMhack project*," I replied.
"What are you ROMhacking?" Fragmaster asked.
I sheepishly explained that I wasn't a big Hideo Kojima fanboy, but one thing had to led to another and I was helping to translate his major unreleased game; that I'd been a fan of the game's spiritual predecessor, and how it referenced Metal Gear Solid, etc., etc.
"Oh cool," Toby said. "Let me know if you need a beta tester."
Phew. I was a little worried when I posted it that I'd be labelled as a fanboy or something, but fortunately that didn't happen. Unfortunately, Fragmaster took a look at the Policenauts Wikipedia page, and said, "I can see why you wanna ROMhack this!"
According to Wikipedia:
"The game was criticized by some in Japan for its mature sexual content, which allows the player to: fondle the breasts of every female character in the Saturn version (previous versions had slightly fewer opportunities to commit this behavior), all the way from a young adult to mature women; fondle the vaginal area, through clothing, of a female character; look up the skirt of a female character, and fondle the legs of one particular female character. Similar acts are possible in some versions of Snatcher.
"Incidentally, the credits of the game go so far as to contain a specific 'Breast Bouncing Supervision' entry, and this area was handled by female staff members in every version."
"Hey, never mind about that beta testing thing," Toby said.
You know, I'd known that you could make a couple of the girls' boobs bounce in Policenauts, but I had had no idea about some of this other stuff. I'd seen the Wikipedia entry on Policenauts of course, but I'd honestly never really read this part. I was skimming Fragmaster's post on my phone, figuring out some sort of face-saving reply when suddenly a couple words jumped out at me:
Wait. Oh God. Okay, wait. Young adult, as in "young but technically adult, like 18?" Or "Young Adult" like the "Young Adult" bookstore section which was a lot younger than an adult?
"Wow, I didn't know about a bunch of that... Um, I need to talk to my translator," I posted.
I felt two ways about it, and neither were positive.
On the one hand, I was bummed. I really had no idea what content was in Policenauts since I was unable/unwilling to complete a game I couldn't understand, but the Wikipedia article made it sound really, really bad. (How the fuck do you compile that information anyway?!) And prior to this, I had been really happy. A month-and-a-half previously, I'd "known" that I could never ROMhack the game, but I'd surprised myself and learned I was a little better than I thought I was.
That's a great feeling.
Plus I was working (sorta) on the sequel (sorta) to Snatcher? Me? Put yourself in my shoes: Some game you loved and always remembered from your youth had this sorta unreleased sequel and YOU were the dude working on it? I mean, that was awesome.
And then to find out it was really, really damn creepy? Hell, could I even work on it in good conscience? Couldn't I? Maybe I making too big a deal of it?
The other thing that bugged me was that I'd already told them about the DATCH idea. If I did decide not to work on Policenauts, I'd already given Junker HQ what they needed to finish the project. (Note: This was not actually true, but at the time, I didn't appreciate the amount of work we'd need to do to finish the hack.) In other words, it was a little out of my hands, and at this point, I was imagining what the worst case scenario could be. Like, who knew? Maybe Acts 3 onward on Policenauts just featured Jonathan as a rampant child predator with Ed shaking his head going, "That's our Jonathan!" And I had helped actuate its release.
I e-mailed Marc about it: "Who's the young adult and how bad does this game really get?"
Marc, for his part, maybe gave me the worst response possible: "There's this one girl, but she's 18...ish."
So I told him if I really were going to spend some months ROMhacking it, I deserved to know exactly what I was in for.
In the meantime, awaiting his response, I wasn't sure what to do. I called up an old friend from Louisiana; really smart guy (who didn't know shit about video games) and explained the whole situation, more or less.
"You know," he said. "You've stumbled upon an interesting scientific problem for our time. Just because you can solve a problem... should you?"
"Oh good, it's like I'm the garden gnome version of Alan Oppenheimer." Except I didn't say that, because at the very last moment I realized that simile made no sense. Instead, I told him I was bummed and didn't know if I should work on the project.
"Look," he concluded. "You can't make a judgment call without really knowing what this particular scene is."
I did agree with that... except I couldn't see the scene without working on the ROMhack, since it was a text-heavy game guarded by a very foreign language. And I needed to know what happened to figure out whether or not I should work on the ROMhack.
I did some more research and found out what I thought was going on and asked Marc about it who explained the situation in more detail.
My goon friends thought I was making a big deal of it, and my real life indie-game developer friend (who didn't know a thing about Snatcher or Policenauts) said, "Look, it's ... creepy, sure. But it's not... you know, awful." I ended up deciding to work on it, mainly due to a pseudo-censorship issue. Basically, I concluded that it wasn't my call to say what people should or shouldn't be able to see in their video games.
This was kinda bullshit, I later realized, because yes, I shouldn't block people from seeing something potentially offensive if they wanted to... but I also didn't necessarily have to help them along, either.
The "young adult" in question is actually Anna Brown. Her age is never stated in the game, but she is a college student, which would mean 18...
...However, there is supplemental material (the artbook, and other things) that lists her age as 16.
That Wikipedia article - since edited to remove the previously mentioned passage - is kinda bullshit, too. You can't actually do a lot of the stuff it mentions in the 3D0/PSX versions. (Again, how do you compile all that info anyway?) I've still never seen "the scene" in question where you bounce Anna, because it's apparently very hard to get to. Policenauts railroads you a lot - if you go to Tokugawa Pharmaceuticals in Act 1, for example, the game actually won't let you leave until you've exhausted all clues.
You can't bounce Anna in the previous update, but apparently at some point in the game, you are able to return to Ed's house and do it there. I didn't know this in my first couple playthroughs, so I honestly thought the article was false for awhile and you couldn't actually do it.
Like I said before, it's there, and I don't love that it is. Snatcher contains a lot of pervy stuff that Gillian Seed can do (and note: Katrina Gibson is 14 in the original, yeesh) and that never really bothered me for some reason. But I never worked on making an unofficial English release of Snatcher - like put a bunch of my time and effort in, so I guess I had never really thought about it before.
I do like Policenauts as a game (well, as far as the story anyway), but it is what it is.
Also, this wasn't the last time I flirted with quitting the project.
(Coming up, more funny/tech shit but I did wanna address this particular point.)