Welcome to another episode of Game’n Breakfast. Today, after IndieKlem and Suzon and then Doot and Blibloop, Ostrealava02 has done me the honour of giving me some of his time. This episode is a bit special for two reasons. The first is that it was a chance meeting. I was out for a beer with a friend when I bumped into the local distiller at the bar. We start talking video games and he tells me about his brother, who is a developer. The second is that this mysterious brother doesn’t make classic video games, he makes romhack, in other words he deconstructs and rebuilds classics like The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in his own way. So here’s an account of my fascinating chat with Ostealava, the dev who takes cult cartridges apart to get the best out of them. Coffee is served, let’s get started!

Out of chaos comes passion

Jules is 29 years old and confesses to having had a chaotic school career, mostly in uncertainty in fact. Remember that moment when you were asked what you wanted to do later? Clearly, school wasn’t his thing. Like a lot of teenagers his age, he was interested in computers. Without much conviction, he decided to take a technological baccalaureate, followed by a BTS in electronics. The wrong choice! Second attempt: into maintenance. It wasn’t much better, but hey, you need a diploma to earn a living. Jules is like that, he needs to experiment to find out if it suits him.

In his spare time, he stumbles across videos of Super Mario 64 and Zelda, but not the ones we know, there are elements that have changed. Jules loves these games and knowing that you can transform them intrigues him. At the end of the day, modding means going back to the foundations of a game, and to do that you have to know the title by heart, you have to dissect it, it’s a different way of playing. You think you know the game, but you discover new things every day. It’s important to remember that in a game’s code, there are always fragments of development tools, mechanics or abandoned areas. And the modder can use them to modify the content. There’s that feeling of following in the footsteps of the people who created the world you love so much.

Screenshot de Nimpize Adventure

So Ostrealava embarked on the adventure! And it was a cold shower… At the time, the little information that could be found was in English on dedicated forums, and we all know the level of the French when it comes to the language of Shakespeare. What’s more, the tools he found didn’t work very well or were highly technical, being aimed at those who were already in the field. There’s no documentation, and the vocabulary used (on the forums) is so specialised that even translating it, he doesn’t understand much of it. “Offset” and “Octet” were obscure words at the time. But he gave it a go. He downloaded the software, followed the videos to the letter and posted comments in the hope of getting some help. It was a resounding failure and he was demotivated. Another avenue closed to him? Yes, for six months at least.

Marco is a streamer friend of Jules, who mainly does Mario and Zelda speedruns, and it was in this environment that he got to know him. One evening, as is often the case, Jules watches his friend’s stream, but this time there’s no speedrun on the programme. We’re playing Zelda, but not the Nintendo version. It’s a strange game. There are some blatant changes that have been made by the streamer himself, and Ostrealava is once again intrigued. It’s a good thing Marco’s not just a friend, he’s also bilingual and speaks English. It’s the perfect opportunity to try his luck again, to ask questions about what went wrong the first time. Marco was unexpectedly helpful, and Jules thanked him for it. What followed was a veritable library, with sites you can’t find with Google, detailed tutorials and translatable documentation. Jules spends weeks cramming in knowledge about modding – it’s 2017. The student quickly surpasses the master, who in fact stops along the way. But Ostrealava continued to learn, and still does, albeit at a less frantic pace – life, all that, all that. Even if today it has become a hobby (among many others), as we shall see, it was an all-consuming passion that led to Nimpize Adventure.

From passion comes sharing

After this short biography, it’s time to talk about modding and how it works. First of all, the objective: some people have a very specific goal, while others are just experimenting. Others are just tinkering, having fun changing textures or character skins. Above all, it depends on the community around the project. You can change the aesthetics of the game, change the design rules (Zelda with a single heart) or rework the whole game, which is what Jules did for Nimpize Adventure. You take Ocarina of Time and change the maps, the cinematics and the story, but only with content that’s already available in the game. Think of it as a piece of furniture that you assemble differently, using excess parts to give it a new purpose. It’s also possible to deconstruct the whole game to get to the engine, then use that core to create something completely different. It’s a complete rewrite based on the gravity system, the NPCs (Non-Player Characters), the inventory and so on. Basically, modding offers a lot of possibilities. Of course, the tools to make huge changes have come with time. Ten years ago, you’d change a few textures and two or three behaviours, and that was already a lot. Today, we talk about decompilation. The principle is as follows (broadly speaking): you get the game files, on a cartridge for example. You run them through the decompiler and you get what you might call modifiable source code.

Some details about reverse engineering

Once you have this code, the door is open to many things. In fact, this is how some games are ported to platforms other than the one they were originally designed for. This ease of modification has enabled a lot of people to try their hand at modding. Before, you had to go straight to changing values in machine code (modifying bytes), which has a logic that is far more obscure to the layman than what you find in an engine. From this source code, you can also add multiplayer to a game that doesn’t have it. Nintendo had Breath Of The Wild’s multiplayer mode banned. The cruder method, which was the only one for a very long time, consists of changing bytes, using a hexadecimal editor for example, and going back into the game to find what has been changed. This establishes the role of the byte in question. And that’s in the best of cases, the change can simply break the game, which doesn’t launch, change several things or even nothing at all, at least in appearance. To get the lay of the land, we’ll take a look at the documentation for the original console. All games on the same machine have a similar structure, so you can concentrate on the bytes specific to the title you want to change. You can, for example, know the location of the music in advance if it is always in the same place on console X. There are also more targeted tools. Zelda’s Letter, for example, lets you change the text of Ocarina Of Time dialogues. Other tools allow you to edit maps zone by zone, to change the location of enemies, the layout of rooms in a dungeon, or the presence or absence of water. Once the changes have been made, save and restart the game to ensure that all the changes have been made and that the game hasn’t suffered too much.

Since the advent of decompilation, this method has been abandoned as too restrictive. Nowadays, all you have to do is modify the code directly (yes, yes, it’s easier, I swear). Of course, the decompiler doesn’t just fall out of the sky. Someone, often many people, has to develop it. For example, the software for Zelda: Ocarina of Time involved a team of around thirty experts in the field and took two years to develop. The software for Majora’s Mask is still under development. And that’s not counting the studios that have put safeguards in place to avoid this, such as Rareware.

Calling the server: modding

Here, we’re talking about rom hack, but in the same vein, we’re also familiar with modding. Modding is to the PC what romhack is to retrogaming. When you need to modify the files of a game on a cartridge for hacking purposes, the modder will have to write scripts that will modify the behaviour of the game without touching the source code.

The mod is the sticky little brother of computing. In video games, it was first seen in 1983 on Lode Runner, with a level editor. On the FPS side, we’re talking about Wolfenstein 3D (1992) and DOOM (1993). Mods flourished in all genres: Half-life, Warcraft 3, The Elder Scrolls. Skyrim is certainly one of the most modded games. This is because this game, like all Bestheda titles, is open to practice, with the studio providing tools to design these little machines to extend the life of a game for free.

We’re also eagerly awaiting the Fallout London mod for Fallout 4, which is real unofficial DLC for the game. Mods are made by enthusiasts, most of the time without trying to sell what they do (if the owner of the game’s IP allows it).

From a tools point of view, even if the community develops things, some studios give access to very complete software. Of particular note is the launch of REDmod, CD Projekt’s baby for Cyberpunk 2077, which basically allows anyone to tinker with the futuristic Polish RPG.

From sharing comes Nimpize Adventure

The adventure began slowly, he tried things out, he tinkered. He showed it to his mates, who thought it was funny. And then he found himself with the beginnings of something, and it would be a shame to stop there. There’s no shortage of time and modding is fun. Jules sets himself monthly targets, and ends up drawing up a set of specifications with deadlines. And on the horizon, the 20th anniversary of Ocarina of Time is just around the corner.

At the time, he was working as a temp. On days when there’s no assignment, he can code for up to 18 consecutive hours, not because he has to, but because he doesn’t see the time spent. That’s the problem with starting a project from scratch: nothing works the way you want it to the first time, so you go through the motions and a change you thought you could make in ten minutes takes four hours. Looking back, he’s glad he did it at the time, because today, life would make it impossible. He could spare a few hours now and then. All in all, it took eighteen months of intensive work to come up with a game on 21 November 2018. He even went through a period of crunch time to meet the date, not a day too late on the schedule. He lived this experience like a real job, taking ‘holidays’ from time to time so as not to break down. But the mission was accomplished, and the romhack was released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its big brother, causing quite a stir in the community. As the game is much more difficult than the original, it’s really aimed at players who have turned the 1998 game on its head. He placed end-game enemies (the gerudos) right at the start, without any tutorial, to give you an idea. As he didn’t host the game, he doesn’t know the number of downloads, but he does know that the trailer got 45,000 views, which was clearly unexpected.

Trailer de Nimpize Adventure

Modelling a game on your own means wearing many hats. Game designer, graphic designer, composer and so many other roles that Ostrealava has had to learn, but you can’t know everything. That’s where the community’s support is important, and Jules has found quite a few people who have given him content. Some people don’t want to participate in the development of a game, they make maps and music for fun. So this content was used to save a bit of time. Even so, he had to learn how to create quite a few things, but he was obliged to leave a lot of elements identical to the initial game. He does a lot of level design and that’s what’s most successful about the title. The story, on the other hand, isn’t what he’s most interested in – it’s pretty straightforward, but that’s not where the game sets itself apart. It’s kept quite a few of the mechanics it had before being modified, but Nintendo games are very well designed, so you can create an astronomical number of interactions and puzzles. There’s a lot of content available in the game that hasn’t been used, so it’s possible to create entire dungeons based on mechanics you’ve never seen before. It’s a bit like putting small pieces together to create unexpected contraptions – I can see in your eyes that you’re thinking of Tears Of The Kingdom. The code also contains tools that are used during the development and testing phases. They remain available to modders. For example, in TOTK, the power to pass through surfaces was originally a developer’s tool that was kept as a game mechanic.

Fear doesn’t come to us

Speaking of Nintendo and game modification, the question arises as to how the Japanese giant views this kind of activity, which flirts with legality. There’s no constant threat. As long as the modder remains discreet, all is well except during the Big N’s hunting season. In short, as long as you don’t make too much noise, you’re pretty quiet, aren’t you Yuzu? For example, for a romhack, the developer doesn’t offer the game, he just makes a patch available free of charge that modifies the original game. It’s up to the player to manage to get hold of the game, ideally by dumping (I’ll define it right below) the physical game. But of course, if you’re communicating all over the place, if you’re trading, if you’re trying to draw attention to the project more than you should, you risk being called to order in the first instance. You have to learn not to be too greedy and be content with the satisfaction of creating something cool from a game you love and sharing it with other fans.

Calling the server: emulation

Ah, emulation, the subject that always comes up on the internet between nostalgics, retrogamers and the curious. I’m not going to go into the subject of those who make a clearly speculative business out of old hardware (consoles and games), it just annoys me. So we’re going to concentrate on emulation.

Basically, we’re still talking about communities of enthusiasts doing development work. This time, the finished product is software that simulates our beloved old consoles yellowed by Chronos (the poor thing is being martyred at the moment). As the NES cartridge is not in USB 3.0 format, the games have to be dumped, i.e. the data has to be extracted from the physical medium to make a file, called a rom, that can be used by the emulator. Of course, you need to own the console and the game to avoid infringing intellectual property rights in the name of private copying, according to the big red book that has been abused for years.

In truth, it’s a case of getting that famous emulator that reads roms for a little pleasure that people under 20 can’t possibly know about, and avoiding setting up a business plan so that everyone can benefit from the work of enthusiasts.

Emulation allows the discovery or rediscovery of the cult titles that gave birth to this digital art form. It’s hard to do otherwise when production stopped before you were born and a group of mononeurons think that Ebay is the best way to become the new Besos. Let’s calm down and move on.

Fausse cartouche contenant Nimpize Adventure vendu illégalement à l’insu de Jules


What appealed to Jules at first was the fact that he could create with what already existed. He felt like he was building with resources left behind by developers 20 years ago. He put together abandoned things to create unexpected things. But later, for the projects that followed, it was pure and simple creation that interested him. He left aside byte modification, code and all that goes with it to concentrate on maps. For the past four years, he has been using Blender to draw three-dimensional maps. After Nimpize, he worked on a whole range of projects, some for himself, others as part of a team. In particular, he took part in Missing Link and Third Quest, two well-known Ocarina of Time romhacks. He even started work on Nimpize 2, which never saw the light of day due to lack of time. At the moment, he’s working on Indigo, another Ocarina of Time romhack, a demo of which was released last year. A dozen or so people are working on this project, which promises to be of the highest quality. There are lots of things in the pipeline, maybe even a little something that isn’t modding, it seems that Unreal Engine is installed on his PC.

He even became an official developer in the meantime. Nimpize enabled him to acquire computer skills, which led him to retrain and learn on his own, until he got a job in development in the broadest sense in a company where this was not the main activity. He creates all kinds of applications in a variety of languages for an equally wide range of users. This jack-of-all-trades approach reminds him of the different hats he wore as a modder, and it’s a way of working that suits him.

One thing he really enjoys about modding is the passion. It’s the same feeling that drives him with Ocarina of Time, but also that he finds with everyone in the community. It’s a passion that unites them all around a single game, which they’ve played dozens of times, which they dissect and in which they’re still discovering things twenty years after its release. Jules hasn’t found this common motivation anywhere else, and the same goes for conversations that are so cutting-edge that he’ll only find someone to talk to if he’s an enthusiast. After that, you have to admit that if you stay between modders, you run the risk of getting bogged down in the subject.

Screenshot de Nimpize Adventure

After years of experience, Ostrealava advises beginners above all to have fun, because modding, in a way, is also about playing the game. To start with, you need to work on things you enjoy. If you want to make music, make music. It’s a bit like developing a more standard game, you don’t have to embark on a big project from the start. There are so many things to do that trying to learn everything at once can quickly become discouraging. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, there are lots of Discords dedicated to modding a specific game, and in French. The members really help each other out, and there’s no competition, as there’s no sale at the end of the day.

Just a quick clarification from Jules: if you find Nintendo 64 cartridges of Nimpize Adventure for sale, it’s not him. Some clever chap has had fun putting the game on physical media and selling them. Of course, it’s totally illegal to sell intellectual property that doesn’t belong to you.

As time goes by, he’s playing less and less video games. That’s relative, because when you play a lot of games, they still play a part in your daily life. But, all the same, he has more fun making them than just being a gamer. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask are regularly remade. He’s also very fond of the Metroids saga, but otherwise it’s the smaller indie games that interest him, and I can’t say I blame him. He mentions Cuphead and Darkest Dungeon, and the creativity of indie games always wins over the hearts of JV enthusiasts.

The difficult question

We always end the meeting with the most difficult question you can ask a gamer, the one and only game they would recommend to someone else. To everyone’s surprise, it’s Ocarin… and no! It’s Majora’s Mask! Put in the context of its time, it’s a real technical feat, and the story and meta-story are truly unique. It was a precursor in terms of design, time travel over three days (yes, I’m spoiling without warning, the game is 24 years old after all) and the fact that when you go back to a day you’ve already played, you don’t find the same possibilities. There are also the beginnings of choices with consequences in JV. This is a game, a truly atypical Zelda, which took a lot of people by surprise. The direct sequel to its predecessor doesn’t really have much in common with its predecessor, but it’s a great game for anyone who’s made it all the way through.

Want more about Majora’s Mask?

The little anecdote that brings us to the end concerns the origin of the name Nimpize Adventure. We’re going back in time to when, with his brother (yes, the one I drink beers with), Jules used to use the expression “c’est nimp”, short for “c’est n’importe quoi”, and from deformation to deformation it became “Nimpize”, so we’re on the adventure of n’importe quoi. It’s a nice nod to his brother, without whom we’d probably never have swapped.

Here we are at the end of this article, but also at the end of this first season of Game’n Breakfast, which I can assure you will be back in September, and we’ll be talking about Zelda again. As far as I’m concerned, summer won’t be all about lounging around, and I’m planning a little something on a slightly more serious theme, but still based on video games and socialising. What motivates me is sharing my encounters and giving a voice to people behind the scenes, which is what we like so much, and I’m delighted to be able to do it at Point’n Think. See you soon, and above all…

Play well, play fun, play indie.


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