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Title    Hackers Discover How to Reprogram NES Tetris From Within the Game
Date    Tuesday May 14, @01:38PM
Author    hubie
from the games-with-easter-eggs dept.

upstart writes:

New method could help high-score chasers trying to avoid game-ending crashes:

Earlier this year, we shared the story of how a classic NES Tetris player hit the game's "kill screen" for the first time, activating a crash after an incredible 40-minute, 1,511-line performance. Now, some players are using that kill screen—and some complicated memory manipulation it enables—to code new behaviors into versions of Tetris running on unmodified hardware and cartridges.

[...] But a recent video from Displaced Gamers takes the idea from private theory to public execution, going into painstaking detail on how to get NES Tetris to start reading the game's high score tables as machine code instructions.

Taking over a copy of NES Tetris is possible mostly due to the specific way the game crashes. Without going into too much detail, a crash in NES Tetris happens when the game's score handler takes too long to calculate a new score between frames, which can happen after level 155. When this delay occurs, a portion of the control code gets interrupted by the new frame-writing routine, causing it to jump to an unintended portion of the game's RAM to look for the next instruction.

Usually, this unexpected interrupt leads the code to jump to address the very beginning of RAM, where garbage data gets read as code and often leads to a quick crash. But players can manipulate this jump thanks to a little-known vagary in how Tetris handles potential inputs when running on the Japanese version of the console, the Famicom.

Unlike the American Nintendo Entertainment System, the Japanese Famicom featured two controllers hard-wired to the unit. Players who wanted to use third-party controllers could plug them in through an expansion port on the front of the system. [...]

As it happens, the area of RAM that Tetris uses to process this extra controller input is also used for the memory location of that jump routine we discussed earlier. Thus, when that jump routine gets interrupted by a crash, that RAM will be holding data representing the buttons being pushed on those controllers. This gives players a potential way to control precisely where the game code goes after the crash is triggered.

For Displaced Gamers' jump-control method, the player has to hold down "up" on the third controller and right, left, and down on the fourth controller (that latter combination requires some controller fiddling to allow for simultaneous left and right directional input). Doing so sends the jump code to an area of RAM that holds the names and scores for the game's high score listing, giving an even larger surface of RAM that can be manipulated directly by the player.

By putting "(G" in the targeted portion of the B-Type high score table, we can force the game to jump to another area of the high score table, where it will start reading the names and scores sequentially as what Displaced Gamers calls "bare metal" code, with the letters and numbers representing opcodes for the NES CPU.

[...] Of course, the lack of a battery-backed save system means hackers need to achieve these high scores manually (and enter these complicated names) every time they power up Tetris on a stock NES. The limited space in the high score table also doesn't leave much room for direct coding of complex programs on top of Tetris' actual code. But there are ways around this limitation; HydrantDude writes of a specific set of high-score names and numbers that "build[s] another bootstrapper which builds another bootstrapper that grants full control over all of RAM."

Original Submission


  1. "upstart" -
  2. "New method could help high-score chasers trying to avoid game-ending crashes" -
  3. "we shared the story" -
  4. "a recent video from Displaced Gamers" -
  5. "too much detail" -
  6. "an expansion port" -
  7. "writes" -
  8. "Original Submission" -

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printed from SoylentNews, Hackers Discover How to Reprogram NES Tetris From Within the Game on 2024-05-30 22:34:21