The Forgotten History of Pokémon ROM Hacking Pioneer Gene Sepas (2024)

I want to dedicate this thread to the memory of what, for all intents and purposes, is actually the best ROM hacker who ever lived: the unjustly forgotten, pioneering and avant-garde ROM Hacker Gene Sepas.

Studying the history of Pokemon GB\C hacks around the world, I came across this author and his exemplary work, which exceeded all my expectations. Unfortunately, due to scandals that I will explain to you in the following story, there is no longer any trace of this author on the Internet.

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This story was collected by me during almost 4 years of hard work and research: in the end, both on the basis of the remaining offline sources and on the basis of contemporary testimonies, I managed to document his life. Although it was very difficult, having had good credentials in writing stories and books on Hack ROMs over the years, I have had permission from the remaining family members to publish the following.

Gene Sepas was the greatest of all ROM Hackers who ever lived at the time.

Dedicating himself almost solely to Pokémon games, his career — neglecting the eventual errors he encountered in the creation of his hacks — anticipated future developments in the world of ROM hacking by several decades, if not even a hundred years: in addition to having been one of the first ROM hackers ever, Gene Sepas was the first avant-garde ROM Hacker in History, to the point that most of his works were not understood at all.

Born in 1982 in Hungary, at the time still under the communist regime, to an Austrian-Hungarian family, Gene Sepas, whose real name was Bela Hansen Kuntz, was the first Hungarian ROM Hacker (and hacker in general), and was very important to make video games known in the communist world of those years. Already at an early age, having moved to Austria in 1985 following the opening of the borders, he had learned the basics of IT, tinkering with the Apple II computer and, later, with the Commodore64.

At the age of 5, in 1987, fed up with his old video game and given the poverty of his family who could not buy another one due to economic constraints, Gene Sepas created the first amateur Hack ROM ever, a modification of Monty on the Run for the Commodore 64 which replaced the titular character with Super Mario, recreated from scratch based solely on photos from video game magazines of the time. To carry out the hack, Gene Sepas created a digitized copy of the game from the Commodore64 itself (i.e.: one of the first cases of a binary dump of a videogame), then edited the file in binary with one of the very first rudimentary Hex Editors, editing the protagonist’s sprite by trial and error, eventually succeeding — even though the colors and the rest of the game remained unchanged.

This was perhaps one of the most significant starting points for the entire history of video games: in the same year, after having clandestinely sold his hack to Russia to finance his family (the first bootlegging case in the history of video games), Gene Sepas followed it shortly after with what would have been the first NES hack of Nintendo games in History: a hack of Super Mario Bros 3 from 1989, entitled “Super Mario World”, obtained by inserting a smuggled import floppy disk of the game that only existed in Japan into the PC (a reward Gene Sepas had received from Russian bootleggers and counterfeiters for his service, who hoped in his skills), dumping the ROM in binary format and editing it. The resulting hack was essentially Super Mario Bros 3 but with more rounded and refined graphics, with a game world with more colorful palettes.

The hack was extremely successful in the Soviet Union, although all copies were destroyed by the Communist Regime as they “instigated Western opulence”. Worse still, the archives documenting this event were destroyed between 1991 and 1992, during the fall of the USSR, removing every trace for fear of lawsuits between the former USSR countries and Nintendo given that the latter precisely in that year released a game of the same name: “Super Mario World”. At the time there were even those who hypothesized that this latest Nintendo video game served only to eradicate video game bootlegging in Russia or even to dismantle Communism itself. Also due to Gene Sepas and his success with the “Super Mario World” bootleg based on Super Mario Bros 3, Nintendo decided to release the Russian game Tetris as the Game Boy’s debut game, in order to further discourage videogame piracy in the former communist states — the real reason for this unusual geographic choice.

Because of this unpleasant first episode, Gene Sepas had since convinced himself to create hacks only on a non-profit basis, just for fun — possibly being one of the first ones to do so at the time. Having initially moved to Austria and guaranteed lifelong economic stability for his family members thanks to his previously smuggled bootlegs (earning millions), in 1990 Gene Sepas published the first theoretical manifesto of ROM Hacking, “Der Hacking ROM Fur Kuntz”, in which he established his non-profit purposes as well as emphasis on translation and having fun.

A Mathematics prodigy, in 1990, at the age of eight, he had already learned the Theory of General Relativity and was already attending the first year of high school, even though he often also attended University students. Having initially settled near Harvard in the USA while attending compulsory school, Gene Sepas later left the city due to bullying and the circulation of guns at school (which he was not used to), and therefore moved near Stanford University in California, attending the local high school in anticipation of being admitted to college once he graduated. For five years Gene Sepas dedicated himself to the very first studies on Nintendo NES and SNES ROMs, already proving his skills in 1990 when he used one the very first Game Genie to edit a video game using only cheats, forcing the game to run into arbitrary code execution and experimenting with programming temporary map edits in Super Mario Bros 3. The undertaking was so radical for the time that it resulted in Nintendo banning the Game Genie in the summer of 1990, which was only resolved in the United States towards the end of 1991.

Coming into contact with the very first Californian ROM Hackers of the time, Gene Sepas also moved to Hong Kong for a couple of years, where he contributed to importing copy cartridges into the West, benefiting from the famous success also obtained in Continental China thanks to his hack Super Mario Wold, which in the meanwhile had made inroads even that far. Matter of fact, several Chinese bootleggers honed their skills and craft at videogame piracy precisely studying Gene Sepas’ hacks, in order to understand not only how he had achieved such feats, but also his “artistic vision”: indeed, many of the authors hacks were made in sloppy English. Confusing the latter mishap with an artistic trait, from then onwards Chinese bootleggers would, as a tribute to their mentor, imitate the kind of broken English that was in use in his hacks — thus overturning the previously held view according to which Chinese ROM hackers did not know English and confirming the influence of Gene Sepas’ artistic manifesto “Der ROM Hacking Fur Kuntz”.

At this point, there were those who hypothesized that in reality Gene Sepas was recruited by the CIA on purpose, who enrolled him first at Harvard and then at Stanford with the aim of spreading consumerism in the communist world through videogames. In reality, there has never been any proof of this — also because actually, according to the statements of the chiefs of staff, not even the highest representatives of the time even knew what a joystick or a game cartridge was given their advanced age. The idea that videogames and technology were involved in espionage schemes, consumerism promotion, and mass surveillance is not only impossible and hardly provable (according to the officials I have consulted to make this biography) but it is also in bad taste — and, therefore, should not be considered when talking about the impact of videogames and IT and their related industry in society.

Moreover, the idea that videogames and IT consumption as promoted by Gene Sepas and his followers were CIA-sponsored in order to achieve the “Reverse-Flynn Effect” (i.e.: a wordly diminution in QI over the decades) in order to dumben world population for easier peacekeeping purposes is equally unprovable and despicable — matter of fact, according to a seemingly legit counterargument proposed by Gene Sepas himself:

Considering the actual leading officials in charge (…) there is no evidense [sic] that policymakers at the top rankings of society are any smarter than ROM hackers who are making zany hacks of Pokémon (…) by attempting [to] use MS Paint to write texts.

In any case, by 1993 Gene Sepas had already created eight NES hacks, which were based on Final Fantasy, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and Mario — hacks which, unfortunately, however advanced they were for the time, were all demented and p*rnographic hacks, given that Gene Sepas in the meantime was becoming a teenager. Having lost his intelligence due to his hormone boom, in 1995, at the age of 13, Gene Sepas dropped out of school to devote himself instead to his new interest: girls.

In any case, in 1996 Gene Sepas had an epiphany when his girlfriend at the time (a 24-year-old student of oriental languages ​​at Stanford) returned from a trip to Japan with two new games she bought there: Pokémon Red and Green. The games in question ignited and aghasted Gene Sepas so much that he abandoned his girlfriend, stole her cartridges, dusted off his old cartridge copyers and dumped two copies of the games (around the same time Jesse Fuller did it). At just 14 years old at the time, Gene Sepas hurriedly returned to Hungary to immediately dedicate himself to translating Japanese Pokémon Green and Red into Hungarian (November 1996), the first Pokemon translation hack in History. Unfortunately, he did not even realize that the world had profoundly changed between 1990 and 1996, and that since the Iron Curtain no longer existed he would no longer gain anything by bootlegging games in the Soviet Union — which no longer existed. Moreover, although this was a milestone of ROM hacking that used very complicated ASM to be able to display Hungarian words, no one abroad was able to understand his hack.

Even worse, the suspicion actually arose that the hack was originally created by Gene Sepas’ former girlfriend (who chose to remain anonymous, due to possible legal concerns obviously related to videogame piracy, as she assured me) as she was the only one of the two who knew Japanese: it seems plausible that Gene Sepas’ girlfriend actually created a first translation from Japanese to English for Pokémon Green (a translation then lost for almost 10 years) and that, in the meantime, other male authors throughout history took the credit, including Gene Sepas, who simply translated his ex-girlfriend’s hack from English to Hungarian. In any case, the original hack surfaced in 2006, only to be lost to time over the years.

That same year, Gene Sepas discovered the Internet, and in 1996 he created a ProBoards site titled “Pokemon Hacker”, the first ROM Hacking site ever and the first dedicated to Pokémon. Taking advantage of the site, he created a community of peers, from whom he stole the best ideas on what could be done in the field of ROM Hacking so that he could create his own hack taking advantage of their ideas — according to Gene Sepas, this approach would soon became the practice in the rest of the English-speaking world. Gene Sepas also created the ancestor of the PokeText utility program, “PokéWriter”, and published it on the site enticing his audience to translate Pokémon into English, his new project.

Unfortunately, Gene Sepas’ friends did not translate it correctly, instead creating a joke: the first hack thus created by the site was “Pukemon (1996), the first idiotic hack ever, a macaronic translation of Japanese Pokemon Red and Green with swear words and explicit graphics. Moreover, Gene Sepas at the time did not even realize it, as he assumed that the prophanities featured in the game were part of a genuine English translation in very formal language, of such a high register that he was not aware of (being foreigner). For instance, when the Player in the game “received a Rusty Trombone from Mr.Fuji” instead of the item formally known as the PokéFlute, Gene Sepas would assume that this was an actual example of accurate musical organology.

However, in early 1997 Gene Sepas created the first restyle-overhaul hack ever: a Japanese Pokémon Blue hack titled “Pokémon Yellow”, a hack in which Pikachu replaced the player, followed by what was “Ash”. Reusing Oak’s event in Pallet Town, Gene Sepas was able to create the caterpillar system, ahead of even the official Pokemon games. Unfortunately, Game Freak had the exact same idea around the same time, publishing previews of what would become the real Pokémon Yellow, in which the protagonist was Ash followed by Pikachu — that is, the opposite of Gene Sepas’ hack. Once the preview was released to the public, the original game would prove even more popular than his hack, so much so that Gene Sepas canceled it and went angry at Game Freak for stealing the idea from his hack to create the new Pokémon game.

Filled with anger, Gene Sepas opted for vengeance. Having learnt from the same magazine that Game Freak was also working on the upcoming sequels to Pokémon Red and Green, he decided to go to the first public fair in which the new games would be displayed to the public. And so he did, when he went on a long airplane trip through discount prices and frequent-miles-flier programs to Spaceworld 1997 to steal the new Game Freak games, i.e. Pokemon 2 Gold and Silver. Once in there, Gene Sepas managed to steal the Spaceworld cartridges — now we know who did it: the very theft of the Pokémon games at Spaceworld is why the story of Gene Sepas has remained so long in the dark. Having dumped the cartridges during a return trip passing through Hong Kong, Gene Sepas very shortly after created the very first second generation Pokémon hacks ever, “Pokémon Spice World” (1998), a zany hack based on Spaceworld Gold and Silver with cutting-edge elements such as map binary changes and changed sprites. The hack was so revolutionary for its times and shocked GameFreak’s developers so much that they even decided to cancel the games, creating Pokémon Gold and Silver instead.

Gene Sepas would be mocked for all the remaining years of his career, as no one ever believed that he had copies and even hacks of the Spaceworld prototypes.

In any case, in 1998, having returned to his ProBoards community of which he had lost control in the meantime, Gene Sepas deleted the site, creating another, more competent one: “Hansen Kuntz Translations”, or more simply “HK Trans”, whose initials probably referred to Hong Kong, i.e. to his old days of the beginnings of ROM Hacking (and his youthful romantic adventures). Actually, there was also who speculated that Gene Sepas had a second epiphany while in there, during his return trip to the West. Whatever the cause, his ROM hacking took an even more dramatic turn when, under the moniker HK Translations, he created the first Overhaul Pokémon hack ever, based this time on a freshly dumped English copy of Pokémon Red, namely “Pokémon Scarlet” (April-December 28, 1998).

This masterpiece of ROM Hacking, ahead of the times of hacks such as Pokemon Midnight Hack and Pokemon Brown, was the first avant-gardist hack ever: it was partly a cross-over with Super Mario Bros 3, from which it inherited the World Map format (actually a map in itself) with a shrunken player (an ASM modification) with warp entrances leading to cities and dungeons — a bit like the first Final Fantasy, since at the time the format of connections between maps was not yet been deciphered. Furthermore, the hack introduced a Pokemon Number 152 (viz the first addition of an extra Pokemon ever) by using the MissingNo. in Ghost form as a basis, complete with an entry into the PokeDex — even before the glitch itself would be acknowledged: Gene Sepas had already understood MissingNo. as being dummied out Pokémon entries, even though he himself would not discover the actual MissingNo. glitch until some time later.

The dungeons also had maps recycled from the first Final Fantasy for the NES, and several sprites came from that same game. Finally, the game also added the Steel Type (for Magnemite and Magneton), based on what was proposed in the Spaceworld games. Unfortunately, GameFreak eventually discovered the hack, and trademarked the name “Pokemon Scarlet” in an attempt at preventing its release. At that point, Gene Sepas changed the title several times: Pokemon White, Black, Bronze, Tourmaline, Vermillion, however each time GameFreak trademarked the names in question to prevent the hack from being published under that name, even though most of these trademarked names would remain unused.

In response, Gene Sepas created the first ever Pokémon Yellow hack, “Pokémon Mellow” (August-December 1999), based on a preview copy of Pokémon Yellow stolen from a magazine in Australia in late August 1999. The hack was essentially Pokémon Yellow with maps taken from Spaceworld’s Pokemon Gold and three Pokémon that followed Ash instead of just one. Unfortunately, the hack was full of bugs, and was mocked and insulted by players, who in the meantime declared “co*kemon” the best hack of all time, even when compared to the achievements of Pokemon Scarlet and Pokemon Mellow. Indeed, a common complain at the time was that Gene Sepas’ Pokémon Scarlet took around 20 hours to be completed in its main quest, which was deemed too much by the players (they admitted that they would have been happy with 2 hours, as in the case of Pokémon Red and Blue). Even worse, it was too much different from the original Pokémon games, to the point that many players would eventually quit playing it due to its massive level of modifications, eventually insulting the author.

Meanwhile, Gene Sepas had turned 17, had returned to school for his diploma and, this time, was engaged with two girlfriends at the same time (both knew from the beginning), who were initially recruited for the beta testing of an unfinished Pokémon Trading Card Game hack, “Pokémon Vegas Card Game (date unknown), which essentially set the game back in the world of illegal BlackJack but which years later became impossible to track down as it was buried in the search results bar for the similar “Pokémon Vega” result. These two female ROM Hackers, whose nicknames were respectively Amanda Haiiroku for the first and CowGurl86 for the second, learned ROM Hacking from Gene Sepas, and produced the first hacks with a female protagonist in history, two extremely experimental restyle-overhauls for the time.

The first hack, based on Japanese Pokémon Silver, was “Pokémon Montessori (November 1999) by Amanda Haiiroku, a biographical hack with a female protagonist (the teacher of the same name), which was essentially a female hack for “educational use” designed as a school project, an extremely experimental ROM hack which even introduced gender selection. Sadly, once she presented her project in class, she was rejected at school, because Pokémon was still thought as being “too much a male game” according to the preconceptions of the time. Pokémon Montessori, among other things, was also the first competitive “Kaizo hack” ever made, even introducing Pokémon at levels exceeding 255 — including the rival’s Pokemon, which was a Caterpie at Lv300.

The second hack, that of CowGurl86, was “Pokémon Bitch” (December 1999), a hack of English Pokémon Blue (one of the first ones), a hack that already implemented a “full color” colorization system created by Gene Sepas at the request of the author. The hack was even more experimental than that of Amanda Haiiroku, as it introduced not only the complete colors for example of Pokémon Gold and Silver but also added new Pokémon up to 160 (albeit with some bugs in the Pokédex) by recycling the ugliest Japanese Pokémon sprites to create new fake evolutions of pre-existing Pokémon.

Unfortunately, the hack was extremely scurrilous, and also added explicit and fictional manga art from the raunchiest “women’s magazines” of the time, as well as the nastiest of BDSM-themed imagery derived from Cosmopolitan articles, and was therefore extremely criticized — CowGurl86 was 13 years old at the time. Actually, at the time she was the most experimental ROM Hacker ever, perhaps even more experimental than Gene Sepas. CowGurl86 had also created the very first horizontal sidescrolling map in the History of ROM Hacking: the inside of the female human body, inside which the shrunken protagonist travels, thus anticipating Almodovar’s “Hable con Ella” (she also insisted that the latter was partially inspired by her ROM Hack, although there is absolutely no way to confirm this). According to CowGurl86, she was simply inspired by IceSage’s hacks of Pokémon and Zelda, as well as by the folklore and collective imagination around Gene Sepas’ national Hungarian underground cinema. Matter of fact, even her nickname could possibly be a reference to the opening scene of Bela Tarr’s “Satantango” — or, alternatively, it was a mention to other Hungarian cinematic experiences.

In any case, both Amanda Haiiroku’s and CowGurl86’s hacks were criticized, to the point that they deleted the hacks and have since retired, severing ties with Gene Sepas due to the scandal. Acquitted of charges of sedition and incitement to commit the crime of obscene and demented ROM Hacking as a 17-year-old and “mentally ill”, Gene Sepas finally decided to redeem himself, discarding his demented past forever and returning to experimental hack overhauls following the example of his Pokémon Scarlet. Therefore, Gene Sepas “cleaned up” Pokemon Bitch, returning it as the original Pokémon Blue (a reverse engineering of a hack to the original therefore), while keeping the colorization system and therefore creating “Pokemon Blue Full Color (February 2000), the first Gen.1 hack with a full colorization system. Unfortunately, Gene Sepas had not yet realized at the time that he was daltonic: the hack was in color, but with the wrong colors, and was therefore mocked by the public and abandoned even though it was complete.

Also in this period, upon reaching adulthood, Gene Sepas created the first creepy and musical hack in history: Pokémon Creepy Black (August 2000), the authentic creepypasta hack of which only legends circulated. Unfortunately, the musical edit of Gene Sepas’s hack contained very annoying binaural tones and flash sequences in the all too sudden ASM events, which accidentally caused 4 children in Japan to be hospitalized due to seizures, as well as the death of one hundred-year-old millionaire tycoon when he heard the news on TV: the latter was none other than the famous Skuaru Eniksu Stolenoshi, the main financier and investor of Game Freak and the person most responsible for the success of the Pokémon videogames.

Now banned for life by Nintendo, Gene Sepas temporarily dedicated himself to Half Life and Counter Strike to kill time under house arrest for a few months, finally creating “Pokémon Bleeders” (December 2000), based on Pokémon Red, the first hack of Pokémon in first-person view, on the model of Wizardry and Mother 1, which was even a partial shooter game in which you could shoot to kill Pokemon like in Duck Hunt, as well as giving the possibility of shooting on NPCs, anticipating both Pokemon Knife and Call of Duty at the same time.

Also during this period of imprisonment, Gene Sepas created the first English Pokémon Gold hack, “Pokémon RhineGold”, otherwise known asPokemon RayGold” (December 2000), a crossover hack dedicated to the Japanese cartoon of the most famous Austrian compatriot character, that is Heidi, a tribute by Gene Sepas both to his Austrian half and to Japanese culture. The hack was notable as there were only mountains and no cities, with wild Pokemon everywhere (even out of the tall grass), and it started on the Miltank farm, with Heidi replacing Gold as the protagonist and with Miltank as the game’s mascot. Unfortunately, when Gene Sepas published the hack on the Kazaa filesharing server, the title of the hack was originally “RhineGold” (a reference to the Gold of the Nibelungs) and due to a transcription error Gene Sepas was investigated by the FBI because the name of his hack had been accidentally mispronounced by players who passed it along the shareware sites accidentally renaming it with a taboo keyword. The hack, moreover, having Heidi as its protagonist, had Gene Sepas publicly accused as a human trafficker. Past travels to Russia, Hungary (his native homeland) and half the world certainly did not benefit him.

However, before this happened, Gene Sepas had time to publish the first Gen.2 overhaul ever, Pokémon Palladium (January 2001), a hack of English Pokémon Silver which, in a similar way to Pokémon Scarlet, introduced advanced ASM and introduced practically everything. Pokémon Palladium expanded the pokedex to 511 Pokemon, included seven regions (including Kanto, Johto, the Mushroom Kingdom, and five other regions taken from Super Mario Bros and Super Metroid, entirely in side-scrolling), had 32 badges and was the first to include the first experiments in 3D graphics in Game Boy Color, even adding a parallax system in the intro, modeled along the lines of the Final Fantasy 4 intro. The hack also introduced distorted electric guitar audio samples by recycling the PCM audio system from Pokémon Yellow, replacing Pikachu’s voices with those of musical instruments, and even introduced a Drum Machine: the sounds of the Roland TR808.

Unfortunately, after a disappointing first run on prepatched releases that had to be withdrawn in a rush around 2005 due to the first concerns regarding the upcoming bootlegging scandals of the time, Pokémon Palladium would later have been released as a patch file that was made in .jar format for the mobile-only emulator MeBoy, and almost no one was able to play it except on mobile. Moreover, this format and method of playing was still a rarity at the time, making the hack far too difficult to play successfully on other devices. For 20 years everyone thought that this masterpiece of ROM hacking was nothing more than a bugged patch that made the game unplayable.

After having been locked up in a prison at Guantanamo Bay in September 2001, Gene Sepas later converted to Eastern “Zun mysticism” through other inmates, after having tried Curryfarianism for a time. In prison Gene Sepas would also negotiate his release, eventually adhering to the CIA’s objective of “converting infidels” through psychological experiments, which he satisfied by creating the first hack of Pokémon Crystal, i.e. “Pokemon Heavy Metal” (December 2001), the first musical hack proper in the world. Having received a PC in his cell exactly for this purpose as part of his adhering to the psy-op, Gene Sepas would nonetheless manage to push his stylistical and theoretical experiments even further, under the pretext of this secret program. However, given the lo-fi limitations of the Game Boy, CIA officials eventually found that Rap music and J-Pop EDM lent itself better to brainwashing than the synthetic heavy metal music advocated by Gene Sepas (which strangely only worked on European teenagers, especially Scandinavian ones), thus actually pushing for a more substantial popularization in the media of the former music genres. Nonetheless, this was in fact the only confirmed relationship between the CIA and the ROM Hacking of Pokémon pursued by Gene Sepas, who was eventually released on bail in March 2003.

Nonetheless, to the total unawareness of his prison guards, during his imprisonment and his spiritual conversion Gene Sepas created in great secrecy two parallel Pokémon hacks, which were initially secretly embedded in the ROM the CIA was working on. The first of these would be the first aleatory hack in history, namely “Pokemon I-Ching” (December 2001), a randomized aleatory “Kaizo” hack whose Pokemon changed based on how the I-Ching book was opened, emulating John Cage and his oriental mysticism. At the same time, Gene Sepas also created the first religious hack in History, “Pokemon Zen Arcade” (April 2002), the first total hack overhaul of Pokémon Crystal, which unfortunately was never believed as being real as it was secretly published on the web on the 1st day of the month — actually as a maneuver aimed at deceiving the CIA from his real intentions, making them believe (successfully) that the hack he had just released was a hoax.

At this point in history the merits of Gene Sepas were excellent, but fewer and fewer players were interested in his exploits, which had gradually become more and more ambitious, exceeding the expectations of the time.

Other hacks of the time involved Pokémon Crystal-based restyles based on popular features, with hacks such as “Pokemon 3D World” (August 2002-March 2003), the first GBC hack entirely in 3D, and “Pokemon Crystal Advance Adventures” (December 2002-March 2003), the first De-Make of the third generation of Pokémon games (which were in the meanwhile about to be released in Japan) and of the titular Hoenn region but actually based on Pokémon Crystal but which remains unfinished in Ever Grande City — the game stops with Steven: the Hall of Fame is missing due to a bug that doesn’t allow the credits to start, apparently, due to a single missing byte that was apprently blanked out as a mistake, as Gene Sepas later admitted. Apparently, the author had never played any of the hacks he had made up until that point in time.

Gradually released from surveillance in prison due to good conduct and his pioneering contributions to Intelligence, Gene Sepas would sporadically resume in secret his ROM hacking activities from time to time, among anyone’s indifference to what he was actually coming up with: the hacks he was working on were so bizarre and uncomprehensible to the average public that these were not deemed of any harm as exceeding the capacity of human intelligence — to the point that not even security had any idea of what Gene Sepas was actually doing. Adding to this was also the fact that, around this time, Gene Sepas pioneered novel ways of ciphering his hacks by using a combination of the I-Ching and permutations of the Fibonacci’s Sequence — pushing the procedure further by having two different sections of coding written on two different keyboards and computers simultaneously with one hand each, creating a novel method of using two patches (and later much more) instead of one for creating his ROM hacks.

Not satisfied, Gene Sepas would also invent a mouse pedal (i.e. a PC mouse used with the foot), eventually using two of those simultaneously at times, and coming up even with a PC-suited pedal keyboard, inspired by organology. Effectively, Gene Sepas would create Pokémon ROM hacks as if he was playing a combination of a drum kit and an organ, perhaps inspired by his work on Pokémon Heavy Metal. These and other methods, along with his penchant for using up to seven computer keyboards stacked in different combinations, allowed Gene Sepas to actually create multiple ROM hacks at the same time — sometimes up to five simultaneously. Apparently, according to Gene Sepas, he was not only inspired by the prison rats’ attempts at biting his feet but also by the old rumor of Pokémon being inspired by bugs running across electrical cables (which supposedly inspired the Game Link process of Pokémon trading). Gene Sepas would popularize these and other inventions in his second treatise on ROM hacking, titled “On Mice and Hackers”. While he would actually market his inventions some time later, to this very day the rest of the world seems to have remained quite skeptical about his inventions.

After his March 2003 release from prison, Gene Sepas would definitively embark into an even more experimental phase of his ROM hacking career, this time focused on the Third Generation of Pokémon games and on the Game Boy Advance — taking a turn toward hermeticism, mysticism, and overall reclusive crypticness.

Gene Sepas’ Game Boy Advance career was mostly characterized by unfinished hacks, as Zun meditation was taking over ROM Hacking. Added to this was yet another breakup of romantic relationships, this time with his first wife, who left him on Valentine’s Day 2004 as Gene Sepas had to rebuild the competitive Pokémon team from scratch for the upcoming battling tournament as Smogon had banned him the day before.

Among the Gen3 hacks that Gene Sepas attempted were the following:

  • Pokémon Emerald (December 2002) — the first Gen.3 hack ever, a hack based on Japanese Pokémon Ruby, incomplete and left pending for about 3 years: it was mostly a graphical Gen.3 hack that expanded the Battle Tower and replaced Groudon with Rayquaza.

  • Pokemon Coryndon (2002-August 2003) — the first total overhaul hack of Gen.3, expanded the Pokédex to 690 species, 4 regions (Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Zelda’s Hyrule Kingdom), anticipating Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green.

  • Pokémon Shiny Crystal (October 2003) — the first remake of Pokémon Crystal for Gen.3 games.

  • Pokémon Pearl (July 2004) — based on Japanese Pokémon Fire Red, the first hack that introduced new evolutions, added the new type “Magic-type”, and also added new Fakemon, including Leafeon, Iceon, and Faeryeon, which in the Demo1 of the hack is called “Zylveon”.

  • Pokémon Velvet Black (April 2005) — an abstract avant-garde hack, based on “Pokémon Emerald” (actually Gene Sepas’ ROM hack of the same name, not the official Pokemon game) that summarized everything done by Gene Sepas, even including a music videoclip in the ROM with a photo montage of Lou Reed (also based on the Sega video game “Smoke and Mirrors”) playing Pokémon Emerald (the real game), which was therefore also a postmodernist hack in that it included not only postmodernism but also included someone else’s game which was actually loosely based on his own hack. The game was so postmodern from a theoretical point of view that it was the first GBA Pokemon Hack to be banned by Game Freak (in 2006, although they made a mistake at first and accidentally banned Pokémon Chaos Black), even though it was published on their own sponsored international Forum the year before, even winning third place in the “Hack of the Month” context — second place went to “Pokémon Your Ass Edition” by Shigeki Miyaloco, while first place went to “Pokémon Shin Senzuri Ruby Fixed Kaizo Rebalanced” by SinisterCoatedMan Inc.

Meanwhile, Gene Sepas’ greatest achievement of the era was perhaps the creation of the “Pokémon Adder” tool, which allowed adding up to 600 extra Pokémon into the Gen.3 games (already in 2005), as well as his Hungarian translation of AdvanceMap, although shortly thereafter people preferred neglecting his works in order to play Kaizo and zany hacks based on Pokémon Sapphire, of which the most famous was certainly Pokémon Sapphire 2. Curiously enough, such hacks claimed adding all Pokémon and all regions as a mandatory objective, yet without achieving them, usually ending unfinished after the first preview alpha release. Once people realized that Gene Sepas’ hacks actually featured these very things, they publicly dismissed his results as being “cliché”, also dismissing (already in 2005) his postmodernist takes on ROM hacking as being “outmoded”.

Realizing that the future of video games was in the modernization of old games, i.e. the aging of future games, Gene Sepas even attempted in 2006 a collaboration with Wesley-FG (inspired by the success of Pokémon Light Platinum) to create the remake of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire: by all accounts, the title of his proposed project should have been “Pokemon Omega Ruby”. Gene Sepas intended to remake Pokemon Ruby identically as the original game, but in 3D and for PC. In any case, the project failed for several reasons. First of all, Gene Sepas fell into a misunderstanding, as the author he had contacted was a certain Wesley-FG, which actually was a completely different author from the actual Wesley FG of Pokémon Light Platinum fame: once Gene Sepas would contact by mistake the real Wesley FG requesting his latest contributions to his project he simply did a throw figure, losing several weeks of work — up to that point, Gene Sepas had sent his works to the wrong person, thus wasting a notable amount of work which ended in the SPAM section of the latter’s email. Secondly, once the actual collaborator (i.e.: Wesley-FG, with the dash character in the nickname) was finally contacted again, he had lost interest in the project (he got engaged with Pokémon Sapphire 2 and Call of Duty in the meanwhile) and, in any case, according to their views on the matter, the collaborators realized that making a game like this, even if in 3D, would have been far too banal. Therefore, the team assembled by Wesley-FG remarked to Gene Sepas that, in any case, the timing for remaking Pokémon Ruby in 3D was far too premature: accordingly, they advised Gene Sepas to postpone the project at least until 2013, when the audience would have been mature enough to have forgotten the Gen.3 games — something Gene Sepas was never able to do, unfortunately.

Gene Sepas’ last hack was one of the first Gen.4 hacks ever, “Pokemon 8 1\2” (December 2007), based on Japanese Pokémon Diamond, a glitch hack (the first glitch hack ever) that exploited the bug of Darkrai to create a map in which randomly modified dialogues popped up, and which were essentially a philosophical conversation between the author and the player, a hack created under the influence of psychedelics and oriental spriritualism.

In his last years, Gene Sepas also dedicated himself to writing a series of tutorials and futuristic articles on GBA Hacking:

  • How to bug a ROM with A-Text and destroy within the first 5 minutes two years of hacking;

  • GBC ROM Hacking for inepts;

  • Pokemon Lupin Edition: How to become a millionaire with Pikachu and AdFly;

  • How to write a 100-page book without saying anything;

  • The best creepypastas on Pokémon Pinball;

  • You will have no other god before me;

  • Mapping? Coolboyman invented it;

  • Spriting? Coolboyman invented it;

  • Scripting? Coolboyman invented it;

  • Your mother? Coolboyman invented her;

  • Pokesh*te Damngamefrik;

  • Pokesh*te Damngamefrik 2 Retribution;

  • Pokesh*te Damngamefrik 3 Mew’s Hangover;

  • Why Plaguemon is better than Pokémon Emerald Kaizo;

  • The Making of Pokémon Crazy Vie;

  • How to bug Pokémon Emerald’s music using JohtoMap;

  • I spammed my forum in my avatar image;

  • Creating New Pokemon: Complete Guide to Recolors by Master Paint (book of the year that received the “Seal of Quality” from GameFreek);

  • The secret lives of ROM Hackers: dialogues and interviews with the artists of the Misty anime;

  • Mom I lost the Patch. (a.k.a. “ROM Alone”).

Gene Sepas was also the first Game Boy Advance Hack critic and YouTuber — here are his evaluation criteria:

  • Shoot a random number from 0 to 10, then bring it back to the range from 1 to 9;

  • How is the hack?

    • Zany: -3, damn, haven't these guys died yet?

    • Restyle: -2, so I can shovel sh*t on my fellow Youtubers who give 8 to Kaizo hacks;

    • Overhaul: +1, this is how I play cool with other people’s overhaul hack.

    • Anything else: keep the vote unchanged.

  • Whose hack is it?

    • Great Britain: -2, damn, haven't these guys died yet?

    • Japan: -1, damn, haven't these guys died yet?

    • USA: 0, this great nation of heroes annoyed me with the music of Spruce Sprungteens and Kaizo hacks;

    • Germany: +2, I like the Germans.

    • No, they are pathetic European or Asian or Latin American teenagers who do overhaul hacks, some pseudo-intellectual experimental losers: +4, so I can shovel sh*t on my fellow Youtubers who give 8 to Kaizo hacks;

  • What's in the hack?

    • All Pokemon all regions: -4, This one’s a noob.

    • All Pokemon all regions for real: +1, this one even skipped school to hack.

    • Higher levels: -2, difficult hacks have been obsolete since 1991.

    • Recolored Pokémon: -2, cute sprites have been obsolete since 1991.

    • Swear words: -3 if he bugs the textboxes, -2 if he mentions Mosconi for the hundred thousandth time, +1 if he is a Gnavo.

    • SPAM from ProBoards and other US sites: +1 this great nation of heroes will teach the world...

    • SPAM of certain types of manga and other Jap sites: +1 this great nation of cartoonists despite the pixelated screens will teach the world...

    • SPAM of other stuff and spambots: -1 banthatf*ckfacerihgtnoooow!

  • If the numbers are out of range, bring them back into the range, otherwise it will be understood that I am giving the votes at random.

Gene Sepas died of boredom in 2009 during the World Economic Crisis, he was 27 years old.


Article originally published by 80C on January 8, 2024.

© 2024 80C.

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The Forgotten History of Pokémon ROM Hacking Pioneer Gene Sepas (2024)
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