How video games are made
Video games are programmed on computers then run through a compiler program. This compiler program is usually designed for specific platforms, particularly in the case of console and mobile gaming. Developers would pay the necessary fees to receive the compiler, and other programs, in what was called a “development kit”. As companies move on and release newer gaming platforms they leave the previous, and earlier, platform behind. People that are proficient in programming for these older systems either leak, or create their own, development kits to the public so others can program new games for old platforms. This movement of creating new games for older platforms such as the Super Nintendo and Commodore 64 is known as “homebrew” since most of these games are created in someone’s home versus professionals usually working in offices.
What platforms have homebrew titles
Nearly every platform available has a publicly available development kit. Older platforms are usually easier for a single person to program for so more programmers focus on systems such as the Atari 2600 and the Commodore 64. More adventurous developers work on Super Nintendo titles or even Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 titles. Newer platforms, such as those from Microsoft and Sony, are basically personal computers that hook directly into televisions rather than monitors.
What genres are covered
Homebrew titles run the gamut of simple scrolling shooting games similar to Galaga, Thunder Force and others. More ambitious homebrew titles explore more complex gaming genres such as role playing games in the style of Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda. The middle ground seems to be the Super Mario style action platform games that many a company built a solid foundation. Rarely will we see sports titles explored in the homebrew community, probably due to the complexity of the artificial intelligence requirements to create a challenging opponent that doesn’t cheat. The least explored genre in homebrew would have to be fighting games which require quality artificial intelligence and smooth animation with detailed graphics.
How the games are made available
In many cases homebrew titles are released on the medium of the platform they were programmed to run on. Commodore 64 homebrew games usually are available on 5 ¼ inch floppy disks and/or cassette/cartridges. Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 2600 and Sega Genesis (popular consoles with homebrew developers) all can see many releases on cartridge. The Sega Dreamcast has seen many releases on CD-Rom thanks to the openness of the platform, as if Sega knew the console would not fare well in the market they left it open for the community to run wild with.
Physical media is not the only method in which homebrew developers release their games. Most also receive a release in “ROM” format. A ROM is simply the data of the game in a computer format that the necessary console emulators will understand. This allows more homebrew developers to get their games out to more gamers while collectors are usually catered to by costly physical releases.
Homebrew games are not all sub-par when compared to commercial releases. Though your mileage may vary, experimenting with the homebrew world of gaming may lead to new and interesting games.