What you need, SNESdev

Before we start actually programming for the SNES, you will need a few things.

  1. An assembler
  2. A tile editor
  3. Photoshop or GIMP
  4. a text editor
  5. a good debugging emulator
  6. a tile arranging program
  7. a music tracker

65816 Assembler

I use ca65. It was designed for 6502, but it can assemble 65816 also. I am very familiar with it, and that is the main reason I use it. There is also WLA (which some other code examples and libraries use) and ASAR (which the people at SMWcentral use). For spc700 (which is another assembly language entirely) you could use the BASS assembler, by byuu/near.


(Click on Windows snapshot)

Why not use cc65 c compiler? It doesn’t produce 65816 assembly, it produces 6502 (8 bit) assembly only. The code generated is totally inappropriate. There is the tcc816 c compiler, which works with the PVSnesLib. It compiles to the WLA assembler. Frankly, I just didn’t feel like learning these tools. But they are here, if you are interested.


Link to the bass assembler, if you want to write your own SPC code. (This would be exceptionally difficult, and I won’t cover writing SPC programs).


These are command line tools. If you are not familiar with using command line tools, check out this link to catch up to speed. In windows 10, I have to click the address bar and type CMD (press enter) to open up a command line prompt. Watch a few of these tutorials to get the basics.

You might notice that I use batch files (compile.bat) to automate command line writes. You could use these or makefiles (which are a bit more complicated), to simplify the assembly process. I just double click the .bat file, and it executes all the assembling / linking commands.

Tile Editor

I prefer YY-CHR for most of my graphics editing. For 16 color SNES, change the graphic format to “4bpp SNES”. For 4 color SNES, change the graphic format to “2bpp GB”. The gameboy uses the same bitplane format as SNES.

The .NET version of YY-CHR has been improved, and can even do 8bpp SNES formats [EDIT – I can’t confirm that the 8bpp modes work right. They aren’t working for me. The 2bpp and 4bpp modes work.]. Here’s the current link for the better version.


Another very good app is called superfamiconv. It is a command line tool for converting indexed PNG (with no compression) to CHR files (snes graphic formats). It also makes palettes and map files. You could use it to convert your pictures to SNES format, and then later edit those files with YY-CHR.

The command line options are a bit complex, but it really does a fantastic job.


Or you can use M1TE or SPEZ or M8TE (see below) for importing graphics and editing.

Photoshop or GIMP

GIMP is sort of a free image tool like Photoshop. You can use any similar tool to draw your art.


You will have to resize the image to 256×256 or smaller and save as PNG before you can import it into M1TE. You might want to Image/Mode/Indexed and reduce to 16 color first before you save it. M1TE can reduce the color count, but I think GIMP is a bit better at it.

Text Editor

I use Notepad++. You could use any text editor, even plain old Notepad. You need to write your assembly source code with a text editor.


Debugging Emulator

I have used several emulators in the past. This year (2020) the emulator to use is MESEN-S. It is brand new, but it blows the other emulators away in terms of useful tools.


It has a Debugger with disassembly and breakpoints. Event viewer. Hex editor / memory viewer. Register viewer. Trace logger. Assembler. Performance Profiler. Script Window. Tilemap Viewer. Tile Viewer. Sprite Viewer. Palette Viewer. SPC debugger. I might write an entire page just on this emulator. It’s cool.

One note, for a developer. Make sure when you rebuild a file, that you don’t select it from the picture that pops up when you open MESEN-S, but rather always select the file from File/Open. Otherwise, it will auto-load the savestate, which is the old file before it was reassembled.

I also like to change the keyboard input settings. For some reason he has mapped MULTIPLE settings at the same time, and none of them exactly what I would choose. So Option/Input/Setup, click on each Key Setup and clear them all (clear key bindings button) and then manually set a keyboard key for each button. I like the ASZX for YXBA buttons and arrow for direction pad.

Tile Arranger

I have been trying to make my own tools for SNES game development. M1TE (mode 1 tile editor) is for creating background maps (and palettes and tiles). SPEZ is for creating meta sprites that work with my own code system (Easy SNES). You may not need SPEZ, but definitely download M1TE.

One main benefit of M1TE is palette editing and conversions. It can load a YY-CHR style palette and output a SNES format palette. And the reverse. Remember not to name the SNES palette file as the same name as your CHR file and .pal extension, or YY-CHR will auto-load it as a RGB palette, and fail.



Go to the “Releases” page to download the exe file. They are .NET Windows app, and can also run on non-Windows computers with MONO.



I recently made a new tool M8TE, which is the same as M1TE except it works for 8bpp tiles (Mode 3 or 7).



I also use Tiled Map Editor for creating data for games. You might find it useful.


Music Tracker

I have been working with the SNES GSS tracker and system written by Shiru. I have been told there was a bug in the code that causes games to freeze. You might want to download the tracker from my repo, which has been patched to fix the bug. (it’s the snesgssQv2.exe file).


and use the music.asm file here, since the original was written to work with tcc-816 and WLA. I rewrote it all in assembly for ca65.


You may want to use another music system. SNES MOD is a popular option (used with OpenMPT). Other systems are currently in development.

I think that’s enough for today. Next time, we can discuss using the ca65 assembler.

SNES main page

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