The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'homebrew'
glitchDS is a suite of (somewhat unconventional) homebrewed Nintendo DS music programs. They include CellsDS, a grid-based sequencer apparently modelled on the Tenori-On, only extensible using Lua scripts, as well as a gesture-based sample player named repeaterDS and the eponymous glitchDS, a music toy based on Conway's Game Of Life. Of course, you will need a homebrew card to use these, which may be illegal or otherwise difficult to acquire in some territories.
The Nintendo DS, sometimes dismissed as the Sony PSP's poor cousin, is starting to look like an interesting platform. For one, whilst Sony's unit is largely dominated by fairly conservative mainstream fare like driving/sports/gang-warfare/first-person-shooter games, the dinky DS, which lacks the raw power to compete in the graphics-machismo stakes but has two screens, one of them touch-sensitive, and a microphone, has been capitalising on this with more conceptual and experimental titles. One which has been raved about recently is Electroplankton, an artificial-life-based algorithmic-music-composition game/toy/tool developed by Japanese multimedia artist Toshio Iwai. Electroplankton was apparently the most popular Japanese import to the US, though now has been released there, and at least one musician has made an album using it, and is using it in live performances.
On a more practical note, the Opera web browser is about to be released for the DS; Opera will be a cartridge which allows users to browse the web via Wi-Fi from their DS. I wonder how long until Skype or someone release a VOIP cartridge, turning the DS into an internet telephony handset.
Meanwhile, some hobbyist hackers have written a personal organiser package for the DS. It's a download, and needs some hacking to get it to work. And someone else is manufacturing and selling cartridges for running homebrew software on a DS. The PassMe cartridges plug into the cartridge port and take a legitimate game cartridge, which they use for authenticating the code downloaded onto them as legitimate; they are used for running homebrew titles, and absolutely not, it must be stressed, p1r4t3d games. It's not quite clear how one downloads the software image onto the cartridge, though; I imagine it may use proprietary software, possibly running only on Windows.
I have been thinking about the homebrew-console-games-vs.-manufacturer-DRM issue recently.
New consoles with new capabilities come out, often containing powerful CPUs and graphics chips, and hackers and hobbyists want to have a go at writing code for them and getting them to do things other than consume titles. The manufacturers, of course, design the units so as to prevent unauthorised code running on them, primarily to protect their business model. The video-game console business model typically involves selling the consoles cheaply (often at a loss) and collecting a cut of the price of each game sold. Of course, for this to work, console makers have to strictly control what code will run on their machines, and ensure that they get a cut of every item released for them.
It's a stiflingly regressive reality, though it appears to be stable and is unlikely to go away any time soon. The alternative model (open game machines, sold at above-cost price, with anyone able to develop code for them) has been tried and failed; witness the Tapwave Zodiac PalmOS-based game machine, for example. Customers are more likely to buy cheap consoles and more expensive games for them later, in instalments, than to buy a more expensive console with cheaper software. Of course, this makes game consoles somewhat stagnant platforms (compared to, say, PCs or handhelds), though the game market seems to be able to cope with this well enough for it to be the best current business model for that kind of business.
(This ignores mobile phone J2ME games, which anyone can write and run on any compliant mobile phone without the manufacturer's blessing. Mobile phones are heavily subsidised as well, though they are subsidised by phone companies who make the money back in network usage; besides which, J2ME is a fairly weak gaming platform (for one, the low-power CPUs used in mobile phones often mean sluggish response times for navigating the internal menus, let alone games). Perhaps this will change in future.)
Nonetheless, that does not change the fact that hardware such as the PSP and Nintendo DS is tantalisingly attractive to tinkerers. When it was discovered recently that certain early Japanese PSPs could be made to execute code off a Memory Stick, a hacker community cropped up, with games, demos, utilities and ports of old console emulators popping up like mushrooms after a rain; the more recent firmware has closed off this hole, and anyone running a recent game on an old PSP will find themselves upgraded against their will.
What if, instead of locking out the hacker culture, game companies worked with it, whilst still preserving their business model? Imagine, for example, a device sold by the console manufacturer which costs about the difference between the retail and cost price of a game machine and enables it to run homebrew code. It could be a disc, a hardware dongle, or even a special cable. Unlike homebrew hacks (such as the Nintendo DS passthrough cartridge), it requires no soldering and no fabrication of circuit boards, allowing those who don't have a fetish for that sort of thing to get involved. Perhaps it comes with development tools and documentation (the GNU toolchain would be a start), or even membership of a community web site, where users can share their code. From time to time, publishers could release compilations of the best such titles, perhaps in a magazine format, doing the necessary licensing to make the releases run on standard machines.
Sony once tried something like this with their PlayStation 1; they called it "Net Yaroze", and apparently it wasn't a stellar success. I wonder whether it could be done better.
Of course, if the console makers don't throw a bone to hobbyists, makers of third-party extensions (of various levels of legality) just might; and these would be less concerned with protecting the makers' profit margins.
There are now Nintendo Entertainment System and SNES emulators for the PlayStation Portable. Of course, they will only run on Japanese PSPs with the old 1.0 firmware, which doesn't restrict the running of code from the Memory Stick, and that's only until someone runs a game which automatically patches the firmware on the unit.
Let's hope that they figure out a way of getting homebrew code to run on a PSP, as that looks like a pretty nifty platform to run things on.
Not long after the Nintendo DS came out, enterprising hackers are writing their own software for it. Of course, since Nintendo forbid unauthorised software on their consoles and go to great lengths to prevent the devices from running such code, the hackers have to go to great lengths to get code onto the device.
I imagine one could do some fairly nifty things with the Nintendo DS hardware if one cracked it open enough to do so; it has two ARM CPUs and built-in WiFi networking (albeit, natively, it runs a weird proprietary protocol on top of that). And that goes doubly so for the new PlayStation Portable.
An intrepid hacker has created a port of Grand Theft Auto III to the Nintendo Entertainment System; that's right, the 8-bit, 6502-based console from the 1980s. The game isn't out yet, though will be released as a free download, joining the swelling ranks of elaborately handcrafted games being made for obsolete platforms because they're there. The page contains details of how he did it and the tools he used, including his elaborate homebrew developer NES system.
Somebody has ported UNIX to the GameBoy Advance. Not Linux, UNIX, as in 5th Edition UNIX (1974 vintage), running on a PDP-11 emulator. Mind you, as the GBA has no keyboard and no means to add one, it's not very useful, being limited to executing a sequence of commands compiled into it. But it's impressive nonetheless. (via bOING bOING)