Friday, February 15, 2008

Makin' it at home

Hello everyone! I'm Luna Saisho, and thanks for reading my first article for Digital Stardust! As a bit of an introduction, here's a little bit about myself... I'm an early 30-something Japanese/American woman who's been into gaming almost all her life. Starting with a hand-me-down Commodore 64, where you could easily make your own software, I was hooked. The hook really sunk in deep for me with the Sega Genesis and what is still my favorite game, Lunar: The Silver Star. I own more consoles then any person should, including a Virtual Boy! I also have a good gaming class PC that doesn't get used as much because erm, well, I don't get any Gamerpoints on there. heehee You can look me up on XBL as Luna Saisho, if you'd like, and I have a few friend codes for some DS games that you can always ask for. I'm very glad to be part of DiS, as I always have something to say, and this format fits me well.

I'm also a big fan of Japanese music star, Ayumi Hamasaki and run a web site about her. There's just something about that voice that pulls me in...

So let's get into this, shall we? Oh, wait a second... Before I really do get into this, I should mention that Digital Stardust does not condone piracy of video games, and this article is all about getting homebrew software that you can run on your DS with the right hardware. We are also unable to assist you in setting up the programs mentioned in this article, or to act as an information resource in obtaining this software. Sorry readers, you're on your own with that. Remember, Google is your friend, and these flashcards can be used for good, and not evil.

And on we go....

There is an area of console development whose waters are only starting to be tread. This would be homemade software development for consoles. Small developers are starting to get their fantastic new projects on Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, and WiiWare. XBLA will even have games made through their XNA home development in the future. But what about the lone person sitting in front of their PC making software that takes advantage of a security hole to make an emulator on a PSP, or that same person who makes a great game to run on the Nintendo DS? They're out there, and they're making software that the console makers would never dream of having on their systems.

So why would I write about this when there's so many illegal things that can be done with a flashcard? Freedom of programing, innovation and simply making that one app that you always wanted on your handheld. For this article, I'm concentrating on the Nintendo DS, my area of expertise. Keeping in mind, I'm only a user of these applications, and not a programmer (the programmer of me is still back with that C64). I only fall into the trap that is human creativity unleashed.

First, I mentioned how illegal things can be done. In order to run homebrew software on your DS, you need what is called a flash cartridge, or flashcard for short. These are marvelous devices, I tell you. Simply put a MicroSD card up to 2/4gb (depending on the card) into a DS shaped game card, and you've opened up a world in gray space. A few of the more popular ones are the R4DS and M3 Simply, and both of these work almost identically. Like I said above, we won't help you find one, but if you're familiar with the Internet, you might have a way to find it.

Let's get the bad out of the way, the part Nintendo wishes you didn't know. A flash card will allow you to run any DS software. Yes, any. How about a game of Mario Kart DS? Yep, if you can find it, you can put it on there and play as if that card was actually in your DS. Even more into the gray, you can also watch video. It comes with a converter to make many movie file formats into .DPG, which plays with very decent quality on your DS through a homemade app called Moonshell. No, it's not PSP or iPod quality, but you'll still find it easy to view. How about a handheld picture viewer with a better screen then an iPod (pretend the iPod Touch and iPhone don't exist for this part) and built in stereo speakers to play your MP3s?

All this is part of the homemade software scene.

Let me give you an example of why this interests me so much. While I am a gamer, there are certain devices I think work well in one. For instance, the Nintendo DS is ideal for showing pictures, video on the go, and the touch screen makes contact management a breeze. Even a well programmed MP3 player can make you happy! Let me tell you about just a few of what's made the homemade software scene so interesting for me...

DSOrganize - This is the premiere contact management system for your DS. Just like a Palm or other handheld "computer", you can put any aspect of a contact in here. It doesn't stop here, though, with a very good quality picture viewer, the ability to run your games from inside so you don't have to go to your card's main menu to do so. Combine this with the ability to edit text files, and work with the files on your card, and you have a winner. It also has a mostly text based web browser that works, but let's just say that web browsing is not the DS' strong point. Since this will run without the official browser's memory expansion, if there are many inline images, they won't all display. This software is a must have for every flashcard owner.

Moonshell - They give you a version of this with the R4 software, and is easy to install with most any flashcard. This, simply put, is your main media player. MP3s, DPG format video, and an MP3 player are all part of this simple app.

iPod DS - Moonshell does a good job, but you've always wanted an iPod, right? Well, here's the best of both worlds! Sorta. Kinda. ^_^ Your top screen is a replica of an iPod's screen, and the bottom is your touch wheel, which oddly works just like an iPod.

Pocket Physics - Simple, and entertaining. Draw anything, and tap play to let physics take over. A while of use will cause it to crash, but it's a lot of fun to get that set of dominoes to fall just right, or to fill a little bowl of shapes that are acting as if real gravity is affecting them.

Sudoky - A very recent app I've learned about not only lets you play Sudoku, but will also solve Sudoku puzzles, presenting you with the best solution if there is more then one.

Starlite - This is more of a proof of concept then anything else, especially since Blizzard asked them to cease development, and it's almost impossible to find now. Starlite is a DS version of Starcraft, and while very early in development, and hoping to get Blizzard's blessing, was impressive. You could make buildings and troops, and send them out to slaughter the enemy, which looked just like you, but red instead of blue. ^_^ Sound, graphics, perfect touch control, wow. I wish this one continued. The developer's intentions was to get this to be an official StarCraft for the DS, but alas, it won't happen.

Emulation is strong on the DS. Since, in the US and many countries, backups of console/handheld games is illegal, this runs into the grayest of areas. Own the original game of what you emulate, don't distribute it, you probably won't be bothered. But as most of this article is concerned, we're not responsible for what you run on your system. Emulators themselves are not illegal, but watch yourself with ROMs. We can't be held responsible, and would rather you buy your games. It's the only way more will come out. So, back to the subject... Some are still early in development, like the Genesis/MegaDrive emu with no sound yet. But what else is there? How about Super Nintendo and Original NES? I always wanted a portable version of those when I was a kid! Ki-ko-ken! ^_~

What I talked about here only touches the surface of what you can do, or what's in development in some parent's basements. I present these as a show to console makers that they don't have to make money off of everything on a given console, and should release a certain amount of control that will allow people to make their own software. Put homebrew into a protected area of a handheld, let people make this software, and you'll see your DS do things that will make your life happier and more fun! ^_^ The DS may not be a powerhouse under the hood compared to some, but it can hold its own very well. I would love to see the DS, and even PSP, have a part open to developers at home, wanting to make the next great concept an actual application.

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