Friday, October 01, 2010

A new era?

TL;DL I've bought an Android phone and will probably stop writing DS stuff.

As you can probably guess by the lack of updates, I haven't been particularly active writing code for the DS during the last year. The main reason for this is a complete lack of free time lately. Or perhaps it's just bad time management. The second reason is my dodgy SD card randomly failing to connect via USB. It gets frustrating having to plug in and unplug the card multiple time just to get it to register. Either way, I think I've reached the end of DS development for me. Never say never, but I don't have the enthusiasm I once did for the platform.

Want some more reasons? How about Nintendo's action against flash cards in the UK? I don't doubt that Nintendo is going to try and extend the ban in the rest of Europe during the next year, until the release of the 3DS. Because of this, the number of people able to run programs will remain constant or even decrease.

Speaking of unauthorized copying... I've always known that many flash card owners are into downloading and playing games that they ought to have paid for, but this means that if you write for the DS you're competing with commercial games directly. If you can get Zelda for free, why bother trying out some free homebrew? In other words, the homebrew scene is too tightly coupled to the scene that likes downloading and sharing commercial games, with the negatives that this brings. You can see this when homebrew games are released for download in the RAR file format, shared on rapidshare-type sites, without source code, or in a way that violates the GPL.

Many users don't care about the nuances of running homebrew games, improving the state of things, or doing it the "right way". As an example, I have an RSS feed for alerts about Bunjalloo. I get tired of reading about torrents and rapidshare downloads for really old versions of it, especially when you could download the latest release Free from the googlecode site anyway!

I bought a DSi when it came out in Europe. I think it is a pretty good console. The freebies from the Nintendo store are top notch, and the DSiWare titles are not too shabby. Nevertheless Nintendo has not really moved with the times. If you compare the price of DSiWare titles to Android or iPhone paid applications, the differences are laughable. Eurogamer does a semi-regular review roundup of downloadable games where you can see the disparity. A DSiWare title typically costs 7-9€, whereas the iPhone equivalent is 2-4€. Sometimes the difference is 30€ to 4€ (Ace Attorney). Anyone can write an iPhone or Android title, but no system is in place that lets the general public write for Nintendo's platform. On the DSi we have 2 free titles. There are thousands of free games and applications on the major phone platforms. Granted a lot of them are crap, but hey! it's free crap.

Maybe I could live with this state of affairs if the DSi hardware were homebrew programmable, but it isn't. Dave Murphy continues his efforts to hack on the DSi, but it is fairly obvious that Nintendo want their hardware locked down. The latest exploit does look promising. It rewrites part of the DSi's wifi module flash chip to "jailbreak" into DSi mode from an exploitable DSi-only game. Sadly the error that permits this exploit has already been fixed on newer DSi models (including the DSiXL). With Nintendo dead set against us, why bother anymore? It's getting tedious. Outside of the excellent devkitARM, the development tools are not as good as in the GBA era. There's still no developer-friendly emulator on par with Visual Boy Advance.

Perhaps if there were more DSi-only cartridge titles around, the companies creating flash cards would have found a way to run games in DSi mode. As it is, there's no need. This highlights the sad symbiosis of the homebrew hackers and the folks into unauthorized copying. We need flashcards to run our homebrew, they need us to make their flashcards "legitimate" in the eyes of the law (and even that wasn't enough in the UK).

Where now then? I don't think the DSi situation is going to change. I've moved with the times (2009 times...) and have bought a 2nd hand Android phone to do embedded stuff. I'll miss writing for Nintendo hardware though. As far as 2D games go, the DS is superior in every way, Nintendo designed it for gaming after all.

On the DS you have layered backgrounds with multiple modes, hardware sprites, and vblank power saving between frames. Android has a generic screen buffer type display that is not ideal for writing old skool 2D games. You have to do pixel pushing yourself, and it sends the CPU skyrocketing, while the battery flatlines. The emulator spins at 100% CPU even on the samples from Google, which is not good.

Apart from that, coding for Android feels like cheating. The emulator is highly accurate, you have a visual debugger, can connect to the running platform and kill runaway processes, there's a CPU usage monitor, unit testing is part of the SDK, the API is huge and you can use all of the standard Java libraries... what's not to like? Well, Java is a bit tedious, but the NDK leaves the door open for writing good old C or even ARM assembly.

I was starting to get a bit tired of the DS scene. Seeing my own code up and running on the Android emulator has reignited my enthusiasm again. Let's see how long it lasts (I give it a week).

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:45 p.m.

    original gba elite controls in ds-elite pls!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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