Friday, September 22, 2006

DS Development

Out of sheer, morbid curiosity I decided to see what it would take to actually develop an authentic DS cartridge. As the panelists at GDC's Burning Down the House rant suggest, Nintendo is rather tight-fisted with development tools. The process of obtaining development tools requires Nintendo's explicit approval, and it appears none shall pass without a few cartoonish platformers under your belt.

To a point I can understand it... I just wish Nintendo was more open to third-party development. The open-endedness to a myriad of third-party development is what gives Microsoft and Sony all the additional market exposure. They just have none of the schwag. I guess it's Nintendo trying to reinforce their "brand," but if independent developers are supposed to be the saving grace of the games industry, how are they going to keep Nintendo's platforms afloat?

I looked at the technical details of DS cartridges as well as the DS hardware itself, and it seems like it would be a fun platform to develop on. The problem seems to be in the manufacture of the cartridges, and the on-the-fly dynamic encryption the cartridge uses during communication to the unit.

Yes, there is a mature homebrew community for the DS, but that's not what I'm looking for. Getting people to run an installer is tough enough... but trying to have a multitude of people try something that requires a piece of hardware to replace cartridge headers, a flash memory interface, a screwdriver and paperclip crammed into the right hole at the right time is waaaaaaaaaay too much.

Looking at the current state of console homebrew this don't look to rosy on other platforms, either. The PSP requires downgraded firmware but is a bit easier to work with since it aims to be more of a "portable convergent device" than anything else. The other modern handheld platforms... wait... there are none. Well, there's the GP2X which was pretty much designed to be a conduit for independent development, and I respect that, but... well... eh. It just doesn't have the look or immediate marketability to the public at large.

So the bottom line is there's no real chance at marketable, independent game development on the DS. And while it's easier to deploy an independent title to a PSP, it is only narrowly more so. The PSP does have a removable Memory Stick as well as a Web browser, which gives it the advantage of being able to easily move files from a server to the console. But it's still not to the point where you could legitimately sell your indy title on a web site for $5 a pop.

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