Global Game Industry News Blog

Friday, November 09, 2007

At Least I've Got Carmack On My Side

[Cross Posted from Over at IShotTheCyborg.Com]

IGN had an interview recently with Id's John Carmack on bringing Orcs & Elves to the Nintendo DS. I was particularly interested in a comment he made about homebrew development on the system.

IGN: Since this is your first Nintendo DS project, what was it like poking at the hardware?

Carmack: It was probably the most fun platform that I have personally worked on. The early consoles that I worked on (SNES, Genesis-32X, and Jaguar) had fun hardware and full documentation, but a lousy development tool chain. A lot of later consoles had much better development tools, but they started playing secretive with the exact hardware specs, at least around console introduction time.

While there are a few nooks on the DS that aren't documented, they weren't things I cared about, so to me it was almost perfect. It is a shame that homebrew development can't be officially sanctioned and supported, because it would be a wonderful platform for a modern generation of programmers to be able to get a real feel for low level design work, to be contrasted with the high level web and application work that so many entry level people start with.

Having just written about the interesting catch-22 which developers are put in (in the US at least) of being expected to know how to do things that they don't have access to. I've said for a long time that the N64 would be a great platform for developers to learn on, and it's not like it's making Nintendo any money on licensing any more. But opening up the DS to sanctioned homebrew development a la XNA Express sounds like an even better idea to me.

I got a chance to play with DS development while in India and it was a fun system to work with. I also think it's a great platform for designers, engineers, and artists to cut their teeth on, because it provides interesting design elements (two screens, one touch sensitive) with pretty capable hardware. I also imagine that Nintendo could make a lot of money on some sort of cart+memory system that allowed people to both do sanctioned homebrew, and could download games from some homebrew repository and upload them to the DS, or even a DS downloadable content "store".

My only hesitation really is that US publishers really haven't figured out the DS. So would the opening up of homebrew just be an excuse for them to continue offloading their R&D onto those with no budgets or experience? What's the logic to innovate if you can get it for free? I know I'm being a bit cynical, but I've been watching publishers kill innovative DS titles for four years now, so that cynicism is rooted in experience not just dogmatism.

Of course they're concerned about piracy now. They used to be worried about production, and they're probably worried about branding a bit still. They don't want porn games on the DS. But ultimately I think they've moved on to being concerned about piracy. But isn't that happening already? Is that fear worth the continued infancy of production methods in the industry? Didn't they just say that they use "natural selection"? It's kind of hard to have natural selection when you have legally backed up birth control flowing through the water system. Wouldn't this encourage greater species diversity?

On a related note... I've recently imported from Hong Kong one of these "unofficial homebrew solutions" for the DS. In part because I fear that Nintendo will attempt to wipe them off the face of the planet with recent efforts. Why? Because part of my dissertation is going to be interactive and on the DS. Homebrew needs to start pitching itself as speech, and if my dissertation is illegal, then so be it. It's also going to be Creative Commons and the source code is going to be in the appendix.

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