Saturday, August 21, 2010

Of Open Source, Flashcarts and Homebrews

I bought my Nintendo DS to play the then-new Version of Pokemon (Diamond and Pearl). And for a while, knowing that one original game card of the NDS costs quite a lot, I thought those would be the only games I'd be able to play... until I learned about flashcarts.

A flashcart is a device similar to an original game card, but instead having a built in memory, it runs with an external microSD card, wherein you can put in, as originally intended, unofficial, user- and community-created, usually-free NDS softwares (homebrews): from media players (Moonshell), to comic book readers (ComicBook DS) and to organizers-slash-web browsers (DSOrganize).

However, while flashcarts were originally intended to the development of a self-sustaining homebrew industry, they are now more commonly used to play commercial games via downloaded ROMs, free of charge. These ROMs have been the source of Nintendo's (and other gaming companies') intensified battle against piracy, even going as far as placing Anti-Piracy (AP) features in their titles.

After learning about open source last Friday, I can't help but relate this practice with my flashcart experience. Indeed, the flashcart industry, may be considered as an underground society of (illegal?) open source enthusiasts.

What was termed as Linus' Law provides that, "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow".

The bug-solving prowess of the flashcart community has helped detect and solve numerous bugs not only in homebrew apps, but also in commercial titles. The community, however, has also learned how to bring down several AP measures of these games, thus successfully making these AP-infested ROMs playable in flashcarts. Flashcart programmers have also developed tools in editing and recreating these ROMs. Cheat code programmers have also joined in on the fun of testing and developing a whole new gaming experience. A lot of community-created translation (localization) projects of Japan-only games have also fluorished over time.

As I've said, the gaming companies are starting to notice the threat that flashcarts pose unto their market, but I am doubtful as to the practicability of Intellectual Property Rights discourse in this phenomenon, given that a huge part of this community involves the internet. But knowing the capitalists that they are, they will not take this matter lightly.

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