Nintendo DS hacks | Hackaday

When it was first announced, many people were skeptical of the Nintendo DS. Rather than pushing raw power, the unique dual-screen handheld was designed to explore new styles of play. Compared to more traditional handheld consoles like the Game Boy Advance (GBA) or even the PlayStation Portable (PSP) from Sony, the DS seemed like a huge gamble for the Japanese gaming giant.

But it paid off. The Nintendo DS ended up being one of the most successful gaming platforms of all time, and like [Modern Vintage Gamer] explained in a recent video, at least part of that was due to its surprising graphical prowess. Although technically inferior to the PSP in almost every way, Nintendo’s decades of experience in pushing the boundaries of 2D graphics has allowed them to get more out of the hardware than many would have thought possible.

On one level, the Nintendo DS could be considered an upgraded GBA. Developers who were already accustomed to the 2D capabilities of this system would feel right at home when they upgraded to the DS. As with previous 2D consoles, the DS had multiple screen modes with hardware-accelerated support for moving, scaling, rotating, and mirroring up to four background layers. This made it easy and computationally efficient to achieve pseudo-3D effects, such as scrolling through multiple background images at different speeds to give a sense of depth.

In addition to its 2D tile and sprite engine inherited from GBA, the DS also featured a rudimentary GPU responsible for handling geometry and 3D rendering. Hardware-accelerated 3D could only be used on one screen at a time, which meant that most games would keep the close-up view of the action on one screen and use the second panel to display 2D images such as an aerial map. But the developers had the ability to switch between displays on each frame to render 3D on both panels at a reduced frame rate. The hardware can also handle shadows and includes built-in support for cell shading, which was a particularly popular graphical effect at the time.

By combining the 2D and 3D hardware capabilities of the Nintendo DS on a single screen, developers could produce complex graphical effects. [Modern Vintage Gamer] use the example of New Super Mario Bros., which places a detailed 3D model of Mario on multiple layers of moving 2D bitmaps. Ultimately, the DS’s 3D capabilities were hampered by the limited resolution of its 256 x 192 LCD panels; but given that most people were still using flip phones when the DS came out, it was impressive for the time.

Compared to the Game Boy Advance, or even the original “bricked” Game Boy, it doesn’t seem like hackers had much luck finding ways to exploit the capabilities of the Nintendo DS. But perhaps with more detailed retrospectives like this, the community will be inspired to take another look at this unique entry in gaming history.

continue reading “A look at how Nintendo mastered dual screens”

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