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Coder preps 3DS browser homebrew game library

ConsumerNews
, 10 Jun 2011News

Nintendo's recent update for the 3DS brought some interesting new features, including something the company may not have intended: the capacity for homebrew coders to create their own software on the platform.

The first major update for the 3DS hand-held console, released earlier this week, brought with it two major features: the 3DS eShop, which allows users to browse and buy games and additional content, and an in-built web browser. While the functionality of the latter is basic, it's a window of opportunity for homebrew coders.

Nintendo's 3DS is an extremely locked-down platform, to the point where the company's terms and conditions take ownership of all content created on the device and prevent users from installing 'unauthorised' software for fear of a remote shutdown that would leave it 'permanently unplayable.'

Against such a background, hobbyist coders have a hard time developing for the platform. Thankfully, that doesn't stop them trying; and sooner or later one would succeed.

Andy Smith, creator of popular Spotify/Last.fm mash-up service Spotibot, appears to have been the first to figure out the secrets of the 3DS web browser, and while his project is still at the very early stages he has spoken exclusively to thinq_ to explain his hopes for the platform.

"I reckoned it was a ported browser, so lazy porters would likely just map some of the buttons to ASCII codes," Smith explained. "Turns out they did. I've only got Up, Down, Left, Right, and A, but that's enough."

Smith's discovery that a subset of the controls available on the 3DS could be read through Javascript running in the browser is a major breakthrough. "It opens it up to homebrew devs if they fancy writing games in JavaScript," he enthused.

While Smith's proof of concept code - a simple side-on shoot-'em-up with no enemies - is basic, his dreams for the discovery are significantly more complex. "My plan is to get together a proof-of-concept game," he told us, "then work on a JavaScript library to make it easier for people to create their own 3DS browser games.

"I would love to see some original bedroom-coder games on the platform," said Smith, referring to the days of microcomputing when the majority of popular games were written by a single person hunched over a hot 8-bit system in his or her bedroom.

Although Smith has been able to produce proof-of-concept code, the project is still in the early stages of development. Currently, there's no way to place content on the top screen due to the way the browser interprets input from the direction pad as a scroll event. There are bigger limitations, however.

"At the moment, I'm not sure sound is possible," admitted Smith. "The 3DS browser doesn't support Flash, and it doesn't support HTML5 audio."

Despite this, Smith's discovery is likely to generate a significant amount of interest from the homebrew community. Once the JavaScript library is complete, we can expect to see numerous 3DS-compatible games hitting the web. With JavaScript a fundamental requirement for access to the modern web, it's not something Nintendo should be able to block.

If you're curious to see how JavaScript gaming could work on the 3DS, Smith has provided a sample video below.

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