Hell yeah! Bring it on! After picking up my GBC the other day and getting lost in the world of Pokemon (god forbid!) I have just been facinated with the concept of GBA, and what it will be able to do. IGN Pocket has done a very cool recap, and preview of the new handheld. Interesting to note that this editorial says that people have actually seen a demonstration of GBA playing a version of the N64 game Yoshi's Story. Hrmmm. Read on!
Ever since Nintendo announced the development of the Game Boy Advance, information on this next-generation handheld has been non-existent at best. Speculation has run rampant about what this portable system will be able to do when it's launched later this year. Nearly six months have passed since the initial announcement from Nintendo Co. LTD, and all the public really knows about the system is its size, shape, and 32-bit processor. Nintendo isn't, and won't, talk about this system until it's good and ready.
And why should it? The Game Boy Color is at an all-time high when it comes to system sales, thanks mainly to the incredible success of a little game by the name Pokémon. Nintendo is out to make money, and this is the first time the company is faced with the dilemma of launching an advanced system hardware at the peak of the older hardware's life.
Peter Main stated a few weeks back that the Game Boy Advance will still launch this year, in November to be exact. The system will exist beside the Game Boy Color for a while, and evolve in the marketplace over time, eventually replacing the Game Boy Color hardware as the standard. But all this will take at least a year to complete -- the Game Boy Advance should be introduced into market at a $99 pricepoint this November, next to the Game Boy Color system that sits on shelves for less than 70 bucks.
Nintendo hasn't officially stated the system capabilities yet, as the company is remaining tight-lipped about the Game Boy Advance until it's good and ready to launch. "Nintendo was pretty much forced to show its hand back in August because of Mobile 21," said an anonymous developer. Mobile 21 is the Japanese company jointly formed by Nintendo and Konami to develop hardware and software for Nintendo hardware – including a way to interface Nintendo's Dolphin system with the next generation Game Boy hardware. As a source put it, "Since the company was to go public, this information also had to be made public, too."
So the system was revealed. What came next was nearly six months of silence and industry speculation. Since Nintendo's Game Boy Color system was more popular than it had been since the introduction of the original black-and-white hardware, there was no reason to elaborate on the next-generation. Why ruin a good thing, is Nintendo's mentality. Some Game Boy developers are also in this mentality. "I'm going to keep doing games for the Game Boy Color," an anonymous developer told us. "It's going to take a while for the Game Boy Advance to reach the numbers that the Game Boy Color has put out."
But though the Game Boy Color systems are selling like hotcakes, many developers feel that the market's ready for more powerful hardware. "The Game Boy Color's ten sprite limitation makes it difficult to design a game around," one high-profile game developer told us. The Game Boy Color graphics hardware is extremely crippling for some developers to build more elaborate games, restricting their designs to simplistic, formulaic games like 2D run-and-hop platformers. Obviously portable game design will receive a severe shot in the arm with the advanced hardware.
From the information that we've been able to collect from dozens of Game Boy developers chomping at the bit to work on the Game Boy Advance, don't expect a super powerhouse system like the current console systems. "It ain't a PlayStation, and it's not a Saturn," said one developer today. "If you took the SNES and doubled its capabilities, you'll get a good idea of what to expect from the Game Boy Advance." According to sources, the Game Boy Advance will have a higher sprite count than the Game Boy Color. The system hardware will also be able to scale and rotate these sprites on the fly, as well as handle the complex Mode 7 background routines found in pseudo-3D SNES games such as F-Zero, Super Mario Kart and Pilotwings. Commented one developer, "we're finally getting a handheld more powerful than the Atari Lynx." Said another, "It's more powerful than the SNES. Expect the first generation to be around the graphic quality of the first generation SNES games."
With the new hardware, game design can finally get more versatile. To give developers an idea of what to expect with what's possible on the hardware, Nintendo is reportedly showing a one-level demonstration of Yoshi Story on the Game Boy Advance development station. That's right – the N64 game, not the SNES original Yoshi's Island, has been converted to the new portable hardware. According to sources, the game running on the small Advance screen looks fabulous, since the screen is tailored for the sprite resolution, and the hardware can handle all the sprite manipulation that the N64 can do – minus the filtering.
As further confirmation of the system capabilities, Ken Lobb, Nintendo's Manager of Product Acquisition and Development, told industry trade GameWEEK the "GBA won’t be able to do true 3D polygonal graphics, but it will be able to do spectacular-looking 2D games with multiple layers of parallax scrolling, super-sharp graphics and absolutely none of the blurring effects that are seen in today’s Game Boy games."
What's more, it looks like the system will also finally stray from the limiting two button, select and start button layout, offering a configuration more familiar to current Nintendo gamers: four action buttons, two shoulder buttons, a start and a select button – just like the Super NES control pad. And it sounds like game developers are happy with these new button additions. More buttons means more options. We were told by a Game Boy developer, "if the Game Boy Advance system has the SNES layout like I've heard, that's plenty for what I want to do."
Listen To This…
What about the sound hardware? The Game Boy Color system doesn't exactly have horsepower dedicated to pushing out quality audio, that's for sure. Sources have told us that this will be different with the Game Boy Advance. From what we've been able to uncover, expect music and sound effects that equal or rival the Super NES's superb soundchip. That means multi-channel digital sound and vibrant MIDI music, as compared to the scratchy, generic FM capabilities of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. Sound engines have come a long way on the Game Boy system, and the Game Boy Advance will have newer sound capabilities that should wow your ears.
Another capability that Nintendo will not elaborate on is the Game Boy Advance's cellular phone and Dolphin connectivity. Built into the system is hardware to interface with cellular phones, giving the Game Boy Advance the ability to wirelessly connect to Game Boy Advance networks for multiplayer games and Internet features. The downside here is, this seems to be a feature that's tailored specifically for the Japanese market – in Japan, the cellphone market is more widespread than it is in the US, mainly because of the centralized population. Also, using cellphones is cheaper than using landline telephones in Japan. The cellphone market is so widespread that even teens and younger have their own phones. In the US, however, there are many different cellphone networks utilizing many different standards of phones. Some developers don't think this feature will fly in the US. "How many 10 year old kids do you think are going to have a cell phone? Maybe a flat rate from a cellphone company would be cool, but if not, forget it."
While this may sound like the definitive answer to what the Game Boy Advance is, keep in mind this: final Game Boy Advance development kits have not been distributed to US development houses yet. According to many anonymous sources, the kits are almost ready to go, and some teams are already gearing up art and design for when the kits hit their desks. It has been rumored that Nintendo Co. LTD, the Nintendo Japanese branch, has distributed kits to high profile publishers such as Konami and Capcom. According to sources, established Game Boy Color developers should be receiving their kits within two weeks time, before Game Developers Conference rolls around this March. Nintendo should at least have prototype units on display at the Electronic Entertainment Expo this May, and Nintendo Co. LTD. still plans on an August launch in Japan, with Nintendo of America following suit in November.