Nintendo's Ken Lobb speaks out on the development of the GBA answering such questions as: why no back light?
Ken Lobb speaketh:
"When we shipped the Game Boy Pocket, it was clearly a better thing than the Game Boy original. That size was seen as really important – the Game Boy was just a little bit too big. It wasn't very comfortable sitting in your back pocket…it was a little too long and a little too fat. So when work was started on a color handheld, originally, Mr. Yamauchi's mandate was that we will not ship any new handheld unless it's the same size or smaller than the Game Boy Pocket, the screen has to be bigger and have color, battery life must be longer, and it has to offer a dramatic improvement in the overall gameplay experience.
"At the time the Game Boy Color was launched, all this wasn't possible -- some of those jumps couldn't be made. If we wanted to make something as powerful as the Game Boy Advance back then it would have been too big, and the battery life would have been atrocious…and we would never go backwards from Game Boy Pocket. We think all those things really are important.
"The thing that surprised us from the market research was – when we asked, 'Would you be interested in a more powerful Game Boy?' All the age groups came back and said, 'That'll be good, but…I like my Game Boy because I can take it everywhere…it's really small,' and 'I like my Game Boy because it's pretty cheap,' and 'I like my Game Boy because the batteries last a long time.' It was all this 'Yeah, but…'
"And then we whipped out a GBA and Mario Kart…and everyone went, "DAMN!!! Okay, when can I buy this?" It definitely met their expectations for what they wanted, without ruining the things they like about Game Boy already…we took that as a high priority when we went to design this thing."
One Cartridge Link
"I know that some of the licensees have looked into one cartridge link and said 'Well, maybe we can't utilize this, it's not as good as linking with four cartridges.' What they're saying, in a way, is right. To use this function you need to put all the code into the system's RAM. In F-Zero, for example, when you play with four cartridges, you can use all different cars and pick all the tracks that are opened up in the one player game. If you only have one cartridge, you only get one track with less textures than the rest of the tracks, and everybody has to share the same car…because that's all that'll fit.
"So, does this mean that's it's bad? To me, it's a brilliant feature – if you have a friend with a Game Boy Advance it's now…'You buy Mario, I'll buy F-Zero, and we both can play link up.' We also see it as a "try before you buy" sort of thing – a friend buys F-Zero, and you get to try multiplayer and see how cool it is…and if you're addicted with it enough, then you'll go out and get yourself a version of your own and play all 20 tracks.
"We're excited about the four player link and we're going to be supporting it a lot…it just buys a lot overall."
Why No Backlight
"There's no backlight. Does this mean the screen is worse? Actually, as far as LCD technology is concerned, this screen is far better than what's in the Game Boy Color. It can sustain 60 frames per second with no problems in persistance, so you can have incredibly fast moving objects with no blur. Iread somewhere where somebody said there was an issue with Mario…I've played that game over and over and I saw no problems with refresh rate.
"I own every handheld ever made since the Game Boy. I liked my Lynx, the PC Engine Express was okay…but you couldn't play these things under the sun. I take these things to the beach and you're either going to have to sit under four towels and look like an idiot or you're just not going to play.the thing outside. And you look at the handheld market, you have to ask 'Where are the majority of the people going to be playing this?' And they're going to be playing it where there's light…they're not going to be playing it where it's dark.
"Some people think that you can put a light inside the screen that you can turn on sometimes and not turn on other times – the problem is, something like that has to sit between the screen and the reflector. This is something that was looked into…but what happens is, when you turn it off, the reflectivity goes WAY down. So the brightness isn't as good when you're playing it outside in the sun."
"We're pushing hard for innovation – some of the things that we're going to do on the Game Boy Advance and GameCube is stuff that's new. It was easy to make a 32 or 64-bit game feel new because it was a move to 3D. It's a whole different animal saying, "can we make a new feeling Game Boy Advance game or a new feeling 3D game for the GameCube…" and most importantly, "Can it still be cool?" You know, something that people can appreciate immediately, that they don't need to have an hour explanation of what they're supposed to be doing...and yet it's an experience that you've never had before. You want to see something new as well as play something new as well as feel something new. There's a little of that here…but it's really going to come out at E3."