Danger, Inc. created a Game Boy Advance-based mobile phone with digital game downloads back in 2004, “Nintendo were blown away”
Posted on January 28, 2014 by Austin(@NE_Austin) in GBA, General Gaming, General Nintendo, News
Here’s an incredibly interesting bit of reading for you: A company called Danger, Inc. once took their prototype for a T-Mobile Sidekick (also known as the “hiptop”), merged it with a Game Boy Advance chipset, created an online “app store” of sorts to purchase digital Game Boy Advance game copies, and sent it off to Nintendo for them to take a look at. Nintendo’s response? Read it below, as it’s worth hearing it through the first-hand account:
In 2004 there was a skunkworks project within Danger to merge a color Gameboy with a hip top—we called it G1. The hiptop’s color screen was manufactured by Sharp and happened to be the same one used by the Gameboy Advance. There were other common components as well. So we figured that if we had virtually the same hardware as a handheld game player, why not play those games?
We extracted a Gameboy Advance chipset and built it on to the backside of the hiptop’s main board. We then developed a custom chip that would let us mix the video signals of the Gameboy and the hiptop so that on a per-pixel basis we could decide which to show on the screen. We made hiptop software that would let us start and stop the Gameboy, or play/pause a game, etc. The Gameboy inputs came from the hiptop’s d-pad and four corner buttons.
This let us do the following demo: start a Gameboy game and be watching regular Gameboy video. Then you’d receive a phone call and the Gameboy game would magically pause, and a hiptop alert window would display over top of the Gameboy video asking if you wanted to answer the call. As soon as the call was over the game would resume.
Since we had our network, and an app store, that seemed like a great way to distribute Gameboy ROMs. We got all of that working too. You could browse Gameboy games in the app store, pick one, buy it, download it, and be playing it in seconds with no need to haul cartridges around with you.
The executives at Nintendo were blown away. They absolutely loved it. Unfortunately…Nintendo’s license for all of the games in their catalog didn’t include rights for electronic distribution. That, coupled with the need to take new screenshots, and write new catalog copy in electronic format, determine pricing, etc. meant that there was just no way we could have gotten a big enough catalog of titles built up in time for Christmas that year. The next window would have been graduation season the following year. The whole project fizzled out and died, but damn it was cool.
The account was given by Chris DeSalvo, formerly of Danger Inc. He talks about this and a whole lot more in a long post called “The future that everyone forgot” where he details the sorts of things they and T-Mobile were doing that strangely mimic what we’re seeing with smartphones now. It’s worth a read if you have time, but if not, at least check out the paragraph above. It’s pretty cool.