Columnist Uses Fobidden Mod Chip for Legit Homebrew Gaming

While the video game industry views the R4 chip as the Devil’s work, Darren Gladstone of PC World reports that he used the device to play perfectly legitimate homebrew games on his Nintendo DS.

Darren writes that he bought the R4 on a side street in San Francisco’s Chinatown district from a seller who placed an ad on Craigslist:

Why do I feel so dirty? Because Nintendo–and some members of the media–tell me to feel that way…

I’m no pirate! I support the guys who make my games! …But the R4 isn’t just the key to pirate booty. The homebrew community has latched onto this elusive, illicit device too. Yes, some unsavory sorts pirate software, but indie game designers are crafting their own DS software and sharing it freely with the world. Sudoku puzzles. "Choose Your Own Adventure"-type "books." Legal emulators for freeware adventure games, such as ScummVM. Arcade-worthy shooting games. Heck, folks have even made Web browsers, photo viewers, MP3 players, and e-book readers.

That brings me back to my "dark deed": I bought an R4–not to pilfer games illegally, but to try incredible indie projects…

Darren proceeds to list some of the great (and free) homebrew titles he enjoyed, courtesy of his R4, but points out that Nintendo and 54 other companies are suing the maker of the R4 in a Japanese court. Tom Buscaglia – aka The Game Attorney – told Darren:

U.S. copyright laws have become more and more aggressive over the years. Not only is piracy illegal, but creating and selling a technology that facilitates piracy is also outlawed here… It’s sad that some developers will end up being deprived of the opportunity to release innovative little games on an open DS platform…


I’m torn on it, to be honest, because I’m all for the innovation and inspiration of the independent developers. The sad truth is that they don’t have the resources to become certified developers…. But you can’t really blame Nintendo for protecting its revenue stream.

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  1. JustChris says:

    Backups and pirating require you to mod your Xbox 360. Using XNA on your Xbox has nothing to do with console modding. All that’s required is a special subscription.

  2. Mnementh2230 says:

    The entire issue is just stupid to me.  Prosecute the pirates, sure, but don’t stop the homebrewers from doing their thing.  Hell, COUNTERSTRIKE started as a "homebrew", so to speak (yeah, it was a mod, but still…)

  3. SeanB says:

    No on the XBOX 360 the excuse is "I only want to play Backups"

    But teh 360 is soooo easy to pirate it’s almost justified.

  4. Aliasalpha says:

    As JustChris said, Microsoft seem to have a fairly good method of supporting homemade/indie games. The XNA Development Studio has serious potential if they ensure it rapidly spreads to all XBL markets (What a shock, Australia misses out on the full experience AGAIN). The thing that gets me the most is that we can access the tools and pay for a membership, create and sell games but we can’t sell them HERE.

    Perhaps nintendo and sony need to sell a software developer kit so they can make some cash, give people what they want AND remove the "I only want to play homebrew games" excuse that many pirates no doubt use (and may well be true but as long as they pirate games, they’re still pirates). No matter how good homebrew games are, they’re not likely to be as well known as major games and would probably be seen as a supplement to retail games rather than a replacement. Who knows, some of the developers might end up selling retail games that will make their systems more money.

  5. SetoChaos says:

    I’m all for getting rid of piracy but sueing the person who made the R4 is pathetic (of course that is assuming the creater made it to be used for legal purposes). Why is it pathetic? Simple really, it’s free and easier to pirate PC games/get emulators so why have we not seen those responsible for emulators get sued yet? Oh well, I guess I’m glad I live in the UK were mod chips are legal. Copyright is pathetic in some places these days…

  6. DeepThorn says:

    Lets be serious, they are more worried about you making a great game that will cut into their profits than you pirating their games.

  7. carterman says:

    The R4 and other similar slot-1 devices for the DS are not mod chips – they don’t modify the system’s internal hardware in any way, they’re really just unauthorized DS cartridges with microSD readers and their own software to boot NDS files (both legal and illegal). Datel has also come out with their own devices for playing homebrew DS games that you can go and buy in stores (if you can still find them) – the Games ‘n Music was one, and I think there’s an Action Replay Media Edition which has a microSD slot and can play homebrew – you may need to do some DLDI patching for them, but still, they exist. The products themselves are not necessarily illegal, what you do with them can be.

  8. SeanB says:

    i’m pretty sure MS, Sony, and Nintendo all Require ESRB ratings in compliance with thier licensing agreements.

  9. SeanB says:


    Now email your MP and tell him you wont vote for him next time he tries to pass anything resembling the DMCA.

  10. KayleL says:

    I want to make my own version of Zelda for the DS, and R4 is the only way I could do it. Thank god I live in Canada.

  11. Father Time says:

    I thought getting it rated by the ESRB was optional, or did Nintendo make that a requirement for all North American games on the DS?


    "What for you bury me in the cold cold ground?" – Tasmanian devil

  12. SeanB says:

    Yes but nintendo sees that as playing unauthorized products on thier machine, allowing developers to avoid licensing fees and ESRB requirements.

  13. JustChris says:

    It’s interesting to know that out of the three major companies, only Microsoft seems to have a clue on homebrew as they’re the only ones fostering homebrew development on gaming consoles.

  14. E. Zachary Knight says:

    PErsonally, I think if you want to do or play homebrew, you should stick with the PC and Pandora. That is all you need. Why deal with the headache of companies that don’t want your business?

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  15. Wolvenmoon says:

    Quashing development is the only way they can keep people from actually innovating in the field! By creating a stagnet industry they can just go out to their barn and milk cash on demand instead of having to actually work for it.

    Eventually their cash cow will die of starvation, but they’ll be rich by then!

  16. InsaneFool says:

    The problem with what you’re saying is that while some Console manufacturers do produce their systems at a loss, Nintendo doesn’t. Every time a DS or Wii is sold anywhere its money in their pockets. Microsoft and Sony should be the ones constantly crying foul over how homebrew games are killing their business. Admittedly Sony does complain about PSP Homebrewing, though I’m not sure if that handheld is made at a profit or not.

    For Nintendo, the only thing the R4 chip does that costs them money is the piracy that it enables. Sure they lose those exorbident licencing fees that the indie devs aren’t paying them, but it doesn’t actually cost them money.


  17. konrad_arflane says:

    Not really a valid comparison. The movie theater is not a proprietary platform.

    I’m all for indie games, but as long as consoles and handhelds are sold below cost, and the deficit made up from games licensing fees, I don’t see how Nintendo (or other console manufacturers) can act differently from what they do. If we want, say, the DS to be an open platform, we (consumers collectively) have to be willing to pay more for the hardware. Since all consoles seem to operate on the same business model (and since people keep complaining how expensive gaming PCs are, without apparently noticing that PC games are consistently cheaper than console games), I think it’s safe to say that this is what the market wants. More’s the pity.

  18. Zevorick says:

    This is why if drugs were legalized you’d see a sharp decrease in local drug dealers… You can’t out-hustle a corporation.

    Why bring up this comparison? It honestly feels like they’re strongarming a good number of indie groups out of business… then again, that’s been going on for as long as there have been major video game corporations so I shouldn’t be too surprised anymore.

  19. Ormick says:

    All I have to say is that those who demonise homebrew can get bent. Indie projects are the true face of the industry, not the crap that gets shoveled out monthly. (I’m looking at Nintendo and Microsoft.)

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