October 15th 2002
Mid-game swiping: It's the future!
As I'm writing this, the internal architecture of the e-Reader is still
somewhat of a mystery. We know there's an NES emulator in there, and some other
secondary applications, like the Pokémon Melody Box. Those are nice, but
the basic capabilities of the e-Reader are what I'm really interested in, as a
computer programmer, and the same questions that are popping up in my mind are
bound to pop up in the minds of third-party developers as soon as Nintendo lets
them develop games and applications on e-Cards. I personally can't wait for the
big names like Capcom and Konami to enter the e-Card business, even if Nintendo
will probably end up manufacturing and distributing their e-Card mini-games and
One question that immediately comes up is: Can an application signal the
e-Reader to put itself in "scan mode", in order to allow the player to swipe
in some e-Card data that the application requires to continue? The answer to
this question is found in the Pokémon Melody Box: The application has a
small menu of basic user operations, and one of the menu items is "Scan Card".
When the user selects this menu item, the Melody Box is put on hold, and the
e-Reader goes into "scan mode". The data scanned (whether it's sound, music or
pattern data) replaces whatever data was previously loaded in the Melody Box.
So the answer to our initial question is yes: We can assume that any
e-Reader application currently running in the GBA can signal the e-Reader to
scan and load additional data. This is good news for all of us, because it
opens up a world of potential, but are there any technical limits to this
feature? Lets not forget that e-Cards can only hold a few kilobytes of data,
and this is already a very hard limitation to work with. Developers will want
to avoid requiring the player to swipe in too many e-Cards, because it can
get tedious after a while.
It seems developers will have their work cut out for them: With those kinds of
technical limitations, how do you make mini-games good enough to get consumers
to buy the cards? One way to do it is to bring back games of the past, such as
old favorites from the Atari 2600 (I will discuss this particular topic in a
future diary entry), but this won't necessarily require the player to swipe in
additional e-Cards in the middle of the game. To take advantage of "mid-game
swiping", developers will have to invest their creativity and ingenuity into
new games (probably using established franchises), or adapt old
games to the e-Card technology.
Below are some ideas I came up with, just to demonstrate what can be
accomplished with the e-Card medium.
Most people know this game as "Soko-Ban", but it was released on the old
black-and-white Game Boy as "Boxxle". There was also a sequel, named
The premise of the game is simple: Push boxes to their designated positions
inside a warehouse. The problem is that you cannot pull the boxes, so you have
to be careful not to push boxes into spots where they can no longer be moved.
You need to figure out how to get all the boxes in their proper positions
without messing up.
If there's one game that can easely be adapted to the e-Card medium, it's
certainly Boxxle. Just load the basic game engine via a group of e-Cards, and
then swipe an additional e-Card which contains the warehouse data for a level.
The beauty of the concept is that the publisher of the game can release new
"warehouse e-Cards" every few months. They could even organize contests where
people could submit their clever warehouse designs, and the winners would see
their designs encoded on the next batch of Boxxle e-Cards (which could be sold
in packs, or inserted in magazines like Nintendo Power, or perhaps even in
ZELDA: DUNGEONS OF MYSTERY
This is one of those ideas where Nintendo could really push the envelope.
Here's the concept in a nutshell: The player would need to load the basic game
engine (which would probably be big enough to require about 5 cards with two
long data strips on each card, and would therefore write itself into the
e-Reader's flash ROM), and then load additional e-Cards which contain the
data for a dungeon.
A single dungeon would be broken up into sections, each section being encoded
onto an e-Card. Complete dungeons would be sold as packs of five e-Cards (just
like the NES-e series). Nintendo could release new dungeons every two months
or so, and this would give the application a lot of replay value.
The points of connection between the sections (within the game) would be
magical doorways: When Link steps in front of a doorway, the game would ask the
player if he wants Link to cross the door. If yes, then the game would require
the player to swipe the proper e-Card to load the section on the other side of
The goal of the game would be to find the exit of the dungeon. There would be
different puzzles to solve along the way, but not all of which would need to
be solved in order to reach the exit. As soon as you exit the dungeon, the
game would provide a percentage value which would indicate how many secrets
The real challenge in this "project" would be to encode as much information as
possible onto the e-Cards data strips. I estimate that a single e-Card with
two long data strips could contain about 20 different rooms. Of course, this
is a very loose estimate, and I would need to design the actual game
to verify it. It's really the kind of challenge I would love to
MEGA MAN BATTLE ARENA
Those who know me personaly know that I'm a big fan of the Mega Man series,
and I think this series lends itself well to the e-Card format. I believe the
best application for Mega Man e-Cards is a versus battle game, similar to the
Mega Man arcade games. My idea of it is based on the original "classic" series,
and I like to call it "Mega Man: Battle Arena". The cards of this series would
be randomly distributed in packs of 5 cards. The battle themselves would be
played on the GBA screen with NES-style graphics, (even the later Robot
Masters, like Turbo Man and Tengu Man would be in 8-bit sprite format).
First, you would swipe in a couple of cards that would contain the basic engine
of the game. These "loader" cards would be commonly found in the Mega Man
e-Card packs, but if you have trouble finding them, you could always order them
directly from Capcom. (They wouldn't want you to have all these great Mega Man
cards and not be able to use them with your e-Reader, now would they?) There
would be two sets of load-and-run cards: One for the single-player game, and
another for the two-player game (playable via the Link Cable).
The rest of the series would be composed of:
Robot Master e-Cards
Each Robot Master e-Card would have two data strips, which would contain [a]
the Robot Master's sprite data, [b] a couple of custom sound effects, [c] the
enemy A.I. (if the Robot Master is to be your opponent), and [d] the control
pad logic (if you are to control this Robot Master yourself in battle).
Each Assistant e-Card is a stage enemy (Metool, Batton, Sniper Joe, etc.) which
can be called only once per battle to assist you. The card would have only one
long strip of data, which would contain all the sprite and A.I data for this
Each Item e-Card is a power-up item (like a life capsule, or an Energy Tank, or
a weapon-power-booster) which you can use only once during your battle. Just
like Assistant e-Cards, they only have one long strip of data.
Finally, each Backdrop e-Card would contain the background graphics for the
battle area, as well as some NES-style background music. You could decide to do
your battle in Wood Man's underground lair, Shadow Man's factory lair, Gyro
Man's clouded lair, or another exotic location. You just need to swipe in the
proper e-Card. Backdrop e-Cards have two long strips, and these cards are
completely optional; if you decide not to swipe one in, the engine will provide
a default background scenery for your upcoming battle.
THE SINGLE-PLAYER GAME
After the load-and-run cards have been swiped in, you'd need to select two
Robot Master e-Cards in your acquired collection, and swipe in both data strips
of both RM cards (so that's four swipes in all).
The loader would then ask you to swipe in the Backdrop e-Card. If you have no
Backdrop e-Card in your MM e-Card collection, the standard backdrop encoded in
the loader would be used.
The loader would also ask you if you want to swipe in an additional card. You
can use this opportunity to swipe in an Assistant OR Item e-Card. Choose this
card carefully, as you'll want this card to provide a strategic advantage
against the Robot Master opponent you will face.
After all the required cards have been swiped in, the game would let you select
which Robot Master you want to control. The other RM would be your opponent.
The selected backdrop would then be displayed, the Robot Masters would make
their entrances, and the battle would begin.
During the battle, you can press (A) to fire your main weapon, and (B) to jump.
The (L) button is used to perform a defensive block, which is not always
effective against every kind of attack; this gives certain Robot Masters an
advantage over certain others. The (R) button is used to summon your Assistant,
or to make your Item appear, depending on which Assistant or Item e-Card you
swiped in before the fight. If you didn't swipe in any supplement card, the
(R) button will allow you to unleash a single, super-powered attack, which is
different for each Robot Master. This means that against tougher opponents,
you may not want to swipe in a supplement card, in order to keep your super
The battle ends when one of the Robot Masters loses all his life points. If
the human player is the winner, he can choose to continue with his Robot
Master, which means he only has to swipe in the two e-Card strips of his next
Robot Master opponent. He can also swipe in a new backdrop and a new Assistant
or Item e-Card, if he wants. With this feature, you can organize single-player
tournaments. You could even set up your own rules, like not being able to use
the same Assistant or Item e-Card twice for the duration of the entire
THE TWO-PLAYER GAME
The two-player version of the battle game would be very similar to the
single-player game. You'd need two GBAs connected with a Link Cable, each one
equipped with an e-Reader. One of the players would swipe in the two-player
load-and-run cards and one Backdrop e-Card. The loader program would be
transmitted to the other player's GBA via the Link Cable. From there, each
player would swipe in a Robot Master e-Card from their respective decks, and
the optional Assistant or Item e-Card of their choice. From there, the battle
would begin and be played out just like in the single-player game.
In the single-player game, the CPU-controlled Robot Master opponent would
have access to a couple of items built into the engine, such as a life capsule
or an Energy Tank. The Robot Master would use this item in a random fashion.
Certain Assistant e-Cards can cancel each other out: For example, if you
activate a Batton assistant while your opponent is using a Batton himself, the
two Battons will automatically fly towards each other and engage in a chicken
fight. But don't let that funny display distract you, because your opponent
won't be cutting you any slack!
Certain Robot Master e-Cards, such as Dark Man, and Dr Wily in his "Mega
Man Soccer Battle Suit", would be harder to find than others. You could also
have a few brand new Robot Masters which are not present in any past Mega Man
game on any game system.
I'm not sure if this would be possible, considering the limited amount of
memory available on e-Cards, but I'd like to give the battles a "Street
Fighter" feel, by having different attack moves mapped to special controler
motions. That would be cooler than just shooting and dodging...
The e-Cards could be played as a regular versus card game which would not
require the use of the e-Reader, much like the Pokémon Trading Card
Game. I have a pretty good idea of how this card game would be played. Maybe
I'll take the time to explain it in a future diary entry... :-)