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 applications.

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 "Boxxle II".

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 cereal boxes!).


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 door.

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 you found.

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 tackle... :-)


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
  • Assistant e-Cards
  • Item e-Cards
  • Backdrop 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 assistant.

    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.


    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 attack available.

    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 tournament.


    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... :-)