What's au courant in DS homebrew in June 2007?
June 5, 2007 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in homebrew for the Nintendo DS. I've seen the threads here and here but am interested in the June 2007 hotness. What should I get?

I have an original (phat) DS, although I bought it only a year ago, so I'm sure it has fairly recent firmware. I'm also a Mac user, so if there's a system that requires specific compiling software or whatever that's PC only, I'd like to steer clear of it. I'm told the Max Media Dock is on clearance at Wal-Marts across the country; I'm told the R4DS is the bee's knees ... I just want to be able to download homebrew apps (not necessarily ROMs, although I'd love to get the LucasArts stuff) and run them optimally. I'll pay more for low power usage; I don't mind clunkiness so much. I'm not going to be using it much for music and movies, I don't think.
posted by blueshammer to Technology (10 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well there's some pretty neat homebrew devices out there. Generally I would stay away from flashing your DS, as it's not really neccessary (and you risk bricking too).

It's a little pricey, but I highly recommend that you get a ds-xtreme. It's really an impressive FPGA in a DS sized cart (basically versatile little chip). Since it has a direct USB interface everything is drag and drop for homebrew apps.

My second recommendation would be a M3 of some sort for the bottom slot...although I believe that it requires a little more TLC before loading an SD cart. (a lower slot replacement would give you some extra storage for using the DS-X to pass to it...or you can load it directly and use some GBA homebrew too).

Currently I'm using a 3rd batch DS-X and G6 (kinda like the M3 but no removable storage). I might switch to a M3 however as I could then use microSD. Look around still though, a lot has changed since the time I signed on to the homebrew scene half a year ago. (once you start homebrewing check out some of the PDA stuff...namely DSOrganize....fantastic stuff)
posted by samsara at 3:55 PM on June 5, 2007

Best answer: I have the R4DS, and it is pretty great, once you get everything working. But, that's no easy task, and the Mac thing might be quite an issue, as lots of amateur-made and hard-to-track-down utilities are required to get everything going, and I have no idea if they are all cross-platform or not. It is by nature not a very organized or public thing, so everything is sort of spotty.

It uses micro sd cards(not included) plays most DS ROMS right out of the box. There are a few exceptions that still go whitescreen and just don't work. Look around for a current compatibility list. Also, wifi play seems to work fine for everything I have tried so far, which was a nice suprise. For file-management, it runs something called Moonshell, which handles text files, mp3s(sort of... has frozen pretty often when I've tried), jpgs, and can play video encoded in a proprietary format called DPG. The video works ok for cartoons and stuff, but not so great for live action. You can also find independent builds of the R4DS kernel packaged with DSOrganize, which is a suprisingly nice and full-featured PDA software suite. I've managed to get NES emulation working reasonably well with NESDS, but only by compiling the emulator into each rom I want to use, which is kind of space-wasteful and also requires a third-party tool.

I also got Sega and SNES emulators to at least run, but they are choppy and laggy and haven't really been worthwhile. There are some other pretty cool tools, like an AIM client, a weather widget, a comic book reader, subway maps for lots of cities, text adventures, ports of PDA games like Drug Wars, and some other original homebrew games, though I haven't messed with those much. I eventually got most everything I really wanted working on there, except the Atari emulator, which looks like it is no longer really being actively developed. Hopefully a new generation of R4DS specific emulators will come out sometime soon here, if they haven't already.

There are basically two big issues with the R4DS. The first is a file system issue. In many cases standalone programs don't seem to be able to deal well with accessing other files on the card, which is why I had to bundle each NES rom with its own emulator program. This is supposedly slowly improving, as Fatlib(a library that allows interface with FAT filesystems) support is getting built in to the various tools and programs, but it's uneven, or at least was a few months ago when I did this. The major and actively-under-development homebrew apps should probably be past this, but if you want to use anything that was made before the r4DS came on the scene, you have to deal with it. I think it(or something SD/FAT-based) is becoming the dominant platform going forward, so these issues will probably matter less and less with time.

The other issue is DLDI patching. I'm not sure what the particulars are on this, but pretty much anything that you want to get running on the R4DS that wasn't specifically coded for it needs to be patched with this utility. Some kind of compatibility issue *waves hands* There are also no emulators for GBA or anything Slot 2. Supposedly this is impossible due to hardware limitations, but I'm not sure about the details of that.

Design-wise, it's pretty nice, with the same exact form-factor as a DS cart. It's straight plug-and-play, no monkeying around with your firmware required. I haven't noticed any real difference from playing regular DS carts battery-life wise.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 4:08 PM on June 5, 2007

Ah, here is a bit more detail on the DLDI thing. So, for most current homebrew apps, getting them running on the R4 is about as simple as a) downloading them, b) applying the R4-specific DLDI patch(for which there is a MacOS client) and c) dumping them to the SD card and firing up your DS. You'll only run into real messiness with fairly old stuff, as above. Since I wanted to do a lot of gaming emulation, I had to mess with a lot of that, but for DS Organize, DSAim, Nitrotracker, and most of the other prominent homebrew apps, it shouldn't be much of an issue.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 4:35 PM on June 5, 2007

Best answer: I have an older DS-X. It's not 100% homebrew compatible due to some unreleased libraries -- plus it's pretty expensive compared to some of its competitors. I bought mine when it was the only slot 1 solution available; had I waited I think I'd have purchased something else. (one of the M3 series, the R4, etc.)

My advice is figure out what kind of stuff you want to use it for, and then see what cards are most compatible for that purpose. Case in point: the Scumm VM app (emulator for old Lucas Arts stuff) was one of the primary reasons I got a homebrew card, and only afterward did I find out the DS-X has issues running it.

The DS-X also runs out the battery something fierce, but I suspect that's true to some extent for all cards.
posted by sonofslim at 7:10 PM on June 5, 2007

Best answer: ScummVM works perfectly fine on the DS-X. From what I remember you need to turn the high quality mode off (more of a DS CPU limitation, not the cart really). The main selling point for the DS-X is that no patching is required for things to work. The libfat/DLDI drivers (what was holding up some of the homebrew around initial release) was fixed in OS 1.1.2, so the DS-X has about the same compatibility as most homebrew carts.

Bottom line though, if you're comparing the R4 to the DS-X, it's really similar to comparing a Mustang vs. a Cadillac. The R4 is faster to boot, and has expandable memory, while the DS-X has a very elegant OS by comparison and FPGA (a chip that can be patched to change its logic, of which only a portion of its full potential is being used). When the R4 becomes outdated and lackluster, the DSX will still be kept up to date as a new logic patch keeps it with the competition. The downside is, that the DS-X is more prone to developer bugs due to how much more complex of a system it is (most are resolved quickly however...the DS-X team is top notch)

Regardless though, I think most looking for a slot1 solution will pick the R4 for M3-pure simply on price, simplicity, and boot up speed.

Here's some video reviews:

R4 vs. M3 comparison

More recent DS-X interface
posted by samsara at 6:32 AM on June 6, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, everyone. It's clearly between the R4 and the DS-X ... I'll keep doing some research.
posted by blueshammer at 6:45 AM on June 6, 2007

If you could post your results here, I'd appreciate it.
posted by adamwolf at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2007

The DS-X 1.1.2 upgrade was pulled from their servers last week, though, and it's not the first time they've released a buggy firmware version. No slight to the dev team, but as samsara points out, all that computin' can be tough to debug.
posted by sonofslim at 2:33 PM on June 6, 2007

Response by poster: I have to say the price difference is a little overwhelming -- $40 for R4 vs. $100 for DS-X. I like the DS-X OS, and I like that it's perpetually improvable, but to justify the $100, I'd practically have to start downloading DS ROMs, which is really not my intention. I'd like to have the organizer/text browser, I'd like to play homebrew, I'd like to do SCUMM, etc. I'd have to devote a long think as to whether I can foresee getting enough out of those applications to warrant a C-note.
posted by blueshammer at 3:12 PM on June 6, 2007

I have an R4. I love it. Bear in mind that the $40 for the R4 doesn't include the mini-SD card you'll need, but they're pretty cheap, too. Mine cost AU$80 for the R4 and a 1GB card.

I mostly use it to watch TV shows on the go. I know you said you're not really interested in video, but since there's a bunch of people who favourited this post, it won't hurt to mention that I use the DPG Converter for Mac (zip) to prepare the video files, and then watch them through Moonshell.

I'm also trying to train myself to use DSOrganize. Installing that was as simple as downloading the latest version, passing it through DLDI Drop (a Mac DLDI patcher that works for almost any card) and dumping it on the card.

Next I'm going to give DSFTP a go, so that I can send files to my flash card by wifi, instead of fiddling with the mini-SD card.
posted by robcorr at 6:51 PM on June 6, 2007

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