The Philip Rational:
The War Machine (Springs to Life) Part 3.
-By Philip Wesley-
-Presented by DMG
-May contain harsh language-
-Presented 03/02/2005-

In the last Philip Rational, I talked a little about the games for the Nintendo DS. Today is all about the Option Paks and what I have learned about them from just general research. Prepare to enter into a world of educated "guessing" and be surprised at the disturbingly bright and varied future ahead of the Nintendo DS. First part of this editorial is the conceptual part and the second part is the technical part. The technical part has pictures, and lots of raw data and speculation. The conceptual part is how the devices could be used inside a game.

Option as defined by the New Century Dictionary circa 1952 (Volume 1)

op-tion (op'shun), n. [F. option, , L. optio(n-), akin to optare, choose.] The act of choosing; choice; also, power or liberty of choosing; right or freedom of choice; also, something which may be or is chosen; also, a privilege aquired, as by the payment of a premium or consideration, of demanding, within a specified time, the carrying out of a commercial transaction upon stipulated terms. (AND IT GOES ON FOREVER AFTER THAT.)

I suppose you could say that an Option Pak is the power to choose.
This ability allows you to choose what you want your DS to be. Thus the things it can do for you are limited only to the options (privileges) you purchase for it. What kinds of Option Paks will be available for the DS? Currently, no one knows completely for sure, except for Iwata and Nintendo R&D1. However, research allows us to glean a little bit of an idea of what they will be. Here are three concepts we may see explored with DS Option Paks.
  1. A Force Feedback Option Pak. Many people with Flash Cards have already seen the Option Pak icon show up on their DS units. Some have even seen their DS ask if the built-in alarm should be accompanied by the "rumble feature." This Option Pak is all but confirmed as being in development. This Option Pak may be "packed" together with a motion sensor device similar to the one in Wario Ware Twisted. What would this do? Well, let us say that you're playing, say, F-Zero DS and you set the controls to "motion." Then you just hold down the accelerator and just lightly tilt from right to left to steer your racer. As you tilt, you get a small click from the rumble motor or a light (or heavy) vibration. It will give the user a better sense of steering. Taking some serious damage? Your vehicle is going to fight you physically. In a Star Fox style game, that rumble lets you know you have taken damage. In a Super Monkey Ball game, you have complete and better than analogue control by slowly tilting, the rumble motor will let you know when your ball bumps into things or falls over small inclines. Imagine a Wario Ware game that required you to have this Option Pak so you could touch, tilt, use the microphone, and press the buttons to accomplish the mini-games! Needless to say, the concept is sweet.
  2. An SD Card Reader/Writer. This would be a little like the Play-Yan but work differently. Whereas the Play-Yan is a GBA SP/Nintendo DS compatible media player akin to the SongPro and GBA Movie Player; this Option Pak is a Virtual Pocket for storing virtual information. It would be mostly a storage medium that could be used for importing items between your Nintendo DS and your computer/camera/audio recorder. In an Animal Crossing game, you could design wallpaper and/or import images from your own hard drive or digital camera for use as pictures in the game. In other games, you could upload custom soundtracks, or download new levels directly to an SD card on your computer. You could also create custom level designs or graphics mods for a First Person Shooter. With the extra space, you could also save DS Demos that you have downloaded from DS Hotspots and Download Boothes. This would not be the first time that a "hard drive-esque" device has been made for a Nintendo Portable. There was an additional save memory stick for a GBA game in Japan as well as the Mega Memory Card which only backed up save roms from GB/GBC games. This Option Pak would be a step above those. Why not just release a micro drive that hold 4 or 5 Gigabytes of space? Because Nintendo wants you to be able to choose. Many gamers may not need a huge amount of space to hold files. SD Cards are inexpensive enough that you can buy a lot of them in many sizes to fit your needs. Besides, buying a 1GB SD card will set you back about $60 currently. That is less than half of what a 1GB Memory Stick Pro Duo would cost you.
  3. A "Legacy" Option Pak. This Option Pak acts a bit like a Super Game Boy style device to let you play GB or GBC games on the Nintendo DS. Once Nintendo releases the first Option Paks.. expect some clever third party company to come up with something like this if Nintendo does not release one like this. It would regulate the extra power draw that GB/GBC Game Paks have as well as providing a way to view the games full screen. I half expect some clever company to make something like this that works with NES or SNES game cartridges. I think I speak for everyone when I say I would snatch a Super Famicom adaptor for the Nintendo DS right up. Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy 6 on the go? Yes please!
  4. Extra RAM Option Pak. Similar to the expansion pak that the Nintendo 64 had, this would up the RAM of the DS for textures. Some games would require this and to be honest, I think it would be a bit of a pain to swap around. Maybe if this idea was packed (pardon the pun) with option number one or two, that would be fine. The DS is not meant to be a replacement for the Game Boy line of products. This would effectively seal and cement that idea.
  5. Wired Connections Option Pak. This is just as iffy as number four, but far more useful for somethings. A lot of people want to use the DS as a sort of controller for the Game Cube. This would add a link port to the unit for using it as a controller. Combine this with number three and you have the DS completely invalidating the GBA SP. Since Nintendo does not want to do that, such a device may not see public release. But variations of this, like one that allows you to connect the DS to dial-up or non-wireless broadband applications would be a great idea.
Aside from the second one, these do not turn the Nintendo DS into some sort of multimedia player ala the Play Station Portable. Which is fine with me. I have heard it commented that Nintendo is seeking to divide the portable industry into sections in a away similar to how companies like Creative make different kinds of Digital Audio Players and PVPs. I doubt that the Creative Zen Micro is viewed as cutting into the market for the Creative Zen Portable Media Player. Saying that the DS will hurt the Game Boy line of products is like saying the iPod Shuffle or iPod Mini cut into the sales of the iPod Photo. The handheld world is big enough to support the Game Boy, the Nintendo DS, and the Sony PSP. I think this seperation is what Nintendo wants and the arrival of the PSP allows Nintendo to do this effectively. The PSP is a multimedia device that is a jack of all trades and master of none of them. The Game Boy is focused squarely on games. The Nintendo DS is essentially something a bit different. The Nintendo DS is about choices and the Option Paks allow for those choices. It will become more apparent as the life of the DS continues that the DS is geared toward those of us who enjoy something a bit out of the ordinary for a handheld system: Choice.

The Conceptual Part is down flat, so let us get into the technical side of things.

How does the Nintendo DS detect an Option Pak?
This part is so very simple that it eludes so many people on a regular basis. The DS checks the amount of power the device wants. People who know a bit about the Game Boy Advance know that it works on two different power consumption levels. GBA games consume less power (2w) than GBC/GB game.(5w) An Option Pak appears to sap somewhere between 3w to 4w out of the Nintendo DS. Some flash cards, and the Action Replay device sap a little extra energy from the Nintendo DS to work. This is why it identifies them as Option Paks. They do not appear to take too much energy off of the DS as the DS does not identify GB or GBC games. If you removed part of the plastic shell of a GB game and stuck it into the Nintendo DS, the DS would not detect the game as a game because it takes too much wattage. It would also not detect it as an Option Pak because of this second part.

Option Paks and GBA games have a trace amount of code that is detected along with the increase of power drain.
The first header it looks for is a GBA header. Option Paks must have some sort of GBA header to be detected. What follows after that header tells the Nintendo DS what KIND of Option Pak is inserted. Here is a quick and dirty schematic.
  • Power Drain(Increase) + GBA Header(True) = Option Pak
  • Power Drain(Normal) + GBA Header(True) = GBA Game
  • Power Drain(Increase) + GBA Header(False) = Nothing, DS stops detecting it.
The exception to this rule would be the Play-Yan. It has an increased power drain and a GBA header, BUT the subheader tells the DS that it is NOT an Option Pak and should be played like a normal GBA Game. Without that line, the Play-Yan would be detected as an Option Pak.

Once it detects an Option Pak, it looks for one more sub header to determine what type of Option Pak is inserted.
If it finds no header, it just simply remains inactive. This may mean that some Option Paks need to be detected by the DS software or require an on/off switch.

To get your DS to display the Option Pak message easily, borrow or buy an Action Replay.
The Action Replay needs a GBA Header to trick the DS, so insert a normal GBA game into the Action Replay and make sure it is turned on. When the DS powers up, it checks the DS slot first and then the GBA slot. It will detect the power drain increase AND the GBA Header. This means that it will think the Action Replay is just an Option Pak that is turned off or requires activation from the inserted DS software. Without a game attached to the Action Replay, the increased power drain cause the DS to think nothing readable is inserted into that slot.
This is a picture of my DS displaying the Option Pak message.

Interesting note:
When you put the DS into auto-boot mode, you can access the main menu by holding START when you turn it on, or access an inserted GBA game by holding B when you turn it on. Holding B with the "Option Pak" (Action Replay) inserted booted me to the main menu only. Apparently the alarm mode and GUI on the Nintendo DS also looks for features inside of Option Paks. There appears to be an errant and already existing code that the DS thinks signifies a "Rumble" style Option Pak.

That appears to be all I have here for now.
Please check back next week when I continue this series with a look at the Game Boy Advance..

-Editorial by Philip Wesley-
-Sources: Nintendo
-Property of