The Insane Engineering of the Gameboy

Real Engineering
30 Mar 202417:49

Summary

TLDRThis video explores the groundbreaking engineering behind the Nintendo Gameboy, a device that, despite its initial mixed reviews and technological limitations, revolutionized portable gaming. Launched in 1989, the Gameboy's success was due to its affordability, durability, and the ingenious optimization of its limited hardware. Developers utilized creative solutions to overcome challenges like the lack of a backlight, minimal memory, and the simple yet effective use of tiles and sprites for game design. The Gameboy not only launched iconic franchises but also set a precedent for Nintendo's focus on accessibility and user experience, influencing future innovations in gaming.

Takeaways

  • ūüéģ The original Gameboy, launched in 1989, was met with mixed reviews but went on to become a cultural icon.
  • ūüĒč It was designed as a cheap, low-powered, portable gaming system with limitations such as no backlight and low installed memory.
  • ūüöÄ Despite its technological inferiority at launch, the Gameboy's success stemmed from its appeal to the masses and innovative game design.
  • ūü߆ The lack of a backlight and a monochrome screen allowed the Gameboy to use less power, giving it longer battery life than competitors.
  • ūüĒĆ The Gameboy used 4 AA batteries compared to the Sega Game Gear's 6, making it more compact, cost-effective, and energy-efficient.
  • ūüĆź The Gameboy's simple design, influenced by its predecessor the NES, prioritized portability and user experience, tenets that Nintendo continues to value.
  • ūüĒá The console featured a single speaker with 4 channels, demonstrating that creative problem-solving could produce memorable sound experiences with minimal hardware.
  • ūüé® The use of tiles and sprites allowed for efficient memory usage and the creation of iconic graphics with limited resources.
  • ūüďą Memory banking was a technique used to overcome the Gameboy's memory limitations, allowing for larger games like Pokemon Red/Blue.
  • ūüí° Nintendo's focus on accessibility and player-first design set it apart from competitors, leading to the creation of innovative and inclusive gaming systems like the Wii and Nintendo Switch.
  • ūüĆź In a world increasingly focused on data collection, the simplicity of earlier gaming devices like the Gameboy offers a contrast to modern concerns about data privacy and security.

Q & A

  • When was the original Gameboy launched and what was the general reception at the time?

    -The original Gameboy was launched in 1989 and it received mixed reviews. Despite being considered technologically inferior at launch, it went on to achieve great success.

  • How did the Gameboy's design philosophy differ from its competitors?

    -The Gameboy was designed to be a cheap, low-powered, portable gaming system. It made several design compromises, such as lacking a backlight and having low installed memory, which were viewed negatively by review magazines of the time but ultimately contributed to its widespread success.

  • What were some of the limitations of the Gameboy in terms of hardware?

    -The Gameboy had a monochrome screen with no backlight and very limited memory for coding games. It also used four AA batteries, which was fewer than its main competitor, the Sega Game Gear.

  • How did the Gameboy's simple design contribute to its success?

    -The Gameboy's simple design, which included a straightforward and familiar controller setup,ŚÄüťČīšļÜŚģÉÁöĄŤÄĀŚ§ßŚď•NES„ÄāŚģÉÁöĄŚįļŚĮłŚíĆťáćťáŹśėĮšĺŅśźļśÄßśúÄťá捶ĀÁöĄŤÄÉŤôĎŚõ†Áī†ÔľĆGameboyŚá†šĻ錏™śúČÁęěšļČŚĮĻśČčÁöĄšłÄŚć䌧ߌįŹŚíĆťáćťáŹ„Äā

  • What technological limitations of the early 90s did Nintendo work around to make the Gameboy smaller and lighter?

    -Nintendo had to work around the limitations of alkaline batteries, which were large, bulky, non-rechargeable, and expensive. By using fewer batteries and minimizing their use, Nintendo made the Gameboy more compact and cost-effective for consumers.

  • What was the significance of the Supertwisted Nematics LCD screen technology in the development of the Gameboy?

    -Supertwisted Nematics LCD screen technology allowed for a sharper transition between on and off states, resulting in sharper black and white pixels. This technology was crucial in enabling the Gameboy to have low power consumption and longer battery life.

  • How did game developers overcome the limitation of the Gameboy's 8-bit CPU and limited memory?

    -Developers used creative problem-solving techniques such as memory banking, dividing the data into smaller sections or banks, and utilizing efficient methods like tiles for graphics and byte-by-byte comparison for logo display to manage the limited memory effectively.

  • What is the role of tiles in creating graphics for Gameboy games?

    -Tiles are 8x8 pixel squares used to build the background and characters in Gameboy games. By using tiles, developers could efficiently create graphics and animations without having to address each individual pixel, saving memory and processing power.

  • How did the Gameboy achieve its iconic 4 shades of green?

    -The Gameboy achieved its 4 shades of green by quickly pulsing the pixels on and off. Faster pulses resulted in darker shades, while slower pulses produced lighter shades. This technique is similar to how LEDs brighten and dim.

  • What was the strategy behind the Gameboy's audio design?

    -The Gameboy's audio design was minimalistic, featuring only one speaker controlled by 4 channels. This included two square wave tone generators, one white noise maker, and a separate channel for custom waveforms stored in the game cartridge.

  • How did the Gameboy's memory management system work for games with larger data requirements?

    -The Gameboy used a technique called memory banking, where games divided their data into smaller sections or banks. The hardware dynamically switched between these banks to access a larger pool of data than the system could read at once.

  • What was Nintendo's ethos that set it apart from competitors and contributed to the Gameboy's success?

    -Nintendo's ethos focused on accessibility and player experience rather than just increasing hardware specs. The company aimed to make gaming accessible to a wide audience, as evidenced by the affordable launch price of the Gameboy and its emphasis on user-friendly design.

Outlines

00:00

ūüéģ The Birth and Design Philosophy of the Gameboy

The original Gameboy was launched in 1989 and, despite mixed reviews due to its technological limitations, became a cultural icon. Its design focused on affordability, low power consumption, and portability, which were seen as negatives by review magazines but turned out to be key to its success. The Gameboy's limitations in screen backlighting and memory capacity pushed engineers to innovate, leading to the creation of timeless games and franchises. The console borrowed design elements from its predecessor, the NES, and prioritized size and weight to ensure portability. The Gameboy's success was also due to its efficient use of alkaline batteries, which were bulky and expensive at the time. Nintendo minimized battery use, giving the Gameboy an edge over competitors like the Sega Game Gear. The Gameboy's engineering ingenuity and focus on user experience have been defining traits of Nintendo to this day.

05:02

ūüĒč Powering the Gameboy: Battery Life and Screen Technology

The Gameboy's main competitor, the Sega Game Gear, used 6 AA batteries, while the Gameboy only required 4, saving space, making it more compact, and reducing costs for consumers. The Gameboy's batteries lasted significantly longer, despite having less energy available, due to its low power consumption design. The Game Gear consumed 4.5 watts and drained its batteries in just 3 hours, whereas the Gameboy operated at 0.7 watts and offered up to 30 hours of gameplay. Nintendo's success was partly due to recognizing the limitations of alkaline batteries and working around them. The Gameboy featured a monochrome screen capable of displaying 4 shades of green, a compromise that resulted from the technological constraints of the time. The development of Supertwisted Nematics LCD screens allowed for sharper transitions between on and off states, addressing the low contrast issue of early passive matrix displays.

10:02

ūüöÄ Innovative Memory and Graphics Management on the Gameboy

The Gameboy's 8-bit CPU could only handle 64 kilobytes of memory, which posed a challenge for game development. Developers had to be creative in programming, as all game functions, math, and logic were managed within this limited memory. The game cartridges contained hard-coded data that the Gameboy read during startup to display the Nintendo logo, a technique that also served as a way to prevent bootlegged games. The limited memory was further managed through the use of tiles, which allowed for efficient graphics creation. The screen was rendered in a three-step process involving a background made of 32x32 tiles, a viewing box for smooth scrolling, and sprites for movable objects. The Gameboy's line scan technique for drawing the screen was inherited from the NES and allowed for animations through mid-frame pauses. The console's audio was produced with just one speaker and 4 channels, yet it created a nostalgic style of music that is still loved today.

15:04

ūüēĻÔłŹ Nintendo's Player-Centric Approach and Data Privacy

Nintendo's design philosophy prioritized player accessibility and experience over high hardware specifications. The Gameboy, with its affordable launch price and low running costs, was a testament to this ethos. It introduced many to the world of video games and became a defining piece of design for its generation. In contrast to today's hyperconnected devices, the Gameboy was simple, requiring no personal data or constant internet connection. In the current era of data collection and breaches, privacy has become a significant concern. The sponsor Incogni offers a service to protect user data by removing personal information from data brokers, illustrating the contrast between past and present approaches to technology and user privacy.

Mindmap

Keywords

ūüí°Gameboy

The Gameboy is a portable gaming console developed by Nintendo, launched in 1989. It is the main subject of the video, which discusses its design, technological limitations, and the innovative solutions that led to its success. Despite being considered technologically inferior at launch, the Gameboy's low cost, portability, and user-friendly design made it a cultural icon and a massive commercial success, leading to the creation of enduring franchises and a significant impact on the gaming industry.

ūüí°Technological Inferior Product

The term 'technologically inferior product' refers to a product that, at the time of its release, has fewer or less advanced features compared to competing products. In the context of the video, the Gameboy was seen as technologically inferior due to its limited capabilities, such as a lack of color display and no backlight for the screen. However, these perceived limitations did not prevent the Gameboy from becoming a cultural phenomenon, demonstrating that success can come from innovative design and user experience rather than raw technological prowess.

ūüí°Portable Gaming System

A 'portable gaming system' is a device that is designed to be lightweight, compact, and easily carried around for gaming on the go. The Gameboy is a prime example of this, as it was specifically designed to be a low-powered, portable gaming system that could be played anywhere. The emphasis on portability was a key factor in the Gameboy's success, as it allowed users to play games in a variety of settings and situations, from travel to leisure time at home.

ūüí°Low Power Consumption

Low power consumption refers to a device's ability to operate using a minimal amount of energy. This is particularly important for portable devices like the Gameboy, as it directly impacts battery life and running costs for the user. The Gameboy's engineers focused on reducing power consumption by using a monochrome screen and efficient battery management, which resulted in longer playtime on a single set of batteries compared to competitors.

ūüí°Ingenious Methods

Ingenious methods refer to creative and clever solutions to problems or challenges. In the context of the video, this term is used to describe the innovative approaches taken by engineers and programmers to overcome the Gameboy's technical limitations and create successful and enduring games. These methods included memory banking, efficient use of limited memory, and the use of a simple, effective controller layout.

ūüí°Franchises

A franchise refers to a series of related products, services, or businesses that are built around a central brand or concept. In the context of the Gameboy, franchises are the popular and long-lasting series of games that originated on the platform, such as Pokemon, Super Mario Land, and The Legend of Zelda. These franchises not only contributed to the Gameboy's success but also expanded into other forms of media and merchandise, further solidifying their cultural impact.

ūüí°User Experience

User experience (UX) refers to the overall experience a user has when interacting with a product, system, or service. It encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction, including usability, accessibility, and emotional response. In the video, the emphasis on user experience is highlighted as a core reason for the Gameboy's success, as Nintendo focused on creating a system that was easy to use, portable, and enjoyable for a wide range of consumers.

ūüí°Alkaline Batteries

Alkaline batteries are a type of non-rechargeable battery commonly used in a variety of household devices. They are known for their stability and longer shelf life compared to other battery types. In the context of the video, alkaline batteries were a significant technological limitation of the early 90s, impacting the design and functionality of portable gaming systems like the Gameboy and its competitor, the Sega Game Gear.

ūüí°Supertwisted Nematics

Supertwisted Nematics is a type of liquid crystal display (LCD) technology that was developed in the late 1980s. It uses liquid crystals with twists between 180 and 270 degrees, allowing for a sharper transition between on and off states, which results in clearer and sharper images. This technology was a breakthrough that enabled the creation of low-powered displays, such as the one used in the Gameboy, which was crucial for its long battery life and compact design.

ūüí°Memory Banking

Memory banking is a technique used in software development for hardware with limited memory capacity, where data is divided into smaller sections or 'banks'. This allows the system to access a larger pool of data than the hardware could handle at once. In the context of the video, memory banking was a crucial method used by game developers for the Gameboy to manage large games like Pokemon Red/Blue, which had more data than the console's hardware could directly handle.

ūüí°Data Brokers

Data brokers are companies or individuals that collect, store, and analyze large sets of data about individuals from various sources, often selling this information to third parties such as advertisers. In the video, data brokers are mentioned in the context of a sponsored message, where the focus is on the privacy concerns associated with the collection and sale of personal data.

Highlights

The original Gameboy was launched in 1989 and was initially received with mixed reviews but eventually became a cultural icon.

Despite being technologically inferior at launch, the Gameboy's success can be attributed to its design compromises that made it accessible to the masses.

The Gameboy was designed as a cheap, low-powered, portable gaming system with limitations such as no backlight and low installed memory.

Nintendo's innovative engineering allowed for the creation of timeless games and franchises, despite the Gameboy's hardware limitations.

The Gameboy's simple design and familiar controller setup,ŚÄüťČīšļÜŚÖ∂ŚČćŤĺąNESÁöĄśąźŚäüÁĽŹť™Ć.

The Gameboy was significantly smaller and lighter than its competitors, with a focus on user experience that has become a defining characteristic of Nintendo.

Nintendo managed to make the Gameboy smaller and lighter by minimizing the use of large, bulky alkaline batteries, which were expensive and non-rechargeable.

The Gameboy's main competitor, the Sega Game Gear, used 6 AA batteries, while the Gameboy used just 4, leading to longer battery life and cost savings for consumers.

One of the keys to Nintendo's success was recognizing the limitations of early 90s technology and working around them, such as using a monochrome screen instead of a fully lit colored LCD screen.

The Gameboy's engineers were determined to use low-powered screens, leading to the development of Supertwisted Nematics, which allowed for sharper black and white pixels.

The Gameboy created different shades of green by quickly pulsing the pixels on and off, a technique also used by LEDs to brighten and dim.

The 8-bit CPU of the Gameboy could only handle 64 kilobytes of memory, requiring creative problem-solving for game development within these constraints.

Nintendo used a technique called memory banking to divide game data into smaller sections or banks, allowing for larger pools of data despite hardware limitations.

The Gameboy's hardware and design choices, such as its screen technology and memory management, made it significantly cheaper than its competitors and more accessible to a wide audience.

Nintendo's focus on player-first design and accessibility has been a consistent theme throughout their product lineup, from the Wii to the Switch.

The Gameboy was a generational defining piece of design, offering a simpler approach to gaming that did not rely on personal data collection or constant internet connectivity.

In a world where data privacy is a concern, the Gameboy represents a time when devices did not require personal information or constant data transmission.

Transcripts

00:03

The original Gameboy was launched  in 1989 and was received with  

00:08

mixed reviews. While its success is  ingrained in our cultural memory now,  

00:14

when it was launched it was a  technologically inferior product.

00:19

The Gameboy was designed  to be a cheap, low-powered,  

00:22

portable gaming system. It was limited  in many ways. No backlight for the  

00:27

screen and incredibly low installed  memory available for coding games.

00:32

Review magazines of the time viewed these  features as a negative, but these compromises  

00:38

in design were exactly why the Gameboy  succeeded. This was a console for the masses.

00:44

Even with these limitations, engineers  and programmers came up with ingenious  

00:49

methods to create games that have  not only stood the test of time

00:53

but launched some of the most valuable franchises  

00:56

in the history of the entertainment industry.  TV shows, movies, toys, and even theme parks.

01:03

This is the insane engineering  of the Nintendo Gameboy.

01:09

The Game Boy's simple design borrows  much of its success from its older  

01:14

brother the NES. A straightforward  and familiar controller setup.

01:19

Nintendo knew that size and weight were the most  important factors for a system to be portable.

01:25

The Gameboy was almost half the  size and half the weight of its  

01:28

competitors. Just under 15 cm in height and 3  centimeters thick, it weighed only 220 grams.

01:36

This 35-year-old console doesn’t feel oversized  like the mobile phones of this era. Gameboy  

01:42

focused on user experience from the get-go, an  ethos that has defined Nintendo to this very day.

01:50

But how did Nintendo manage to make the Gameboy  so much smaller and lighter? To begin, one of  

01:56

the primary technological limitations  of the early 90s were these things.

02:01

Alkaline batteries. While our Gen Z  audience may recognize these as the  

02:05

batteries they have to replace in their TV  remote once in a blue moon. These things  

02:10

were everywhere in the 90s. Costing about 50  cents each, or about 1.16 in today’s money.

02:17

I spent every penny of my pocket money getting  these batteries to power my Gameboy in the 90s.

02:23

Large, bulky, non-rechargeable,  and expensive. Minimising their  

02:28

use as much as possible was going to give  Nintendo an edge over their competitors.

02:34

The Game Boy's main competitor,  

02:36

the Sega Game Gear, used 6 AA batteries.  While the Gameboy used just 4. This of  

02:42

course saved space, made the Gameboy more  compact, and saved money for the consumer.

02:47

Especially as the Gameboy batteries lasted vastly  longer despite having less energy available.

02:53

The Game Gear’s 6 AA batteries supplied 4.5  watts to power its electronics. Draining the  

03:00

6 batteries in just 3 hours. Costing about  2 dollars and 30 cents per hour of gameplay.

03:07

The GameBoy, with its 4 batteries allowed up to 30  

03:11

hours of gameplay. It cost just  16 cents per hour of gameplay.

03:17

Imagine being me in the 90s. Trying to explain  to my father, who remembers when someone got a  

03:23

car for the first time in his village, that  I needed money for a new set of batteries  

03:28

every two weeks. Well, for the Sega Game  Gear that was likely closer to every day.

03:35

One of the keys to Nintendo's success was  recognizing this limitation and working around it.

03:41

While the Game Gear featured a fully lit  coloured LCD screen. The Gameboy featured  

03:46

a monochrome screen that was capable of  displaying just 4 shades of green that  

03:51

were impossible to see in darkness  because it didn’t have a backlight.

03:56

While the Game Gear may have gotten better  reviews with its power-hungry electronics,  

04:01

the Gameboy got the customers with  a system that drew just 0.7 watts.

04:06

The Game Boy's engineers were determined to use  low-powered screens, and despite this screen being  

04:12

a huge part of our nostalgia today, it almost  led to the cancellation of the entire project.

04:19

The best available low-powered LCD  screens in the 80s worked by having  

04:24

a passive matrix of electrodes  that controlled a grid of pixels.

04:28

A pixel consisted of some liquid  crystals sandwiched between two  

04:33

perpendicular polarising filters. At rest,  these liquid crystals twist the light that  

04:38

bounces off the backplate, which allows the  light to pass through the set of filters.

04:43

These crystals respond to voltage changes,  untwisting as voltage is applied, when this  

04:49

happens less light can pass through. Early  prototypes of the original Gameboy used liquid  

04:54

crystals that naturally twisted only 90 degrees  at rest. These 90-degree structures slowly untwist  

05:01

with voltage with the amount of light transmitted  being proportional to the voltage applied.

05:07

However, there was a problem. This slope is  not steep enough. This was a problem for the  

05:13

low-powered passive grid matrix displays  used in the early versions of the GameBoy.  

05:18

The low-power screen used tiny changes in  voltage to differentiate between on and off,  

05:24

and the difference in voltage needed to  turn the pixels on and off was too large.

05:28

A slight difference in voltage resulted in a  very subtle difference in the amount of light  

05:34

emitted by individual "on" and "off" pixels.  In other words, the contrast was very low.

05:40

This got worse as the passive matrix  created an interconnected set of pixels  

05:45

where voltage could leak into neighbouring  pixels. So neighbouring pixels would also  

05:51

be slightly activated resulting in a blurry  image that looked even worse from the sides.

05:57

When Nintendo's President Hiroshi  Yamauchi tested a version of the  

06:02

Gameboy with these 90-degree twist screens  he actually cancelled the entire project.

06:08

However, a breakthrough occurred in  the late 1980s. SHARP perfected a new  

06:13

type of LCD screen known as Supertwisted Nematics.

06:17

These screens used crystals with twists  between 180 and 270 degrees. These extra  

06:24

twists made a sharper transition  between on and off possible.

06:28

This is what a super twisted crystal  transition curve looks like. The  

06:32

transmitted light drops off rapidly  with a much smaller voltage change.

06:37

This technology resulted in sharper black and  white pixels, with the green colour of the gameboy  

06:43

being a byproduct of the polarising filters tint,  but how did the gameboy create 4 shades of green.

06:50

It was not possible to create these shades  with 4 different voltages settings. Instead  

06:56

the gameboy created different shades  by quickly pulsing the pixels on and  

07:00

off. Faster pulses result in darker shades,  while slower pulses result in lighter shades.

07:07

This is the same technique that  LEDs use to brighten and dim. We  

07:12

can’t perceive the pulsing with our  eyes, but cameras can pick it up.

07:16

The quest to make the system as cheap as  possible of course created limitations elsewhere.

07:22

The 8-bit CPU could only handle 64 kilobytes of  memory, less than a single frame in this video.

07:30

Programming a game like Super Mario Land with so  

07:33

little memory available required  some creative problem-solving.

07:37

All of the Gameboy functions, maths,  

07:39

and logic happened by simply reading or  modifying those 64 kilobtyes. Some are  

07:45

read from the Gameboy itself while others  are read from the inserted game cartridge.

07:50

These 48 numbers, for example, are read from  the cartridge every time the Gameboy is turned  

07:56

on and every licensed game cartridge has to have  the exact same hard-coded data at this location.

08:03

This is the data it reads, just numbers. But,  

08:07

by rearranging them and converting them  to binary we can start to see a familiar  

08:11

pattern. Turning off the pixels with ones we  can make out that nostalgic logo that dropped  

08:16

into the screen before any game. Inside the  Gameboy, there is a copy of these same numbers.

08:23

During the boot-up process, the Game  Boy displayed the logo stored in the  

08:27

cartridge while comparing it to the  one in the system, byte by byte.

08:32

If a faulty connection caused a byte to be read  incorrectly, the Game Boy would not start up.

08:38

Unintentionally, this sparked a  magical tradition among kids worldwide.

08:43

A technique that transferred across  cultures and continents before the  

08:47

internet existed to share that  knowledge. Take the cartridge  

08:51

out and blow on it to remove any dust  that may be causing faulty connections.

08:57

For this byte-by-byte comparison, they could  have used any numbers or any image. But  

09:02

they intentionally used the trademarked  Nintendo logo to curb bootlegged games.

09:07

If you were an unlicensed game  developer, this forced you to  

09:11

display Nintendo’s trademarked logo, and  if Nintendo did not permit you to use it,  

09:16

you would be breaking trademark laws  even if the games themselves were not.

09:21

However, using individual bytes to create the  image, the way the Nintendo logo was displayed,  

09:26

is not a very efficient way of  populating the full screen for games.

09:31

If the 160 by 144 pixel wide  screen had to address each  

09:36

individual pixel it would need  a list of over 23,000 numbers.

09:41

Dedicating a whole 35% of the available directory  only to set the screen makes no sense. The real  

09:48

amount of space dedicated to creating images  is only 12.5% of the available directory.

09:55

But how did such a small memory create  graphics? The key here is the use of tiles.

10:02

These are the tiles for the game Super Mario  Land 2, a classic Super Mario scrolling  

10:07

game. Each tile consisted of a square of 8x8.  Rather than building the frame pixel by pixel,  

10:13

The Gameboy system rendered the  screen in a three-step process.

10:17

The CPU would first assemble a  background made out of 32x32 tiles.

10:23

But the size of the Gameboy screen only  fits 20 tiles on one side and 18 on the  

10:28

other. So a viewing box has to be  placed on top of this background.  

10:33

This view box could move along the  background enabling smooth scrolling.

10:37

It also has a local coordinate system  that allows non-movable information,  

10:42

like lives or scores, to be visualised  consistently in the same location.

10:46

Movable objects like Mario or  goombas that can interact with  

10:50

the background have a special  name, they are called sprites.

10:54

Sprites are just 8x8 pixel-wide tiles that can  be flipped or rotated. For larger characters  

11:00

like Mario, a set of 4 sprites was  needed to make the full character.

11:05

Once the frame was ready to be visualised,  

11:07

the Gameboy went line by line setting the pixel  values on the screen. This is called a line scan.

11:14

This practice was a bleed-over from the  NES, which was designed to be used with  

11:18

the tracing rays of cathode ray tube  screens. CRTS work by altering the  

11:24

path of a beam of electrons to hit against  a screen coated with fluorescent chemicals.

11:28

This technique allowed programmers to create  animations. At the end of each line scan,  

11:34

Nintendo gave the programmers the choice to pause  

11:37

the line scanning mid-frame to adjust  the position of the viewing window.

11:41

This is the intro to the Links Awakening  game. This was all created using a static  

11:47

background. Once the background was assembled  the tiles and the screen location were set,  

11:52

and the line scan would start. Here a pause would  happen and the viewing window would be moved a  

11:58

tiny bit. Then the line-scan would restart the  drawing and the end product emulated movement.

12:04

The enemies in Link's Awakening like this or the  intro to some games like TITUS were all created  

12:10

using these techniques. Even racing games used  mid-frame pauses to create the curves in the road.

12:16

This design ideology of simplifying  also affected the audio of the console.  

12:21

The Gameboy came with only one speaker  that was controlled by only 4 channels.

12:26

Two square wave tone generators, one white  noise maker, and a separate channel that  

12:31

could load any custom waveform that is  stored in the game cartridge. That's it.

12:36

Lets create a song by sending the desired  

12:39

frequencies and timings to the  first two square wave channels.

12:43

Now lets add our custom chipped triangle wave  

12:46

to the fourth channel with it’s  frequency and timing parameters.

12:50

Now, the final touch, a little  percussion to highlight the beats,  

12:54

made with the white noise channel.

12:59

This style of music is a huge part  of our nostalgia and love for the  

13:03

Gameboy. I can hear the intro to the  pokemon games in my head to this day.

13:08

But games are more than just images and sounds,  

13:11

they are fully fledged stories  that need data and space for logic.

13:15

Of the 65,000 numbers that the Gameboy reads,  

13:19

only half of them are read from the cartridge.  This worked fine for simple games like Tetris,  

13:24

where the full instructions and data needed  to run the game was less than 32,000 numbers.

13:30

Limited data was common in the 80's so game  developers developed a technique called  

13:35

memory banking where the game divides the data  into smaller sections or banks. Essentially,  

13:41

the game dynamically switches between  different banks of memory to access a  

13:45

larger pool of data than the  hardware originally allowed.

13:49

The Game Boy's hardware can only read  32 KB of data but Pokemon Red/Blue has  

13:55

a memory size of 373 kB. The data  had to be divided into 44 banks.

14:02

As the player explores different areas,  the game seamlessly switches between these  

14:06

memory banks to load and unload the relevant data. 

14:10

This is controlled with a small  chip inside the cartridge.  

14:14

When the Pokedex was opened the chip¬† would access ‚ÄúBank 2B‚ÄĚ where all the¬†¬†

14:18

151 Pokemon had a 100-character description  that was printed on the screen using tiles.

14:25

If the player entered a Pokemart  the chip would access Bank 1 to  

14:29

get the prices of each item. As the  player moves between towns, locations,  

14:34

or activities, the game continues to  manage these memory banks dynamically.

14:38

The engineers in Nintendo made  a choice that allowed them to  

14:42

get consoles into the hands of gamers  around the world. For many, like me,  

14:47

it was their first experience of video games.  With a launch price of just 89 dollars it was  

14:53

significantly cheaper than either of its two  main competitors, and vastly cheaper to run.

14:59

This ethos of player first is what defined  Nintendo as a company. While its competitors  

15:04

focused on ever increasing hardware specs,  Nintendo focused on accessibility. The Nintendo  

15:10

Wii with its motion controllers introduced  hundreds of thousands of older people who weren’t  

15:15

familiar with traditional game controls to gaming.  The Nintendo switch doubles as both a portable  

15:21

gaming console and docked home console, with  detachable controllers that have allowed me and  

15:27

my friends to have impromptu mario kart sessions  in airports and hotel rooms. Nintendo are masters  

15:33

of interactive design and the Nintendo Gameboy  was a generational defining piece of design.

15:40

Devices like the GameBoy were  designed for a simpler time,  

15:43

when the only way to add software was  a physical cartridge and the only way  

15:48

to input or output information from the outside  world was a link cable. Decades later any device,  

15:55

even if only intended for gaming, will  require some sort of account login  

15:59

connected to personal data and will constantly  transmit your data with a variety of servers.

16:05

In this hyper connected world, collecting user  data is big business. Data brokers specialise  

16:11

in collecting every bit of public information  available about you to sell to marketing agencies  

16:17

or in some cases, more malicious actors. Data  breaches are getting more and more common too.

16:23

You might have noticed an increase in  spam calls and spam emails as a result,  

16:27

and getting out to these data brokers  list is a tedious process that requires  

16:31

contacting each one by one and using  the exact legal language necessary to  

16:36

force them to remove it. But you don't  have to, thanks to our sponsor Incogni.

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Incogni reaches out to data brokers  on your behalf with removal requests,  

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and deal with all the annoying objections.

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I get emails for crappy Bitcoin and gambling  YouTube sponsors to an email address I don’t  

16:54

have listed publicly anywhere. Clearly this  email address has been sold to data brokers  

16:59

and they somehow know what I do for work.  This email address is private for a reason,  

17:04

I don't want it spammed with nonsense, so I  used incogni to start clearing things up and  

17:09

over the last couple of days it removed me from  an astounding 58 different data broker lists,  

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and is working on removing me from even  more without me having to lift a finger.

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They then keep up with the pressure to keep  your data out of their hands permanently.  

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If you want to check them out, you can get a  massive 60% discount off Incogni’s annual plan  

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by going to www.incogni.com/realengineering,  or by following the link in the description.

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Related Tags
GameboyHistoryNintendoEngineeringPortableGamingCulturalImpactInnovationStoryTechnologyLimitationsBatteryEfficiencyMemoryManagementGameDevelopmentNostalgiaInducing