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Wednesday, February 4: Trick Out Game Boy and Game Boy Advance

Roger Chang

Nintendo's Game Boy and Game Boy Advance represent the pinnacle of handheld video-gaming for many people. They're small and portable, and they sport a relatively long battery life and great games. Thanks to a collection of ambitious programmers and enthusiasts, you can now do more than just play games on the Game Boy. Would you believe you can read books, paint pictures, and even play games created by fans? It's all possible.

Cost

Currently the only way to load software into the Game Boy or Game Boy Advance is via the cartridge slot. Although the software you need is free, the hardware that lets this all happen is not. You'll need a specialized reprogrammable cartridge, and, yes, this miracle of Game Boy innovation comes at a price. What's the rub? About $150.

The Flash Advance Linker is the best-known cartridge, but several similar products are available, including the EZ-Flash that I used.

Is It Legal?

There's a running debate on the legality of these products, mainly because they're advertised as a way to "back up" GBA games. However, Flash Advance Linker also includes the phrase "development device" in its description.

I'm under no illusion. I'm sure piracy is committed under the banner of fair use. But I'm also excited about good, free, and useful apps created by dedicated enthusiasts. In any case, the law is at issue.

How Does It Work?

  1. After you purchase one of these flashable game cartridges, install the flashing software and cartridge cradle on your PC.

  2. Obtain some Game Boy Advance ROM images. A ROM is a copy of the software usually located in a ROM (read-only memory) device, such as a video game cartridge. In this case, it's the software you want to load onto the flashable cartridge in a GBA-compatible format.

  3. To find ROMs, do a search for PD or public domain ROMs on Google. PD ROMs are free, easy to find, and, most important, legal.

  4. When you have the ROMs, launch the flashing application and insert the flash cartridge into the cradle. The application should list the contents of the cartridge. If it's new, there should be nothing on it.

  5. Load a boot loader image. This lets the GBA "know" what to do with the cartridge. You can find the boot loader image on the driver disk that accompanied the cartridge. Then click Burn to store the image on the cartridge.

  6. Follow the same process for each ROM that you want to load. To delete a ROM, remove the item from the list in the flash app.

GameBoy Book Reader (http://www.mqp.com), a nifty little application, lets you turn any text into a self-contained e-book that can be read on your GBA. The e-book is rendered out into a GBA ROM file. Install it as you would any other GBA ROM.

  1. Run the MakeBook software.

  2. Open a text file or document.

  3. Select where you want chapter points, title, and author descriptions.

That's it. You now have a handheld gaming device capable of much more than playing games.

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