The Nintendo DS is heavily hacked through the use of extension cards so called linkers. With these cards, it is possible to play any “ROM” game available. Officially, these linkers are only to allow playing backups rather than the original game. A linker may store several games. Nevertheless, the ROMs of every published games are widely available on the Internet. Interestingly, these linkers do not require any modification of the host console. This is not the case for instance for Nintendo Wii’s hacks that require hardware modifications
Interestingly, Final Fantasy: Cristal Chronicles had a strange behavior when used with some linkers. After 20 minutes, the DS displayed the screen “Thank you for playing” and stopped the game. Only the most widely sold linkers (i.e. M3 and R4) were affected. Linkers using other technologies such as Cycloid or Sunny Flash were not affected.
On the forums, the debate was raging. Two schools were fighting. Some people claimed that it was a bug of the linker. This type of linkers patches the ROM. Some people claimed that it was a new copy protection scheme designed by Nintendo that targeted the two main linkers. The favor was for the second hypothesis. A bug that nicely ends up with a greeting screen is highly unlikely. Whoow I would have dreamed of such nice bugs when I wrote software ;-).
The first response from the linkers’ provider was to distribute a clean patched ROM for Cristal Chronicles. It took them several days. The second riposte was to issue a new release (1.17) of the firmware that solved the problem. It took them several weeks.
It seems that it was a nice strike from Nintendo. Of course, hackers won at the end (this is law 1). Nevertheless, the story raises interesting thoughts and question:
1- The way to counter the linkers was elegant and smart. Rather than stopping brutally the game, it allows to play sometimes as a teaser. This frustrates dishonest users (especially if the game is a good one). Nintendo already used this strategy with the game boy.
2- NINTENDO gained several weeks which is sufficient in the game industry. Most of the sales of a game are performed during the few weeks following the launch. It would be interesting to see if there was a visible impact on the sales (for instance a bounce once the news spread in the forums)?
3- Will NINTENDO be able to reproduce this strike with other games? Like the foreseen strategy of BD+.