Back when the Game Boy was released in 1989, the internet was just being invented, as the web wouldn’t become widely used until the mid-1990s. Since then, the gaming industry has come a long way and so has the internet, with the two becoming more entwined than ever before. Many modern games are inherently linked to the internet, and wouldn’t exist without the connectivity it provides. With that said, what happens when we apply the modern philosophy of internet use to retro gaming hardware? Can internet connectivity improve even the most tried and true retro systems? Accomplishing a remarkable fusion of technology old and new, one man has brought the internet to the original Game Boy in search of answers.
"While a Wi-Fi enabled Game Boy cartridge sounds like something that could only be concocted by a diehard gamer, it's actually the work of German physicist and hobbyist inventor, Sebastian Staacks."
The History of the Wi-Fi Game Boy Cartridge
While a Wi-Fi enabled Game Boy cartridge sounds like something that could only be concocted by a diehard gamer, it’s actually the work of German physicist and hobbyist inventor, Sebastian Staacks. For him, the unique Game Boy cartridge was just another offbeat idea that sounded fun enough to pursue. After stumbling across his old Game Boy handheld in his parent’s attic, he became nostalgic about the magic of the game cartridge and set out with a goal to create his own. However, instead of whipping up a homebrew game, he wanted to make a Game Boy cartridge that could connect to the internet.
The Wi-Fi Game Boy cartridge is honestly a bit of technical wizardry in itself, and to create it, there were significant programming leaps that Staacks needed to make. The internet connection comes from the ESP8266 microcontroller, but of course, there are compatibility problems with the old Game Boy hardware. To help things run smoother, some computing processes are offloaded to an EEPROM, which provides additional memory. It’s incredibly complex and wildly impressive, and if you want to know more specifics, we highly recommend you check out Sebastian’s in-depth explanation video.
The Functions and Features of the Wi-Fi Game Boy Cartridge
Having the internet on the Game Boy is interesting and all, but what exactly does the Wi-Fi Game Boy cartridge do? In the first version, the cartridge can connect to your home network and feed you Wikipedia articles, with an on-screen keyboard for inputting the target web page. It might not sound like much, but the concept of reading Wikipedia articles on a piece of hardware that was created before the advent of e-mail is pure nerd bliss. Admittedly, the Wi-Fi Game Boy cartridge doesn’t have much practical use, but it’s a phenomenal showcase of electronic ingenuity.
However, Sebastian found the project so enjoyable that he continued developing new features, with the Wi-Fi Game Boy cartridge now supporting live-streamed video. This is perhaps the most mind-blowing invention of the bunch, as the Game Boy display cannot properly render full-screen video, and a workaround needed to be developed. Additional tweaks have also been made to allow the Game Boy to act as a remote controller, streaming PC games directly to the system via the cartridge. All of this is accomplished without any hardware modifications at all.
The Future of Wi-Fi on Game Boy
Currently, Sebastian has no future plans for the Wi-Fi Game Boy project, but he might return to the realm of retro gaming sometime soon. In the meantime, he hopes that his breakthroughs with the possibilities of Game Boy cartridges are picked up by the modding community. Applications for these new techniques will require some equally smart developers, but they open the door for homebrew games with remarkable visuals and other hardware-defying features. We’re always pleased to see projects spurred on by nostalgia for video games, and the Wi-Fi Game Boy cartridge is one of the most creative we’ve had the pleasure of showcasing.