Fans of Nintendo Wii and DS games may still have a haven for their online favorites.
Shortly after revealing plans to bring Nintendo DS games to the Wii U Virtual Console in January, Nintendo announced it would pull the plug on the DS and Wii Wi-Fi Connection services on May 20. The global termination affected 20 Nintendo-published Wii and WiiWare games as well as 40 DS games.
Nintendo DS, DSi and Wii can no longer access online features including gameplay modes, matchmaking and leaderboards. However, the Wii Shop Channel and DSi Shop remain unaffected, as do browsers on the DS and DSi, the Wii's Delivery Channel, Internet Channel and the YouTube and Hulu apps. This termination also affects Nintendo DS games played on the Nintendo 3DS and Wii games played in the Wii U's Wii Mode.
However, a dedicated group has stepped up to create a space for DS and Wii game-lovers to keep playing their favorite games online: a homebrew server.
Who is making them?
Programmer Michael Lelli, a full-time software engineer for an automotive company, is one of the people spearheading the effort to save Nintendo Wi-Fi for the Wii and DS. The day Nintendo announced the shutdown, he immediately went heads-down on finding a way to keep the service alive.
"I've been following another online service revival for the Resident Evil: Outbreak games and a lot of work was done for those," Lelli explained to Polygon. "However, because the U.S. versions of those games use a different network that never got analyzed in time before shutdown, the people running that server admitted that the U.S. version will probably never be supported.
"I didn't want that to happen to literally every DS and Wii game so I went to work recording data from as many games as I could, and trying to get others to help," he added.
Brenton, a full-time computer programming student, was already looking to build his own server emulator as a way to self-teach network programming tricks.
"I'd been kicking around the idea of writing a server emulator for Tetris DS as a way to learn more about network programming," he said. "When I heard the news that the DS and Wii servers would be shutting down I figured it was now or never, so gave it a shot during my spring break. My original goal was only to get Tetris DS working, but it eventually turned into a general DS and then also a Wii server project due to the way the online features work on those consoles."
The server itself was donated by one of the homebrew channel's contributors and costs $50 a year to run. The main developer behind the server's framework is a programmer going by the name of "Nagato." Lelli and Brenton have been assisting with building the server, adding new features and bug-fixing while a handful of contributors add support for and test specific games. The online channels are still under heavy development, and Lelli cautioned players looking to tune in as soon as possible that everything is still very much a work in progress.
What are they and how do they work?
Homebrew online channels and servers are set up by an individual or a group on a dedicated server for the channel with custom-built software to handle the games. The Wii and DS channel, for example, is custom built in the Python script, but this can be done in any programming language.
As for how they work, the games themselves do all the heavy lifting while the server provides a home base for logging in, matchmaking, friends list, tracking game statistics and other online functionality.
Once party matches are made, special network signals are sent out to all participating players and negotiates the connection between them. Once connected, game data is exchanged. Throughout playtime the server will send "heartbeat" signals — as Lelli calls them — to all parties to make sure they are still connected. Other than these brief signals, the server itself doesn't know anything else about the game being played.
How do I get them?
To set up the homebrew server on your DS, you will need a ROM of the game you want to play. Players can download a special program and drag and drop the ROM file into it to generate an Action Replay code or install a special patcher that will modify the ROM file to be compatible with the channel. Players will also need a flashcard to run the ROM.
Once the ROM is modified, players must access the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection Setup menu through an online-enabled game — not through System Settings. From here, under the Options menu, players must choose to "Erase Nintendo WFC Configuration," which will allow them to make a new friend code on the homebrew server for use with all DS games. Users only have to do this once per handheld.
From here, set up a new wireless access point connection, set "Auto-obtain DNS" to "No" and insert the homebrew server's IP address into both the Primary and Secondary DNS fields — the IP address is available here. The "Auto-obtain IP" option can be left on "Yes." Upon saving, users should be able to access the homebrew server through the DS.
For the Wii channel, users will need a homebrew-capable Wii or Wii U console with the Homebrew Channel installed in order to access the server and delete any previous save files for games that will need to access it. Go to Internet settings and choose the currently-in-use connection, then set "Auto-obtain DNS" to "No." From here, insert the server's IP address in the Primary and Second DNS fields and save.
At this point, the Wii will run a connection test, which will fail. This is supposed to happen. Users must then install an offline network enabler homebrew app to the storage device the Wii is using and run it through the Homebrew Channel, as well as install a software called BrainSlug that will ensure games can run. Once these two items are installed, games can be played online through the homebrew server.
Players who are using a USB loader for storage can hold off on using BrainSlug and must install a program called the Ocarina Code.
Brenton noted that group behind the homebrew server ultimately wants to make it as easy as possible to connect and play the affected Wii and DS games. Players will need to hack their console in some way, as noted above. None of the mentioned methods for the DS will affect the console from functioning, but Lelli cautioned players installing the Homebrew Channel on the Wii to make sure they follow the steps exactly so they don't brick the console.
How is the server doing now?
While it's still unclear how big of a load the server can handle — most its current users are technical bug-testers and contributors — Lelli said things are running smoothly. There are still some bugs in the software to hammer out, but according developers the server should be able to handle hundreds of concurrent connections at once, maybe more.
As for Nintendo's involvement, developers said they were unsure if the company was aware of the homebrew server. Polygon reached out to Nintendo for comment, but received no response.
In Nintendo's shutdown, 40 DS games and 20 Wii games lost their online components. So far, the homebrew server has managed to get things going again for 10 Wii games and 25 DS games at the time of writing. That's at least half of each, but the group acknowledges that they still have a long way to go to bring in the remaining titles.
"Most games that only use the bare minimum of the Wi-Fi Connection network are already supported," Lelli explained. "Many others have custom servers that need to be added, and we hope to add as many as possible. Right now we're working on getting Wii games to work better, with Mario Kart Wii and Super Smash Bros. Brawl being popular games. Another developer is working on features for Pokemon games."
Despite moving into the next console generation, where frame rates and pixels and a hunger for new experiences dictate the landscape, the stewards of the homebrew server believe enough people out there want to hold onto the Wii and DS connections. Many of these games are still popular, with some like the Pokemon games and Super Smash Bros. Brawl drawing crowds up until the very end.
"The project has since grown to be much more than what I envisioned and I am grateful to have people who are willing to dedicate their time and skill to helping out in whatever ways they can," Brenton said. "I'm happy with what has been accomplished which is enough to make me feel like my time and energy has been put to good use."