Gaming History 101

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Homebrew

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It started predominantly with the Dreamcast, but for as long as consoles have been around “homebrew” make an appearance in one form or another.  Nowadays it’s not uncommon to find a myriad of independently developed applications and games for consoles.  Mind you, it does require you to hack your console – and these days that’s no simple feat and usually carries with it the risk of bricking¹.  Once complete, a modded console with working homebrew can greatly improve the capabilities of your device – certain Wiis, for example, can play DVDs and MP3s as a virtual media machine that even accepts external hard drives via USB.  There are plenty of dark sides to homebrew as well, including the inevitable piracy debate, and in some consoles the homebrew scene is almost laughable.  This article will discuss what homebrew is, why it has been beneficial and the legalese dance any homebrew user must take.

Basement Beer

I couldn’t find any direct correlation between the two, but most likely the name “homebrew” comes from the culture of brewing alcohol in one’s home that began wide popularity after it was made legal in most countries in the 1970s.  Independent “brewers” would create wine, beer or grain alcohols in their homes using various materials and methods.  It was said by these homebrewers that unique flavors were created via methods not possible in major distillers and breweries.  Much like these basement libations, the homebrew scene on video game consoles stems from a similar background.

Homebrew is defined as a program or game created for specific hardware (the specifications of the home console they are developed for) by the community.  In many cases these games are not authorized or licensed by the manufacturer of the console and at times aren’t even legal due to the use of protected materials and copyrights.  It is possible to have legal software created on a development kit and authorized by manufacturers, but this is rare and has only seen mainstream success via Microsoft’s XNA program.  From my experience homebrew either helps the pirating community open up the capabilities for a console to emulate games that never came to them, college students to get the most out of their device (the aforementioned turning a Wii into a DVD player) and hardcore fans of a dead console creating new and sometimes impressive games.

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Written by Fred Rojas

January 17, 2012 at 12:08 pm