Shining a light on Game Boy complaints

An engineering student at Iowa State University has gone on a crusade to add backlighting to the dim screen on the new Game Boy Advance.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
covers games and gadgets.
David Becker
3 min read
It didn't take long for Adam Curtis to get tired of twisting his neck to get a clear view of the screen on his Game Boy Advance.

But unlike the numerous others who consider the screen on Nintendo's new portable game player to be too dim, Curtis wasn't satisfied with the typical solution of outfitting the unit with an add-on light. Instead, the 22-year-old engineering student at Iowa State University in Ames has gone on a crusade to create a better, brighter Game Boy Advance.

Along with posting a petition asking Nintendo to reconsider its decision not to include an internal light in the portable powerhouse, Curtis' Web site includes a detailed history of his quest to find a way for him and fellow hardware hackers to install a light in the game player.

"It started out as a petition drive. And after two or three days, I decided I just wanted to go ahead and try to modify it myself," he said. "I didn?t have a lot of confidence in Nintendo to change their plans."

Nintendo representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the device, which was released last week in the United States.

Lighting has been an ongoing issue with the Game Boy since its introduction in 1989. None of the three models of the game machine--the original monochrome version, the subsequent Game Boy Color and the new Game Boy Advance--has included a backlight, a common feature in handheld computers and other devices to increase visibility in low-light conditions.

In the past, Nintendo has defended the design decision as necessary to prolong battery life. The Game Boy Advance runs up to 15 hours on a pair of AA batteries; the addition of a backlight would trim that to just four hours.

While the lighting question isn't new for Nintendo, the Game Boy Advance's screen has inspired numerous complaints from owners and reviewers. Contributing to the problem are the more reflective, high-resolution screen on the Game Boy Advance and adventure games such as "Castlevania," which has players exploring a dimly lit haunted house.

The solution for most has been to buy an add-on light from Nuby, Nyko or other accessory manufacturers. But that didn?t cut it for Curtis, who cites objections ranging from screen glare to aesthetic considerations.

"If you have to buy an external device that draws power, why didn?t Nintendo do it in the first place?" he said.

Instead, Curtis has been tinkering with his Game Boy Advance, looking for a way to cram a light into the compact unit. He has pretty much rejected normal backlighting as unworkable due to the design of the screen and is now exploring options for front- or side-mounted lights. His Web site--which has been intermittently available due to heavy traffic--will include detailed instructions once he discovers a hack that works.

But even if he finds a lighting approach that makes the screen look better, Curtis acknowledges there simply isn?t room inside the Game Boy Advance for a light.

"If we did this, the screen cover would have to extend somewhat," he said. "It won't be a real sexy modification."

Curtis said he's heard nothing from Nintendo so far, despite what he considers a pretty good case for including an internal light at least as an option.

"I respect Nintendo's decision, but I think a lot of people would have liked a choice," he said. "Even if it lasted four or five hours (on a pair of batteries), I think a lot of people would pay extra for a backlit version."