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Game Boy Advance

The Game Boy Advance is a best-selling handheld.
The Game Boy Advance is a best-selling handheld.

The Game Boy Advance (GBA) is a handheld video game console developed, manufactured and marketed by Nintendo. It is one of the latest in the Game Boy series of consoles, and the successor to the popular Game Boy Color. It was released in Japan on March 21, 2001, in North America on June 11, 2001, and in Europe on June 22, 2001.



The Game Boy Advance is backwards compatible with most games previously released for the Game Boy or the Game Boy Color, as well as new software developed to take advantage of the new technical capabilities of the system. It has hardware support for simple 2D operations using graphical elements called sprites. It can scale, rotate, sum-blend, and alpha-blend sprites against a background (with one alpha value for the whole screen, not the alpha-blending of image edges you see in the PNG format), and it can change the scaling and rotation of sprites and the background on each scanline to give a pseudo-3D effect.

The GBA has a custom 32-bit 16.8-MHz ARM processor based on a RISC architecture, which is much more compatible with the C programming language than the 8-bit Z80 compatible processor used in older Game Boy models. The ARM processor can run both 32-bit ARM and 16-bit "Thumb" instruction set encodings. The system also contains an 8.4-MHz Z80 compatible processor to provide support for legacy GB software; however, both processors cannot be active at the same time.

The LCD is capable of a maximum of 240×160 pixels in 15-bit color (32,768 colors). This display includes more pixels than Game Boy's 160×144; when playing legacy games, the user can press the "L" or "R" button to switch the display between 160×144 with a black border and scaling to 240×144 pixels. Early games had very dark color palettes because the display in the development kits was much brighter than the one in the production units; the production display has a gamma value of 4. Newer titles use gamma correction in their palettes.

If the color LCD has a fault, it is the fact that the Game Boy Advance is lit by ambient light. Users quickly learned to tilt the device to take advantage of window or overhead illumination. An aftermarket internal lighting kit known as the Afterburner was briefly popular before the introduction of the Game Boy Advance SP, and influenced the development of the new model.

Close-up of Game Boy Advance
Close-up of Game Boy Advance

The GBA's picture generator has six display modes (three tiled and three bitmap) and 96 KB of dedicated RAM. In tiled display modes, the system can manage four pixel-to-pixel layers, two pixel-to-pixel layers and one affine layer, or two affine layers, and it uses 64 KB of RAM for tile and map data and 32 KB for sprite cel data. In bitmap modes, it can display one large 16-bit bitmap, two 8-bit bitmaps (with page flipping), or one small 16-bit bitmap (with page flipping), and it uses 80 KB of RAM for tile and map data and 16 KiB for sprite cel data. In all modes, it can show up to 128 sprites (individually controllable small moving objects) of 8×8 up to 64×64 pixels in either 4-bit or 8-bit indexed color. Each sprite can be drawn using either direct pixel mapping or affine mapping; it's possible to fit more direct sprites on a scanline.

The interface from the GBA unit to the ROM cartridge includes only a 24-bit address bus multiplexed with a 16-bit data bus. (Mattel's Intellivision console had previously used a multiplexed bus.) This setup limits the directly addressable memory to 16 binary megawords (that is, 256 binary megabits or 32 binary megabytes), but bankswitching hardware on the cartridge can extend this by controlling the ROM's upper address lines from software, effectively switching other parts of the ROM into the GBA's address space. Still, as of 2003, no published GBA titles have such bankswitching hardware because 32 MiB of ROM is still too expensive for the price point at which most GBA games are sold.

The GBA also has a serial port for connecting to other GBA units in a setup similar to a token ring network over a bus physical topology. A GBA can also receive up to 256 KiB of bootstrap code through the port, even when no cartridge is present (sometimes known as multiboot or netboot). This is used for multiplayer GBA connections, where multiple GBAs can play with only one cartridge; one GBA with a cartridge sends boot code to the other cartridge-less GBAs. The serial port can (with a suitable cable) also connect to a standard RS-232 serial port for debugging purposes and (hypothetically) Internet play, although a TCP/IP stack has yet to be implemented in a GBA game.

To link GBA games, a GBA link cable is required. To link regular GB or GB Color games, the older GB link cable is required, even if you're using two GBAs.

A wireless adapter was released on September 7, 2004 in the U.S. It allows GBAs to be linked without cords, and with more than four players at a time. It came bundled with Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen. However, a game has to be designed with the wireless adapter in mind, and there are only a few such games. list

The GBA is powered by two AA batteries which give about 15 hours of play time, as well as an optional power supply that plugs directly into the GBA's battery bracket.

By early 2002, hardware became readily available for moving user code onto GBA hardware. For example, in December 2001, a flash memory cartridge plus writing hardware could be had for less than $200 U.S., and a $50 device emulates a netbooting master. By April 2003, the prices had come down to under $100 for the flash cartridge and writer and $30 for the boot cable. Because of this, a homebrew software development community has sprung up; see ( Nintendo, however, has a history of viewing such devices as piracy tools, since they can be used to copy cartridges containing copyrighted software. In February of 2002, Nintendo began sending threatening letters to some United States resellers of such devices. Previous lawsuits had banned the importation of similar devices for the 8-bit Game Boy.

Game Boy Advance SP

Main article: Game Boy Advance SP

In early 2003, Nintendo upgraded the Game Boy Advance giving it an internal light that can be turned on or off, a rechargeable lithium ion battery, as well as a folding case approximately half the size of the GBA. It was designed to address some common complaints with the original GBA.

Game Boy Player

Main article: Game Boy Player

In mid-2003, Nintendo released the Game Boy Player, which allows Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games to be played on the Nintendo GameCube (GCN). It uses the same color palette as built into the cart. The unit connects to the bottom of the GameCube.


The Game Boy Advance has become the modern flagship of sprite based games. With hardware superior to the Super Nintendo it has proven that sprite based technology could improve and live side by side with the 3D games of today's consoles. The Game Boy Advance not only has your typical platformers, but also a huge collection of SNES style RPGs. It has also become a popular system for old school gamers due to the increasing amount of games ported from various 8-bit and 16-bit systems of the previous era. Through the use of flash cartridges and emulators the Game Boy Advance can even play NES and PC Engine games, as well as AGI based Sierra On-Line PC adventure games. This has emptied the storage rooms of many old school gamers who have been holding on to piles of aging game hardware.

Standout original titles include:


See also

External links

Last updated: 05-07-2005 16:46:04
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04