Technological Expertise
HAL Laboratory: Company Profile Page 4

HAL Laboratory founded its company by creating both software and hardware. This foundation still exists today. And just as HAL was one of the very first to get access to Nintendo 64 hardware, it would also be one of the first to get access to Nintendo's next-generation hardware codenamed Dolphin. HAL Laboratory had several experiments in development. In particular, it was developing the Game Boy Advance e-Reader and the next-generation home console development kit Sysdolphin within its Yamanashi headquarters.

The e-Reader was a device created with the idea in mind that Pokemon Company president Tsunekazu Ishihara wished to store more information on Pokemon cards. He contacted HAL's president Masahito Tanimura who then promised he would create a solution. The e-Reader was born from this request. Work began on the project in top secret. Cost was a serious issue. What sort of technology could be included that would make the cards hold significant information but remain both durable and cheap? HAL contacted Olympus Optical Co., Ltd to assist with the technology and the result were paper cards with special bar codes that could be read by the e-Reader device. e-Reader cards are basically standard trading cards -- the same size and style -- but with one exception being a strip of bar codes. Up to two dot matrix codes can appear along the bottom or side of the card's face. These codes can contain up to 3,360 bytes of information. The e-Reader itself is a self-contained GBA cartridge with a small slot that can read these specially coded cards when swiped. The code is translated into information that the device and the Game Boy Advance can understand, turning it into graphic, sound, animation, text, or game data. This gives players the opportunity to not only play mini-games on their Game Boy Advance but also upgrade or enhance games that feature e-Reader functionality.

Just as HAL Laboratory was one of the first developers to toy with the Nintendo 64 and create a development kit called the sys64, so too would HAL work closely with Nintendo's next-generation console codenamed Project Dolphin (also known as GameCube). The sysdolphin development tool was developed in order to produce game software efficiently. Developed in secret, the aim was to produce working development-kits for developers before Nintendo had done so themselves. The impressive Space World 2000 "Meowth's Party" technical demo was created using the sysdolphin development environment. The real-time demonstration clearly displayed the shadow and particle effects available on the GameCube. It took the Yamanashi studio about three weeks to create. Sysdolphin 1.0 was eventually released in April 2001. The kits were immediately distributed to interested GameCube developers via Nintendo. Nintendo of Japan "highly recommends" the kit for those projects on a tight deadline.

Although Meowth's Party never materialized into a game, the sysdolphin development kit allowed HAL Laboratory to create unarguably the best Nintendo GameCube game and perhaps even best game released to date -- Super Smash Bros. Melee. The title is the best-selling GameCube game ever, having sold over 4 million copies worldwide. The game featured an all-star cast of Nintendo characters -- from the more obscure Mr. Game & Watch and Ice Climbers to the widely recognized Link and Super Mario. Displayed in its opening intro, it was even one of the first Nintendo games to feature FMV. This sequel is filled with options galore -- boasting twice the character roster, twice the arenas, a variety of new single and multiplayer modes, an orchestrated soundtrack, custom name entry, statistic saves, and mini games. It also contains a nostalgic trophy catalogue consisting of several hundred trophies from Nintendo games past and present that the player can collect.

What's most interesting about this game is the fact that it appealed to both gamers and non-gamers. It had a multiplayer mode that made simple use of the GameCube controller -- no silly combos to perform a single move such as hold A + B then slide and hold Z + X and then tap Y two times. Nope, instead, the game can be played with a minimal amount of buttons. This means even the most casual gamer can pick up a controller and be successful. Despite this, the game still holds enough depth that even the most hardcore gamer can receive satisfaction. You've no doubt come to realize this fact if you've ever played against an expert Smash Bros. player -- seeing how they effortlessly dodge, use items and throw punches like a magician performing a card trick.

HAL tried to replicate this formula of appealing to all players for its next release however it was for the most part unsuccessful. HAL took the shelved project Kirby Air Ride for the Nintendo 64 and reworked it for release on the Nintendo GameCube in July 2003. The title sold a little more than 500,000 copies worldwide. Although the game featured the same wide variety of options and easy pick-up-and-play gameplay, many cite that the lack of success compared to the Smash Bros. franchise is primarily due to the Kirby character itself simply not holding an appeal to the general market.

Unfortunately, HAL's output has since been somewhat minimal. The company has released two Kirby titles on the Game Boy Advance however two other original properties, a strategy game called Battland and an RPG called Luna Blaze were cancelled. Its now become a deep fear of many that HAL will be stuck only creating titles based on the Smash Bros. and Kirby franchises. HAL most recently released Kirby Canvas Curse for the Nintendo DS and is in development with Kirby Adventure for the GameCube.