Imagine being able to create a game that you can run on both the Playstation 3, Playstation 4 and Xbox One, using the exact same source and the exact same disc – without requiring your players to do any trickery such as jailbreaking or modifying their consoles. And also without having to go through a voting or approval process in order to publish your game. Sounds a little bit too far fetched, doesn’t it? Yes it does – but it’s actually true!
“Wott?!?! How?! How is this possible???”, you might ask.
It’s very simple: Use JavaME!
All of those 3 gaming consoles features a Blu-ray player, and Blu-ray players has been able to run Java ever since the very first one was released back in April 2003. Being able to run Java is a requirement of the Blu-ray specification. It’s called “Blu-ray Disc Java” and is abbreviated “BD-J”.
While this technology is mostly used to code cool menu interfaces for Blu-ray movies, it was also designed to be used for games – and is therefor quite capable as a game-platform.
Unfortunately BD-J never really caught on as a game-platform though. Only two titles were ever created as pure BD-J games (as far as I know): “Dragon’s Lair” and “Space Ace”.
The list of supplemental BD-J games for Blu-ray movies is also rather short. “Bolt” had “Bolt’s Be-Awesome Mission”. “Ratatouille” had “Gusteau’s Gourmet Game”. “Pirates of the Caribbean” had “Liar’s Game”. While those games are all great examples of what you can do with BD-J, it’s just a very short list, isn’t it?
There was a lot of developer interest in BD-J back in 2008-2010, but it seemed to die suddenly for unknown reasons. Forums got archived and a lot of the links you can find are dead now.
So I think it’s safe to say that BD-J never became a hit, neither with game-developers nor with the gamers. And having personally tried playing “Bolt’s Be-Awesome Mission”, I am convinced that the main reason for this failure has everything to do with the games being targeted movie-watchers rather than gamers. Because movie-watchers use a normal Blu-ray player, which means lousy remote controls instead of an actual gamepad, and that makes the games very difficult to play. It would probably have helped a bit if the controls in the games had been re-definable, so that a gamepad could have been used instead, but no such luck.
Since the PS3, PS4 and XB1 all feature a Blu-ray player, developers could easily choose to target these platforms instead of standard Blu-ray players, and thus eliminate the downside of the remote control. As a bonus, we also get a much faster CPU on these consoles. Adding those things up, we end up with a rather wide target group of gamers, fast platforms, good controls, plenty of features, in short; everything you need to create a good homebrew game.
Considering how long these gaming-consoles has been on the market though, you must be wondering why then haven’t we ever heard of any homebrew BD-J games. And that is indeed a good question. I think it’s mainly because of two issues:
1) The 1st problem is that there’s still a widely accepted misconception about BD-J that you can’t really do anything with it. During my research, I’ve stumbled across statements like: “You can’t use audio” and “You can only use 2 action buttons on the PS3 gamepad“, and “There’s no button-hold functionality“. But there’s just no truth to any of those statements. Also, when I mention BD-J on various forums and chatrooms, I’m often met with “Why would anyone wanna do BD-J dev? You can’t do anything with it!“. And I very much disagree with that.
2) The 2nd problem is that BD-J games never had any branding of its own. Something to set apart BD-J games from the rest of the content on the Blu-ray disc. Or just something to emphasize that the disc contained a game for this platform. Instead, BD-J games were kind of hidden in plain sight. Nothing on the “Dragon’s Lair” disc or cover indicated anything about the technology that was used. It just said “Dragon’s Lair (Blu-ray) For PS3” – which kinda indirectly says “Nothing to see here folks, move along”.
This “secrecy” also appears to have had another stupid consequence: A surprisingly big group of people today are convinced that BD-J is all about hacking and exploits – and any attempt at explaining real world facts to this group just fails. So the misconception about BD-J is somewhat of a multidimensional entanglement, all inevitably resulting in a complete lack of interest with both game-devs and gamers.
To address the 1st problem, I will release a simple proof-of-concept game soon called “Ukko’s Journey”, to demonstrate that it’s absolutely possible to create a decent homebrew game with BD-J with lots of various functionality, and run it on all three gaming consoles using the same ISO/disc. Xbox One owners can simply burn the ISO onto a DVD. PS3/PS4 owners need to use a BD-R though.
The game will demonstrate 50+ fps on all 3 consoles, ingame music + sound-effects, remembering settings between disc-ejects, 11 buttons on the gamepad usable, internet uploads/downloads of highscores to UkkosJourney.com, and finally; installing the JavaME MIDP version of the game onto your JavaME enabled phone from the disc via Wi-Fi.
That ought to be a decent first demonstration.
To address the 2nd problem, I think it’s pretty clear, that if BD-J homebrew is to become interesting for both game-devs and gamers, then it needs a new label and logo. So I have gone ahead and invented a clever one (if I should say so myself): “Blu-Play“.
I trust I don’t have to explain it to anyone? This label should be described as “Small-scale homebrew games you can play on PS3+PS4+XB1 out-of-the-box” by news-writers.
“Ukko’s Journey” will be released as the first Blu-Play game to demonstrate Blu-Play to both gamers and game-devs, hopefully breathing new life into BD-J development and resulting in a lot more homebrew games for these gaming consoles.
I have written this post because I’d love to see more interest in Java homebrew game-development targeting these consoles. (As a Java coder, I also think it’s kinda cool to “show off” Java in this way). BD-J is obviously limited compared to native stuff, but having provided music to indie game-developers for about a decade now, I have yet to see a homebrew game that couldn’t have been made as a BD-J release.
So what do you say? Any JavaME developers out there finding this intriguing?
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