(Note: If you already know what homebrew is and just want to learn how to install it, check out my step-by-step guide.)
Finally, I have explored the mysterious world of Wii Homebrew, in which devoted hackers have created a system that allows gamers to install software such as console emulators and media players onto their Wiis. It may void your warranty and will quite possibly confuse and aggravate you, but it will also open up a world of new Wii possibilities.
What on Earth is Homebrew?
Homebrew refers to the ability to run software on the Wii that is not licensed or sanctioned by Nintendo. This includes homemade games, game engines that can run old PC games and applications that do things like play DVDs through your Wii or use the balance board as a scale. You can even back up your Wii settings and save games to an SD card and restore them in the event your Wii goes bad.
The software to do all this is free, although some shady operators package and sell these free tools. Don’t buy anything; just read my step-by-step guide and do it yourself.
Nintendo doesn’t want you to use Homebrew. Like a lot of big corporations, they want control over everything you do with the machine you bought from them. But hackers, people who consider every bit of technology a puzzle to be solved, have, just for the fun of it, exploited little quirks in the Wii operating system to create this alternate world of free software.
How is the Wii Hacked for Homebrew
Hackers look for hidden passages into the heart of a machine, and the first secret door found in the Wii was the Twilight Hack, which used an oddity in the game The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to allow users to install homebrew software.
Nintendo periodically releases software updates for the Wii – if your Wii is online you’ll be notified when a new update is available – and one of these updates closed the secret Twilight Princess door. By the time I heard of the “Twilight Hack,” I had updated my Wii and couldn’t use it.
Recently I learned of a new hack called Bannerbomb. Unlike the Twilight Hack, Bannerbomb does not use a game to open up the Wii, but rather uses the console’s own operating system. Bannerbomb opens up a hidden passage through which a program called the HackMii Installer can install the Homebrew Channel, an interface through which you can use Homebrew applications. HackMii also installs DVDx, which unlocks the capability of the Wii to read DVDs (one of the mysteries of the Wii is why Nintendo hasn’t implemented a capability built into the hardware).
Put Bannerbomb and the Hackmii Installer on an SD Card and you can soon have your own Homebrew Channel. This shows up in your main Wii menu like every other channel, and entering it will let you run homebrew software.
My Experience with Homebrew
After installing the Homebrew Channel by putting Bannerbomb and the Hackmii Installer on an SD Card, putting that in my Wii and following the instructions on the Bannerbomb site, I would up with a screen showing bubbles continually floating upward. Needless to say, I was confused.
Bannerbomb doesn’t explain this, but you also need to put applications on that SD Card in a folder called /apps. First I downloaded the Homebrew Browser, which allows you to browse a list of homebrew games and software and download them directly to your Wii from the Internet. I had a lot of problems with HBB at first, but after I submitted a bug report I was told to try reformatting my SD disk, and after that it worked just fine, making installing new homebrew software as simple as choosing it from a list and clicking "download." (Without HBB you have to copy software from your PC to your SD card to install it.)
Next I installed SCUMMVM, which lets you play old LucasArts point and click adventure games on the Wii. To do this, you need to copy the original game files to the SD card or a USB drive, so you need to already own the PC game itself. There are a few games you can download for free from the SCUMMVM web site, including Beneath a Steel Sky (from the folks who went on to make the Broken Sword series) and Flight of the Amazon Queen.
There are other old games you can play, including Doom and Quake (once again you need the original games, but you can also play the original freeware demos), and emulators for the Genesis, SNES, Playstation and other consoles.
Besides games, there are Homebrew applications such as an FTP server, MP3 players, a metronome and, of course, Linux and Unix shells (because if there’s one thing all hackers love, it is Unix).
The application I found most useful was the media player MPlayer CE. I often download video from the internet and watch it through my TV via my Playstation 3. Unfortunately, the PS3 doesn’t support a lot of video formats, and sometimes I had to convert files before I could play them. When I switched the external hard drive with my videos from the PS3 to the Wii, I discovered it could play everything I had, making my hacked Wii a better multimedia player than either the PS3 or the Xbox 360.
Homebrew is not for everyone, requiring a higher degree of comfort with technology than many people have. But if you’re up to it, and if you would like to play freeware Wii games and do things on the Wii that Nintendo never intended to let you do, homebrew is a fascinating possibility.