Back in (Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Has it really been that long?!) 1999, a company called ‘Bung Enterprises‘ held their 2nd competition aimed at amateur coders. They produced, among other things, an add-on peripheral for the Nintendo Gameboy & Nintendo Gameboy Color called the ‘GB Xchanger’. It allowed you to back-up games you owned (and, what Nintendo shut them down for – games you didn’t). It also let you execute your own code on the machine, opening up a rather lovely GB/GBC homebrew scene. I don’t consider myself a programmer really but I did enjoy tinkering with the GBC and the basics seemed within my reach so I decided to enter the competition.
Here’s a link someone has archived of the Bung’s competition rules.
Obviously, I wasn’t up for producing a mind-blowing epic so in the end I settled on trying to recreate a very simple game called ‘Skoardy’ I’d written during my time at school sometime around (Holy crap!) 1988 using the BBC Micros they had in the computer department. I’ve always been a fan of computer games so faffing around with BASIC during breaks and lunchtimes eventually led to me creating something to show-off to my mates. I can’t remember a great deal about it (though I do recall later versions had a level editor) and though I doubt it was much to write home about, I was proud of it at the time.
Skoardy was a very straightforward maze game. Strangely enough, even though the red-faced icon of this site has adopted the name Skoardy, that’s not where the word comes from. It was initially to do with the rather daft plot. You see, you were a hapless recruit of a science experiment, field testing a new nuclear powered skateboard. There. I told you it was daft. Skoardy actually comes from the codename of the project – SKatebOARD version Y (suggesting that versions A through X were complete and probably lethal failures).
There’s ten test zones that the scientists want you to get through but the problems start when you realise that you can’t stop the damn skateboard and your only control extends to turning it. Worse still, colliding with a wall will cause it to explode! Luckily, at the end of the ten test zones is an area where you can be safely removed from the board without decimating all life within a 1km radius. Complicating things, the rather forgetful scientists have left sample pots around the test zone that they insist you collect before they let you exit.
Coding for the Gameboy Color version was written in C using the ‘Gameboy Developers Kit’ from Michael Hope. As mentioned, my programming talents aren’t really up to snuff so as a consequence, there were a few things I was unable to figure out by the deadline of the competition. I didn’t get around to bank switching so had to wedge all the code and graphics in – even going so far as removing and simplifying graphics I’d already created just so they all fit. Originally, I’d planned to have more than just 10 levels and you might also notice that there’s a only-lower-case font in the game. Rather than being a design choice, including uppercase would have used space I couldn’t afford. Sound and music also fell by the wayside due to the space problem so the entire game is silent.
Speaking of graphics, the Gameboy Color had a 160×144 screen and each 8×8 tile uses a four colour palette, so if you wanted have screen that has a bit of variation (such as the game-over screen), you needed a bit of preparation, a bit of fudging of the boundaries and several over-lapping palettes.
I didn’t win. Didn’t even place in 2nd or 3rd but I wasn’t really expecting to anyway. I’d been following the GBC homebrew scene for a while and knew there were some talented programmers in there who had figured out all that pesky utterly-basic-groundfloor-level bank-switching gubbins without batting an eyelid so my chances were slim. I was surprised by the results though. Seems Bung were so happy with the entries they had received that they introduced another section called the ‘Outstanding Award’. This is where I placed and won two Pocket Voices (Digital Voice Recorder add-ons for the GBC) and a 64MB GB Xchanger Memory Card.
Here’s a link to the competition results. You can see my entry in the bottom-left corner of the Outstanding Award section.
If you’re interested in trying my little homebrew game yourself, you can download the Skoardy GBC rom, here. As to emulators, you’ll have to find one for yourself. I used the Java GB emulator to collect these screenshots but I’m sure you’ll have personal favourite that’ll run on whatever hardware you own.