Last week a Kickstarter campaign was launched for Goodboy Galaxy, the Game Boy Advance’s first new commercial release in 13 years. A colorful 2D platformer with running, shooting, and a good boy who travels through space named Maxwell, it is a beautifully animated and incredibly impressive looking project coming to both Switch and PC alongside the genuine GBA release.
The campaign reached its funding goal in a matter of hours, and we recently reached out to developer Rik Nicol via email to learn a little more about game development, team influences, and what it’s like to make a GBA game on 2021. …
Nintendo Life: First of all, can you give us a little information about your development as a developer and how you started working at Goodboy Galaxy?
Rik Nikol: Jeremy [Clarke, developer and composer] and I met while working in a mobile game studio in the Netherlands. We both love to play games and make games, and we often improvised together: me as an artist and him on the code side. The first prototype version of Goodboy Galaxy was our Ludum Dare improv game “Goodboy Advance”. It was pretty basic, but it actually came together in the last few hours and ran on GBA, which was quite exciting and motivating.
What specifically attracted you to the GBA rather than, say, the SNES?
We think the GBA is one of the most fun and accessible handhelds to develop as it is a 32-bit console with lots of hardware features from the 8/16-bit era.
The restrictions are correct: you can use modern programming languages, so development is not a chore, but you still have to work with limited resources. There are still plenty of opportunities to experiment with old-school techniques such as the palette cycle and scan line scrolling effects.
What games had the most influence on you when you started developing Goodboy?
The fun character-based platformers were a huge inspiration for me. Crowtel renovations by SinksAdventure and Pikuniku (by Arnaud De Bock, Remi Forcadell, Alan Zucconi, Calum Bowen).
We decided to have the mini ‘missions’ based on how much we enjoyed that in Link’s Awakening, and Jeremy is a huge fan of Yoshi’s Island (he insisted I do a cave level with waterfalls like Yoshi). Like all game developers, we are also huge fans of Spelunky (by Derek Yu) and his thoughtful approach to game design. Sonic Advance 2 and 3 were also direct inspirations on how to perform some tricks with the funds.
What is the clearest technical limitation of working at GBA? Does it present opportunities for ingenuity and experimentation?
There are quite a few limitations that you never need to worry about on modern platforms. For example, we can only have 15 color palettes in use at a time, so we have to do careful management around which objects can share palettes and how many different things can be in the same area. There is also a limit to how many tiles we can have in use, which I am often struggling with.
There have also been some useful things – the way the GBA draws tile maps on the screen automatically wraps them up, which was great for us as it inspired the level adjustment mechanics.
In terms of the Switch and Steam versions, it has exceeded the extended goal of the ‘Enhanced Port’. How exactly will the enhanced version differ? (There’s also a GBA exclusive chapter now, we see!)
If we couldn’t raise enough funds, our plan was to directly emulate a modified version of the GBA rom, but now we can afford to make it a native port, so [it] It will fill the entire screen, you will have high quality audio and also some special co-op missions, probably also some modern accessibility options.
First Press Games is handling the GBA physical launch. Are we assuming the cart size will be more substantial than would have been practical in the 2000s?
The maximum cart size is still 32MB, although they were much more expensive in the 2000s. It will still be tight, thankfully the artwork is relatively light (even though Maxwell already has 600 animation frames). Audio is the heaviest, as we are using sample-based music, but we still have some compression techniques to implement.
The Kickstarter quickly ran over your target – were you sure you would hit the target? How did you feel when you saw the answer?
We were reasonably confident that we could reach the goal by the end of the campaign, but we did not expect to be fully funded in 8 hours. It was pretty amazing (and a bit overwhelming too)! We are very grateful for all the support.
We were reasonably confident that we could reach the goal by the end of the campaign, but we did not expect to be fully funded in 8 hours.
We have all been affected by Kickstarter campaigns in the past that have been overdone and fallen short at times. How did you approach the Kickstarter to avoid the most common mistakes?
We made sure we had a fairly long demo, so people could get a good idea of what we’re really trying to do, and after the first few extended goals we’re very picky about extras to avoid adding development time.
The demo available online gives a great idea of how the game will look, but there is plenty of time left until the projected completion date of December 2022 / March 2023. What’s next on your list of development tasks and are you confident that you will be able to achieve those? dates?
Some important systems are missing (minimap, some fun features, proper localization implementation) and a lot of content to create. We cautiously trust dates, but everyone always underestimates, so we are as pragmatic as possible with project planning. The additional funding will also go a long way; now we can safely devote more time and resources to development.
Finally, which GBA are you and the team rocking out these days?
Jeremy’s Game Boy Micro was hit by a bus (no kidding), but he still has his original childhood SP “Tribal” edition (awesome) and this icy blue baby [see below]. I have this white / red combo (as seen in our trailer).
Thanks a lot to Rik. You can follow him on Twitter @hot_pengu.
the Goodboy Galaxy Kickstarter It is fully funded, but has three weeks left to run at the time of this writing; head there if you’re intrigued by any of the above and check out the campaign.