Local game developers go back to their roots

Home brewed retro fun for gamers

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By JAMIE MAH

Interest in homebrew video games for classic consoles like the Nintendo Game Boy is growing in the Lower Mainland as software tools become more accessible.

Homebrew retro game development involves hobbyists creating video games for older and unsupported consoles including the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy. Vancouver homebrew creator Felipe Reinicke was surprised at how much he enjoyed working on games.

“I had no idea about the homebrew community, but I found it really interesting,” he said. “You can actually create a game that can run one of those things. It really clicked with me.”

Creating his own games isn’t the sole reason he’s doing homebrew. Reinicke also enjoys the hobby’s large and supportive online community.

“People are all working together and keeping the hardware alive,” he said.

Felipe Reinicke's homebrew games, Swordbird Song and Twin Twin, running on his Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance
Reinicke’s first game, Swordbird Song, running on his Game Boy and his latest release, TwinTwin, running on another Game Boy. Photo by Jamie Mah

 

A vibrant community

Ziggy, who chose not to reveal his last name, sees the homebrew community as thriving and accommodating.

“A bunch of people have written books, YouTube tutorials. There’s a lot of material out there about homebrew. Once I got started, it felt really easy,” said Ziggy, who lives in Vancouver.

Ziggy recently helped organize the Heart Projector pop-up arcade on Nov. 25 at the Dolly Disco event space in East Vancouver. The event featured homebrew video games by local developers for attendees to play.

A full-time computer programmer, Ziggy enjoys crafting and world-building.

“It’s a challenge, but fluid,” he said. “And that’s because the Game Boy is a dedicated pixel machine, it’s made for you to make games on. It’s not like a computer so it’s a very different experience.”

A clear Nintendo Game Boy cartridge of Ziggy's homebrew game, Ark
Ziggy’s homebrew Game Boy game Ark in cartridge form at Starbucks in Kerrisdale in Vancouver, B.C. on Nov. 29, 2023. Photo by Jamie Mah

 

An accessible hobby

With new software becoming available, Reinicke says creating games for older consoles isn’t as hard as one might think.

“The engine I’m using, GB Studio, is very friendly,” he said. “You just jump in and work with logic and with blocks. It’s very visual so it feels like creating something on Photoshop.”

It took only six months before he finished his first homebrew game.

Going to the Heart Projector event proved Reinicke had found his niche.

“It was really amazing, I’m not a developer so sometimes I feel like an intruder in this whole world,” he said. “[Seeing people] playing my game and to watch them from behind and see their reactions was really cool.”

Tim Helmuth is not a homebrew creator but attended Heart Projector and discovered he enjoys playing homebrew games.

“As someone who’s not really part of it, it feels like a whole world that’s very open and inviting and fun,” he said. “It’s cool to go for a night out to some strange basement with people who are extremely excited to show you the stuff that they’ve been working on.”

Taking it old school

Retro video games find a niche community in the Lower Mainland

Games Deals, a retro gaming shop in New Westminster, sustains itself even as newer games come out.
Retro games are video games for older systems. To be considered retro, a game must be at least 15 years old. Brian Hughes, the owner of Game Deals, says there’s two reasons why customers enter his store.
“One of them is nostalgia as people just have an attachment to the games they grew up with and want to recapture those experiences. And then the other side of it is the simplicity,” he said.
Hughes said the retro game community isn’t growing but new people are coming in all the time.
“I think the demographic that’s falling off is being replaced at a rate where it’s kind of sustaining itself,” he said.
Game Deals store manager Jade Konechy sees a younger generation excited to play retro games.
“[It] surprised me because usually kids that age are more into the current generation’s best graphics,” she said.
Konechy says their simplest games are also their most iconic and popular.
“No matter what age you are you know who Mario is, you know who Pikachu is,” she said.

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