First, we should set up our dev environment. We will need:
- A POSIX environment
- RGBDS v0.5.1 (though v0.5.0 should be compatible)
- GNU Make (preferably a recent version)
- A code editor
- A debugging emulator
The following install instructions are provided on a “best-effort” basis, but may be outdated, or not work for you for some reason. Don’t worry, we’re here to help: ask away, and we’ll help you with installing everything!
Good news: you’re already fulfilling step 1! You just need to install RGBDS, and maybe update GNU Make.
At the time of writing this, macOS (up to 11.0, the current latest release) ships a very outdated GNU Make.
You can check it by opening a terminal, and running
make --version, which should indicate “GNU Make” and a date, among other things.
If your Make is too old, you can update it using Homebrew’s formula
At the time of writing, this should print a warning that the updated Make has been installed as
gmake; you can either follow the suggestion to use it as your “default”
make, or use
gmake instead of
make in this tutorial.
Once RGBDS is installed, open a terminal and run
make --version to check your Make version (which is likely GNU Make).
make cannot be found, you may need to install your distribution’s
The sad truth is that Windows is a terrible OS for development; however, you can install environments that solve most issues.
On Windows 10, your best bet is WSL, which sort of allows running a Linux distribution within Windows. Install WSL 1 or WSL 2, then a distribution of your choice, and then follow these steps again, but for the Linux distribution you installed.
If WSL is not an option, you can use MSYS2 or Cygwin instead; then check out RGBDS’ Windows install instructions. As far as I’m aware, both of these provide a sufficiently up-to-date version of GNU Make.
If you have programmed for other consoles, such as the GBA, check if MSYS2 isn’t already installed on your machine. This is because devkitPro, a popular homebrew development bundle, includes MSYS2.
Any code editor is fine; I personally use Sublime Text with its RGBDS syntax package; however, you can use any text editor, including Notepad, if you’re crazy enough. Awesome GBDev has a section on syntax highlighting packages, see there if your favorite editor supports RGBDS.
Using an emulator to play games is one thing; using it to program games is another. The two aspects an emulator must fulfill to allow an enjoyable programming experience are:
- Debugging tools:
When your code goes haywire on an actual console, it’s very difficult to figure out why or how.
There is no console output, no way to
gdbthe program, nothing. However, an emulator can provide debugging tools, allowing you to control execution, inspect memory, etc. These are vital if you want GB dev to be fun, trust me!
- Good accuracy:
Accuracy means “how faithful to the original console something is”.
Using a bad emulator for playing games can work (to some extent, and even then…), but using it for developing a game makes it likely to accidentally render your game incompatible with the actual console.
For more info, read this article on Ars Technica (especially the
An emulator for every gamesection at the top of page 2). You can compare GB emulator accuracy on Daid’s GB-emulator-shootout.
The emulator I will be using for this tutorial is Emulicious. Users on all OSes can install the Java runtime to be able to run it. Other debugging emulators are available, such as Mesen2, BGB (Windows/Wine only), SameBoy (graphical interface on macOS only); they should have similar capabilities, but accessed through different menu options.