The Gbdev Digest #1 - 2021 Recap

Written by avivace, on behalf of the gbdev org. Originally published on "getrevue" on the 21st of February, 2022.

Hey all and welcome to the first Issue of the new gbdev curated digest! Our idea is to prepare a collection of curated news about what is happening in our community, with a particular focus on our Open Source projects. Whatever you are interested in what’s happening the gbdev scene, new homebrew, tools, and documentation releases, find stuff where you can contribute with code or provide feedback, this newsletter is for you!

About us and our commitment to OSS

The following is a quick clarification since this is the first issue of the Gbdev Digest. Feel free to shamelessly skip it.

This newsletter is curated by the team behind the community, with a lot of help from members of other smaller communities and groups. We are directly involved with the development and maintaining of a lot of projects (e.g. Pan Docs, RGBDS, and Homebrew Hub), but of course not with everything that will be mentioned in this newsletter.

The gbdev initiative promotes the development of tools, documentation and homebrew games. We also push research and emulation efforts while trying to keep everything as accessible as possible to everyone, no matter the technical background. Another big commitment is the archiving one: we are working on salvaging old and unavailable content, creating a digital memory of a scene that is now three decades old.

Since our inception in 2015, open source and free software values are at the core of our commitment. We release everything we work on under OSS licenses (or in the Public Domain), maintaining a strong non-profit approach. Even if we reshare and give exposure to commercial products related to gbdev, we don’t get any cash from any of the involved companies and we don’t sponsor or endorse any particular release or publisher. No referral links are ever shared through our channels.

Our expenses are entirely sustained by voluntary contributions (for which donators don’t get any benefit) and sponsorships (such as the DigitalOcean one). Everything is tracked trasparently on our OpenCollective.

While a core team of maintainers is behind every project, we welcome any type of contribution, from feedback to participation in Request For Comments threads. Check the bottom of this page to learn how to join our community.

Best year yet, for the 4th year in a row

2021 was a huge success for gbdev. The Game Boy scene was never this alive and flourishing, with an unprecedented number of releases. From the incredible gbcompo21 (for which we are preparing a dedicated issue of this newsletter) to the number of new releases of our projects, we enjoyed the most traffic we ever saw, for the fourth year in a row.

New guide on choosing development tools

We finished revamping a quite comprehensive guide on how to choose tools for Game Boy, giving an overview on the different available approaches to developing homebrews for the grey brick.

Homebrew Hub 2.0

Homebrew Hub is a community-led attempt to collect, archive and preserve every unofficial game and homebrew released for Game Boy produced through decades of passionate work. Every entry , with its metadata and related assets is exposed through an API available to everyone.

We started a complete rewrite of the backend and the frontend software behind Homebrew Hub. Originally built with Express in 2016 the codebase started to show its age… The new backend, powered by Django, will offer a full Restful API to access all the games, assets, metadata and ROMs we have in the JSON database. The new frontend is powered by the binjgb emulator, running in the browser via WebAssembly. This will bring better emulation accuracy and more features!

New games on the Homebrew Hub database

The Homebrew Hub database is community maintained. Everyone can contribute adding a game or writing a scraper to mass-import games on the website.

In parallel to the rewrite, a lot of stuff is happening on the database, too:

New CI scripts are now in place to detect potentially duplicated entries, calculating checksums of assets. The pipeline will now run on Pull Requests and also validate the submitted metadata and the referenced files, to aid contributors.

The following new entries have been added: Crystal Lake, Grub Glide, Labirinth, Bannerprint and Europa Rescue (thanks to N•I•L, v666, reini1305, Exetric and godai78).

All the 20 shortlisted entries from the GB Competition 2021 were also added and are ready to play.

dag7dev worked on new scrapers, cleaned up a bunch of entries metadata and merged some duplicates. Hundreds of new homebrews are now available thanks to his work!

A new game metadata schema is in preparation, enabling game translations and specific tags for hardware support (e.g. gb-printer, gb-camera, ..).

The total number of games is now 748! Go play with them!

New RGBDS website and documentation

RGBDS is the standard toolchain for developing homebrew Game Boy programs in Assembly. First released in 1997, it’s now enjoying renewed community attention.

A new version of the RGBDS website, providing downloads, build instructions and full documentation is now work in progress.

From a statically built HTML version we are migrating to a solution based on Docusaurus, a documentation framework powered by React.

RGBGFX rewrite incoming

The rgbgfx program, part of the RGBDS suite, converts PNG images into the Nintendo Game Boy’s planar tile format.

A new version is being rewritten in modern C++17, enabling a series of improvements such as better error messages (more explicit), proper transparency support, explicit palette specification and proper 8×16 support.

GBDK 4.0.5 and 4.0.6

GBDK is a C compiler, assembler, linker and set of libraries for the Z80 like Nintendo Gameboy.

Our friends over at the GBDK team worked on a big release, the first adding more targets to the toolchain: GBDK can now compile to Sega Master System/Sega Game Gear and the Analogue Pocket.

4.0.6 shipped support for the Mega Duck, too!

Other notable features added in 2021 were:

  • Metasprite API and conversion tool
  • Auto ROM bank assignment and packing
  • Compression API and console tool

More information can be found in the release notes.

GBDK Tutorials

For a long time now the main GBDK tutorials online have been mostly outdated and based on the 20 year old version GBDK but this is now changing: Larold is working on a series of tutorials where they break down the Game Boy game creation process into multiple high-level steps.

GB Studio 3 is out

GB Studio is a quick and easy to use drag and drop retro game creator for the Game Boy. No programming required. Here are some of the highlights from the new release:

  • Improved UI for adding Events
  • Math Expressions
  • Large Sprites
  • Sprite Editor
  • Animation States
  • New Music Engine (hUGETracker)
  • Music Editor
  • Multiple Save Slots
  • Parallax Scrolling
  • Super Game Boy Borders
  • Multiple Fonts

You can learn more from the dedicated articleopen in new window on GB Studio Central.

Contributions to other (non-gbdev) projects

mdbook is the wonderful Rust tool we use to render Pan Docs. Apart from overloading it with custom features, we also contribute upstream.

ISSOtm recently prepared a PR to add a feature for generating sitemaps, which we hope will get some attention from the upstream maintainers soon.

Wrapping up and feedback

Thanks for reading! That’s all for this issue. We hope you’re having fun developing or playing games for Game Boy. As always, your contributions to our initiatives are appreciated. You’re welcome to browse around our GitHub organisation or join our Discord server to see what everyone is working on.

If you still want more gbdev, our Twitter feed provides a curated (and frequent) collection of new releases, WIP content and news about our projects.

If you have any feedback, want to send us some gbdev links or comment on any of the topics brought up in this issue (or on the newsletter itself) feel free to reach us.

Next Issue

This digest won’t try to respect an actual schedule but will rather go online when enough quality content is ready. On the next issue, we will continue to shed some light on the incredible accomplishments we made in 2021, such as the GB Competition 2021, showing you how some games enjoyed continued support and physical releases. We will also tell you how we managed to make Pan Docs this good and what’s new in the latest RGBDS releases.

If you’d like to send us some gbdev content you found interesting and you think would fit this newsletter, feel free to reach out.

Special thanks to bbbbbr, ISSOtm, toxa and Emi Paternostro.