donderdag 3 juli 2014

How I became the famous GTA for GBA programmer

Yesterday I suddenly got a DM on Twitter from Brian Provinciano, asking if I was the Hugo Smits from Grand Theft Auto on GameBoy Advance. I thought it would be a funny story to post here, so here we go!

Be prepared to be gravely disappointed:

In that case, I’m actually the Hugo you are looking for! After all those years that game still haunts me, haha! Back in the day I was a very active homebrew coder. Ever since I got my own version of pong to work on a GameBoy Classic back in 1998, I knew I was going to make Nintendo handheld games for the rest of my life!

Back then developers where still a bit naïve and a Dutch Studio did an interview with the biggest Dutch game magazine. They where naïve in the sense the actually put their phone number in there as well. So this nine year old called them up. Apparently they thought I was cute and they let me hang out with them.

They worked mostly on licensed stuff; Xmen/Marvel, things for Konami,etc. A lot of stuff was collaborated with Vicarious Visions and other famous GBA studios, I believe even Crawfish at some point in time.

At the same time I also started to know and befriend lots of people through homebrew. So I actually knew a few people at Crawfish.

Next to my programming work, I also helped ran one of the largest Nintendo videogame sites in the Benelux (mainly and At the height we had over 50.000 active members and we organized conventions where over 2000 people would show up and play competition (Mario Kart, Smash Bros). Eventually we even did the game awards for the Dutch MTV.

Around this time the rumors of Grand Theft Auto for GameBoy Advance where reaching their heights as well. More and more sites wrote about it, but nobody had actually heard any confirmation that the game was really in development, nobody had seen anything.

Eventually Crawfish went bankrupt, which fueled the question of what happened to GTA even more.

I tried to figure it out, talked to all my contacts in the dev/homebrew scene. Turning up with nothing time after time. Until I finally found a programmer who worked on it (through my Crawfish contacts). He was pretty bitter over losing his job, and he thought about putting GTA up in his portfolio (to increase changes on finding a new job).

I talked to him and convinced him to give me a bunch of screenshots of the project, which I would put up on my website in a huge reveal article. This was pretty much the biggest scoop I ever discovered.

Because with all these huge gaming events going on, I did not have the time to actually write articles anymore. So I gave it to the news team. They decided that because there wasn’t a real verifiable source (except for a unknown guy claiming to be the programmer) to write also about my story finding it. Because our readers knew that I was actively involved in development of titles, did homebrew and was in contact with Nintendo because of the events, this would give the article some credibility.

The article (just like the complete site) was in Dutch. Not many people could read it. One of the bigger German sites saw the article and of course took it over for their site.  However their translation wasn’t the best. I’m not sure what happened, maybe the writer just scanned over the Dutch article, saw my name and the word ‘programmeur’ figured it had to mean programmer. One way or another, I ended up in the German article as the ‘lead programmer who released these screenshots’. All other international sites took over the article from the German site, without any fact checking, they all took over that I was the programmer.

Because it was such a highly sought after game and this was the only evidence it was real, almost every gaming site posted the article in a matter days.

And that’s how I became the famous GTA programmer without actually writing a single line of code!

woensdag 26 maart 2014

Gomba early preview

It has been awhile since I last wrote about indi3DS. I get asked pretty frequently about the status of the project, and today I decided to shed some light onto it. The project is basically canceled and turned into a different project. When I started indi3DS it was just a compiler for my own scripting language. I made the compiler because I wanted to be able to rapidly test my 3DS prototypes.

Over time it turned into a huge project. Offering a debugger, simulator, level editor and asset editor. Each of those could be a big project on their own. Making games is my main priority and all focus recently has been going to Tappingo, so development of indi3DS has always been slow. 

With the recent rumors of Unity coming to 3DS, I do not really see a point in putting all this effort into making such a complete tool from scratch.  After seeing Puzzle script something just clicked and I decided to transform the project into why I was building it in the first place; making rapid prototypes for my games!

So today I want to announce the project indi3DS transformed into; Gomba!

Gomba is a rapid prototype game creation tool for Nintendo 3DS. It offers a game engine, level editor, simulator and C-like scripting language and debugger. It’s super easy in use. Non-programmers can probably create a simple game in just a hour. While advanced programmers can go nuts with the C-like script.

Right now I’m building it for Windows. I have plans to transform it into a online tool, probably made in Flash, so that you will only need a browser to run it.

Here is a screenshot showing a overview of the Gomba toolset (fun fact; that’s actually I prototype  I’m working on together with pixel artists Danny Flexner):

(Click on the image for full size)

Game engine
 I’ve chosen for a tile-based logic engine, which means that if the player moves forward for example, he will move one tile forward (not one pixel).

I know this is not ideal for all game types. Actually, it works mostly for puzzle games and adventure games. This allows, however, for really easy and fast prototyping and this is something I really wanted.

The engine has a lot of functionality (like collision detection) build in. You also have standard movement controls.

Gomba features it’s very own C-like scripting language. With this script you can add events to the engine. Combined with the Game Engine already build in features, scripting is really easy and fast.

Helps you debug your script. All errors are processed into a error report list with all the details (type of error, hint to solve and line number). When you double click on a error, it will highlight the specific line in the script editor for easy spotting.

Will let you run the game on your PC. You can quickly check if your scripts and levels are working correctly before putting it on the Nintendo 3DS.

The future
I hope to convert the project to Adobe Flash soon, and release a beta somewhere early in the summer.

donderdag 20 februari 2014

Tappingo trailer!

Today is a big day! It is finally time to reveal some real gameplay footage of Tappingo in this awesome new trailer! I hope you guys like it!

Another big change – The release of Tappingo in EU is slightly delayed to 6 March. US version is still coming out on 27 Feb. Price is 2,99 dollar/euro

maandag 27 januari 2014

Shut up! Nothing is wrong with Nintendo WiiU!

The last few weeks there has been said a lot about Nintendo and its products. It seems every analyst out there is keen on telling his doom scenario. Most of them seem to think that Nintendo could solve all this by simply moving their software over to other platforms (mainly mobile) and some seem to indicate that Nintendo should drop hardware all together.

As a developer who has been exclusively developing on Nintendo platforms for over four years now, I can tell you this are all ridiculous solutions. Not only will they not fix the real problems, they will decrease Nintendo’s changes significantly.

The real problem at hand is not that the Nintendo WiiU or Nintendo 3DS are bad products. Quite the opposite, they are well made products with a lot of opportunities. Dropping great products (and thus move out of hardware) is not going to help Nintendo, it only limits the their options.

The real problem is communications and services. And when I say communications I mean both to consumers AND developers.

Let’s start with consumers. By now most hardcore gamers understand that the Nintendo WiiU and 3DS are completely new products. This was not the case when the Nintendo WiiU got unveiled at E3. 

First news posts and tweets talked about a new tablet-like controller. But it was unclear if this was a new console or a add-on for the Nintendo Wii system. Only later it became clear it was in fact a new console.

This issue never got resolved. To mainstream consumers it is still not clear that the Nintendo WiiU is a different platform. The name itself did not really help the situation.

Same issue is also true for Nintendo 3DS (although admittedly less than with Nintendo WiiU). The appearance and shape of the handheld and name is very close to Nintendo DS.

With Nintendo releasing new iterations for the Nintendo DS system over the years (Nintendo DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL). It is no surprise that some consumers are mistaken the Nintendo 3DS for yet another iteration of Nintendo DS.

A good solution for this problem should be a well made marketing campaign. Show consumers that they are different products and what is exciting about them. This seems like a obvious solution. But nothing like this has happened till now.

The next problem with communication is towards developers. I feel like Nintendo is targeting the wrong group. Nintendo WiiU is a very different machine compared to Xbox or PlayStation. Fans will quickly point out that the hardware capabilities of Nintendo WiiU are equal or in some cases better then Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles.

While that might be true, under the hood the Nintendo WiiU works very differently. For Triple A developers it will be hard to add Nintendo WiiU capabilities to their current Engine, Framework and pipeline. Simply because things have to be processed differently if you want to make a game shine on Nintendo WiiU.

Which means that developers have to heavily invest extra time and money if they want their games to run on Nintendo WiiU. Couple this with the bad Nintendo WiiU sales figures to see why developers are not very keen on this.

Having the CEO of EA on stage telling the world Nintendo WiiU is great, is not really helpful unless EA actual decides to makes some games.

So instead of targeting those big developers that clearly are not interested, they should focus on smaller developers. Let the smaller ones make software that will compliment the special features of the Nintendo WiiU.

Nintendo should go after companies like Mojang instead of EA. Get a game like Minecraft on Nintendo WiiU. Looking at the features of the gamepad and the target audienc, I think that could be a huge hit.

The game industry has matured. Indie games have matured. If Nintendo would pick up a few games like Minecraft, games that are smaller but matter, they could outweigh a big fish like EA.

Brining software onto other platforms, or more specifically mobile, is not going to help. Nintendo will not be able to bring over enough new consumers from mobile to their own hardware for companies like EA to suddenly care or consider making games. With the release PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, hardcore gamers have better platform options for those games.

Going over to mobile also does not magically solve the communication problem Nintendo is having towards their consumers. For example it will be hard for mainstream consumers to spot the difference between ‘new Super Mario Bros Wii’ and ‘new Super Mario Bros wiiU’.

This does not mean Nintendo should ignore the mobile platform. Instead they should expand their services towards mobile as well as PC. Some services are already accessible through a web browser.

This should be done to more services like for example the Nintendo e-shop. Although speculation indicates that Nintendo has plans for this, as of yet it is still not possible. Making it easy for consumers to buy software for Nintendo systems should be a high priority.

Nintendo is currently in the process of learning how to create and maintain good services. It took some time for their competitors to learn this as well. However, Microsoft and Sony where learning this at the same time. Now that these competitors have good services on their systems, it seems all more apparent that Nintendo has not (yet).

As example take Nintendo Network ID. I own multiple Nintendo handhelds (3DS,XL,2DS) but I cannot share one unified Nintendo Network ID account between those systems. Instead I have to juggle three accounts, one for each system.

This affects my decision when I buy games. I mostly buy retail games because I can swap out the cartridge and put it into any of my three systems. While a downloaded version of the game can only be played on the system I bought it on.

About Nintendo’s future. Is Nintendo going to be doomed this year? Honestly, I expect them do make major progress on the above issues. I think 2014 will be a very positive year for Nintendo.

We are going to see some amazing games from Nintendo themselves (Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros) as well as a bunch of great indie games (Shantae, Shovel Knight).

These games will increase hardware sales.

And of course my own indie game Tappingo. Which I personally expect to do really well in the Nintendo 3DS e-shop. Looking at the sales figures I have from various sources, those little games are really starting to thrive in the e-shop. I expect this to only get better when (and I’m sure they will) Nintendo improves their services.

Improved services such as the e-shop will make it easier for consumers to buy and access software on their system. In turn this will lead to more software sales, which will get developers confidence up!

Communication between developers has been improving in a big way in the past year. Where in 2012 I barely talked to Nintendo, I now had almost weekly conversations in 2013.

I hope Nintendo will increase their focus on smaller developers opposed to bigger developers. Let the smaller studios make games that truly appeal to the Nintendo audience and make the Nintendo systems shine, instead of convincing the big companies to put out weak ports. 

I’m very positive that, if given a change, smaller developers will prove that they are capable to fill the void bigger developers left in the software library.

For this to happen Nintendo systems should be easier accessible for developers. We saw major improvements in this area for Nintendo WiiU. Most notably the web SDK and Unity support (free of charge!).

The Nintendo 3DS is still a relative closed system, with expensive devkits. Hopefully those positive improvements on Nintendo WiiU will also transcend to Nintendo 3DS this year.

For 2014 I hope all these improvements will line up and drastically change the future for Nintendo in a positive way. Their systems certainly deserve it.

donderdag 23 januari 2014

Retro stuff!

Hey guys, major Tappingo update coming in! First off we have some cool new Retro puzzles for you! Can you still remember this hardware? Also please look at our awesome new logo (top banner). 

Now for the most important part: Tappingo will be out at the end of Febuary for 2,99 euro / 2,99 dollar! Yes, for only 2,99 you get over a 100 puzzles that will keep you busy for more than 6 hours easily!

More info about Tappingo here: