Chris Maltby, the creator of GB Studio, has announced the details of GB Studio 4.0! If you’re unfamiliar, GB Studio is a game development tool for Game Boy and Game Boy Color games that’s used to make many of the newly released titles for the Game Boy family. New tools and changes are being added in this GB Studio update that lets developers create even more incredible experiences for your favorite handheld. I’ll be going through the major changes and talking about what they could mean for the future of Game Boy gaming.

Script Debugging

The homebrew scene isn’t perfect. Many released games, even commercial ones, have bugs, and when we’re talking about releasing physical versions of these games, it becomes unacceptable to release a game with bugs that can ruin the player’s experience. In GB Studio 4, there is now a script debugger! This will allow developers to understand the issues in their programming logic more thoroughly through the use of breakpoints, which lets a developer pause scripts at a specific point to see what’s going on at that moment and what certain variables are set to. The end result of this is hopefully going to be fewer bugs in released games and a better feeling of polish.

Color Only Mode

The Game Boy has a lot of limitations when it comes to what’s possible on the hardware for game developers. They are limited in their sprites, background tiles, animations, and even processing power which can cause visual bugs and slow down. This is all part of the fun, of course, but with the addition of Color Only Mode, developers will have a little more to work with in their games as long as they remove support for the original Game Boy. This new mode will give developers around double the background tiles and sprites! With it only running on Game Boy Color hardware, it will also mean if a particular game has trouble running on the original Game Boy the developer can choose to enable Color Only Mode to remove any ability for players to have a lesser experience. This was possible already but required a little bit of additional work.

Tile Swapping

Tile swapping is like a cheat code to get more out of the Game Boy. It lets developers swap unique background tiles for another tile that is loaded into memory. This can be shown in things like animating flowers in the grass or updating numbers on a HUD. It’s extremely powerful but does have a learning curve to implementing it. In this new update, developers can use the built-in visual programming functions “Replace Tile At Position” and “Replace Tile From Sequence” along with a new assets folder called “Tilesets” to do this more easily! Expect to see more animated visual effects in your games and more complex UI elements.

Seamless Scene Switching

A scene is essentially a single screen of the game. When you go from walking around town to entering a house, this transition is usually between two different scenes. Usually, you see a flash of black between these transitions but with the new “Instant” scene transition, you can expect more seamless movement between scenes that share the same tileset. This should make games feel more open as you could be exploring overworlds or dungeons that feel larger!

Automatic Color

The current process to add color to a game in GB Studio is quite a large task. You first have to create the background and add it to the appropriate assets folder in your GB Studio project. Then to color the background, you load it into a scene and create color palettes with a tool in GB Studio. Once you have your palettes you can then apply color on a tile-by-tile basis for your background. With this new update, developers can color their backgrounds in their editing program of choice and then add them to GB Studio! GB Studio will automatically create the necessary color palettes and apply them when you use that background in a scene. If the developer expects players to use both Game Boy and Game Boy Color hardware, they can then also add a version of that background with the normal Game Boy palette and GB Studio will handle the choice of palette based on the hardware. This really makes the overall workflow for color games a lot easier and potentially a lot faster! I’d expect a lot more games to be colored going forward and even for development times for color games to be a bit shorter!

There are a lot more quality-of-life features coming in GB Studio 4 that will make developing games easier and faster. I’m hoping this update is a turning point in the overall quality of released commercial games from bugs to performance to visuals. If you’d like to see the full list of upcoming changes or try out the beta yourself, check out the GB Studio GitHub! I’d like to thank everyone who has supported GB Grotto so far! My last post, The Preservation of Homebrew Games really blew up and created a lot of conversation about the topic of modern preservation. If you haven’t already read it make sure to check it out! Thanks for reading and I hope to see you in the next post!

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