BOX COVER ART
CLICK TO PLAY VIDEO
Synopsis: Put your parking skills to the ultimate test as you weave your way through Downtown Austin, pitting your wits against the day-to-day obstacles so familiar to the True Austinite! Dodge construction cranes, unruly drivers, bat colonies and more! Available exclusively on the Nintendo Game Boy Console!
This was a passion project for several days, and, at one point, I got so immersed into the late-80s early-90s retro world of Game Boy sights and sounds that I toyed with the idea of going full-committal and building the actual game on an honest-to-god cartridge, playable on the real 4Mhz 60fps Game Boy console itself. Thanks to today's homebrew communities, that feat is entirely possible (although super challenging and time-consuming), and for those wanting to take the extra plunge, head on over to the Game Boy Developers Kit. Original Game Boy developers used Assembly to program these things (amazingly, all within a 32kb package!!), and, while that's still an option, the GBDK uses C Programming to get the job done. There's even a method for packaging the chips within the familiar plastic casing, complete with professionally-printed sticker art - like the one pictured to the left! It's all possible!
My goal here, though, ultimately was not to create the physical game itself, but to pay homage to a fantastic era of early portable gaming systems, and also create a digital world that would allow viewers to see what Downtown Austin (circa 2018) might have looked like as an actual Game Boy title.
Below, I will break down some of the steps I took to achieve the original aesthetic of the Game Boy system, including how I created the 8-bit graphics using the actual monochrome 4-shade color palette, as well as the programs I used to pull off the final video, which you can view right underneath this paragraph!
CARTRIDGE WITH FINAL STICKER ARTWORK
Before diving into the specifics on how this was put together, let me briefly set the stage for what I was building upon. The Game Boy was a portable gaming system released in 1989 by Nintendo. I got one of these for Christmas when I was 12 years old, and it still works as well today as it did then.
Insanely enough, the Game Boy's processing power was comparable to that of it's bigger sibling, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and, because of it's small form-factor and limited color-range, could actually get away with a lot more - all at a blazing 60 frames per second! It was hugely popular, selling nearly 120 million units across Japan and North America, with several successors that introduced larger screens, faster processors and increased color capabilities. My focus here, though, is on the original '89 gaming unit, aka "Fatboy". Having likely clocked in hundreds upon hundreds of hours of gameplay throughout my childhood, I hold it near-and-dear to my heart, and, for that reason, sought out to see what a fast-growing city in 2018, along with the challenges that growth presents, might look like within that console's digital world.
Out of that curiosity, Double Parkeman was born!
1989 GAMEBOY (AKA "FATBOY")
The concept behind the game was simple - with a purpose that was a bit more sinister. The player, after selecting a neighborhood, is then given a series of mission-based challenges invariably requiring the finding and securing of an open parking space. Spaces occasionally open, but are quickly fallen upon by overly aggressive drivers. It quickly becomes apparent that there's virtually no way to get into an available spot, essentially becoming a Kobayashi Maru -esque training exercise in a futile no-win scenario. The altruistic spin on that could simply be that I want the player to realize that with any ethical leadership, there's importance in recognizing the limit of one's powers and deciding what to do in the face of those limits -- Do you play the game even though you'll ultimately lose, or do you do what Captain Kirk did and reprogram the scenario so that you win? In a fast-growing city like Austin, particularly the Downtown area, the unprecedented vertical expansion on just this small, condensed radius comes with certain pains and sacrifices. I love this city, and I love seeing Downtown grow into this amazing thing that seemingly changes and evolves more and more every day, but sometimes you simply can't find a parking spot anywhere close-by. While that's a petty grievance in the face of rapid development, you either accept the fact that you can't change the outcome, or you continue playing because the ride is a thrill. In reality, despite the commentary via the gameplay, Austin does do a pretty good job making Downtown traversable despite massive construction sites and cranes popping up everywhere. It's an exciting time to be here -- BUT DON'T MOVE HERE, 'CUZ....um...BATS!
AN 8-BIT AUSTIN BAT!
Visually portraying the city of Austin within the 8-bit world of the original Game Boy required a thorough understanding of the constraints and limitations that existed on the portable gaming system at the time -- Two big factors being color and resolution. Sound is obviously important, but more on that later.
The screen could only produce four monochrome colors, which actually worked to it's advantage rather than as a disability. As I mentioned before, it could cycle through at an impressive 60 frames per second (less colors to handle, and all at a low 160x144 resolution), and there were all varieties of ingenious tricks and dithering methods that could produce some decent imagery despite such a limited color palette -- The professional developers of many of the more popular titles were true artisans of their craft! Some of these titles were even less than 32kb. Imagine: All that data, all the graphics, all the sounds - packed into something smaller than the size of a single cat picture you might casually flip past on Facebook!
RGB: 15, 56, 15
RGB: 48, 98, 48
RGB: 139, 172, 15
RGB: 155, 188, 15
NOW OUR BAT LOOKS LIKE THIS!
I spent several hours creating a roughly 5x5 block radius of Downtown Austin, complete with specific features and street names reflective of actual locations, using construction barricades as a visual means to keep players within the world's boundaries. This became the city grid on which the player would ultimately explore.
I do need to say this before going any further. Many of the details of the buildings and vehicles were taken from numerous graphical cues from countless other games, and I spent an exorbitant amount of time perusing through hundreds of titles seeing what was possible and what wasn't. I want to credit everyone and everything that I can, and I'll continue to try to do so, but, to be fair, this was such an amalgam of so many influences that it would be impossible to reference them all. Basically, I stood on the shoulders of others before me, and I hope that the game designer of Bubble Bobble doesn't recognize the riff off how A/C units are depicted on the rooftops of 8-bit buildings and take offense -- None is intended! Massive amounts of respect!
AN 8-BIT DOWNTOWN CITY GRID!
Creating 8-bit graphics are actually kinda fun, and fairly easy. Photoshop has a cool way of importing color palettes that can quickly turn any image into how it would look on a Game Boy screen, once the resolution is adjusted properly.
How To Geek has a great step-by-step article detailing how to do this, and they even provide a downloadable palette with instructions on how to bring it into Photoshop and have it chew through an image.
You can see here how I took the picture of me from the cover art, converted it down to the 160x144 pixel resolution of the Game Boy screen, then ran it through the GB Color Palette, creating a perfectly viable 8-bit monochrome graphic! YAY!
After that, I imported into After Effects and gave it some cool, anime-style movement that makes it look like I'm moving really fast -- Which I am!!
COOL 8-BIT ANIME BRAD!
THE ENDING THEME TO SUPER MARIO LAND (1989), AND ONE OF MY FAVORITES
Once the look had been established, the other side of the coin was the sound design. I initially was a bit over-ambitious and attempted to convert the DoubleParker Theme into an 8-bit format, but the results were pretty lousy. Ultimately dumped that idea and, instead, resorted to searching through hundreds of Game Boy musical cues from titles across North America and Japan, selecting contenders and squirreling them away for possible use later. I did the same with the sound effects.
Again, I'd love to credit the original sound fx authors, but Double Parkeman contains possibly over 100 sounds, all from dozens upon dozens of different games. They're all amazing!
This exercise, though, awakened me to the absolute marvel that is 8-bit music, a format, as TechRadar so elequently put it, "characterized as much by its limitations as its creativity". These guys were true masters, and the indelibility of these 8-bit musicians' contributions is evident simply by the nostalgic familiarity and nearly instantaneous recall of themes like Super Mario Brothers or the Legend of Zelda. Try whistling SMB in a crowded elevator and watch people smile as their dopamine centers start kicking into overdrive! (...or else slowly begin to awkwardly shift to the farther corners of the elevator. It's a generational thing, after all.)
The time spend thrashing around in this world was one I very much greatly enjoyed, and, while I was never able to fully produce the game, hopefully this might inspire somebody else to take it one step further! I was super impressed by the story of Doctor Ludos who, in pursuit of his childhood dream, actually designed and found a hardware manufacturer to partner up with to produce and then sell (at an awesomely reasonable price!) the game to anyone wishing to play on their original Game Boy units! A pretty amazing feat, given the challenges throughout. His page even gives a thorough description through nearly every step of the process - game design to sound processing to soldering of the chip. Just spectacular!
One of the things I learned through all of this was that it would be impossible to fit a concept like this into a 32kb cartridge unit, but as I had mentioned before, other titles produced later were much, much larger - with some of them even breaching the 1gb range! Dayumnn!!! But I believe that everything you see, from the look and feel to the dynamics of the gameplay itself, was totally possible on the 4MHz CPU Game Boy processor, and maybe one day I'll finally make that leap and re-immerse myself in the 8-bit gaming world, plunging down to the Mariana-Trench-depths of actual game development and hardware production, and Double Parkeman will finally find itself on the shelves of every retro/vintage gaming store in the world! Austin, by then, may be barely recognizable from where it is today - but I can't wait to see it!
WATCH FOR CRANES!