Tender Emotions and Game Boy Dogs

Bonesy tells the story of the friendship between a dog and a girl. Created by Mike Towns, known online as Game Buoy Games, it has become popular in the community, even catching the attention of GB Studio creator Chris Maltby. We are lucky to interview Mike, and he told us about how he got started developing games and some of the details about Bonesy.

How did you find out about GB Studio?

I possibly first read about the software from some kind of gaming news source, but I think someone left a link in the comment section of the old NESmaker Kickstarter page or on one of the campaign updates, and that was where I first found out about GB Studio. It was within the first few days of the GB Studio software being let out into the wild too. I’d been wanting to get into making games that could be played on older consoles for years beforehand, but the tools available fell short of what I was looking for. Finding GB Studio honestly couldn’t have come at a better time.

Have you considered game development before GB Studio?

My brother and sister introduced me to their old Commodore 64 very early on, and showed me how to make a circle move around the screen on Basic, I was amazed. I had played a few games by that point but had no idea you could create something like that.

When I was in highschool, I’d play around with making adventure type games with Microsoft PowerPoint and RPGMaker. Looking back they were pretty bad, but as something just me and my group of friends played, they could be pretty funny. Near the end of my schooling we were all pretty heavy into flash games though. Stuff like Wicky Woo and Elastomania ate up a bunch of our time and a few of us eventually got a hold of Macromedia Flash. We had a go at making games and animations using that, but only scratched the surface.

In my twenties, I started playing around with making mobile games. I came across a program called GameSalad, basically a drag and drop sort of engine. I started learning about and playing around with it. Endless Runners were all the rage at the time, so most of what I made were variations of that genre. I quickly came up with the name “Those Game Guys” for my “company”, which is a name I liked even though it was just me working on them. A chiptune related musical artist, 8BitSytnthTown, did contribute a couple of tracks to one release though, which upped my enthusiasm a lot at the time.

Closer to modern times, I started messing around with Unity. That’s when I started feeling the need to make something for an older console. I was working on something that I put a decent amount of effort into, but then I found GB Studio, and that’s taken over from then on.

What kind of situations and memories inspired you to make Bonesy? Can you remember an example?

I made the game for a weekly art thing Twitch streamer Sezza organises via her Discord. A theme’s chosen then after the week’s done she shows the results of what everyone’s put together while streaming live. Pretty cool community focused idea, sorta like an art jam. Making Bonesy was my first time joining in, the theme that week being “farewell”. But I decided to do so on the last day of the deadline, which left me about eight hours to make the game, so I was honestly winging it for the duration.

I had a cute little scruffy terrier growing up named Toffy and kind of used that as a base for the story, which kept growing the narrative from there. Toffy had a decent life and I loved that mop lookin’ pooch, but due to my young age I could have given the cute lil bugger more attention. The game’s total fiction though, slightly based on personal experiences and similar from people I’ve known. I ended up dialing that up to eleven in the game though.

Your game has a big emotional punch for players. Is that what you were aiming for?

A couple decades back I heard a quote from someone, can’t quite remember who, but they stated that video games can’t be counted as art ‘til they make people cry. I’d read in the letters sections of gaming mags about stuff like Final Fantasy VII making people feel emotional, and that was in the late 90’s. I played through the first season of the Telltale Walking Dead games in one long slog about a decade ago and that was a bit rough on the ol’ heart. So setting the bar at “crying” seemed a bit weird to me.

As I was working on Bonesy I noticed things were beginning to get a bit sad though. And by the end of the crunch to complete it, I shed a couple tears. Especially as I was writing the ending, it was kinda powering through at that point, so I had a bit of an idea it might make one or two other people do the same. Once the game was played on stream though everyone seemed to get pretty sad, which wasn’t quite the level I was expecting. I felt a bit guilty about it, but it was also kind of neat to get that sort of response to a Game Boy game.

I possibly cheated a little though by going with a storyline involving a dog for something ‘farewell’ themed, haha.

After Bonesy, you made other GB Studio games. Can you tell us about them?

I’ve made a handful of GB Studio things over the couple years since its release. I’ve been writing/making videos/etc. for a local retro gaming site called Retrospekt for… getting on to twelve years now I think. In 2019, while I was first getting used to GB Studio, I put together a short game for AVCon, an anime and gaming convention, and the Retrospekt retro gaming museum. That later led to me joining in on the Sezza weekly themes. The Retrospekt AVCon 2019 game was also my first physical release too, which is a process I continued on with physical carts of Bonesy.

Since releasing Bonesy, I’ve made two more games for the aforementioned Twitch stream weekly themes, one around Christmas that was holiday related and one for a “1 minute, 10 minute, 1 hour” topic where you had to try and work on something three times with those time constraints. Besides those I also put together a game to celebrate a friend’s wedding, which I also gave to them on a playable cart. Seemed like an unusual but thoughtful gift and they seemed pretty chuffed with it.

You also made physical releases of two games, how did you go about that?

A lot of the know-how I picked up came from the GB Studio Discord and Reddit, both of which I haven’t visited in a long time but really need to make a habit of it, haha. After seeing Kazy release a boxed version of their Final Fantasy XI demake, I asked for some tips which they were happy to share. And with some advice and links from Alaistair Hathaway on Twitter (including one to a base template for Game Boy packaging) I had about all I needed to give making some physical and playable versions of my GBStudio made games a whirl.

This led me to using a website called Stickeryou to order the cart labels as well as picking up one of the cart flashers from insideGadgets, which is a very handy device and well recommended. So far I’ve been ordering reproduction carts from Aliexpress (Pokemon Battle factory, as recommended by someone on the Discord not long after GB Studio’s release) but after reading the articles on GBStudio Central about the nicer lookin’ and better quality carts available, I’ll be going that route next.

Do you have anything new you’re working on you’d like to tell us about?

I have a couple of near-finished games I’m still working on, took a bit of a break as of early last year while the world’s been falling apart, but slowly getting motivation and inspiration back, haha.

I don’t want to say too much about the stuff I haven’t completed yet, but one’s kind of like a Game Boy version of the P.T. demo and one’s a rhythm-combat sorta game starring Australia’s prime minister, who “draws a lot of ire”. Progress on those also depends on if another one of Sezza’s themes pop up that’d make for a decent Game Boy game too. So more of those being made is always a possibility.

As well as all that, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last year or so mulling around an idea for a sort of “special occasion games as gifts” idea, similar to the wedding gift game I mentioned earlier. Along with that, I’ve spent a whole lot more time playing around with a few of the GB Studio games that have also been released with their original GB Studio project file used to make the game. Projects like Star Fox Grounded and F-Zero Project by suitNtie, as well as the Dungeon Crawler System by Toxworks and GBDoom by Calavera Studio.

Will hopefully make what’d probably count as my ‘grail’ game eventually, an idea I’ve had since I first started messing around with Unity. The idea I have is a kind of Zelda-like action adventure, or an RPG even, to do with making babies. But not in the sexy lewd way, haha. Something that’s a bit… different.

Is there anything else you want to tell our readers?

A lot of the tutorial videos available on YouTube have been a big help, mainly Pixel Pete and MortMort’s amazing lessons and insights. As well as those and the projects I mentioned above, other releases like Dragonborne, Deadeus, Fields of Eutomia, Cherry Rescue, Kudzu, Disco Elysium: Game Boy Edition, Sludge & Sorcery, Quest Arrest, The Legend of the Mist Prince and a whole bunch of others have been hit just the spot to drum up inspiration.

Cheers everyone for reading my ramblings, haha, the GB Studio’s community’s a great one and I look forward to seeing it grow as well as all the neat games that’ll be made. Much love and have a great one.

You can play Bonesy on Mike’s Itch.io page, you’ll also find other projects by him. In case you want to buy one of his games, here’s the Etsy page. You can also follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or YouTube.

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