For Giles Hamson, technology has been ever-present, and it started when he was very young: “I have always been involved in technology.” Giles explains “I live in Austin, Texas, USA now, but I am originally from the UK and grew up with the 8-bit micros such as the ZX Spectrum. My brother, who is 6 years older, used to get a magazine called Input.”
“This magazine would have complete games in its pages, written in basic. We would type in the code to make games and then save them on tape for future use. This was my first introduction to game coding. Later in my teens, I had a friend who I used to hang out with. His father used to code games using AMOS for the Amiga. I believe he may even have had some of his submissions published with F1 Licenseware.” Giles continues the thought with “I would ask lots of questions about the coding in AMOS. As part of this, we started making a recreation of a puzzle game called Loopz; my friend’s father did the coding and I used Deluxe Paint III to create sprites and background art.”
It wasn’t just coding on the Amiga that Giles remembers. “Throughout my childhood, I was really into video games, and I was lucky enough to have many of the consoles (Game Boy, Atari Lynx, SNES, Mega Drive, etc.). As I got older, I continued buying game consoles and playing various games on the PC too. I still have many of these consoles today and have a huge retro console collection at this point.”
But now Giles has realized a dream: making his own game. “Magic & Legend: Time Knights is actually my very first Game Boy game. In fact, it is the first game I have ever created from start to finish.” He muses excitedly. “My kids, whose nicknames are Magic & Legend, saw me messing about in GB Studio when they were three & four years old. They were just starting to get into video games themselves (in particular Feeding Frenzy 2 on the Xbox 360).”
Magic and Legend had a big impact on the game’s development and Giles leant on this. “They asked many questions, including being interested in being in a game. They particularly like Super Mario Land on the Game Boy. With this inspiration, I started merging my trials in GB Studio into something like a game. I would ask my boys for the kind of characters they wanted in their game. Being massive fans of dragons (like the How To Train Your Dragon movie), ninjas (Lego Ninjago) as well as animals on the show Wild Kratts on PBS. With this inspiration, I would research different things to ensure the weapons were somewhat authentic.”
“I made the game for the boys, so the story needed to keep their attention. This resulted in aliens and time travel. The bonus levels harken back to the days of the arcades I used to play on Brighton Pier back in the 90s where you would be playing a level then suddenly, a random… totally different style of play or design bonus level came in. The original Wonderboy comes to mind when the lady takes you to the clouds to collect fruit and things.”
Giles completed all the development of Time Knights so it was playable but wanted to go one step further. “Once I had a final game, I wanted to see what it would take to create a physical copy of the game. So, with the help of Inside Gadget’s flash carts and writer, I was able to test this capability on real hardware. Then it led to labels for the cart and thankfully there is a great community on Etsy making it super easy to trythese things. I would recommend the Etsy Shop called MatthewMods.”
It wasn’t just a physical cart Giles was interested in making, he wanted the entire packaging to finish it off. “Then it came time to work on the instruction manual and box. I managed to create a small run for myself, the boys, and interested family members. Lastly, I reached out to several publishers, really to show the boys how far you could go with this stuff, John Roo at Retro Room Games took an interest and now it is up for sale.”
It seems that a dream Game Boy team had gotten together to bring this idea to reality and Giles reflects on what it means to him. “The boys’ friends didn’t believe they were in a game. It is now easy to prove thanks to John and his publishing company. He is great to work with.”
Giles used GB Studio to make Time Knights and feels this was made easier because “Chris Maltby’s approach is truly inspired, and to make it open-source for the community is truly amazing. I only see GB Studio going from strength to strength and it allows people like myself to realise some dreams they thought they would never get to fulfill.” He continues with “you can say similar things about NES Maker. Although it costs a little bit to purchase, the solution and the ability to create NES games are inspiring. However, GB Studio has a lower barrier to entry for newbies.”
It was not all smooth sailing and Giles had some challenges bringing a platform game to Game Boy. “Making the graphics fit within the limitations of the Game Boy hardware is tough but the documentation is very clear on the rules about this. Also, making music can be challenging when using GB Studio 2 beta 5. There are some great tutorials on YouTube but I just didn’t feel the need with all the great community resources on itch.io as well as modarchive.org.”
When thinking more broadly, Giles feels that coding on the Game Boy is popular because “there is just something great about the simplicity of the Game Boy and 8-bit games in general. The restricted colours and controls of the GB mean that you need to use your imagination to make something compelling. The simplicity of the GB hardware and the introduction of the Game Boy Color, is truly the ultimate Z80* solution for console gaming, allowing for games that are easy to get into, within a decent set of restrictions and boundaries.”
He finishes his thoughts by thinking about the nostalgia of it all. “For folks in their 40’s, it’s a nice nostalgia trip. For newer generations, retro games are very different to the games of today. When I speak to my nieces and nephews, it offers them new experiences not available in the current gen.”
*editor’s note: the Game Boy uses a Sharp LR35902 processor, which is based on a modified 8080 and Z80 processor.
Thank you Giles for speaking with GBS Central.
You can purchase a physical copy of Magic & Legend from RetroRoomgames: https://theretroroomgames.com/products/magic-legend-time-knights
You can also access digital versions on itch: https://ghamson.itch.io/timeknights and on steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/2301590/Magic_and_Legend__Time_Knights/
Happy go lucky game journalist, write for print mags, books and online. Love my retro and have a taste for new GB games.