|OS:||Game Boy Advance|
|Website:||http://www.bripro.com/gbagi/index.php (web archive)|
GBAGI or Game Boy Advance Adventure Game Interpreter is Brian Provinciano's AGI replacement interpreter for the Game Boy Advance Adventure Game Interpreter. It allows Sierra's original animated adventure games to be played on the Nintendo Game Boy Advance.
From the original GBAGI home page:
Here at last, GBAGI, the interpreter/emulator/software that runs your favorite original Sierra games including King's Quest 1-4, Space Quest 1-2, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Manhunter 1-2, The Black Cauldron, and more on your Nintendo Game Boy Advance.
GBAGI is a Sierra adventure game interpreter/emulator for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance. With the use of a flash cart on your GBA, you can play all your AGI games on the portable. Not only can you play Sierra's adventure games, but also your own, and dozens of homebrew games made by other enthusiasts!
I began development on GBAGI quite some time ago, working on it as I developed SCI Studio to give the application programming side of my brain a break and give game side some exercise. A couple years back I began playing around with building an AGI engine, as well as disassembling the original interpreter. I was able to finish the public AGI disassembly to a stage where it could actually be successfully reassembled into a working binary. Once that was finished, I was completely familiar with the inner workings of AGI. Rather than convert it all directly to C code for the GBA, as that could not be done due to hardware differences, as well as not the best approach, I designed an engine base which would take into account the entire GBA's layout, while retaining portability and extendibility. When the entire base was done, I began referencing the disassembly to fill in the gaps and command codes (which I documented a bit).
GBAGI was completed to a stage of about 95% completion in the very beginning of October 2003. It has quite a story behind it, and it's well worth a read. It will answer many of your questions, and give you an understanding of the current market state of classic adventure games.
Before I get into the history behind GBAGI, I must answer the number one question many of you might be asking. "How do I run these games on my Game Boy Advance?". Well, that's the unfortunate part. In order to run these on your actual GBA, you must purchase a flash linker. It includes a rewritable cartridge and connection hardware to write the ROM from your PC onto the cartridge. These are reasonably low cost, and come in sizes from 32Mbit to 1Gbit (4MB to 128MB). The 32M ones are hard to find, but you likely would want at least a 64M one anyway. The 64M models are as low as $50, and sometimes even less. I do not sell them, but they are easily found on the net. I won't say where, because I'm not trying to sell you anything...just Google for them. On this site all you will find is free software.
Next, you might be asking, "Why must we buy these flash carts? Surely Nintendo would license and manufacture these games!". Well, that is where the long story begins, or at least, where the interesting part does.
Sierra owns the rights to King's Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and of course, all of the other games Sierra games which GBAGI runs. And, behind Sierra was Vivendi Universal. Here is the story, in which I will refer most of the people involved as "people" and "the person", as to not reveal their real names, thus preventing them from being harassed by all you loyal Sierra fans who want to see these games on store shelves. (I know you all mean well)
It was the end of the summer of 2003 when I first contacted Sierra. The first contact forwarded me to another person, then another, and I finally was given an email address to which I could contact Vivendi Universal Games. I emailed them, and they forwarded my message to the next department, to which my message was forwarded to the person in which I needed to talk to. After a few weeks, I finally received a response, and there was quite a good amount of interest. I was told that there were a number of people which had great interest in GBAGI, and they needed to arrange a day in which all of them could attend a meeting. The day was scheduled for Thursday, October 9th, 2003. I worked around the clock to get GBAGI fully compatible with all games of the games, and at as close to a completed stage as possible.
Up all night, Wednesday at noon, I boarded the plane and was off to Los Angles to meet with Vivendi Universal Games. Little did I know, that as I boarded the plane, my email box had just received a new message from them, stating that the meeting would need to be rescheduled. It was too late though, I was on my way, and none the wiser.
Thursday, I arrive at the amazing building of Vivendi Universal Games. I enter and take the elevator up, sign in for my 3:00PM meeting, and am greeted. The person greeting me is at first puzzled that I am there, didn't I get the email? No I did not. Well, it turns out that one of the people very interested in GBAGI who was to attend the meeting is no longer with the company, the others were caught up in a major meeting in New York. Things seemed pretty bad at first, but they brought over a man to which I could have a meeting with and discuss the software. I showed him GBAGI and explained how it worked and what it could do. He remembered playing the old games when he was young and how great they were. Things were going very well.
The only snag was that he felt that these games were geared towards an older audience, and the GBA was geared towards a younger. As well, that the graphics were quite a low resolution. Valid points, though both can be proven wrong with the huge success of the emulated NES games Nintendo had released through E-Cards and uploadable from Game Cube titles, as well as the Atari 2600 collection, and other ports/remakes. However, VUG(Vivendi Universal Games), whom are affiliated with Blizzard Entertainment had just released two classic ports to the Game Boy Advance, The Lost Vikings and Blackthorne, which both did not do too well. This is why they were now a bit stand off-ish about it. This is where I could go a bit on a rant, but will keep it short. Basically, the games can not be put in the same category. The Lost Vikings was a great game, I remember playing it when it was new. However, now, it's just another platformer, simple 16-bit era platformer, as is Blackthorne. The market was populated with so many platformers back in the 8/16-bit eras, that I myself have quite lost interest in most of them, and platformers now need to really be unique and innovative for me to enjoy them (Crash Bandicoot for the GBA for example, is one platformer that truly does deliver one of the best experiences in that genre on the handheld). The other point is that these games are quite small, and the entire Sierra collection could fit on one cartridge, which would give an incredible amount of hours of play. Though, he mentioned they were more interested in putting one or two on each cart if they did release it, which I feel would greatly reduce potential sales.
Anyway, the main thing that he mentioned was the graphics. There was interest in the later games on the GBA with higher resolution graphics, but those could not be emulated like the original games. They would need to be rewritten to work specifically around the GBA's 256K of main memory, as the high resolution PC versions required a minimum of 1MB to 8MB of RAM. As well, their resolutions were 320x200-640x480, while the GBA's is 240x160. Memory a side, there is no way they could be nicely squashed down to the GBA's resolution through emulation without impairing the text readability.
So, the meeting was over, and the man told me that they would check it out. They forwarded it down to Sierra's office down in WA, which by the way, is driving distance from where I live (in BC, Canada). Anyway, I kept in contact with them, but after a number of months, it was pretty clear that this would not be picked up. Now here's the kicker for all you loyal Sierra fans, all of you on your toes hoping for Sierra to do something with their old adventure games. All you collectors wanting some more classic Sierra games to add to your collection. All you Space Quest fans, King's Quest fans, and the rest, here is the news that might not come as a shock, but will surely be very disappointing. After a few months of waiting, I explicitly told them, that I would be willing to give them GBAGI, for free, just so I could add it to my resume, that I had developed a Nintendo Game Boy Advance game for Vivendi Universal Games. They were still not interested. So there you have it, the classic Sierra adventure games are not going to be hitting the market any time soon.
We can only wonder, what it would have been like had that person scheduled to attend the meeting still been with VUG. Had the unexpected meeting in New York which detained the others not come up. Had I been able to reschedule if I had received notice before leaving for the airport. We will never know. However, as a side note, I would like to greatly thank Vivendi Universal Games for giving GBAGI a chance, giving me their time, and most importantly, being very helpful. They not only took it around to see if there was in house interest, they also looked at external publishers to see if they were interested. I couldn't thank them enough, they did their best. Thank you!
To conclude the story, after the meeting, I began developing an engine which would run adventure games for the Game Boy Advance with the graphics and capabilities of the later Sierra games. In fact, I wrote graphics conversion utilities which would convert all the graphics to my engine's format. I also built a fairly in depth decompiler for Sierra's later games, which converted their byte code into a high level language which would allow me to easily convert them to the GBA without the need for original source code, keeping everything intact. I built a significant amount of the engine, including the VM and a C++-like compiler. However, I was given a job offer, to which I am very grateful for. It helped me realize that I really should not be working on software aimlessly for months on the slight possibility that a large company such as Viviendi Universal will pick it up. Instead, I am working a great steady job in computer programming, the field I love, and am enjoying it very much. I might not be working in game development right now, but I'm still coding in an area I enjoy. Besides, I still am coding games, just part time, when I get done my work. Be on the look out, you'll all see in a few months what's coming out from under my sleeve in the game department!
So here we are. Unfortunately you won't be going to the store and picking up an awesome Space Quest cartridge for your Game Boy Advance. However, you can still download GBAGI for free, purchase a flash cart for the cost of a new PS2 game, and play all of your favorite Sierra games on the go!
GBAGI runs all the PC and Amiga AGI games, including version three games. It is completely open source, so you are welcome to do with it as you wish.
You can not actually download any of Sierra's games from this site. However, here you will find the GBAGI binary along with a tool which will add the Sierra games which you own to a GBA ROM for you to play. You also will find GBAGI ROMs packed in with demos that are freely available.