Goodboy Galaxy Retrospective

Some of my favorite projects and internet subcultures are the ones focused around making new games on old consoles. Stuff like GB Studio, the NEXXT graphics tool, Morphcat Games, and all the creators on twitter posting to the gbc hashtag. It seems like the Gameboy and NES are by far the most popular, so I was very surprised to see a brand new Gameboy Advanced game, Goodboy Galaxy!

Furthermore, to my delight this game is really stinkin good. Good enough that I think if it had been released during the life of the GBA, it would be on the top 10 list of pretty much every person. It's an insanely polished metroidvania with clever mechanics, quirky characters and writing, and beautiful artwork. Everyone should give it a shot, either through an emulator or the soon to be PC release.

With that unpaid shill out of the way, here's a memory.

Memory: Wanting to Make Games

I get the sense that the creators of Goodboy Galaxy had a similar childhood as me. That meaning they played the GBA growing up, and dreamed of someday making their own game for the console! This got me thinking about my own desire to make games as a kid. Even when I was little I was thinking about mechanics, writing fake soundtracks, and creating whole worlds in my head.

The earliest attempt I can remember of me trying to actualize something was a card game, I'm guessing when I was around 8 (give or take a couple years). To create the cards I would ...

  1. Create the characters or items out of Bionicles.
  2. Take a picture of the character with the cheapest digital camera imaginable.
  3. Print out those pictures really small.
  4. Cut out said pictures and tape them to the (hand drawn) rest of the card. This would be the master copy of the card.
  5. Scan the master copy.
  6. Print and cut out the final cards.

I did this for close to 50 cards, across 2 decks! If only I knew how to use photoshop.

Oh and that was just the cards. The actual game took place on a physical grid based battlefield made of foam board. Each deck had its own board that would connect to your opponents like a jigsaw puzzle, creating the full map. You would then summon and evolve monsters with your cards, and they would move around and battle it out to the death!

... Thinking about it now ... that's actually still a pretty neat idea!

Side Note: I was really into stuff like Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon, and Digimon at the time I was creating this game. If your childhood included those things also you may notice some of my inspirations.

Mechanic: Design through Subtraction

There's a great GMTK video about the philosophy of designing by subtraction. The short of it is you try to refine your game by removing things that do not prop up its core message or mechanic. This is a very neat idea and resonates with my preferences in game design. However I think Goodboy Galaxy shows there's another way you can approach the idea of subtraction. That is, instead of permanently removing things as part of the development process, you remove mechanics as part of the design!

Now this is not a brand new idea. I've seen many Ludum Dare games where you lose mechanics as you progress. However, those attempts in my opinion often fail. Powering up feels good, who wants to get weaker the longer you play? Also removing mechanics usually has the side effect of making things simpler for the player, which seems like the opposite of what you want to happen as people invest more hours into your game.

Goodboy Galaxy is the first attempt of this I've experienced that fully succeeds. How does it work? Wel, Your player character Maximus has 3 core abilities

  1. Their gun, which is used to shoot monsters among other things.
  2. Their Shield, which allows Max to take a single hit. It recharges after a couple seconds.
  3. Their Jetpack, which allows them to jump. You can even activate it mid fall!

What Goodboy Galaxy does though is almost always take away one of those 3 items as you explore it's planets. The levels are then designed with many paths through it that are only accessible with a certain combination of 2 items! Stuff like making a single path require you taking a hit, which would mean needing the shield. Another example would be placing blocks that can only be destoyed with your gun. This creates a really satisfying loop of having locations teased, then you having to find the right ability combination and path to that teased area. There were countless times during my playthrough that I had a thought like "ah, i'll have to remember to go back here with my gun".

Another side effect of this is your progression is split across multiple "streams". The main example of this is that at a point you get a beam sword which can only be used when you don't have your gun. Concurrently, you get different which creates some neat puzzles.types of charged shots for your gun. Both those abilities open up new paths to explore. I do feel this could have been developed further in Goodboy Galaxy. I would have liked to see similar new abilities that are only available when you dont have your shield or jetpack. This also would be a great place to add some non-linearity, by allowing you to get different abilities in any order.

The core takeaway for me here is don't be afraid to take things away for the player.. just make sure you give something different in return!

Basically its all about ...

The year is almost over, which means it's time for me to return to the world of modern gaming. However I should have enough time to finish one last GBA game, that being the Legend of Zelda: the Minish Cap.