With the scarcity of certain types of games on Windows Phone, many players turn to emulators to get their fix. Emulators allow us to play titles designed for older videogame consoles on our phones. Download an emulator and you’ll have access to hundreds of classic games, assuming you can find the ROMs (software images) for those games. Some people consider playing old games via emulation to be software piracy, while everybody else marvels at just how cool it is to play those old games on the go.
The gaming emulators on Windows Phone come from two key developers, M.k and Samuel Blanchard. Today we bring you an in-depth interview with Samuel, the French developer who created Purple Cherry (a GameBoy Color emulator) and Blue Tomato (a Sega Master System emulator). Read on to learn about the challenges of porting emulators to Windows Phone and what Samuel’s next projects will be!
Please tell us a little about yourself outside of the world of development and gaming.
It’s difficult for me to talk about myself outside development because it’s my main passion but I also like movies and comics. I’m a young father of an energetic baby, so my interests and passions are currently going through a lot of changes.
How long have you been a programmer?
I’ve started to learn on computer book when I have 14, but I bought my first computer when I was 15. It was a beautiful EXL100 from Exelvision - a strange French computer. I started programming with BASIC. Later on, with an Atari 520ST, I continued to use Assembler and C to make demos and games. Now I’m 40 years old and I still have a lot to learn.
Is software development your profession or just a hobby?
It’s my profession and a hobby.
I’m responsible for development and innovation at Naviso, a company that designs, develops and deploys computer management solutions.
There I create web portals, tools and services for business use, plus applications for mobile devices - all with Microsoft technologies. Naviso is a winner of the AppCampus accelerator (http://www.appcampus.fi) and we are currently working on a big, fun application for Windows Phone.
As hobby, I love to develop apps for Windows Phone. Some require a lot of work to create, like Purple Cherry or Let’s Walk. Others are just for fun or developed for contests.
I’m also a Windows Phone MVP and Nokia Developer Champion.
What got you interested in emulation?
Left: Fantasy Zone (arcade). Right: Crazy Zone (GBC)
In 1999, I developed my own GameBoy Color game. It was a remake of SEGA’s classic shoot-em-up Fantasy Zone called Crazy Zone. I entered it in a contest and won the first place. Crazy Zone later became the default game in Purple Cherry for Windows Phone.
A few years later I had some time to spare, so I decided to create my own GameBoy emulator written in C# that could run Crazy Zone. It took so much hard work, but when I saw Zelda running in my emulator on PC for the first time, it was really exciting!
Later I needed a cool platform to port my emulator onto, and I chose Windows Phone. Wario’s Jewels (the ancestor of Purple Cherry) was born.
What made you choose Windows Phone as a development platform?
Windows Phone is a natural place for a C# developer to work. I’m a huge fan of XAML. Thanks to tools like Visual Studio, Windows Phone is a very competitive platform for app and game development.
In that case, what do you have in store for Windows Phone?
In fact I have three projects lined up:
- The first is to port a GameBoy Advance emulator (written in C# by Garbo) into Purple Cherry.
- The second is a port of Visual Boy Advance (similar to M.k’s VBA8) but with the interface of Purple Cherry/Blue Tomato. See photo above.
- Finally, I’m working on my AppCampus app (funded by Nokia and Microsoft). It’s a fun and completely new kind of app.
Will the emulation projects use Windows Phone 8?
No for the Purple Cherry GBA emulator but the engine is slow and the compatibility is not really good. Yes for the port of Visual Boy Advance because VBA is written in C++.
How close is the WP8 GBA emulator to completion?
As you know, my family has three members now and the baby take a lot of my time (but it’s cool). As a hobby, I can only work on the GBA during my holidays so it’s impossible for me to propose an ETA at this point.
How much will it cost?
The Purple Cherry GBA functionality will be free, because it is just a bonus feature. The VBA port should cost $1.29 or so, just like the others apps in the Fruit emulators family.
Will your VBA port play GameBoy or GameBoy Color games?
It’s too early to tell right now.
How does your GBA emulator compare to VBA8?
VBA8 is a really good port of VBA but the UI is very simple and I don’t like the controls very much. Damien Bigot, the graphic designer of my previous emulators’ controls, is working on new graphics for my GBA emulator’s controls.
Does the GBA present any challenges to emulation compared to the previous systems you’ve worked with, GameBoy Color and Sega Master System/Game Gear?
Like many emulators on mobile devices, my GBA emulator and M.k’s are ports of existent open source emulators. It’s not difficult to port them compared to creating one from scratch (as I did with Purple Cherry), but it is a bit boring.
Speaking of which, do you have any plans to release WP8 versions of Blue Tomato and Purple Tomato?
Yes I plan to make WP8 versions because Purple Cherry and Blue Tomato are hybrids apps (containing Silverlight and XNA) and Windows Phone 8 has some problems with tombstoning hybrid apps. Tombstoning is when you freeze data in order to quit and return to it later, such as with Fast App Switching.
How do you like developing for Windows Phone 8 so far, and what new opportunities does it present for hardware emulation?
Dual core processors and C++/DirectX provide fantastic opportunities for emulation because they give direct access to the CPU. More power means we can emulate stronger hardware. It’s really cool how much we can accomplish with emulation on WP8, and all without jailbreaking anyone's devices!
Another one of WP8's advantages is better accessory support. Do you plan to support the recently released MOGA Pro Controller in your emulators?
I haven’t looked at the MOGA Pro SDK at this point. Is controller support important to your readers?
Finally, are there any changes Microsoft could make to WP8 that would make it friendlier to developers like you?
The technical offer of Microsoft is great but moving from XNA to DirectX is not simple. Maybe they could add some XAML control oriented pixel (to hide the complexity of Direct X) in order to help beginners.
You can follow Samuel on Twitter @samoteph and his blog : http://blog.naviso.fr
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