It’s based on an existing emulator called JSGB, by Pedro Ladaria, and you can install it right now via Mobile Safari. You’ll need a Google Drive account with some Game Boy ROMs in it, optionally with cover art image files too. Once you’ve signed in, it “just works.”
Game Play author Jason Morley has been trying to run emulators on mobile devices since the Psion Series 3 in the mid-90s, so it stands to reason that he’d give the iPhone a go. But there’s more to it.
“That it’s near impossible to run an emulator on a device as powerful as an iPhone due to the App Store restrictions has always been a frustration,” Morley tells me, “so I wanted to see what could be done to change that.”
“I had a rudimentary version working on an iPhone 4 early last year,” he says, “but it wasn’t until I got my hands on an iPhone 5 and could see that it was fast enough to be playable that I started pulling something together.” He estimates that it took him the equivalent of a couple of weeks development time, but Game Play’s been in the works since September.
The trickiest part was actually one you might think of as simple—Morley needed a way to get ROMs onto users’ devices without hosting them himself. “The world of console ROMs is a murky one at best and you certainly don’t want to be exposed to the various legal issues involved,” he explains.
Sound support is still to come, along with Game Boy Color games, but the GameBoy-Online emulator core that provides these features needs to be further optimized for the iPhone 5 first. We might be seeing Game Play on 4th-gen iPads and in desktop web browsers soon, too. The iPad Mini may not be powerful enough at this stage, but it’s on the cards for future generations.
He works on it in his free time, between other hobby projects and a day job as Product Architect for RealVNC Limited—where he looks after the likes of VNC Viewer. “I don’t get to touch code nearly as much as I’d like,” he admits, “but it’s a chance to work with some great guys, turning out some highly-polished products.”
Being a labor of love, Game Play’s future depends largely on its popularity. If people enjoy it, Morley will be encouraged to put the effort in to polish it and add new features. “I’m keen to see if anyone actually uses Game Play before spending too much more time on it,” he says. “That said, I’d certainly hope to have a good number of items checked off in the next few months.”
Will he try his hand at other old game consoles, now that Game Play has turned out so well? Maybe. “I’ve always been a huge fan of the Game Gear,” Morley says, “so I suspect the Game Gear/Master System might be on the cards.”
For now, he’s just happy to see people using Game Play—enjoying the legendary Nintendo handheld and its many classics all over again.
“It’s great to have a chance to share.”