During our Gamescom coverage you may have noticed some rather pixelised pictures featuring in our 8bit view of the show floor. They came courtesy of my Game Boy Camera, a piece of cutting-edge technology back in the mid-nineties that now pushes out images the size of a postage stamp.
That said, I find they have a certain charm. Admittedly whatever you’re photographing has to be of a suitable composition – namely not too busy and with a favourable contrast between back and foreground – but what they produce has more to them than a thousand instagram filters.
Back in the day the only way to save these images was to print them out on the Game Boy Printer, but as time has gone by that’s proven less reliable. Despite printing through heat rather than ink, the Printer has suffered as the paper rolls have tended to deteriorate leading to rough printouts full of dithering. Plus, even when you do get a good print size is still an issue.
So, with my retro kick in full swing I resolved to get those images to the PC, and it’s fair to say it wasn’t easy. For anyone else wanting to do the same I offer you this step-by-step guide.
The easy way
For those of you still with access to a parallel port you need look no further than a Mad Catz gadget. Their GB to PC cable comes complete with software to simply pluck your pictures straight from your camera.
However, and this is a big however, you need both a parallel port and Windows XP. Installing an OS is easy enough but with the advent of USB the parallel port is all but extinct. I did try with a USB adapter to bridge the gap, but with no joy.
The hard way
If you don’t have the requisite ports then prepare to jump through some hoops. Here’s a list of what you require:
First up, backup your Game Boy Camera to Mega Memory. Due to the angles involved in plugging one into another you may have trouble on an original Game Boy (the Camera lies flat against the back of the Game Boy once plugged in to the Mega Memory and the lens’ bulge doesn’t help) but should be fine on the Game Boy Colour if you remove the battery cover.
Though the instructions included in the box are in French, it’s pretty intuitive. Select the top-left option and backup the save game to the Mega Memory.
It’s a handy to thing to do/remember when taking the camera out and about, too. The camera itself can only store 30 shots at a time so a quick backup will keep you going during those prolonged shoots.
The next stage is transferring the save game to the flash cart. Unplug the Game Boy Camera from the Mega Memory and instead pop in the flash cart. Then, from the Mega Memory menus restore your save game. This will copy the save game you’ve just backed up from the Camera onto the flash cart.
This is now where the faff comes in, especially during your first attempt. For one, you need Windows XP. It may be feasible with later versions of Windows but the way drivers are signed and installed meant I found it far easier to install VM Ware Player and install XP onto that than it was to hack around in the lower levels of my OS. Prior to this I had zero experience with VM Ware but getting my older version of Windows up and running was near to painless. For those looking for help there are plenty of guides available through Google so I won’t delve into it further.
From this point, assume we’re operating under Windows XP.
Plug in the flash cart and let Windows try and install the drivers. They won’t be found automatically so point the search at the at the disc that comes with the cart.
Also install the flash cart application found on the same DVD and we’re done for the one-offs. It should be catchily called “GB USB”.
Order is important with a lot of this so make sure GB USB is closed. Now, connect your flash cart up to the PC, and open up the freshly installed app. Choose “Read SRAM” at the bottom and with this you’re copying the save game to your hard drive; just remember to save it out with a .sav extension as the app itself doesn’t. If “Read SRAM” isn’t selectable it means Windows does not recognise the device, usually meaning the earlier driver installation failed.
An important note: don’t, whatever you do, have the flash cart plugged into the Mega Memory and the PC at the same time. Doing so can corrupt data.
To extract the images from the save game we’ll use a nifty little program called GBCamera Dump. This will open up the .sav allowing you to see your images in all their tiny glory. At this point you’ll be able to save all of tem out to bitmaps, ready for tweaking.
Just remember if you’re blowing them up to use a non-optimised scalar function such as Nearest Neighbour. Using such a method will keep the pixels exactly where the Game Boy intended them and prevent any nasty smooth or antialiasing other scalars may introduce.
And that’s that. With only a handful of gadgets, a flash cart imported from the States and the minor step of installing a whole new operating system, you too can have your Game Boy Camera images preserved for posterity forever.
Now, do excuse me. I hear I’ve my brother’s Game Boy Camera in a dusty box in the garage. I’m going to crack it open and see what joys await me from a bygone age.
Thanks very much to James Umber and his blog for pointers. Plus the random Flickr boards that showed a similar level of stubbornness in getting their GBC pictures downloaded.
- VM Ware Player: http://www.vmware.com/products/player
- Mad Catz GB to PC: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mad-Catz-Camera-Link-Cable/dp/B00002AH2V
- Mega Memory: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00004UBM5/ref=oh_details_o02_s00_i00
- Flash cart: http://store.kitsch-bent.com/product/usb-64m-smart-card
- Save game decoder: http://drx.a-blast.org/~drx/projects/gameboy/howto/gb_cam_dump.zip