2020 has changed things for a lot of people. While the video game industry has generally done well out of the fact that everyone has had to remain indoors for most of the year, the coronavirus outbreak has had a massively negative effect on other business sectors, with many companies having to lay off staff or even close due to the loss of earnings and general disruption.
Quang Nguyen is one individual who has found himself in such a situation. If you're a keen follower of the retro gaming scene in the UK, then you'll almost certainly know him via his @asobitech Twitter handle, via which he shows off his utterly insane vintage game collection. However, he's also rather good at coding, and actually entered game development way back in 1999, when he started messing around with the Game Boy Development Kit by Pascal Felber and Michael Hope.
Along with his brother, Nguyen decided to create a homebrew port of Jetpac by UK company Ultimate Play The Game, which would, of course, later become Rare. Manfred Linzner from Shin’en (Fast Racing NEO, The Touryst) composed some of the music and sound effects, and the final product was submitted to a competition run by Bung Enterprises, the manufacturer of the GB Xchanger cart which allowed bedroom coders to play their creations on original Game Boy hardware.
It sadly didn't win, but Nguyen's efforts were good enough to get him noticed by UK studio Graphic State Games, which offered him a job making Game Boy Color titles. JetPak DX (as it was known) would be put on ice as Nguyen's professional career began, but it didn't quite go according to plan:
I dropped out of university and accepted the job. Graphic State had acquired the contract to port Re-Volt over to the Game Boy Color. My first industry job was to cram this 3D remote control car racing game, in to a Game Boy Color cartridge in six months. I was the only programmer, naive and inexperienced, but wanted to do well as it was my dream job. I worked diligently, it was a trial by fire. I learned a huge amount, real fast. As the deadline drew near, the project was cancelled. This happens all the time in the industry. To salvage the work done, we turned what we had into an ATV racing game, that we would try to get published. Our next contract was to make two horse riding games, Mary King’s Riding Star and Equestriad 2001. We created prototypes for both, but then got the contract for Lego Stunt Rally. The horses got put on the back burner as we went all in with Lego, we only had three months. I took what I had learned from Re-Volt, and built upon that. As we entered the third month, pressure and stress had been building. Then disaster struck as my hard drive died. I lost everything between the last build and the current. I totally burned out. The boss fired me. I had failed at my dream job and was totally broken.
It was not until 2007 that Nguyen started coding again, and founded Asobitech to create games in his spare time. He's been working on MaoMao Castle: A Magical Cat-Dragon Fantasy Adventure for quite some time, and was due to launch the game this year just as the worst possible news struck – due to the pandemic, he was made redundant from his day job. Rather than allow this to get him down, Nguyen saw it as an opportunity to launch himself into full-time game development, and "invest everything into making this childhood dream job work."
To mark this move, Nguyen decided to return to JetPak DX and release the game on a physical cartridge. He has updated the in-game art with the help of Lucan Monks and has fixed various issues; new weapons and level layouts have been added, earning the game the new moniker Super JetPak DX:
As I type this, I am finishing up the code for Super JetPak DX, so it can be put on the cartridges and sent out. December 2020 posting happens, to the people around the world. Which means there is finally a physical Game Boy game with my name in the credits, 21 years on from when I started making a Game Boy game.
You can pre-order Super JetPak DX here. The game costs £40 (complete with box, manual and bonus ROM download) or £25 for an unboxed cartridge and ROM download. You can also purchase the ROM on its own for £10.