Many thanks to mael for this interview, if he wonders, woo did spellcheck both mine and yours! Mael was fastest to answer our interview and actually I was the one that did miss time to get it online. Thanks again, Read on....
GBA Hell : A classic question for our interviews, you are famous now, how does it feel to be interviewed?
Mael : Well, it's the second time but it's still impressive to be interviewed. The first one was on IRC, and it was not a good idea. I had no time to write what I wanted to say before next questions and I felt a kind of language barrier effect. Here it's much more pleasant.
GBA Hell : Have you got any history in the gaming industry?
Mael : Not at all, except spending a lot of money in it.
GBA Hell : Have u got real life work (or like most of us -nerds- you have no real life at all?), are you looking for one or just studying?
Mael : Yes, I'm currently working as a UNIX admin inside an application support team. It takes me a lot of my spare time, but I try to stay as much as possible in a peaceful life. I left apart that nerd behaviour I had before.
GBA Hell : Which programming languages have you mastered? Do you consider coders better than the rest in bed?
Mael : I do not master any language, except shell programming. I know C a lot, I hate c++/java. I prefer a sparc disassembly of a c++ binary instead. ARM asm looks familiar to me though.
GBA Hell : How hard is GBA coding in your opinion? People say it's like coding in DOS...
Mael : Thanks to all people that give us tools like devkitadv, gcc ports and great emus. I find much more difficult programming win32 api than GBA stuff. Gba's coding is very easy. Anyway, it lacks of a real debugging environment. But it smells like it will be there soon.
GBA Hell : Which classic system did you own in the past, and which ones did you buy as a grown up?
Mael : Whoo ! I began with a ZX Spectrum in 1983. It was wonderful but so mysterious. I was too young and did not understand how people could create such stuff. Then I bought a 520ST, upgraded it with 2.5 Mb of ram, a PC XT hard emu over the 68K, and a huge harddisk (5x44Mb). In the meantime, I bought a GameBoy, 1 week after it was first release in France. It was my first game only machine. Actually, I worked in a game shop for a year and played all I could play : NeoGeo / Snes / Megadrive / Lynx / MegaCD / PCengine / GameGear / ... Then I got a PC, and discovered emulation with vsmc, the first, I think, (note: sfw was the first one, a japanese emu that could play less than 10 games) snes emu (it was in '95 maybe) and began an emu collection. People : if you are looking for a very old emu, maybe I have it. It was before internet :) Now, I still have 1 and half GB, a CGB, a GBA, a PSX, a megadrive. I had a N64 when I was living in NY, and it's still in NY, I don't know where.
GBA Hell : GBonGBA, the first and only GB emulator on a handheld. When did you think about it and how did it all begin?
Mael : When I bought my GBA, someone on a forum was asking for a GB emu for GBA. Someone started a such project (another is still there on sourceforge). But no one was really coding. Since I had near all Marat's vgb emu source online, I chose to test compiling it on GBA. It worked at first shot. So I decided to explore GBA coding with that. I just had to code
external parts : display, pad and sound. The first GBonGBA release is very close to Marat's vgb. Now it diffs from everywhere (Sorry Marat).
GBA Hell : How long have you been coding it and how many hours a week are you still putting on it? Does your personal life suffer 'cause of it!?
Mael : I started it on November. Let's say I have spent 30 hours on it since the first working release. I look at it in the morning, drinking my coffee, then I modify it in the late evening. Say 1 hour a day. My mate doesn't seem to suffer of
it except when she notice I switched on the sound :-)
GBA Hell : Have you got a schedule release for the future, what are the steps you wanna reach on each future 'big' release?
Mael : It's still in C, and difficult to optimize. But I want to continue a bit on optimizing C. In the same time, I try arm asm on small parts. I'm not completely in ease with it yet. What I can say is that v1.0 will be at full speed.
GBA Hell : How fast (slow...) is GBonGBA compared to real Hardware in your experience? Do you think you will be able to make it real speed?
Mael : I don't really know because my FA is always in use on some game. I tested it a day, between THPS2 and Wario4. I will test it again when we'll both here finish Mario. I think it's a bit slower on real hardware than on VisualBoy on my PC.
Today, it takes 6s for the first thunder flash in Zelda intro on real GB and 18s on GBonGBA/VBA. Empiric, no ? ;^) I also noticed that mode 4 display takes about 20% of cpu. It can/will be improved. I believe I'll reach full speed a day.
GBA Hell : What percentage of games are running on current build? Being ported from a compatible source, it looks like the emu has already a high compatibility rate.
Mael : You're right. All the games I tested are OK, except ANTS (a lemmings clone). But I do not have the time to test them all.
GBA Hell : Did you try to, and if not why, to get help from coders like The Hive to speed up the core of your emulator? Looks like some of them are really helpful...
Mael : I'd like to. I asked him ... no answer. But I don't want to be like borrowing and stealing too much other's work. I'm trying to do as much I can by myself (Ooo, if someone can offer me a brand new z80 asm cpu core ... No ! Don't think about it).
GBA Hell : A pretty weird question, you're actually emulating something that the GBA could emulate in hardware, are you just willing to prove it can be done in software or there is something more?
Mael : The first goal is to prove it, yes. And it's slow but not too difficult. The second one is to fill my FA cart with a lot of GB stuff, money free. Another is a great first GBA dev tutorial.
GBA Hell : Did you ever try to hack into GBA, trying to force it in emulation mode, doing something like an header to add to GB code to get it running on GBA?
Mael : I bought a dremel and made than special screwdriver to open my GBA, it's true. I made great hires detail pictures of it. I was looking for that switch people were talking about. I studied a bit its inside. But I think
there's nothing to do in it. The cpu is one-block undocumented. Too much for me. Actually, GBonGBA is a header for gb games, I think. The header idea is not a bad point of view.
GBA Hell : How do you rate GBonGBA sounds performances compared to the real thing? And how do they compare to Pavarotti?
Mael : You're Italian, so I can say Pavarotti's much more better than GBonGBA :)) (note: I hate him) Well, I'm pretty proud of the sound since, once again, it worked at the first time. I just had to copy registers from GB to GBA. Very easy. Thanks again to belogic. It was a very dark point before I read belogic docs. Faster is the emu, accurate is the sound. It's obvious but seems true.
GBA Hell : Like we asked in previous interview, how come there are 2 emulators for NES and 2 for ZX already and no advanced public emu for other "easy" consoles like colecovision or vcs2600?
Mael : Personally, I think it's due to color capabilities of the GBA. Have you seen I tried to place a bit of colors on GBonGBA ? Secondly, it should interest more people to emulate a ZX or NES than a very classic vectrex. Then, maybe we are a few here having played pong or E.T on those old consoles.
GBA Hell : Do you think we will see more GB emulators on GBA or you are the only one that could have such a wonderful-weird idea?
Mael : AFAIK, I'm the third one, but the first one with a release. I began to port gnuboy to gba too.
GBA Hell : Do you see emulators for Megadrive-Genesis, Snes or even PC Engine running at close full speed on GBA hardware?
Mael : No. I closely followed up SNES/Megadrive/PC-E since the beginning. Best snes emus began to run 100% on Pentium class PCs, not 386. And as The-Hive said, there is about a 4/1 ops ratio between GBA/Snes, not talking of external GPU/Sound Units on those hardware’s. May be this can be achieved if we could overclock GBA, like this has been done on PalmOS for gb emu.
GBA Hell : How long will you keep tweaking this wonderful GameBoy Emulator? Will you move to something else, maybe still for GBA and still emulation related (we were talking about Coleco and 2600...)? Have you something hidden on your hard disk to declare?
Mael : I will stop GBonGBA when I will play Zelda/OOS/OOT on it, at least. If I find something interesting to code, I will, sure. But until now, I have only one (except gnuboy).
GBA Hell : Are you looking after someone else’s GBA project, who would you consider best homebrew GBA coder around?
Mael : I'd like to share my stuff but I'm stocked with a kind of non disclosure agreement with Marat, even if vgb src is widely available (I just discovered that) on a well know *free* unix *bsd* system. They're a lot to congratulate. Bruno Vedder is doing a really nice work. ZXAdvance and Foon are impressive. Leonard's stuff is awesome (I remember him when I was on ST). The gba scene seems to be the most active scene I've seen.
GBA Hell : Any wider thoughts on GBA homebrew scene? The HiVe feels like it is elitaristic, what's your thought?
Mael : There is a lot of kiddies around. I dislike people that can't even execute a simple dos concatenate operation and are asking for a useless winbox to choose there roms. On the other way, there is a lot of great people, doing as much as
possible to collect information on gba (people at www.devrs.com, for example). A lot more are sharing their findings and it's really great.
GBA Hell : What do you like to do when you are not coding, of course skipping sex related matters...?
Mael : Filling the fridge ? draining off ashtrays ?
having sex? I have a lot of things on standby: Origamis, electronic stuff, freeflight plane models. I'm also studying beers and alcools (long term). I enjoy the best I can my vacations abroad or in France. I'd like to share much time with my friends too.
GBA Hell : Which are your favourite Videogames all-time and nowadays?
Mael : I think the best one is Dungeon Master on ST. Unmatchable! I only buy Nintendo systems for Marios and Zeldas. On my spectrum, my preferred ones were JetSetWilly and Eureka. On PC, the award should go to Doom, but my preferred one is Little Big Adventure.
GBA Hell : X-Box, Gamecube, PS2, none or all? Both from a coding point of view and as a gamer...
Mael : XBox sounds to me like a Blue-Screen-Of-Death-Machine, and nothing more. I never seen any Gamecube nor any PS2, except in shops. PS2 looks like the most comfortable dev unit. But I can't say much more without knowing.
GBA Hell : Thanks for everything, any final thoughts, some exclusives to offer at the end?
Mael : What do you think of a saveram in GBonGBA very soon ?
"Ringraziamenti. Vederli presto. Tchao." (note: supposed to be italian"...)
The Lost Question
GBA Hell : If I offer you a free Gameboy Pocket, will you stop working on GBonGBA?
Mael : Of course not. What a question !