Sunday, 8 June 2014

Game Boy Camera: Ms Twig

The lovely Ms Twig - she likes trees

Off to London again with a Game Boy Camera. It was baking hot, and the Sikh population of Britain had decided to stage a demonstration to mark the twentieth anniversary of Operation Blue Star. Elsewhere in the world gunmen attacked Karachi Airport, a boy died in a slurry pit, some policemen in Las Vegas were shot, and seventy years ago to the day the town of Isigny-sur-Mer was bombed to oblivion in the process of capturing it from the German Army. None of these things affected me in the slightest, except for the first two things, which slowed me down by a few minutes.

I bought my Game Boy Camera back in 1999. I briefly wrote for Future Publishing's Planet Game Boy. Thank you, the Pokemon franchise, for breathing life back into the Game Boy. We reviewed games with an emulator, but I felt a fraud not having the actual hardware.

The camera was launched in 1998. It outputs four-bit greyscale files with a resolution of 128x112 pixels, which is 0.014 of a megapixel. This chap fitted one to an automated panorama stand and made some striking panoramas with it, limited only by the camera's 30-picture storage space. It has another thirty pictures held in ROM, and it's a shame this isn't addressable.

Even in 1998 transferring the Game Boy Camera's images to a PC was difficult. Nintendo expected you to print the pictures with the Game Boy's thermal printer, or share them with other Game Boy owners via the Game Boy Color's infrared port. There wasn't an official Game Boy-PC interface.

A company called Mad Catz sold a kit that would connect the Game Boy to a PC's parallel port, which worked although it was awkward. You have to "print" each of the thirty images one after the other, which takes ages. The software doesn't work properly with post-2000 versions of Windows, and you need a PC with a parallel port. To simplify matters I use an old Toshiba 320CDT, a 233mhz Pentium from 1996 running Windows 95 rev b.

Shot with an infrared SLR

The Game Boy Camera was hip for a while, just like the old Fisher-Price PXL-2000 Pixelvision camcorder. No doubt there's an Instagram filter that will replicate the results. Or you could simply scale your photos down to 128x112, and scale them back up again, and play around with the colours. The camera displays a video feed when you're lining up the shot, and this chap managed to find a way to use it as a video camera.

While I'm talking about chaps, this chap - that's three different chaps so far - managed to get colour pictures from his camera, by taking a sequence of three shots through coloured filters. As you can see, the camera appealed to tinkerers. Bored, intelligent people. The unsatisfied. These are the dangerous ones and should be watched closely.

The camera saves the images with a large border

It seems that Nintendo was lukewarm on the concept. The Game Boy Camera remained on sale during the reign of the classic, vertical Game Boys but was never upgraded or replaced. It was compatible with the Game Boy Advance, but as far as I can tell it had been discontinued by the 2000s.

In 1998 the Game Boy Camera was part of my generation's first contact with digital cameras. At a launch price of just under $50 ($10 cheaper than the printer, and those prices were probably £50 and £60 here in the UK) it was less than one-tenth the price of a contemporary Sony Mavica floppy-disc-based camera, not counting the cost of the Game Boy.

In practice I imagine that most people in 1998 took some photos, looked at them on the screen, and then deleted them. If it had been launched nowadays the camera would automatically upload the pictures to Facebook so that other people could look at them once and forget them forevermore. Is this progress, hmm? Is it? Hmm?