I’ve been following Joe’s Game Boy modding exploits on Instagram for some time (@joeteach) and was more than delighted when he agreed to aggregate his modded GameBoys for all to see here on RetroGamesCollector. Ranging from the subtle ‘Grey Boy’ to some of his more striking combinations, one thing remains true, that he is breathing new life into ageing handhelds. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking, and at the bottom of the article you will find a short interview with Joe himself.
When did you become interested in video games and what was the first video game you played?
Joe: I became interested in videogames when my Dad bought a secondhand Amstrad CPC6128 around 1988. Before that I’d play games at friends’ houses but I never really thought I was any good at them and that put me off. I can remember playing my first videogame though, it was some sort of pong clone on a huge computer in primary school, the thing had to be wheeled around on this great big trolley. Must have been around 1984 I think. I was terrible at it!
What was the first games console or computer you owned and how old were you?
Joe: The first computer we had as a family was the Amstrad, however it was when we got an Amiga 500+ that I really started to realise how much fun could be had with a computer. I was at high school then and I used to spend hours mucking around with random shareware programs I’d get from magazines or market stalls; I played a lot of games but my fondest memories are just from exploring all those weird and wonderful programs. It sounds a bit clichéd but it is the Gameboy that really got me hooked on videogames. I’d heard about them from a friend and just imagined it as a Game & Watch type LCD handheld; when I saw that dot matrix display I was just blown away! I can still remember seeing it and having that pang of need – I had to have one. I loved it; I had independence, could play it anywhere and it was all mine (a real treat when you’re one of four kids). It was playing on the Gameboy that got me over my insecurities at being able to play well; it became more about enjoyment. I completed my first ever game, Super Mario Land, on the Gameboy and got pretty good at Tetris too. Very fond memories.
What is your favourite hardware manufacturer (Sega, Nintendo, Atari Commodore etc.) ?
Joe: I’ve always loved Nintendo stuff, mainly down to the lack of any pretensions of their hardware being anything other than pure fun. The Gameboy obviously but also SNES, N64, GameCube… These were all such fun machines that I still play regularly even now.
What is your favourite console or computer apart from Game Boy(!)?
Joe: It’s such a tough call. I have so many that I play and love but I think it would have to be the SNES. It’s a beautiful machine and there are so many great, great games for it.
What got you into modding Game Boys?
Joe: I have always been into dismantling stuff and seeing what’s inside and I’d modded consoles before with 60hz switches, modchips etc, so when I started messing around with LSDJ to make chiptunes I started looking at tutorials for how to make it look and sound better. I started out with a Gameboy Color; I put a front light in it from a GBA SP and did an internal prosound mod. After that I opened up a regular Gameboy and tried a prosound mod. It was a mess! The wires were really thick, I think I shorted some connections and I over tightened the screws and cracked the plastic. Never mind the mod, the Gameboy didn’t work at all by the time I finished. It was heartbreaking at the time but we all have to start somewhere!
Where do you source most of your Game Boys from (ebay, flea markets etc) ?
Joe: I love going to car boot sales over the summer and always pick up any Gameboy related stuff I find there, but they aren’t as common as they used to be. As I’ve got more used to working with the hardware, I mainly keep an eye out for broken ones on eBay and either repair them or use them for spare parts. Once you get used to them they are pretty easy to repair and refurbish.
Which is your favourite modded Game Boy creation and why?
Joe: I did a ridiculous project where I built a SNES controller into a Gameboy shell, it’s operated by the Gameboy buttons and is meant for controlling the Super Gameboy. It was a daft idea and really difficult as I had to hack the controls and there wasn’t a common ground; I was following all these tiny traces everywhere. About five minutes before I finally got it working I was ready to throw it in the bin! I love it though, proper mad professor stuff.
The burning house scenario: which Game Boy would you save first?
Joe: My orange painted Gameboy actually contains the guts of my childhood Gameboy, so that’s precious to me.
The Desert Island scenario: which one Game Boy game would you take?
Joe: I could spend years happily playing around with LSDJ; that’s the main reason I got so into modding Gameboys and I’m really hooked on the whole chiptune scene as a result. That said, it’s not a game as such. It’s a predictable choice, but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Tetris.
Have you any tips for budding console modders?
Joe: My main advice would be start by getting hold of a cheap, tatty old machine, something that’s not too precious. Get a small, low wattage soldering iron, not a huge great cheap one. Try every mod you can find out about with it and you’ll get to know the hardware. You will make mistakes and you’ll learn from them. Read tutorials, watch videos on YouTube and don’t feel like there is only one right way of doing something; you can be creative. Ask people questions. There are no stupid questions. I learned from others who shared their knowledge just like I do now. Once you start to feel more confident you can start thinking about modding your pride and joy. Be patient!