gba4ios2_devicesThis weekend I caught up with Riley Testut, an 18 year old senior at Richardson High School just outside of Dallas, TX. Unless you're one of his nearly 25,000 Twitter followers, you likely don't know his name, but if you've been reading TouchArcade over the last week you definitely know his app: GBA4iOS, a shockingly great Gameboy, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy Advance emulator that doesn't even require jailbreaking to install.

Riley got an iPhone in 7th grade, and like many of us, absolutely fell in love with all the apps he could download and the infinite possibilities the device presented. It didn't take long for him to decide to make his own app, and with no prior development experience he simply picked up some books, followed a few online tutorials, and was on his way. The first app he released was Shoot Around [Free], a basic augmented reality shooter that plays a lot like AR Invaders [$1.99]. It you look at the iTunes description, it even retains the original introduction from his father: "Developed by my 13 year old son."

From there, he went on to build Camera Prime [Free], which essentially is a rough version of Camera+ [$2.99] released just about a year before the chart-topping camera app by tap tap tap. With these two apps under his belt, Riley describes his experience level as "enough to get by." Coincidence would lead him to stumble across a SNES emulator on the code sharing site Github, which he fixed up a bit and eventually uploaded as his improved version of SNES4iOS, but Riley's passions were elsewhere: His favorite console of all time, the Game Boy Advance.

zzzIf you haven't tried it yet, GBA4iOS is easily the best emulator I've used so far on iOS. The install process is as simple as rolling your date back to some time before February 19th, 2014, and mashing this download link on your iOS device. The Game Boy Advance was a great system too, with the Game Boy Advance SP easily being among my favorite mobile hardware of all time. Playing GBA4iOS on an iPhone is eerily similar to actually playing on a proper SP, as the screen size in portrait mode is very similar and the posture you find yourself in while playing will likely closely mimic the very way you sat mashing away in ancient Pokemon titles. Graphic artist, and good friend of Riley's, Paul Thorsen did all the interface work to even make it look like you're holding a Game Boy Advance. Add an iPad or an iOS 7 controller in to the mix, and you elevate Game Boy Advance games to a whole new level.

The thing is, GBA4iOS is by no means a new project. It's been around for quite a while now, and originally popped up on our radar in the summer of last year when a service called Mac Build Server would allow you to basically point their service at a code repository and get a binary you could install, totally side-stepping the App Store. Unsurprisingly, only a few days later that same loophole was closed off, and it seemed safe to assume that Apple was going to seriously tighten up security in the enterprise certificate department. ...Except, that's not what happened. GBA4iOS 2.0 was released with a new enterprise certificate which Riley managed to secure.

appfeaturedHe wouldn't go in to too many details as to where it came from, but he describes the situation as "lucking out," with a connection with someone who could buy an existing enterprise certificate GBA4iOS 2.0 could use to allow for the same jailbreak-free install magic that made the original so popular. Typically, being blessed with the ability to sign your own apps involves all sorts of hoops to jump through and other associated paperwork with Apple to release internal corporate applications and sidestep the App Store entirely. Riley wouldn't say how much he paid for the certificate that GBA4iOS 2.0 is signed with, but he did mention a legit certificate costs $300, and he paid less than that.

Talking to Riley Testut made me realize he perfectly embodies the spirit that feels like it has been lost in the shuffle of the App Store. Back in the early days of iOS, every developer out there was just taking the little they knew and pushing it one step farther, often exercising interesting contacts along the way to come up with neat little features of improvements. That's Riley's development history and GBA4iOS to a T. But, when asked if the fame of GBA4iOS was bringing him any interesting contacts, job offers, or anything else, the answer was a little surprising.

GBA4iOS hasn't impacted his life in many significant ways, short of meeting his girlfriend through Twitter because of the project. Riley mentions that his friends at school all have it, and he once met an Apple Genius who knew what GBA4iOS was, but that's about it. All he's really been able to use the tens of millions of downloads he's had for is resume padding when applying for internships. At least his teachers at school are supportive of the project, hosting a pizza party complete with countdown to go along with the countdown on his web site we posted about early last week. Riley even sent me a short video clip of the moment GBA4iOS went live:

It's crazy really, as if you would've asked me who was behind GBA4iOS last week, I'd have assumed it was a lot like a similarly great emulator, OpenEmu: A whole team of guys, hanging out in IRC, each working on individual pieces to put together into the whole project. Never in a million years would I have assumed the mastermind behind GBA4iOS was having classmates scream for him at when the countdown reached zero. It's awesome, and really just goes to show that anything is possible in the world of iOS.

IMG_4534sIn our previous coverage of the emulator, it seems like inevitably comments take a turn to debating the merits of emulation and the legalities of ROM files as a whole. It seemed natural to ask Riley where he stood on this divisive issue, and it views it in the same light as recording movies or TV shows on your DVR. "You paid to have the channel, and you're entitled to recording and storing a local copy of it on your DVR." He then adds, "For personal consumption, at least." When asked about playing games you don't own the original, Riley says, "No doubt about it, that's illegal," but often finds himself wondering about the grey area of emulation.

Things like the Mother 3 English fan translation, or the various Pokemon hacks out there create games that never have existed in the North American market, so there's no original copy to buy. Riley seems to feel the same way many people who share a love for emulation in that projects like GBA4iOS and the companion ROM sites are preserving gaming and offering an experience that either never existed or couldn't exist for a very active and interested player base that'd likely buy things like an English version of Mother 3 if it were only available for purchase.

But, on the topic of Pokemon hacks, Riley revealed the way the mysterious "Event Distribution" feature is going to work in GBA4iOS 2.0: When an event is released by Riley, the way GBA4iOS handles it is by downloading a hacked Pokemon ROM and transparently importing the player's existing save game from the normal version of Pokemon. Then, players can then play the game getting whatever special item, pokemon, or whatever else Riley adds in. From there, you save your game, and like magic GBA4iOS swaps y our save data back into the original Pokemon game.

IMG_4532sHe mentions that the first event will be for Pokemon Emerald and will involve players being able to get a shiny Treecko. Once that's finished, potential future events could include the highly limited Nintendo events such as unlocking an Aurora Ticket. It sounds awesome, and again goes back to preserving gaming. Through these events, Riley is offering players something that required playing the game during a very specific time frame, which anyone playing the game now would've otherwise missed.

As far as what the future holds for Riley, he told me that he still totally plans on going to college for software development instead of chasing App Store dreams. "While I could possibly survive without it, I think there's a lot to be gained from a college experience," he explained.

So, the only elephant in the room left to address with the creator of the best emulator to grace my iPhone is what are his favorite games to emulate in GBA4iOS, and he responded with a top five, in order from "most favorite to slightly less favorite."

  • Pokemon Emerald
  • Wario Ware: Twisted
  • Pokemon Crystal
  • Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2
  • Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

And of course Riley has an opinion on the best Pokemon games. In his opinion, the best are the recently released X and Y. He mentions they've done so much to improve them it's hard to imagine how they could get better. But, he'll always have a soft spot for Emerald and the other 3rd generation Pokemon games.

  • lr1919

    Great story. I wish him success.

  • araczynski

    one of these days i'll try this pokemon stuff to see what the noise is all about. always figured it was some little monster collecting thing for kids with OCD?

    • FuurinRei

      I bought a Emeralds for GBA one day.. a week later i owned every game in the main series and was hooked. I would not put Pokemon games in any age bracket. I think it transcend age. They are fairly decent RPGs with collecting aspect that some people can get addicted to.

    • Goggles789

      If you try them, I recommend starting on something like leaf green, or even x and y. Some of the ones on the nds didn't really flow that well for me, and neither did some of the very early ones. They all follow pretty much exactly the same formula, right down to plot mechanics. Just different names and places and things. So, while you don't need to own all the games in the series to enjoy them, because they are all so similar, if you start with one of the above that I mentioned I think you'll have a good experience.

    • xx99

      The games are great because everybody can get something different out of them. A casual player focuses on completing the story with her favorite Pokémon while there's plenty of room for players to dive in to collecting them all. There's also a large competitive scene (search for Pokémon Showdown) that is a blast to get into, even if you're generally terrible. The battle system is surprisingly deep and offers tons of strategy and a rich and ever-evolving meta game. If you've never played before, I'd personally suggest starting with Black/White or X/Y. They are both designed to be accessible to new players. If you get into it, Serebii, Bulbapedia, and Smogon are all great resources.

    • araczynski

      you guys are making me think i've been missing out on the greatest thing since sliced bread. will try it out tonight. thanks.

  • vai_levar_no_cu

    fingers crossed for iDosbox now. Would be amazing

    • sticktron

      Don't forget you can buy your own signing profile on the net for like $15. Then you can sign iDosbox or anything else.

    • thiagovscoelho

      There was an app called iDOS that emulated DOS. It's still there, but a recent update turned off iTunes file sharing so I'm not sure how you're even supposed to get games inside the app anymore. For this reason I haven't bought it and wait along with you.

      But do get the free "Aemula Oldies" app which has popular DOS games such as Duke Nukem II

  • leehomf

    Now, is he going to develop wireless link between gba4ios so users can trade and battle pokemon just like the myboy emulator on Android? I know it is possible.

    • thiagovscoelho

      There's quite some translation to do and I don't think any of us are entitled to expect anything more from the man who blissfully gave us the most awesome emulation right in our pockets for free.

      But the FAQ for the app says this just isn't done *yet*, so perhaps?

  • chuckdoom

    This young man is a fucking genius.

  • bigE1669

    Good story. Where can I get those bottom two skins? I Looked on gba4ioskins and didn't see them.

  • InfernoShade

    I dig stories like this. More power to this kid. Great job!

  • deepblueocean84

    Is their a Mother 3 English translation out?

    • KaoseT

      Yes. I've played it and it's pretty good! Google emu paradise.

  • Goggles789

    Great story, but man..."try mashing this link" is such a fucking cliche it makes me grind my teeth whenever my eyes graze across it. It's like a speed bump in the writing.

  • Jsami

    Great story. Riley is not only a developer but also, wise beyond his years. Best of luck Riley.

  • TJF588

    A nice list for his top games, there. But, like anything cool these days, our "ancient" iPod Touch 4th Gens can't handle it.

  • Kane

    Wish he was born earlier, so he had a passion for older consoles too. Would like to see other great emulator ports with needing a jailbreak.

  • Crimzzen

    Great job Riley!

  • Anthony

    Shit, he's younger then me. There goes what little self-confidence I had.

  • witedahlia

    Thank you so much, Riley, for making the best emulator I've ever seen on iOS. You've made it so an oldster like me (28) can play Pokemon on my iPhone!

  • NinjaKitteh

    The best part of this emu is writing music for LSDJ on my iPhone and transferring the songs to my LSDJ carts. Now I don't have to lug my modded Gameboys around anymore.

    • Cheeseball

      Need some samples. I've got a hankering for some tracker electronica.

  • DtheGOPkiller

    How can you use the other emulators listed? I see a couple for sega and such and cannot get them to work. Anyone know?

  • joaquin_ondamoon

    Okay, Riley - get to work on the Genesis/N64 emulators please.

  • curtneedsaride

    GBA was my favorite system too, by far. And since I'm from the same area as him, I officially offer to take him out for a drink... When he hits 21. I can only imagine how much more awesomeness of his that my phone will have on it by then. Thanks again, Riley!

  • Jazzyjesus

    My only gripe. You cant "look" for roms on your iphone if you have a jailbroken one.

  • Zerol3onheart

    Great article. Best of luck to Riley and thanks a metric ass ton for the nostalgia!

  • anabolicMike

    I have an android tablet

  • thiagovscoelho

    If I own Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo, but not the GBA version, and then emulate the GBA one (a minimally different port), is it legal? And if not, why the heck? Things are weird with this stuff

  • thiagovscoelho

    Some games only get better with each new release (an error margin applies here of course), such as Pokémon, Tetris, Zelda and others. The best one of these series up to any point will (mostly) have been the most recent main one.

  • jusadamfal

    Is GBA4IOS even legal????!!!!! Wanted to play gba sooooo bad!!!! But sounds like copyright infringement to use roms on it?!!! Somebody please help? Wanted to use this!!!! Looks so badass! 🙁

  • John Maslowski

    How do you get the shiny treecko? I downloaded it and when I click on how to get it the page cut off.