Tutorials » GBA Ripping with VisualBoyAdvance
The Game Boy Advance is a great system for sprite rippers, thanks to the excellent features of the VisualBoyAdvance emulator. For this tutorial we're going to be using the VBA-M version of the emulator, which is more up-to-date and feature rich, but most of this information should apply to the original releases too.

I. Installation and Setup

Click here to download VBA-M. Use 7Zip to extract the .7z (just like a .zip or a .rar)

The first thing you'll want to do is shrink the window down to 1x GBA resolution. To do this, go to Options > Video > 1x Window Size.

You may also want to turn off sound, which you can do in Options > Audio > Core Settings - just drag the Volume slider to Mute.

The default controls are fine, but if you want to change them, go to Options > Input > Set > Config 1.
Make note of the Speed Up feature (spacebar by default) which will help you fast forward through those boring or slow parts of the game.

 


II. Sprite Ripping Features

That's about it for setup - there are a few other options you can tinker with, but nothing that matters for sprite ripping, anyway. Now then, let's go over the basic ripping features.

Use File > Open GBA to select a .gba game rom to play & rip from.


1. Layer Disable

Like any good ripping emulator, VBA-M can disable background layers.

There is no menu option for layer disable - instead, you must use hotkeys. GBA games have 4 background layers and 1 sprite layer. To disable background layers, use:

Ctrl+1 - toggle Background layer 0
Ctrl+2 - toggle Background layer 1
Ctrl+3 - toggle Background layer 2
Ctrl+4 - toggle Background layer 3
Ctrl+5 - toggle Sprite layer

You may notice that when you enable or disable a layer, the emulator displays a message on top of the game. This is a pain for sprite ripping but luckily, you can turn it off.

To do so, go to Options > Video > Disable status messages.

A screenshot of Street Fighter
Alpha 3
with all layers enabled.

Here's the above Street Fighter Alpha 3 screenshot, as seen when we remove one layer at a time.


Turn off Background 0.

Then Background 1.

Then Background 2.

Finally Background 3.

For screenshot ripping, this is ideal. Just the sprites, with nothing else to get in the way.


2. Pause & Frame Advance

Another crucial feature is the ability to pause gameplay and advance the action one frame at a time.

To pause, use the hotkey Ctrl+P. To advance a frame, use the hotkey Ctrl+N.

Once the game is paused, use frame advance to move the action forward. You should be able to take a screenshot of every frame in a sprite's animations this way. Every time the sprite you're trying to rip changes, simply use Alt + PrintScreen on your keyboard to take a screenshot, then paste it into your graphics editor. The emulator has a built-in screenshot function, mapped to the F12 key by default, but for some reason it doesn't seem to work when the game is paused. Useless!

Don't forget that we can also input control commands while using Frame Advance. For example, to move your character to the right while paused, you'd simply hold down on the key and tap Ctrl+N. Don't let go of the key or you'll stop walking. To get the whole animation, make sure the key is always held before you tap Ctrl+N.


3. OAM Viewer

The OAM Viewer is one of the best features of VBA for sprite ripping. This tool enables you to view the individual sprites that are currently on-screen in the game. Often the sprite will be broken up into multiple pieces, but usually it is a simple matter to piece them together. To use the OAM Viewer, go to Tools > OAM Viewer. (Be sure to pause the game first, though!) Once inside, use the arrow keys to scroll through the sprite parts.

Sometimes the character is broken up into several pieces, like Ryu in Street Fighter Alpha 3. Some assembly required.
And other times, the whole character is in one piece, like Klonoa here from Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament.

You can keep the OAM Viewer open while using Frame Advance too - just switch between the VBA emulator window and the OAM Viewer window. Make sure "Automatic update" is checked in the OAM Viewer - that way, the sprites in the OAM Viewer will change along with what's happening on-screen.

Needless to say, this tool is extremely useful for ripping sprites that you can't get through screenshots alone, such as those that are partly off-screen or covered up by other sprites in the game.


4. Map Viewer

In addition to the OAM Viewer for sprites, there's also a Map Viewer for backgrounds! To use it, go to Tools > Map Viewer. Use the buttons to switch between BG 0, 1, 2, and 3.


Like the OAM Viewer, you can set this to Automatic update which will make it follow along with the emulator window - useful for ripping animated backgrounds or areas that scroll horizontally / vertically.


5. Tile Viewer

Of course there's a tile viewer too, why wouldn't there be? To access it, go to Tools > Tile Viewer.



You will have to fiddle with the Colors and Char Base options depending on the game you're ripping. Palette does what it says - cycles between color palettes. The usual Automatic Update option is here too.

Overall, the Tile Viewer is nice, but for our purposes the OAM viewer will usually be more than enough. Of course, it may be worth checking out depending on your situation.


III. Other Features

That just about covers all you need to know for basic screenshot-based sprite ripping. VBA-M is a very full-featured emulator and there's a lot more it can do to make your job easier.

  • Save states - Use F1-F10 to load states, and Shift+F1-F10 to save. Save states make it easier to get through games in general (just reload if you die, etc.) but also help in sprite ripping since you can save frequently whenever new animations occur. You can also use File > Save and File > Load to make even more save states.

  • Cheats - VBA-M supports Gameshark and Codebreaker cheats which again, can make the task of ripping a lot easier. To enable them, go to Cheats > Disable and uncheck it. You can easily find codes for most games with a quick Google search. To add them, go to Cheats > List.

  • Save files - VBA-M also can import Gameshark save files in .sps format. A lot of these can be found at GameFAQs as well as other sites. To import them, go to File > Import > Gameshark Snapshot. Emulator saves in .sav format can also be imported, if you find any. This is yet another way to get access to various points in a game without having to play through all of it yourself.

  • All the emulator functions can be given custom hotkeys in Tools > Customize, even those that didn't have hotkeys to begin with like the OAM Viewer.

  • You can also record sounds in .WAV format. Tools > Record > Start Sound Recording to start, then Tools > Record > Stop Sound Recording to stop.

  • VBA-M also supports Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. All the tools like layer disable, OAM Viewer and Map Viewer also work, too!

  • A little outside the scope of this guide, but you can also use the Palette Viewer (Tools > Palette Viewer) to export palettes in .PAL format, which can be used with other tools like Tile Molester.

And that's it for this tutorial. If you're just learning the basics of ripping, the GBA is a great console to start with. Questions, comments, oversized novelty checks? Send them to neuropod@gmail.com!

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