Bob’s Game – Null Punctuation

This week, Yahtzee is offering a history lesson in Zero Punctuation Bob’s game.

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The greatest experiences in life are made by yourself. A quiet walk on a grassy hill. A cool drink at the end of a long day. And of course the vile thing you think about that decency prevents me from spelling it. But speaking of bristling jizz-shots, for our latest installment of Zero Punctuation’s occasional guide to whoops, we’re no longer saying that moments in gaming history, we’re turning to the world of solo-developed indie games. It’s a world of contrasts: behind every Undertale or Stardew Valley is a yandere simulator breathing loudly through its mouth. But at least you can be assured of a pure vision, suspicious and dimwitted and slightly humiliating, growing up in mixed company as it may be, and offering an unparalleled insight into the mind and perceptions of an auteur filmmaker. Of course, for that to work, there has to be a video game that delivers that message, and that was the crux of today’s topic: a game by someone named Bob called Bob’s Game. There’s that purity of artistic vision that I was talking about.

In August 2008, the President of Mauritania was overthrown in a military coup, eleven climbers died in the K2 disaster, and then something truly tragic happened. Some guy named Robert Pelloni released a trailer for the 16-bit style pixel art RPG he claimed to have been working on for the last five years and just finished. And the worldwide response was a clear “okay”. Literally titled Bob’s Game and looking as good as can be expected from a game whose main artist barely knew how to draw the curtains when the project started, the response was generally positive and the trailer has been viewed 100,000 times. What’s worth about half a McDonald’s sandwich these days, but was a minor phenomenon in youtube dollars back in 2008. It had its charm and viewers showed an interest in playing the game, although it wasn’t entirely clear what the game was about or why the creator was so insistent that it be a solo project as the solo Cave Story did basically codifying the modern concept of PC indie gaming had eaten this particular lunch years ago.

But in the eyes of its creator, Bob’s Game was so much more than a pixelated distraction that any halfway competent RPG Maker user could have pooped out in a month – Bob’s Game was a vision. One that only one platform could do justice to, and that was a Nintendo handheld. So he avoided the small publishers who expressed interest and applied for an official Nintendo DS development kit. Well, Nintendo is a big company that has a lot going on between making Mario pencil cases and removing Princess Peach slip shots from Smash Bros, so they did with Pelloni’s application what they presumably did with any correspondence from random Doing no-name twats with wide eyes: I pushed it to the bottom of the priority list, between trimming Donkey Kong’s lashes and designing a controller that doesn’t suck. And this is where the story of Bob’s Game culminates, we’ll say no more. One could say charitably that Robert Pelloni was one of those people who had little time for the world outside of their own heads. I would say less graciously that he had his head so far up his ass that it got hit with tea bags from his own gallbladder. And he didn’t seem to understand that the importance of the game in his own life didn’t mean anything to anyone else.

As waiting for Nintendo’s response dragged on for months, Bob decided that this was more of a conspiracy or a deliberate snub than that Nintendo literally had something better to do, so he explained that he had five years of sequestration until they make the game recognized, he would publicly protest by confiscating even more. Now with a webcam on him and doors locked for a hundred days. This was successful in that it made him famous in that sector of the internet that loves to encourage lunatics, particularly when he published a series of increasingly lunatic blog posts proclaiming himself the greatest game designer who ever lived , and Nintendo, a multibillion-dollar company and controller, has been accused by many of gaming’s most prominent IPs of being jealous of his penniless suburban twat. How much to read into all this is debatable, because after the thirtieth day of his protest, lying seemingly motionless in a ransacked bedroom, he claimed so to both the internet and the nice helpful police officer who broke down his door all faked. The protest and the crazy blog posts had been a viral marketing campaign that we all fell for like the gullible, normal-brained people that we were.

The Internet responded with a resounding “Okay”. Not long after, Nintendo looked up from its money sandwich to shake it from their standard letter saying no you can’t have a development kit, obviously because you’re clearly not a professional studio, you’re a madman with a broken desk. But then, just when we were ready to let out that sarcastic gasp we all pulled out when the protest started, Bob released a playable demo of Bob’s Game. It was only playable on a DS/GBA emulator because Bob was absolutely determined not to stop at that shit, but it was playable. And it was… a little lame. It was a retro role-playing game about some suburban jerk, apparently written by someone digesting a few things from his childhood, punctuated by lengthy mini-games of Tetris and Pong. Some people saw charm in it. I mean, the way Bob went about it, we were expecting something that handed out printable blowjob coupons, or at least didn’t look like half the artistic credit should go to MS Paint’s straight line tool . However, interest in the full release has been partially renewed. Too bad, then, that this was the last anyone saw or heard of Bob’s Game, the RPG, until Bob announced two years later that Bob’s Game would be the launch and, as far as anyone knew, ONLY title for a new handheld that he had invented.

Nothing came of it, apparently making his own line of hardware wasn’t the sensible solution it had seemed to him back when he slammed barbiturates on Opposite Day. So, another two years later, he discovered Kickstarter, the eternal promised land of the overhyped vaporware peddler, and successfully campaigned for $10,000 to build a custom van from which he could both complete the game and discover the mystery of the haunted… amusement parks could ventilate. The Kickstarter page is still online, and you can read Bob describe his game as, quote, “a masterpiece of feat…written by a brilliant self-taught artist” and “a new religion for the modern world,” in case you’re worried made, the whole van idea sounded unusually reasonable. Anyway, the Kickstarter hit the ground running, to which Bob embarrassedly announced he was wrapping it up and returning the money before his game accidentally sparked the buzz or whatever else he was up to. To which the internet responded with a loud “sorry, who’s Bob again?”

THE LESSONS NO ONE HAS LEARNED

There are countless stories about promising developers who failed to deliver. What made Bob’s saga so intriguing is that he could have delivered. He had talent and drive and a mostly finished product that people clearly resonated with. But fatally, he also had an ego like a smashed airship at a wedding photo shoot. If you go to his website now you’ll only find some weird digressions about believing in Jesus, so you could say the most important lesson from this is don’t be Cadbury’s Fruit and Nutcase, but there’s another important moral: Never put too much of yourself into a creation. A crappy released game is worth more than an infinite number of unfinished career-defining masterpieces. And if you want to be creative but refuse to work within the established systems for fear of jeopardizing your perfect artistic vision, then there’s only one thing to say: yes, I want fries with that.