Bob’s Game – Zero Punctuation

This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee provides a history lesson with Bob’s Game.

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The greatest experiences in life are had by yourself. A serene walk upon a grassy hillside. A cold drink at the end of a long day. And of course the vile thing you’re thinking of that decency prevents me from spelling out. But speaking of ropey cum blasts, for our newest episode of the Zero Punctuation occasional guide to whoops we don’t say that anymore moments in gaming history, we turn to the world of solo developed indie games. It’s a world of contrasts: for every Undertale or Stardew Valley there’s a Yandere Simulator standing behind them breathing loudly through its mouth. But at least you can be assured of a purity of vision, suspect and weebish and slightly humiliating to bring up in mixed company though it may be, and they provide an unmatched insight into the mind and perceptions of an auteur. Of course, for that to work, there actually has to be a video game to deliver that message, and that was the sticking point for today’s subject: a game by someone named Bob called Bob’s Game. There’s that purity of artistic vision I was talking about.

In August 2008, the president of Mauritania was deposed in a military coup, eleven mountaineers died in the K2 disaster, and then something really tragic happened. Some dude called 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 had just about finished. And the response worldwide was a resounding “Okay.” Literally titled Bob’s Game and looking about as good as one could expect from a game whose lead artist, when the project started, just about knew how to draw the curtains, the response was generally positive and the trailer clocked 100k views. Which these days is worth about half a McDonalds sandwich but was a minor phenomenon in 2008 Youtube dollars. It had its charms and viewers expressed an interest in playing, even while it wasn’t entirely clear what the game was even about or why the creator was grandstanding so much about it being a solo project when the solo-created Cave Story that basically codified the modern concept of PC indie games had eaten that particular lunch years ago.

But in the mind of its creator, Bob’s Game was so much more than a pixellated distraction any halfway competent RPG Maker user could’ve farted out in a month – Bob’s Game was a vision. One to which only one platform could do proper justice, and that was a Nintendo handheld. So he eschewed the small publishers that expressed interest and applied for an official Nintendo DS development kit. Now, Nintendo is a big company with a lot on their plate between making Mario pencilcases and removing Princess Peach panty shots from Smash Bros, so they did with Pelloni’s application what they presumably do with any correspondence from wide-eyed random no-name twats: shunted it to the end of the priority list between trimming Donkey Kong’s eyelashes and designing a controller that doesn’t suck. And this is where the story of Bob’s Game takes its whoops we don’t say that anymore turn. You might charitably say that Robert Pelloni was one of those people who had little time for the world outside his own mind. I might less charitably say he had his head so far up his ass he was getting teabagged by his own gallbladder. And he did n’t seem to understand that the game’s significance within his own life did n’t translate into significance to anyone else.

As the wait for Nintendo’s response stretched into months, Bob decided this was some conspiracy or deliberate snub rather than, say, Nintendo having anything literally better to do, and so he declared that until they acknowledged the game he’d sequestered for five years to make, he would publicly protest by sequestering some more. Now with a webcam on him and with the doors locked for a hundred days. This was successful in that it made him famous amid that sector of the internet that loves to encourage weirdos, especially as he posted a series of increasingly deranged blog posts declaring himself the greatest game designer who ever lived and accusing Nintendo, multibillion dollar company and controller of many of gaming’s best known IPs, of being jealous of him, penniless suburban twat. Exactly how much one should read into all this is debatable as after the thirtieth day of his protest when he appeared to be lying motionless in a ransacked bedroom, he claimed to both the internet and the nice helpful police officer that broke down his door that it was all pretend. The protest and insane blog posts had been a viral marketing campaign that we’d all fallen for like the credulous normal-brained people we were.

To which the internet responded with a resounding “Okay.” Not long afterwards Nintendo glanced up from its money sandwich to rattle him off their standard form letter saying no you can’t have a giant kit, obviously, because you’re clearly not a professional studio, you’re a nutter with a broken desk . But then, just as we were ready to release the sarcastic intake of breath we’d all made when the protest began, Bob released a playable demo of Bob’s Game. It was only playable on an DS/GBA emulator because Bob was absolutely committed to not giving it a fucking rest with that shit, but playable it was. And it was… a bit lame. It was a retro RPG about some twat in the suburbs apparently written by someone who was processing a few things from their childhood, broken up by overlong minigames of Tetris and Pong. Some people saw charm in it. I mean, from the way Bob had been going on we were expecting something that handed out printable blowjob coupons or at least didn’t look like half the art credit should go to the MS Paint straight line tool. But interest in the full release was partially renewed. Shame then that this was the last anyone saw or heard of Bob’s Game the RPG until two years later when Bob announced that Bob’s Game would be the launch and as far as anyone knew ONLY title for a new handheld he had invented.

Nothing came of that, apparently manufacturing his own hardware line wasn’t the reasonable solution it had seemed like back when he’d been slamming barbiturates on Opposite Day. So another two years later he discovered Kickstarter, the eternal promised land of the overhyped vaporware-peddling maniac, and successfully campaigned for 10,000 bucks to build a custom van from which he could both finish the game and solve the mystery of the haunted amusement park. The kickstarter page is still online, and you can go there to read Bob describing his game as, quote, “a tour de force masterpiece … written by a self-taught genius prophet” and “a new religion for the modern world”, just in case you were worried the whole van idea sounded uncharacteristically sane. Anyway, the kickstarter succeeded, whereupon Bob sheepishly announced he was packing the whole thing in and giving the money back before his game accidentally caused the rapture or whatever he was on about. To which the internet responded with a resounding “Sorry, who’s Bob again?”


There are countless tales of overpromising devs who couldn’t deliver. What made the saga of Bob so trainwreck is fascinating is that he could have delivered. He had talent and drive and a mostly finished product that clearly resonated with people. But fatally he also had an ego like a crashing blimp at a wedding photoshoot. If you go to his site now all you’ll find is some weird rambling about believing in Jesus so one might say the main lesson from this is don’t be a Cadbury’s Fruit and Nutcase, but there is another important morale: never put too much of yourself into one creation. One shitty released game is worth more than an infinite number of unfinished career-defining masterpieces. And if you want to be a creative but refuse to work within the established systems out of fear of compromising your perfect artistic vision, then there’s only one thing to be said to you: yes, I would like fries with that.

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