“Insane”, “psychopath” and “genius”. These are just a few of the words used to describe the man who has spent over a decade, including 100 days locked in a room as a protest against Nintendo, developing what he calls “the last great “16-bit” game”. Who is Robert Pelloni and what is Bob’s Game?
The Debut of Bob’s Game
Bob’s Game, a multiplayer action RPG that claims to draw influences from Zelda, Pokemon, Harvest Moon, and Earthbound, made its first public debut in August 2008 when the sole-developer Robert Pelloni posted an asset/engine preview video onto YouTube. The video’s description contained a URL to the Bob’s Game website along with the following description:
“bob’s game – a game by one person
This is my game for Nintendo DS, a 20-hour-long retail-size, retail-quality adventure title by a single human being.
“bob’s game” is a simple 2D adventure game with focus on story, puzzles, items, and communication. Many characters have deep personalities that evolve, and many events depend on the in-game time and day. It’s the game I wanted to play when I was younger, a vision I’ve been following since then.
This game is a sort of masterpiece for me. I’ve invested well over 15,000 hours into this game’s development over five years. That is no exaggeration. All concepts, story, code, sprites, tiles, music, samples, fonts, etc. were created entirely by me from scratch.
It’s programmed in straight C- originally for the GameBoy Advance in mid 2003. As soon as the DS came out I jumped at the chance to use the new touchscreen and features and ported right over.
I’m proud of my work, and I’m sure that shows- I have a lot of passion for what I do. I believe that in some cases “too many cooks spoil the broth.” In my opinion, the best games are the ones designed by one guy with a vision. In this case, it can’t be any more pure or true than that.
Following the release of the initial video, both Kotaku and dsfanboy.com published articles about the project and amassed a huge amount of eyes onto Bob’s Game. Pelloni then posted two other videos later that year; an “Intro Gameplay Demo” and a “Teaser Trailer” showcasing even more of the project he had spent over 5 years developing, many of which in isolation.
The History of Bob’s Game
As publicity and intrigue of Bob’s Game continued to grow, Pelloni opened up more and more about the detailed and often chaotic past of the titles development.
In a lengthy post on the game’s website, Pelloni detailed various aspects of his childhood and experiences growing up, including incidents of bullying, wetting the bed until the age of eight, substance abuse, his disdain for organised religion and ultimately any form of authority. The near 58,000 word post on the website contains a wealth of background and insight into the life of Robert Pelloni, the games conception, the ups and the downs – all of which ultimately contributed to the development of Bob’s Game.
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, which unfortunately seems to have been taken down but is thankfully archived, Pelloni gave a much briefer insight into his decision to develop a game entirely on his own as well as commenting on his distaste of how giving publishers access to a project often causes it to become “far from what the original author intended”. Following the release of the first Bob’s Game video in 2008, Pelloni was contacted by several publishers interested in the title and was “absolutely thrilled by the response”, however he couldn’t find a publisher that was willing to give him full creative control.
The actual conception of Bob’s Game can be pinpointed down to two separate points in Robert’s life; firstly at the age of around 9/10 years old when he first saw his older brother playing Dragon Warrior on the NES which ultimately solidified the overall style of the game, and later when he was sitting with some friends in a 24-hour restaurant and discussing video games. It was here that Pelloni mentioned that he’d always wanted to see a game set in the suburbs, as the “dragons-and-magic setting of traditional role-playing games” was something he didn’t understand as a child and couldn’t relate to. What shortly followed was a “typical napkin-scribbling brainstorm session” where he began to develop the basic outline and lists of assets he needed.
Bob’s War Against Nintendo
In early 2008, Robert emailed a contact at Nintendo over a series of weeks, eventually being given the opportunity to show his game working on a Nintendo DS via video conference call. Pelloni’s desire from this partnership was to gain access to the Nintendo SDK in order to prove that he “had some kind of official approval – some kind of endorsement to show the people around me to shut them up, to keep them from trying to discourage me”. After seeing the demo, the Nintendo representative agreed to meet with Pelloni at the upcoming GDC that year.
After flying out to San Francisco and meeting with the Nintendo reps, their initial discussion didn’t go well with Pelloni refusing to work with a team of his very own at Nintendo and the representative allegedly commenting that he didn’t believe that Bob’s Game would ever be released. However, he did say that he would “do what he could” do acquire the SDK that Robert so desperately craved in order to keep developing. Upon returning home, it was shortly after this meeting that Pelloni published the debut asset/engine video of Bob’s Game and the accompanying website.
Robert then managed to secure a deal with a small publisher in New Jersey and established a base there in order to be closer to them. He had the funding that he needed but still lacked the SDK in order to return to programming. After another series of frustrating emails with licensing reps at Nintendo, it was here that Pelloni decided that he “was going to play the villain – I was going to become “bob”". He was going to lock himself in his room for 100 days or until Nintendo gave up the SDK.
Pelloni set up a live webcam stream of his office along with an update on the Bob’s Game website detailing the reasons for his protest and his conditions:
“I cannot leave this viridian room. The door is locked and barricaded from the outside. I am sleeping behind the camera, and yes- I’ve got a shower. Food is delivered once a week by a friend.
I have no internet access, television, or game consoles besides those I am developing on. I can receive and send email on my Android G1, so I can get Nintendo’s reply and update my site with tether.
The LED counter will be incremented once a day, and sometimes it will display hints and secret messages.”
Pelloni’s protest only lasted a total of 30 days before he gave up hope and felt that his publicity stunt had achieved the level of attention he wanted. It was here that he moved onto his “comic-book transition from a mild-mannered hero into an egomaniacal video game villain” by trashing his office and faking his own death. A concerned fan in Europe contacted the police on discovering the update and it was here that Pelloni found his door kicked in by New Jersey police officers before being taken to a psychiatric ward for assessment. Upon release with a certificate of sanity from the state, “Bob” moved onto his next phase.
Bob continued his protest by targeting a Nintendo World Store at which he would put up posters for Bob’s Game as well as putting copies on the shelves, documented in the above video. He and a friend hired a small group of “Asian models” through Craigslist who would also join them in this “vandalism” of the store which was carried out at 10am when it was practically empty. Additional footage of Bob dropping a stack of business cards onto the floor and signing a poster at home were spliced into the video along with additional audio and he released his “Stage 50″ of the revived protest.
Shortly after, Bob received his rejection letter from Nintendo and moved onto “Stage 80″, a video he felt “captured the spirit of an independent developer and the emotions [he] had felt”, and “Stage 90″ of his protest, releasing the two separate videos days apart in early March of 2009. Three days after the release of the “Stage 90″ video, Bob released another video titled “Viral Proof” that debunked the entire protest as one big viral marketing campaign.
One hundred days since the first day of GDC, Bob’s “protest” against Nintendo was over.
The Initial Release of Bob’s Game
In March of 2009, Bob released the first playable demo of Bob’s Game at the request of fans. The demo was made available to download from the Bob’s Game website but required a flash cartridge to play and use of the NO$GBA emulator. Pelloni comments that he has “no idea how many people downloaded it” and that the release of the demo was “against his wishes” due to pressure from those wanting to see for themselves exactly what all these events had been in aid of.
After the initial demo release, Pelloni had managed to successfully port a version for the iPhone which he eventually put on hold as he hated working on the MacOS and deciding that he now wanted to target the PC market. He released another demo that year of the PC build and applied for listing on Steam and for PSP licensing, but was declined for both.
Toward the end of 2011, Pelloni then started working on a Java remake of Bob’s Game with the intention of releasing it as “a Facebook-connected massively multiplayer “hub world” hangout type place” called “nDworld.” Whilst it work on users browsers, Bob also had plans to include connectivity to his latest creation, the nD handheld console.
In 2010, Pelloni started to tease a brand new handheld console called the “nD” which he claimed would only cost buyers $10 “because that’s what it costs to make”. The handheld would be attached to an online indie game store where users could buy games with 90% of the sale going straight to the developer.
To begin with, Pelloni stated that he “never really intended to make the thing” and was hoping that someone else would steal the idea. However, spurred on by the fact that he’d already created an entire game on his own, he thought he would give it a shot and managed to develop a working SDK and an agreement with a company in China that would make the handheld for $25 – not exactly the $10 he was hoping for but “close enough”.
However, the idea of the nD was dropped in early 2013 in favour of an SDK.
The Future of Bob’s Game
Pelloni has spent most of 2010 up until the present day continuing to work on and improve the PC build of Bob’s Game and nDworld. He originally tried to gain crowdfunding for the puzzle game from Bob’s Game on Kickstarter in December 2013, but only managed to achieve $477 of the $6,667 goal he required. However, the game did eventually ship onto the Ouya in January 2014.
Robert is now attempting to crowdfund the full version of Bob’s Game for PC, Mac, Linux, and Android, phones, tablets, OUYA, nVidia Shield, Kindle TV, and more with a target of $10,000 in order to “get a new laptop and to build a “hack van,” a cargo van or shuttle van fitted with solar panels, extra batteries, and a bed and workstation inside” – apparently fairly common practice in Silicon Valley where he is now based.
With only 24 days to go, funding sits at around 25% of his total target with 114 backers. Now aged 30, Robert Pelloni has spent the entirety of his twenties developing his game and waging war with major publishers. If this Kickstarter doesn’t work, you have to wonder what’s going to happen next.
“It doesn’t matter if this game works or not, to be honest, this story is more helpful than the game. I was just trying to tell this story, reaching subconsciously towards getting enough leverage to make the impact. The bigger question is what can I actually do now? For some reason I still think I should do something tangible, like I should create an education system, etc. Will this actually help anything? It probably doesn’t matter at all.”
“I’m clearly not in it for the money (though early on I did want a Lamborghini to impress the ladies), I couldn’t enjoy it now even if I wanted to, and to be honest I hate having money and I wish I didn’t ever need any at all. It is just something interesting to do, and people may enjoy playing it, but ultimately the goal is to get people to wake up. I don’t want people to play my game unless it sets them free from wanting to play games at all.”
“I do want this Kickstarter to work. I’d really like to keep working on this game and make it happen. It’s also OK if it doesn’t happen. I don’t know what I’ll do, but at least I’ll have some sort of a conclusion either way.”
Bob’s Game is currently seeking funding via Kickstarter which also features downloadable demo builds.