In his recent video, WorkBoy: Lost Game Boy Add-on FOUND After 28 Years – Game History Secrets, Liam Robertson not only found possibly the only WorkBoy left in existence, but also got it working! This version is certainly a step up from our cardboard cut-out version we had on display at PRG in 2019 (you thought it was real, didn’t you? Gotcha!) If only we had our own Fabtek WorkBoy, we could listen to our 8-bit national anthem, look up the term ‘breakfast wine’ in other languages, schedule sniping times for our eBay auction shopping, and calculate how many more sets of ‘day pajamas’ we can afford (almost a year of quarantine has been…interesting).
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The Video Game History Hour music is Blippy Trance by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Kelsey Lewin 00:09
Welcome to Episode #16 of the Video Game History Hour, presented by the Video Game History Foundation. Every episode we’ll be bringing in an expert guest: someone who’s done their research and has an interesting story from video game history to tell. My name is Kelsey Lewin. I’m the co-director of the Video Game History Foundation and I’m here as always with Frank Cifaldi, the founder and co-director of the Video Game History Foundation.
Frank Cifaldi 00:31
That’s right! And joining us today is video game historian, Liam Robertson. In addition to his own independent work, Liam has a series on the Did You Know Gaming? channel called, Game History Secrets. His latest video in the series, “WorkBoy: lost Game Boy Add-On FOUND after 28 Years,” looks at a little-known piece of Game Boy history. Liam, welcome to the Video Game History Hour!
Liam Robertson 00:53
Thank you very much for bringing me on! This is going to be fun.
Frank Cifaldi 00:58
So just to start us off on the right track: what was the WorkBoy?
Liam Robertson 01:04
Oh, well, it was a PDA-style, keyboard add-on peripheral for the original Game Boy. And you plug it in and you can do stuff like look at a calendar. You’ve got a phone book in it. You can convert measurements and stuff like that. It’s sort of a basic kind of, you know, the type of functions you’d have nowadays in a smartphone but twenty years ago. Actually, thirty years ago, come to think about it. And yeah, it was quite ahead of its time in a lot of respects. But it was cancelled about thirty years ago, a couple years into the original Game Boy’s lifespan. And I tried to hunt one down.
Frank Cifaldi 01:55
So before you set off on this journey to track one down, we did know some basic things about it, right? There was press coverage.
Liam Robertson 02:04
Mmhm. Yeah, it appeared at CES, I think, in 1992. And it was expected to be released around the end of that year, early ’93. And I think that’s its only public appearance, I could be wrong. But that was the only record I could find of it. And it was covered by a few different outlets, like Nintendo Power, of course, talked about it, and a couple of UK-based magazines like Game Zone. And it even appeared in a piece by the Chicago Tribune and a couple of different newspaper outlets. But it was relatively obscure because it did only have that one public appearance from what I’m aware of. And, yeah, there was there was a prototype there, if I remember correctly, and a couple of different people were shown it. I don’t think there’s any video of it from CES, although I’ve been told, like, there’s images of it out there of this prototype set up and running and different outlets got to see I guess a hands-off demonstration, from what I understand. But that was the extent of the coverage before it was cancelled, I think.
Kelsey Lewin 03:26
And it got this huge spread in Nintendo Power, like a full spread. To me, I found that really interesting, because it really seemed like it was kind of focused more on an adult consumer, maybe? I mean, you mentioned smartphones right away, which I think is great, because I love that tangent that before we had smartphones, you just look for whatever the easiest application of bringing this to people is. And, you know, building your own electronics is difficult, but what if you just use the electronics that people already have, like a Game Boy? So this really is kind of like a… It seems more like an adult productivity software for the electronic computer they might have already had in their pockets, or at least they could swipe from their kids.
Liam Robertson 04:13
Yeah, I’m not sure. I feel like they were more targeting kids, myself, at least from what the developers said. But I agree with you. There’s definitely… There was some potential there at the time, because this was back when, as I say in the video, computers was still relatively financially prohibitive, and you had the Game Boy. And if you can create some kind of productivity add on for that, then it could be a lot cheaper than an actual computer or something like that at the time. Yeah, this was before smartphones, so it could have been a less expensive alternative. And I think it’s definitely novel, at least, to have something like this on the original Game Boy with a keyboard and everything. But yeah, I feel like they were mostly targeting – I guess – slightly grown up kids, from what I can recall. If I remember correctly, Frank Ballouz, who was in charge of Fabtek (the company that produced it), he said that they were thinking about sort of maybe slightly out-of-touch parents and grandparents who were like, “We bought the kids games, let’s buy them something useful. Let’s buy them something that they can do something… Yeah, they can do something productive on this! You know, this is, this is good for them. It’s got a calculator, they can do maths on it!”
Kelsey Lewin 05:37
Yeah. I actually wrote down that quote because I thought that was so interesting. It kind of goes contrary to everything I initially believed about this item, you know? Other than it being in Nintendo Power, which already felt like kind of a weird stretch to me, I didn’t see how a child could ever be interested in something like this. So for him to say that, “This was for kids, this was for parents to buy for children.” I was like, “Really? That was your strategy with this?”
Frank Cifaldi 06:09
Well, that was literally every console in the early ’80s, though, right? Like, every one of them had some sort of computer add-on or was morphed into – with the ColecoVision – morphed into the Adam, or whatever, right? It was just this scam for a decade on and off of companies believing that the video game console had a higher purpose, right? Or at least could trick parents into thinking that video game consoles could have a higher purpose. And in fact, I didn’t even extend that into things like the CDi and the 3DO in the mid ’90s were still kind of doing that, too.
Kelsey Lewin 06:48
Frank Cifaldi 06:49
So you mentioned Frank Ballouz. I think it’s worth mentioning, especially when we’re talking about how there was this huge spread in Nintendo Power, I suspect that that placement and, indeed, the publishing agreement and the patents for the product itself, etc., probably had at least a little bit to do with Ballouz’s history with Nintendo.
Liam Robertson 07:18
Right, yeah. I did try to press him on that because, you’re right, he worked as an executive at Nintendo back when they were doing arcade machines. And he left around when they stopped in about ’86, around about then and he started his own company. Yeah, I get the impression that there was a kind of an understanding; maybe it’s a bit of an unspoken understanding. You know, that they were they were good friends; Frank was good friends with [Minoru] Arakawa, he’s told me on numerous occasions. And I spoke to different people who said, “Oh, yeah, Frank, was the guy who could get you an in with Arakawa,” even though he didn’t directly work with him for most of the time. So yeah, I did ask him like, what was the arrangement there? And he was quite insistent, “Oh, no, they didn’t do me any special favors.” But he did say that his projects would sometimes get kind of bumped up in the pecking order. In the pipeline, if you will. If he had something that he needed doing, you know; if he needed Nintendo to take a look at something, for whatever reason – for certification or something of a testing – they would prioritize his work sometimes, he’d say. But I get the impression, in general, Nintendo was relatively impartial. But yeah, he did definitely have an in there.
Frank Cifaldi 08:49
So in your video, he’s not really the only person you ended up talking to and in fact, I think Ballouz himself would say that really the brains – the soul, maybe – behind the WorkBoy would be Eddie Gil, right? Can you tell us about Eddie?
Liam Robertson 09:09
Yeah, Eddie Gil is an incredibly smart man. He was the founder of a company called Source R&D, which was based in England in the ’80s. And I think it’s functioned for about 10 years. I’m not exactly sure because he has worked at quite a few different companies that he’s been in charge of. But yeah, Eddie – The WorkBoy was, his idea was to… I guess it was something that, he had the idea for it sand Frank presented the means through which it could be created. But yeah, he wanted to do some kind of productivity software. And then, you know, Frank had this in with Nintendo and granted him the opportunity to pitch something and get that going with them. But yeah, I think Eddie just wanted to do something ambitious with a keyboard add-on for the Game Boy, and draw upon what little power it had to create something that was genuinely useful and was multifunctional. It’s got all these different apps in it, a phonebook calculator, a world map, a translator… I think Eddie was really into the idea of creating this Swiss Army Knife of a gadget that people could use in lots of different ways. I mentioned this in the video, it sort of went on to become the Nakia 9000 series of devices in many ways. After it didn’t come to fruition, which I’m sure we’ll talk about, Eddie went and he sort of… He took inspiration from the WorkBoy, his original idea, to create the his patents which would become the Nakia 9000. And yeah, I think Eddie was very ahead of his time. A lot of his ideas were very similar to what you have on a modern smartphone, just years and years earlier. He was so ahead of his time, as Frank mentioned in the video, and he is just an incredibly smart pioneer that I think is definitely underappreciated in his own rights. This isn’t the only thing he’s shown me that he’s worked on. And yeah, he’s a smart guy with a lot of big ideas years before smartphones and what have you.
Kelsey Lewin 11:44
Well, and you even showed in the video something that I don’t think anyone knew was even a concept. I mean, it sounds like it never made it past the concept phase, but that he wanted to bring the WorkBoy concept back for the Game Boy Advance.
Liam Robertson 11:59
Yeah, I think he wanted to do, I guess, a series of WorkBoy devices, you know. The one that we show in the video is just the start. And I think had they made that one for the original Game Boy, you probably would have gotten one – depending on its success – with each successive console. But yeah, he went to Nintendo in the late ’90s. And that presented the opportunity to sort of rejig the idea of the WorkBoy and he came up with what he called the WorkBoy 2. (I imagine it wouldn’t have been called that because there wasn’t a Work Boy 1 released but, yeah.) He came up with this thing and it was another keyboard add-on for the Game Boy Advance with, you know, a couple more advanced features. Like, it was supposed to have internet browsing, and email, and I’m not really sure how all that would have worked on something as primitive as a Game Boy Advance.
Kelsey Lewin 12:56
There’s a mobile browser for the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance in Japan, but it connects to Japanese cell phones. So my guess is it probably would have used cell phones to get that capability? But I mean, I didn’t see any of that from just the images, so it’s hard to say.
Liam Robertson 13:14
Yeah, I mean, I have no idea, honestly. I didn’t dig into it that far with him. I’m still I’m still leaking information out of him as we speak. But yeah, it was another go at doing that and he was working directly with Nintendo that time. And it just didn’t move forward; I don’t think Nintendo was interested. But the full story on that, I’ve yet to get out of him. He’s kind of tight-lipped about that one.
Frank Cifaldi 13:42
So that’s sort of jumping ahead a little bit into the sort of legacy of the WorkBoy, but but back to the WordBoy itself… I mean, this is something that was developed to completion, right?
Liam Robertson 13:58
More or less, yeah. I think the software was at least done. We have this prototype, which I’m sure you’ll mention at some points, and it looks relatively finished. I mean, it is a prototype, I’m not an expert on the hardware side of things. But it does seem like it was more or less at the finish line. It was ready to go and it just had a couple more steps left, like, certification and and what have you and it was about to be released in 1992. Then at some point in the months before CES in sort of mid-’92, and it was meant to be launched at this event in Birmingham, in England, in I think December 1992. And at some point between those dates, Frank, as he put it, “lost his gonads” and decided not to do it. I think the reason was because they were going to slash the price of the Game Boy he was told by Nintendo. And yeah, he realized that, potentially, the WorkBoy could end up more expensive than the Game Boy itself. And at that point, it wouldn’t be able to be priced competitively enough for it to succeed, which is fair enough. But he has told me that he does regret that to an extent, which I feel is really interesting. It’s very rare that you talk to someone who’s made something like this and they will look back on it and say, “Hmm, maybe we made the wrong call here.” But that’s what Frank says. I think he just regrets not being able to see the legacy of this thing, you know? Had it come out, would people still be talking about it? And that sort of thing. How far could it have really gone if you taken a chance on it? I’m not sure myself. I think it might have been too niche, but I don’t know.
Kelsey Lewin 16:04
Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. Because, I mean, you have to remember the Game Boy was, like, a $90 system I think at launch, right? It was never more than $100. And so to have an expensive peripheral like that is just… it’s a hard sell. And as much as I would have loved to see this thing in the world, because I really love the idea of using the Game Boy as a computer for sort of a higher purpose, as Frank put it earlier, I think I tend to agree with his gut feeling that it would be a really hard sell to have an accessory that costs as much or more than the thing you’re buying it for. I mean, I can’t even… Other than really, really high-end steering wheels for, like, the Xbox One or something like that, I can’t even think of accessories that are more expensive than the systems you buy them for.
Liam Robertson 17:03
Right, yeah. I think it would have definitely been restricted to just a niche of Game Boy players because, you know, it is an entertainment device. And these are the types of features that nowadays you expect the standard, and I feel like back then it wouldn’t have been that much of a draw that, you know, people would be willing to spend the same price of this system again to get these features. Which are novel and are cool to play about with for a bit, but I don’t think it’s worth that price. Maybe I’m wrong there, maybe it would have done really well. But I feel like, yeah, if they couldn’t get the price down to at least less than the original Game Boy, then it would have been a problem for them.
Kelsey Lewin 17:57
So in your video, it just sort of comes up naturally that, “Oh, my gosh! One of these still exists!” Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about?
Liam Robertson 18:09
Yeah. So when I was researching it, I was never out to get one. I’d heard of the WorkBoy, people had shown me it, and nobody had seen one in about twenty-eight years. I just wanted to see how far down the rabbit hole I could go and I reached out to a couple of different people. Firstly, Eddie Gil, he was one of the first people I reached out to, and then he put me in touch with Frank Ballouz. And Eddie had heard, I guess, whispers that there might be one or two prototypes left. And the way you discover that a prototype is left in the video is exactly how I discovered it. You know, there’s no… I guess there is a bit of theatrics there, but that’s really how it happened. I’d heard from Eddie Gil that Frank Ballouz might have one. We were talking and Frank in the middle of our conversation is just like, “Oh, yeah, and I’ve got the WorkBoy behind me,” and then he just changed the subject. And he thought of it, I guess, as nothing. You know what I mean? Like, to him, that’s just been sat there for years. It’s this old thing that he worked on years ago and he thinks nothing of it. And I’m sitting here, like… I couldn’t focus on what he was saying, because I was just thinking, “WorkBoy, he has one. Oh my god, it’s right there! It’s…” He didn’t have his camera on at that point. But I was just thinking, “Oh my god, it’s right there, this guy has one! This thing that people have sought after for many years.” And yeah, but he turned on his camera and he lifted it down off his shelf, and there it was. I mean, it was pretty shocking, you know? I didn’t think it would be that simple, to just ask him. Like, I didn’t even… I was gonna ask him at some point, “Do you have a WorkBoy?” Because typically, I don’t think when you do an interview of someone and you want to ask them to do something for you say, “Hey, can you, like, send us some pictures of a prototype or whatever?” That’s something I would build up to. So I was gonna ask him that last. And yeah, I’d just not even approached that subject when we were talking. And he just brought that up himself, and… yeah. It was pretty shocking for him to do that!
Kelsey Lewin 19:10
Frank Cifaldi 20:31
Well, you mentioned maybe asking him to take pictures or whatever, but he went a little further than that.
Liam Robertson 20:39
Yeah, I was very much not expecting that, you know. We spoke and then we hung up, and I felt everything had went well. And he said, “Yeah, I’ll send you some pictures.” And it was originally just going to be pictures. But then I feel like Frank, maybe because he just didn’t want to bother with, like, filming it and everything? All I asked for was pictures. And I said, “Can you get it working?” And he says, “Oh, I don’t have an original Game Boy here. I’ve got a Game Boy Pocket, but it’s not compatible with that.” And so I was like, “OK, well, I know a guy, he’ll send you an original Game Boy…” And I think as I was suggesting this Frank was just like, “Liam, why don’t I just send it to you?” You know, I feel like, maybe I annoyed him into sending it to me? I don’t know! I don’t know.
Frank Cifaldi 21:01
Kelsey Lewin 21:31
Liam Robertson 21:31
But I… Like, Frank is a busy guy! It took me, like, seven months of badgering him, of emailing him, “Frank, can we talk, please?” to get to that point. And so I feel like he realized how persistent I was and was just like, “OK, Liam, I’m just gonna send it to you. Is that okay?” And I was like… I really did not expect that, you know? I was not intending to get the WorkBoy from him because, in my mind, this is his child. I don’t want to take his baby from him!
Frank Cifaldi 22:07
Well I mean, he kept it on his bookshelf next to him!
Liam Robertson 22:11
It’s true. It’s true.
Kelsey Lewin 22:13
It followed him through moves and continued to be at a prominent place in his house!
Frank Cifaldi 22:19
He put it in a place where when he’s working, he wants it within eyesight!
Kelsey Lewin 22:23
Yeah, because it works. It’s the WorkBoy, he needs it to work!
Frank Cifaldi 22:29
Liam Robertson 22:29
So I asked him, “Can I send you a Game Boy?” And he’d not even tried it for years, but we were like, “Yeah, I bet this would work if we hooked it up somehow!” And Frank told me that he thought if you just plug this in to a Game Boy, it’ll work. And I’m not a technical guy, I realize now that it is stupid to expect it to do that. That’s not how the Game Boy works. I know that now.
Frank Cifaldi 22:56
Yeah, I don’t think you can read software through that port or anything.
Liam Robertson 23:01
But that’s the thing. When I interview someone and they’ve worked on something, I don’t want to say, “No, Frank, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Kelsey Lewin 23:10
“I’ve seen a Game Boy or two.” [laughter]
Liam Robertson 23:13
“I know more about the WorkBoy than you, Frank.” So anyway, yeah. Bottom line was, he volunteered to send me this WorkBoy prototype. I got it and I hooked it up to a Game Boy, and nothing happened. It was just beeping and I was like, “Why is it beeping? Is it broken?” But that little sign of life that it was beeping at least showed me that it still works on some level. I did have to change the batteries. It did have watch batteries in it from like the 1990s, so I took those out and replaced those.
Frank Cifaldi 23:48
No, Frank, no…! You can’t do that! [Laughter]
Liam Robertson 23:48
But, yeah, it didn’t work at first. And do you want me to go on to explain how we got it working?
Frank Cifaldi 24:03
Yeah, yeah, go for it!
Liam Robertson 24:04
Frank Cifaldi 24:04
Because, I mean, this is such a beautiful little cosmic coincidence.
Kelsey Lewin 24:07
Liam Robertson 24:09
It is! It is a series of incredibly serendipitous events. And I was really awe struck constantly in the process of researching this. So anyway, I’ll cut to the chase: we couldn’t get this thing working. Eddie Gil, the guy who created the thing, told me, “Oh, you need a software cartridge. That’s what’ll get it working.” And I was like, “Oh, great. OK, well, I have the work by now and I’ve got this thing in front of me, and it’s amazing, but it doesn’t work. And so now we’ve got to hunt for the software cartridge.” And to me, you know, it was pretty anticlimactic. We had gotten this far. After months of trying to get Frank to talk to me about the WorkBoy, he’d sent me the thing and now we can’t get it working. And so I just did what I do and I talked to different developers who worked on it. Very hard to do that, very hard to find people who actually worked on this thing because the companies that made it weren’t very big and what have you. And then in the background of all this was the Nintendo “gigaleak.” Do you… Let me ask you a question, here. A terminology question: do you define the different leaks from the servers as gigaleaks or is the gigaleak the first one that came out? What would you say?
Frank Cifaldi 25:32
Oh, or is the gigaleak an ongoing process, perhaps, right. Like what is it? Yeah…
Kelsey Lewin 25:38
I feel like it’s a series of… I mean, it is – in the literal sense – leaking out of probably what was one giant something that somebody still owns (or doesn’t own, obviously, but has access to) and is eking out. So I guess that’s my definition of it? Does that sound right to you, Frank?
Frank Cifaldi 26:03
Yeah, it almost seems like there are… I mean, there are definitely, like, different quote- unquote “releases” within the gigaleak, right? So there’s the October leaks, the September leaks…
Kelsey Lewin 26:16
Frank Cifaldi 26:18
But… yeah, I don’t know. This is an odd place to go down.
Liam Robertson 26:26
It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
Frank Cifaldi 26:28
But, like, if we were categorizing these right as archivists, are they individual artifacts, each release? I don’t know.
Liam Robertson 26:40
So anyway, yeah, you’ve got the gigaleak. I’m sure most people listening know what that is: Nintendo had their servers hacked by someone or some people over the past couple of years and, yeah, the contents of these servers have been leaking online periodically in these big dumps that some people call gigaleaks, or the gigaleak, whatever. Every so often, a new bout of data comes out. And when the first one came out, you’ve got all this ancient history from the Nintendo archives, like unused sprites, full resolution sound files and stuff like that. And I’m sure you guys have spoken about this before, like, it is very… You know, stuff from Nintendo’s past that we never expected to ever see again. Really, really rare stuff. And there was some third-party stuff in there as well. And I think seeing that got me to thinking, “Well, if they’ve got that in there, could there potentially be the WorkBoy’s software in one of these dumps of data?” Another time, you know, I didn’t want to rely upon that. I wanted to keep digging into it. Could we find the work boy software on our own, is what I wanted to try and do. But what ended up happening was– Yeah… I mean, I’m not above doing that, but I would rather gets it a more official way, you know. I’d rather talk to a developer and they’d be like, “Oh, yeah, we’ve got this here. Here you go.” But that didn’t end up happening. Because a few weeks after I got the WorkBoy hardware, another one of these dumps of data appeared online on 4chan or what have you. And people started downloading it, rummaging through it. And someone got in touch with me and they had found in it the WorkBoy software. I think I woke up that day, and how I found out was I just searched through Twitter, like, “WorkBoy,” because who else is going to be talking about the Work Boy in 2020?
Frank Cifaldi 28:09
You didn’t want to opt-in to the stolen property from Nintendo. Yeah, most people that day were like, “Look, there were two other Austin Powers fake Windows OS game things…”
Liam Robertson 29:13
Frank Cifaldi 29:14
Well, I think the one I tweeted about was, finally, the Vanilla Ice Game for the Game Boy! [Laughter]
Kelsey Lewin 29:21
Liam Robertson 29:21
Whoo-hoo! So yeah, I was searching through Twitter for WorkBoy. And there were, like, one or two people who were like, “Oh, my God, you guys remember the WorkBoy?” But in general, it didn’t really blow up. And somebody sent me the file for the software. And I booted it up in an emulator and it kind of worked but not really because my understanding of it is, raw emulation can’t really do the job because this software was designed to work with this keyboard which has its own form of memory in it. And it has a built in clock and other such things to measure the time. So, yeah, there’s like a number of different gadgets inside the WorkBoy itself that it needs to function properly. So emulation, on its own… I think some people have gotten it to work now in the months after, but when it first initially leaked online, people couldn’t get the WorkBoy software to work.
Kelsey Lewin 30:29
It was just the calculator, right? And then everything else was just completely non-functional without the accessory.
Liam Robertson 30:37
Yeah, mostly because it needed the clock. But anyway, I burned it to a cartridge and I put it all together, and it was the moment of truth. And it was… I was really afraid that it wasn’t good at work, you know? Because that’s the moment of truth where it all is decided. “Is any of this worth doing? Have I wasted all my time daking this out?” And, you know, the prototype very well, very easily could not have worked. But when I put everything together and I turned it on, the beeping stopped out of the WorkBoy speaker, and I press the return key, and I remember it lit up and it worked perfectly fine! And I remember being really surprised, this thing just works faultlessly! You go through the menu super quick, and… I was impressed honestly, like how functional it was. Not just for a prototype, but just for a piece of software from back then. It’s faster than my my old smartphone, to be honest. In some respects, anyway. Like, the way you can flick through the apps is so intuitive and it does feel ahead of its time.
Frank Cifaldi 31:52
They hadn’t invented planned obsolescence yet. [Laughter] So to see it in action and go through all the features and stuff, check out the video link in the podcast description. I don’t really want to have a podcast where we describe things like using a calculator. [Laughter] But what I thought was kind of cool was that it seemed like Eddie Gil was really happy to see it working again.
Liam Robertson 32:23
Yeah, that was one of the interesting things about this whole thing, you know? Eddie, for whatever reason, the people of Source hadn’t really archived their software. I guess it was mostly a job to them and so they’d moved on to other things. And I’m sure the two of you know, this very well, that’s sometimes stuff just doesn’t get backed up. And people move on to different hardware and stuff becomes obsolete, and it becomes harder and harder to retain that work that you did so many years ago from these ancient file formats and what have you.
Frank Cifaldi 33:02
Especially, like, ’92, right? This is a time of computers evolving very quickly. So I’m sure whatever they used for for programming the WorkBoy was quickly closeted. And, you know, given that the project was never even released, there probably wasn’t an official backing-up of its software at any point. So yeah, you can easily see how something like this disappears if not for corporate theft, unfortunately.
Kelsey Lewin 33:36
Yeah, I think that’s something that can get lost sometimes in video game preservation is, of course it’s super nice to see things in action again, but the other part of it is real people worked on this and were probably proud of it and enjoyed it, and to be able to reunite them with that is pretty cool, too!
Liam Robertson 33:36
Yeah, basically. So as you said, Eddie was very happy to get this. I remember, I spoke to him once we got the prototype, and he told me, “You’re gonna need the software and play on it.” And he said to me, I remember, “I don’t think you’re gonna be able to find this thing.” You know, he was like, “You’ll be very, very lucky if you find this software, Liam.” And I was I was keenly aware of that as I started the search for it. And then one day, I… It did bring me a lot of joy to be able to say, “Hey, we found your lost work! It was in this weird Nintendo gigaleak of all things, and here it is!” and to send it to him. And yeah, it did make me really happy to be able to do that for him after all the help he’d given me. It seemed to make him quite happy to have this work back that he never thought he would have before. And, you know, I guess there is a lot of ethically questionable aspects to the whole gigaleak story, but that was something where it was a nice moment where I was able to reunite someone with their work from years ago. Right, yeah. Certainly.
Kelsey Lewin 35:08
So what is the plan with the WorkBoy prototype, if I may ask, after this? Is this going back to Frank Ballouz or is this…? Do you still have it in your possession?
Frank Cifaldi 35:20
Put it in the “Liam Museum?”
Liam Robertson 35:23
All right, so I’ve just launched an eBay auction – not really.
Kelsey Lewin 35:26
Frank Cifaldi 35:26
Liam Robertson 35:29
I am planning on sending it back to Frank. I’ve not spoken to him recently. I think he’s quite a busy guy, as I mentioned. My plan is to do a couple of follow up videos and then send it back to him. And I would encourage Frank, “Hey, send this to a museum! Who knows what will happen as the as go by. Maybe something happens to it, maybe something happens to you.” I would like Frank to put it, give it to the right people, like yourselves. I wouldn’t know what to do with it myself. People have told me, “Hey, do a teardown and try to recreate it and 3D print it and stuff,” and I’m just… I don’t know know what I’m doing on that level, so…
Frank Cifaldi 36:15
Also, no one needs this! Come on, no one needs a bootleg WorkBoy, that’s not gonna enhance anyone’s life! [Laughter]
Liam Robertson 36:24
Well, there are quite a few people who would disagree with you based upon some of the comments I’ve gotten. But anyway…
Kelsey Lewin 36:32
“If I can’t have a work boy in my hands, I don’t know what I’m gonna do with myself!” [Laughter]
Liam Robertson 36:38
Yeah, so my plan right now is, I want to do a couple of follow up videos, and shows some of the different functions that I didn’t get to show in the video that I’ve done already. And one thing that I want to show, for instance – because there’s been a lot of requests – is: there is a function in the WorkBoy where you can look at a world map, and you can play different eight-bit national anthems of various countries. And I’ve had some requests, like, “Hey, can you play this country’s national anthem?” And I don’t think there’s that many national anthems in the WorkBoy, but I would like to just do just a compilation video, you know? “Here is the USA, here’s kind of whatever.” That’s something that I definitely want to do. And just do it a little walkthrough of the WorkBoy. I have filmed some stuff already, but that that’ll be something I’ll do. And then I would like to get it back to Frank and encourage him, “Hey, why don’t you send it to these people, and then they can preserve it, and people can see it, and it will be remembered.” But it’s not mine. It’s up to him. I think the right thing to do is to send it back to him and send him a copy of the software so he can use it if he wants to. If – I don’t know – maybe he still has productivity needs that need fulfilling by the WorkBoy, I don’t know.
Frank Cifaldi 37:57
[Laughter] I don’t know if I ever mentioned this you, Liam, but we actually featured the WorkBoy in a museum exhibit that we put together.
Liam Robertson 38:09
Yeah, you did mention that! You built a you build a prototype out of cardboard, didn’t you?
Frank Cifaldi 38:15
I did, I built a paper-craft WorkBoy! From a distance it actually looked pretty good! The previous three Portland Retro Gaming Expos, we sort of sponsored the museum in that we hosted it and put it together and stuff like that. And last year – well, not last year, 2019 was a Game Boy-specific exhibit. And, you know, we didn’t want to just put out a bunch of Game Boy stuff and be like, “Tada! There it is!” We like to say something, you know? And so we sort of had different concepts around the Game Boy. Things like how it was sold around the world, the sort of primitive origins of it, things like that. And one thing we wanted to demonstrate was how the Game Boy itself was used as essentially a microcomputer for other purposes. So we had the fishing sonar, and –
Kelsey Lewin 38:19
It was pretty cute! The sewing machine.
Frank Cifaldi 38:36
Sewing machine, right. And this is when we contacted Frank just to be like, “Hey, can we borrow a WorkBoy if you’ve got one, because we think it’d be really nice in this exhibit.” But yeah, we ended up building a paper craft WorkBoy, and I set it up with the Game Boy sort of the way it was in the PR photos. And the papercraft work boy is now in the possession of a Game Boy collector who collects accessories who contributed to the museum himself and was really happy to take home the closest thing there was – until now – to there being a WorkBoy.
Liam Robertson 40:03
That’s great, yeah. Not that I would ever sell it, a part of me is curious, what is the value of something like this? And how would that be determined, given that there might only be this one prototype left? Eddie Gil reckons there might be one at Nintendo, but it is extremely rare.
Kelsey Lewin 40:23
That one’s not leaving.
Liam Robertson 40:25
Yeah, I don’t think so. Unless, you know, the Nintendo hackers want to take it to the next level and do some kind of Ocean’s 11 type s—? I don’t know. But, yeah, I just want to see it safe. I want to see it given to someone who can look after it and preserve what they can of it. I don’t know what really is left to be done with it. But people have talked about, you know, “Maybe you can clone it?” I don’t know. But I would just like to find it the right home because, you know, humans have an expiration date. And I would like it to live on beyond us. I know that’s a bit of a weird thing to say but there you go.
Frank Cifaldi 41:12
Yeah, we’ve never said anything like that around here, yeah… [Laughter]
Kelsey Lewin 41:17
Video game history lives and dies with us, that’s the end. [Laughter]
Frank Cifaldi 41:22
There’s actually a switch inside of me. When my heart stops, the whole archive burns, so…
Kelsey Lewin 41:31
Liam Robertson 41:31
Frank Cifaldi 41:32
I’m trying to figure out how to word this, but I mean… What’s the legacy of the WorkBoy? Is there a reason to care about its place in history or is it just kind of an interesting little side story?
Liam Robertson 41:49
I think it certainly does have its place in history when you look at the trajectory beyond it. When it comes to PDAs and smartphones and what have you. This was developed by Eddie Gil, someone who I consider a pioneer, who went on to be instrumental in designing what would go on to become the modern smartphone. And even if you just look at the UI of the WorkBoy, the home screen is eerily similar to what you have on an iPhone or something, you know? It’s so far ahead of its time in many respects. And that’s not to say necessarily that the WorkBoy inspired the iPhone or whatever, but I just think it does have its place. It was a stepping stone, I think, in the history of these productivity-related devices. And the fact that it went on to inspire the the Nokia 9000 and many of the ideas that he had for for the WorkBoy lived on in that. Yeah, I do think there is some importance to it, even though we look back on it now and it is more – I guess – a novel curiosity of the era that it was built in that not many people know about. But I do think it does have its place in history and it does have a degree of worth, I would say, creatively.
Frank Cifaldi 43:25
For me, I think it just shows an interesting stumbling block maybe toward the inevitability of smartphones, but really toward the merging of computers and dedicated video game consoles. We don’t use video game consoles for productivity, but we use them now for non-gaming entertainment. And I think I view it more as just a stepping stone toward that. But maybe the smartphone is the better link. I don’t know, I want things to be about video game history, not smartphones…
Kelsey Lewin 44:06
It’s a little bit of both. I mean, I think that society, technology in general was trending towards what became the smartphone and it found different applications before it became a smartphone. And one of those was, you know, use the $80 computer you already had in your pocket.
Liam Robertson 44:25
Frank Cifaldi 44:27
Yeah. And I suppose really, again, the smartphone itself, it’s like, “Well, again, you have a computer in your pocket. We might as well add on these other things.” But you can just do those as apps now as opposed to selling a cartridge in a keyboard accessory.
Liam Robertson 44:42
I think it is also indicative of a time when video games try to pretend that they were more useful than they actually are, you know? They were trying to appeal to the adults and to say, “Look, this isn’t just a device for little kids. This is something that the grown-ups can also enjoy.” It was from a time when games were still trying to justify their existence to the mainstream and not just be these useless nerds toys for little babies. So I definitely think there’s something to be said for that.
Kelsey Lewin 45:22
And you had a lot of that with the Game Boy, too, even outside of the WorkBoy. I mean, there is the Bible on the Game Boy! The King James Bible on the Gameboy.
Liam Robertson 45:32
Kelsey Lewin 45:34
Yeah, there’s all kinds of just random, like… Oh, gosh, I’m blanking on the publisher of those games?
Frank Cifaldi 45:41
I think it was InfoGenius?
Kelsey Lewin 45:43
Yeah, I think InfoGenius. And they had a whole line of basically just broken out functions of the WorkBoy, almost. It was travel guides and dictionaries, Spanish-to-English, English-to-Spanish type things. So the Game Boy had a lot of that going on, which I think is both that sort of video games proving themselves and also the fact that it’s portable. It’s a very easy to carry around little device, easy to kind of try other things, tack on other things to this thing that you’re already carrying.
Liam Robertson 46:19
Frank Cifaldi 46:21
Well, Liam, thank you so much for joining us on the Video Game History Hour! Where can people find you and your videos on the internet?
Liam Robertson 46:30
My videos are in a series called Game History Secrets which you can find on the Did Yopu Know Gaming? channel. Or you just go on YouTube, type in Game History Secrets, and I do other such videos like this where I look into video game history, obscure stories, generally console games that I feel like there hasn’t been enough research done into. But yeah, I also have a Twitter where you can find me. I’m @Doctor_Cupcakes. I don’t know why, just am. And yeah, follow that If you like what I have to say, if you do. I don’t know.
Frank Cifaldi 47:09
[Laughter] Well, thank you so much, Liam, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time our listeners hear from you.
Liam Robertson 47:16
Awesome. Thank you so much for having me on, it’s been really fun.
Kelsey Lewin 47:19
Thanks for listening to the Video Game History Hour, brought to you by the Video Game History Foundation. If you have questions or comments for the show, you can find us on Twitter @gamehistoryhour or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Did you know the Video Game History Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and that all of your contributions are tax deductible? You can support this podcast and all of our other work on Patreon or at gamehistory.org/donate. This episode of the videogame history hour was produced by Robin Kunimune and edited by Michael Carrell. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.