A Boy and His Blob (Nintendo DS, Unreleased) – Gaming Alexandria

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Here are two unfinished builds of the unreleased A Boy and His Blob for the Nintendo DS. A follow-up to the 1989 NES game by David Crane,  the game was announced by Majesco in 2005 and quietly cancelled. The ROMs were donated to Gaming Alexandria by a developer who was involved in the project. For the remainder of this video, we refer to this developer as  “X” to protect their anonymity. 

Although the game was never finished, the second ROM could be considered the “final” build, as it was the last build Majesco ever received from developer Skyworks Technologies. It’s roughly 40% complete, and the game stops after the second world.

Our friends over at Did You Know Gaming? have done a visual companion to this article, doing the first-ever long-play of this unreleased game. We highly suggest you give it a watch!

Both ROMs can be downloaded here.

Game Details

The story of A Boy and His Blob is also the story of David Patrick Crane, arguably one of the first “rockstar developers” in video game history. Over a long career that began at Atari in the mid-70s, Crane has worked on countless iconic titles, including Pitfall!, Ghostbusters, and Little Computer People. In the 80s and 90s, his name would be a selling point for many games — A Boy and His Blob is actually, in bright yellow text on the front cover, David Crane’s A Boy and His Blob.

David Crane at the 1989 Consumer Electronics Show, unvailing A Boy and His Blob for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Image: Marshal M. Rosenthal.

Born in Indiana in 1953, Crane began tinkering with electronics at age 12. He enjoyed tearing apart old radios and learning the earliest forms of digital logic. On his thirteenth birthday, Crane didn’t want any new toys or clothes. Instead, he got a used TV for $40 and spent the following weeks repairing it. By the age of 17, Crane had learned to program in three languages and was able to build his first computer out of junk parts. Crane graduated in 1972 and quickly entered the DeVry School of Technology in Phoenix, Arizona; he would leave three years later. Following this, Crane would take a job at a semiconductor manufacturer, where he worked with his longtime colleague Alan Miller. Miller was a talented engineer from the University of California who was one of the first programmers hired by Atari for the original VCS home console. In early 1977, while living in the same apartment complex, Miller asked Crane to proofread an Atari job ad, and Crane decided to apply. He joined the VCS group months later and created four games: Outlaw, Canyon Bomber, Slot Machine and the unreleased Boggle

Compared to today, there were barely any dedicated artists, musicians, or designers working at video game companies in the late-70s. Most Atari VCS titles were the work of a single programmer creating everything from start to finish with minimal resources. Many staff members thought their talent was unrecognized; Miller, Crane, and programmers Larry Kaplan and Bob Whitehead discovered that their products were responsible for approximately 60% of cartridge sales. Miller proposed a modest royalty plan to Atari’s new CEO Raymond Kassar but was quickly shot down. At the time, Atari’s salary for programmers was slightly below the industry standard. Whenever new programmers were hired, they often earned a higher salary than current employees. These issues culminated in the four programmers quitting in 1979 to start their own company. With the help of marketing executive Jim Levy, the team launched the first third-party video game developer — an obscure little band called Activision.

(L-R) Bob Whitehead, David Crane, Jim Levy, Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller

Activision formally incorporated on October 1st, 1979, and did several things Atari didn’t. For starters, Activision heavily featured the developers behind each game, giving a face to the Atari VCS titles so many people played. There was also a greater focus on the graphics — something Atari didn’t consider as thoroughly which made Activision stand out from the first-party lineup. Activision announced their first four games in March 1980 and released them in July. These games were Boxing by Bob Whitehead, Checkers by Alan Miller, and Dragster and Fishing Derby by David Crane. In addition to being a superb programmer, Crane was the in-house artist at Activision, doing graphics for other developers’ games like Larry Kaplan’s Kaboom! in 1981. Crane’s mother was an accomplished painter who ensured that her children were trained in arts and crafts. He was one of the few people in the business who excelled in both what was on screen and behind it, resulting in classics like Pitfall! in September 1982.

The early 180s video game boom gave birth to many new third-party developers trying to follow in Activision’s footsteps. The oversaturation of the console market in 1983 led to the company to turn towards home computers to escape that flagging market. Activision’s board of directors replaced CEO Jim Levy with Bruce Davis in 1987, and many developers — including Crane — felt the change was not up to par. As Crane told Game Developer in 2005, “Activision became the giant of the early eighties by recognizing that a game is a creative product and requires a creative environment. Bruce Davis’ biggest mistake was treating video games as commodities, rather than creative products.”

Much like what happened at Atari, several staff members left Activision to form their own studios. Larry Kaplan left in June 1982 to co-start a game hardware company called Hi-Toro, later renamed Amiga Corporation. Bob Whitehead and Alan Miller departed in 1984 to form the video game publisher Accolade. In February 1986, programmer Garry Kitchen, along with three other members of Activision’s Eastern Design Center, set up an independent developer called Imagineering Inc. in New Jersey. Soon after in August, that same group started a game publisher — Absolute Entertainment. David Crane, who exited Activision by April 1987 and spent a brief time at toy company Hasbro, was hired into Absolute in December 1988. Crane did not work at the offices in New Jersey. Instead, he worked remotely from his home in California. 

At Absolute Entertainment, games would be developed at Imagineering and published under the Absolute label. The main five programmers would brainstorm ideas and discuss how any technical hurdles could be avoided—the person that could jump that hurdle would be crowned product manager for that game. At Absolute, Crane worked on titles including Super Skateboardin’ for the Atari 7800 and Bart Simpson’s Escape from Camp Deadly for the Nintendo Game Boy. His biggest game, however, would be a Nintendo Entertainment System project conceived in 1989. Crane wanted to make another Pitfall!-style game, but this time making it a “tool-using adventure.” He had played other adventure games in the past and hated menus breaking up the flow of the action. To jump this hurdle, Crane thought back to a cartoon from his childhood.

From Electronic Gaming Monthly: the Absolute Entertainment staff circa February 1992.

The Herculoids was an animated fantasy series from Hanna-Barbera that aired from 1967 to 1969. A bizarre relic of 60s sci-fi, it starred a family of space warriors on a far-off planet fighting alongside their giant pets known as The Herculoids. There was Tundro the Tremendous (a six-legged rhinoceros), Zok (a dragon), Igoo (some sort of stone monkey… thing), and Gleep and Gloop (a pair of ghostly, beady-eyed protoplasms). In the show, Gleep and Gloop could shapeshift into shields and vehicles, essentially working as a walking pair of toolboxes. Crane realized the potential there for a game — a blob that followed the character around like a dog. Instead of a boy and his dog, it’s a boy and his blob — man’s best alien friend.

In a June 2010 interview with Retro Gamer Magazine, Crane remarked, “It’s probably apparent that I have always liked puns.”

A Boy and His Blob star a nameless teenage boy and his alien blob friend Blobert. Blobert’s planet Blobolonia has been taken over by an evil emperor. It’s up to him and the boy to leave Earth and save the day. To avoid obstacles, you can feed Blobert different flavored jelly beans to morph him into tools. Licorice jelly beans turn him into a ladder, strawberry turns him into a bridge, vanilla turns him into an umbrella, coconut turns him into, well, a coconut, and so on. After trekking through the city and Earth’s caverns, the duo makes it to Blobolonia and defeats the evil emperor by feeding him vitamins found across the map.

David Crane's A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia Box Shot for NES - GameFAQsA Boy and His Blob box art. Image: Absolute Entertainment.

Licensed by Nintendo in the summer of 1989, A Boy and His Blob began and ended development in an intense six-week period. Nintendo was extremely strict with their deadlines due to the time needed to manufacture cartridges and this brief amount of time for Blob was, by all accounts, the most challenging schedule anyone at Absolute Entertainment had ever faced. Crane rented a “flop house” a block away from the offices and worked 16-hour days with no breaks. For the last two weeks of development, he worked 20-hour days, going back and forth to the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago to present demos with barely any sleep. At the very end of development, Absolute flew another programmer to a hotel across the street from Nintendo of America headquarters. The Absolute members in New Jersey sent him the final code via a modem to burn onto EPROMS and hand-deliver them to Nintendo. This gave them one extra day of work versus FedEx shipping.

The impossibly short deadline ruined any bigger plans Crane had for A Boy and His Blob. As Crane told Retro Gamer, “In my vision, A Boy and His Blob was going to be the first video game to be simultaneously released as a game, toy, and animated feature film. We went so far as to bring in the [supervising] producer of the first animated Transformers movie [Jay Bacal] to work on the film development, but that was another casualty of the tight schedule. It would have been difficult to concentrate enough resources simultaneously on those three diverse development tasks.”

A Boy and His Blob would be released in late 1989, right before Christmas. The game was one reportedly of the most played titles within Nintendo of America and received an internal rating of 28/40. Blob sold at least 250,000 units and received several positive reviews, front covers of magazines, a Parent’s Choice Award, and a 1991 Game Boy sequel, The Rescue of Princess Blobette. The hard work David Crane, Garry Kitchen, and the rest of Absolute Entertainment put into their game paid off, and although the feature film plans fell through, the future of the series still seemed bright.

Company LogoSkyworks Technologies logo.

There were multiple plans to reboot A Boy and His Blob in the following years. Absolute Entertainment ceased operations in November 1995 and was liquidated under Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Most of their library was picked up by publisher Majesco, who rereleased several games in the late-90s for the Game Gear, Genesis, and SNES.

David Crane and Garry Kitchen started a new company, Skyworks Technologies, which focused on producing websites and online brand-sponsored games (or “advergames”). They did work for dozens of Fortune 500 clients, including Ford, Buick, Toyota, BMW, Kraft, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Smirnoff, and John Deere. Several ex-Absolute members were brought on board, as well as Alan Miller, Crane’s old companion from Atari and Activision. It was very much a reunion for Crane, who, by this point, had been in the industry for over 25 years. In the early-00s, Skyworks started developing games for the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS.

The company had connections to Majesco through Garry Kitchen’s brother Dan — another Absolute founder who was currently Majesco’s VP of Development — and Majesco published most of Skyworks’ titles. In August of 2004, Majesco announced their first three games in collaboration with Skyworks: Texas Hold’em Poker, Monster Trucks, and F-18 Super Hornet.

A Boy and His Blob: Jelly's Cosmic AdventureAn attempted reboot of A Boy and His Blob, Jelly’s Comic Adventure, remains lost. Image: Majesco.

Before Majesco connected with Skyworks, Majesco had attempted to bring back A Boy and His Blob in-house. In 2001, they announced a Game Boy Advance reboot subtitled Jelly’s Cosmic Adventure, which featured older, hipper versions of the boy and Blobert. Majesco’s internal development team Pipedream Interactive would handle the development, which was intended to release in December of 2002. Very little from Jelly’s Cosmic Adventure remains aside from a few remnants on websites like IGN. No screenshots or gameplay footage is known to exist, and it’s unknown how far the project even got. It’s entirely possible it was never even started.

This is where our anonymous contributor “X” comes in. X joined the production of a new Blob game sometime in between the cancellation of Jelly’s Cosmic Adventure and the new partnership with Skyworks. Majesco’s staff got a heads-up in late 2004 that Skyworks was going to develop a new entry for the Nintendo DS, simply called A Boy and His Blob. In this game, the nameless boy is now 16 years old, and still, no one believes him about his old alien friend Blobert. Before he can move on from the past, a spaceship crashes lands in his city. It’s Blobert, and he’s come back to warn everyone about the Evil Emperor of Blobolonia, who is planning to enslave the human race. It’s up to the boy and Blobert to save the day.

Image: Majesco.

Everyone at Majesco was excited that Crane and Kitchen were supposedly leading the project. Crane was the special guest at their Christmas party that year, and he announced that he would be supervising development to keep it “true to the spirit of the original.” According to X, this was a lie. Crane had very little involvement in the project and his name was mostly just a publicity stunt. In a 2018 interview with the British website Retrogamesmaster, Crane said that he “almost got involved” in the revival, which possibly means that he attempted to step in later on.

In late February 2005, Majesco received the first proof of concept demo, and it was received very poorly. The levels were barren and lifeless, and the gigantic 3D redesigns of the characters were seen as unappealing. Feedback was sent to Skyworks and Majesco was assured things would improve. According to X, they didn’t. “We had a meeting with the devs that summer, and at that point, we could see the writing on the wall. We probed if there is any way to improve the game, and make it more… game-like, but were told, something like, “it is what it is, and at this point, we can only polish it and add more levels.” Most levels were just long, empty hallways with an occasional static “enemy”, which you had to punch with the boxing-glove blob. Even with this little happening, the game constantly slowed down to a crawl.”

A very early 20% completed demo shown off at E3 2005 was met with most of the same complaints. IGN called the artwork “stark and simple” and said they wished the game had more life. Blobert was a bright booger green in the demo, and Skyworks changed the design after the show to look more like the NES original. Majesco internally referred to this redesign as “A Boy and His Coney Island Whitefish.” Changing Blobert from green to white was seemingly the largest change Skyworks would make, and the game continued to be a slog. Majesco quietly cancelled the title in late 2005 over quality concerns. Following this disaster, Dan Kitchen lost his job as VP of Development in January 2006, and the company never collaborated with Skyworks again. 

That leads us to today, where we find ourselves with two prototype builds of A Boy and His Blob for Nintendo DS. The builds are two months apart — the latter being the final build Majesco ever received.

Concept art for A Boy and His Blob for the Nintendo DS, mockingly dubbed “A Boy and His Coney Island Whitefish.” Image: Majesco.

The first build is dated May 16th, 2005 — two days before E3 — and immediately drops the player into the first level. Unlike the NES original, which contains one massive map, the DS game is split into smaller levels. The player is in the heart of the city and is equipped with four jellybeans: vanilla, licorice, and two new flavours, ketchup and kiwi. Ketchup can be placed anywhere to make Blobert respawn (or “catch up”); Kiwi can be fed to Blobert, turning him into a massive boxing glove that can kill enemies. In the NES game, there were no human enemies. In the DS game, thugs, robbers, and blue aliens are lightly scattered all over the map and can be killed with the kiwi jelly bean.

Reminder: the person you’re playing as is a 16-year-old boy.

The biggest problem with the first build is Blobert. When the player uses the licorice jelly bean and climbs to the top of the ladder, he does not follow. You have to climb up the ladder, feed him the ketchup jelly bean, and then continue.  This becomes a chore; constantly feeding Blobert ketchup jelly beans to revert him to his original self slows things down considerably. You can’t whistle at him because he’ll spawn on the ground, rather than the platform. This is thankfully fixed in the second build. After collecting the kiwi jelly beans and getting past the enemy, you grab a treasure chest and are rewarded a sparkly Hot Pink completion message. You are then placed back at the start, repeating the level for all eternity. The first build is essentially a proof-of-concept and is only a taste of things to come.

The second, “final” build is dated July 21st and is much closer to a finished product. Upfront, there’s a title screen and a level select for five different worlds. Don’t be fooled, though. The levels end after World 2, and everything past that leads to a black screen. Although there are twenty different jelly beans on the bottom screen, only five are usable — vanilla, licorice, ketchup, strawberry, and, replacing kiwi, fruit punch. Even for a prototype, both builds are incredibly limited. Big, modern cities and schools are empty and mostly consist of seemingly-endless straight paths. The puzzles are rare and not very complex — the hardest thing you’ll do is climb up a ladder and descend with an umbrella. The seldom-seen enemies just stand there, menacingly. It’s never not apparent that this is an unfinished product.

A Boy and His Blob for Nintendo DS brings nothing new to the table, hardly expanding upon the NES game from 15 years ago. A good revival adds new elements while still retaining the best parts of the original. This does neither. It adds nothing new, and the large, challenging puzzles of the NES game are replaced with walking down an endless hallway and occasionally climbing up a ladder.

David Crane

With Skyworks and Dan Kitchen no longer working with Majesco, the Blob franchise seemed dead. However, a few years later, things changed. The company WayForward and its director Sean Velasco were fans of the NES game and felt the series had plenty of potential. Already having a good relationship with Majesco, the studio pitched their revival that focused on the boy and Blobert’s friendship and used soft 2D hand-drawn animation. Majesco loved the pitch and greenlit the production of a new A Boy and His Blob for the Nintendo Wii. The game would release in October of 2009, and was met with very positive reviews — many critics praised the compelling gameplay and its faithfulness to Crane’s original game. It has since seen ports to Windows, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.

Skyworks Technologies changed its name to Skyworks Interactive in 2008, self-publishing arcade games for iOS devices and Nintendo DSi. David Crane and Garry Kitchen left the company in 2009. In 2021, the duo started Audacity Games, a publisher focused on developing new games for the Atari VCS — a console neither had made a game for since the early-80s. Their first game, Circus Convey, was released in March 2021. Crane and Kitchen have both seen long, prosperous lives in the game industry, and A Boy and His Blob for Nintendo DS was merely a small bump in their otherwise smooth careers. 

Download

Both ROMs can be downloaded here.

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