The more popular the console hardware, the more aggressive and imaginative manufacturers become in devising additional peripherals to release for that hardware. Game Boy was by no means an exception, benefiting from all manner of proprietary and third-party expansions, but one Game Boy expansion that was announced and never officially released was the WorkBoy. It was basically a keyboard that plugged into Game Boy and turned it into a workstation, and in a new episode of Secrets of the history of the game for the Did you know the game? On the YouTube channel, journalist Liam Robertson found out the whole story of WorkBoy and why it was never published. In fact, he was even able to play with one.
WorkBoy entered public consciousness in 1992, when it appeared at press events and even eventually appeared on British television before disappearing altogether. UK-based Source Research and Development designed the device and Washington-based Fabtek intended to produce it; both companies have long ceased operations. However, Robertson did locate Source founder and WorkBoy architect Eddie Gill as well as Fabtek founder Frank Ballouz to share their development stories.
The device was the result of Source’s dual interest in hardware and software collisions, as the company was also the developer of Pyramids of Ra and Noah’s ark. WorkBoy for Game Boy was aimed at filling a niche for cost-effective, accessible technology that could do work instead of buying a computer, which was still quite expensive at the time. If you wanted to calculate numbers, convert currencies or temperatures, or check the time in different parts of the world – among many other features – WorkBoy could do it, and it was aiming for a price of $ 79 to $ 89 USD.
Frank Ballouz explained that the reason the device never came out is because they learned that Nintendo was planning a price drop for Game Boy, which potentially would have put the cost of buying a WorkBoy higher than buying the handheld itself. This would make the device difficult to sell to consumers, both literally and figuratively, and the project was essentially canceled in 1993.
Ballouz in fact job his own WorkBoy, the only one definitely known to still exist, to Robertson for a demonstration, and Robertson shows it in depth in the Game History Secrets video. Unfortunately, contrary to what had been suggested in the promotions, plugging the WorkBoy into the Game Boy did not immediately turn it into a workstation; Eddie Gill then explained to Robertson that he always needed an extra, never-before-mentioned cartridge full of software to do it.
Locating this lost software could have been its own dramatic ordeal. However, in an extraordinary stroke of luck, last year’s huge Nintendo leaks recently yielded the exact WorkBoy software Robertson was looking for. So he burned the ROM to a rewritable cartridge, paired it with WorkBoy hardware which has its own unique software, and – it worked! Everything worked as expected, which you can see from around 7:10 pm in the video.
Watching a WorkBoy Game Boy tour decades after the fact is a bit surreal, and the level of detail in the software is truly impressive, if at times hit-and-miss, like offering 8-bit renditions of some countries’ national anthems. Be sure to watch the full Game History Secrets video for even more facts and surprises.