A canceled Game Boy Color add-on called Page Boy was exposed, and had it been released it would have brought messaging, web browsing, and even an early form of Nintendo Directs to Nintendo’s beloved handheld.
Video game historian Liam Robertson shared the details of this lost Game Boy Color add-on in a new one Video about the secrets of the game’s history on DidYouKnowGaming? and revealed the story of how it came about and was finally put on hold in 2002.
Eddie Gill of Source Research and Development began working on another lost, unreleased Game Boy add-on called WorkBoy, which would have brought PDA-like features like an address book, calculator, appointment book, and more to Nintendo’s handheld Looking for a new idea.
Gill still believed in many of the features that would have been in the WorkBoy, and he began working on building a “spiritual sequel to the WorkBoy with new ideas of his own” for the Game Boy Color.
Work started in earnest in 1997 and Gill brought in his brother Christopher Gill to help with the technical side of things.
Gill’s dream for the Page Boy was that Game Boy Color owners could watch the Internet, get news, and communicate over long distances by sending messages, photos, and email.
Communication would be via radio waves, which would use the same frequency used by most two-way pagers at the time. This technical aspect led to the name Page Boy and then to the creation of a company called Wizard.
Gill knew early on that he would need Nintendo’s full support to make this dream a reality and so focused on this mission. While Gill had no “formal assignments” at Nintendo at the time, he was still in contact with ex-Nintendo manager Frank Ballouz, as they had worked together on the WorkBoy.
Ballouz got through and was able to get Wizard to meet with Nintendo of America’s higher-ups in 1999, including NOA President Minoru Arakawa, Chairman Howard Lincoln, and Chief Engineering Officer Wayne Alan Shirk.
Gill then presented his pitch for the Page Boy, which included a technical breakdown of how the hardware and software worked and conceptual drawings. Wizard had also commissioned physical models of the device to show what it would look like if connected to the Game Boy Color.
Robertson managed to get this visual presentation under control and it shows that the software was heavily focused on Mario and even had “Wizards own interpretation of the music from the Mario games and even some voice overs”.
One of Mario’s appearances would be on the “Ask Mario” feature, which would have worked like a search engine, allowing users to look up “various searches, such as items for sale”. Mario would have spoken to users throughout the experience and even whistled the iconic Super Mario Bros. theme song while the pages were loading.
Another suggested use of the Page Boy would be to allow Game Boy Color owners to read the latest issues of Nintendo Power on their device. Even more ambitiously it dreamed of building a “Game Boy ‘Live TV'” function that would enable the Page Boy to “receive a live broadcast from Nintendo showing exclusive information on upcoming products in real time”.
Yes, Gill and Wizard tried to bring Nintendo Directs to the world over a decade before they were officially launched, and they would potentially have a segment that would show the high scores submitted by players.
In addition to game previews and reviews, the Page Boy would also give users access to world news, sports results and weather. In particular, the weather function was similar to that on the Wii’s weather channel.
As for the news, users could have typed a message on their Game Boy Color and “choose pre-installed animations, music and themes to bring them to life”. In addition, the device could have been connected to existing Game Boy accessories, such as the Game Boy camera, so that users could send photos to each other or the Game Boy printer could print out users’ messages.
There were even plans to implement a phone system that would allow users to send email. This would have been the only paid extra for Page Boy owners, and users would have had to call a number and use an operator to compose an email.
You could choose a style, dictate a message, and then tell the operator the recipient’s Page Boy address to send it.
Nintendo’s response to this presentation was “immediately intriguing”. Believing it had a chance of becoming a commercial success, Arakawa gave the go-ahead for an internal investigation at Nintendo to see how they could get it to market.
Nintendo then agreed to work with Wizard to work on this project – which was to be codenamed Cheetah – and after Gill signed on as a design consultant for Nintendo in 1999, the “Page Boy was viewed as an in-house first-party builder -on for the Game Boy System line. “
As development progressed, Nintendo investigated the idea of letting the Page Boy unlock exclusive items in games, similar to what Nintendo’s amiibo are doing now. It also brought in some of the WorkBoy’s features like the clock display and there would have been a belt clip and vibration feature for those who wanted to wear it like a cell phone / pager.
While Nintendo loved the idea of the Page Boy, it really wanted it to have global appeal. This was to be her undoing, since “the potential was not as strong as originally assumed”.
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Due to the lack of inexpensive duplex wireless data networks covering Japan and Europe, the Page Boy would have to be limited to the North American market. As a result, “Nintendo ‘s management at its Japanese headquarters believed that doing so would have violated the device’s core appeal.”
“Nintendo wanted it to be available and working all over the world. That, in their opinion, was the key to its success,” said Robertson.
After Nintendo reached this conclusion, the company decided in 2002 to permanently discontinue the Page Boy.
Although the Page Boy never made it to the finish line, many of the ideas studied for it were used in future Nintendo products and marketing campaigns.
Real Page Boy prototypes were never made, and aside from Nintendo possibly keeping some of the physical models shared during the initial pitch, the only records of this device that were ahead of its time are these stories and presentations that fortunately kept by such as Liam Robertson.
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