A cancelled Game Boy Color add-on called the Page Boy has been uncovered and, had it been released, it would have brought with it 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 Game History Secrets video on DidYouKnowGaming? and revealed the story of how it came to be and, ultimately, how it ended up being shelved in 2002.
Following his work on another lost, unreleased Game Boy add-on known as the WorkBoy – which would have brought PDA-like functions like an address book, calculator, appointment book, and more to Nintendo's handheld – Source Research and Development's Eddie Gill began looking towards a new idea.
Gill still believed in many of the features that would have been present in the WorkBoy, and he began to work towards building a "spiritual continuation of the WorkBoy, with new ideas of its own" for the Game Boy Color.
Work began in earnest in 1997 and Gill would bring in his brother, Christopher Gill, to help with the technical side of things.
Gill's dream for the Page Boy was that it would allow for Game Boy Color owners to view the internet, get news updates, and communicate with each other over long distances by sending messages, photos, and e-mails.
The communication would work using radio waves that would use the same frequency used by most two-way pagers at the time. This technical aspect would lead to the name Page Boy and then the formation of a company called Wizard.
Early on, Gill knew he needed Nintendo's full support to make this dream become a reality, and he turned his focus to that mission. While Gill had no "formal in-roads" with Nintendo at the time, he was still in contact with ex-Nintendo executive Frank Ballouz as they had worked on the WorkBoy together.
Ballouz came through and was able to get Wizard a meeting with the "higher-ups" at Nintendo of America in 1999, including NOA president Minoru Arakawa, chairman Howard Lincoln, and engineering head Wayne Alan Shirk.
Gill then presented his pitch for the Page Boy, which included a technical breakdown of how it would work and concept art images of both hardware and software. Wizard had also commissioned physical models of the device to show off what it would look like when connected to the Game Boy Color.
Robertson was able to get a hold of this visual presentation and it shows that the software was heavily themed around Mario and even had "Wizard's own take on the music from the Mario games and even some voice acting."
One of Mario's appearances would be in the "Ask Mario" function that would have worked like a search engine users could use to look up "various queries, such as items for sale." Mario would have spoken to the users throughout the experience, and he would even whistle the iconic theme song of Super Mario Bros. as pages were loading.
Another suggested use of the Page Boy would be letting Game Boy Color owners read the latest issues of Nintendo Power on their device. Even more ambitiously, it had dreams of building a "Game Boy 'Live TV'" function that would allow the Page Boy to receive a "live broadcast from Nintendo that would display exclusive information on upcoming products in real time."
Yes, Gill and Wizard were attempting to bring Nintendo Directs to the world over a decade before they were officially introduced, and they would potentially have a segment where player-submitted high scores were displayed.
Alongside game previews and reviews, the Page Boy would also give users access to world news, sports scores, and weather. The weather feature, in particular, was in similar fashion to what was found on Wii's Weather Channel.
As for the messaging, users would have been able to type out a message on their Game Boy Color and choose "pre-installed animations, music, and themes to bring them to life." Additionally, the device would have connected with existing Game Boy accessories like the Game Boy Camera to let users send photos to one another or allow for the Game Boy Printer to print out user's messages.
There was even a plan to implement a phone system that would let users send e-mails. This would have been the only paid extra for Page Boy owners, and it would have required users to call a number and draft an e-mail with the help of an operator.
They would be able to choose a style, dictate a message, and then give the operator the recipient's Page Boy address to send it.
Nintendo's response to this presentation was "one of immediate fascination." Arakawa believed it had the chance to become a commercial success and greenlit an internal investigation at Nintendo that would look at how they could get it to market.
Nintendo then agreed to work with Wizard to work on this project – which would be codenamed Cheetah – and, after Gill signed on as a design consultant for Nintendo in 1999, the "Page Boy was being looked at as an internally made first-party add-on for the Game Boy line of systems."
As development continued, Nintendo was exploring the idea of having the Page Boy unlock exclusive items in games, not unlike what Nintendo's amiibo do now. It also brought in some of the features from the WorkBoy like the Clock display and there would have been a Belt Clip and vibration function for those that wanted to wear it like a cell phone/pager.
While Nintendo loved the idea of the Page Boy, it really wanted it to have a global appeal. This would end up being its undoing, as that "potential wasn't as strong as had been originally believed."
Due to the lack of cost-effective duplex wireless data networks covering Japan and Europe, the Page Boy would have to be limited to the North American market. This led to it being "deemed by Nintendo's management, back at its Japanese headquarters, that this would have gone against the core appeal of the device."
"Nintendo wanted it to be universally available and functional around the world. This, they believed, was key to its success," Robertson said.
After Nintendo came to this conclusion, it made the decision to shelve the Page Boy for good in 2002.
While the Page Boy never made it to the finish line, many of the ideas explored for it were used in future Nintendo products and marketing campaigns.
No actual Page Boy prototypes were ever made and, besides Nintendo possibly retaining some of those physical models that were shared during the initial pitch, the only record of this device that was ahead of its time are these stories and presentations that are thankfully being preserved by those like Liam Robertson.
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