The Story of R.O.B. the Robot | Gaming Historian

The Story of R.O.B. the Robot | Gaming Historian

The Trojan War. After 10 years, the battle between the Greeks and Trojans had reached a stalemate. The Greeks came up with a plan. Build a massive wooden horse, hide soldiers inside, and sail the entire Greek army away. The Trojans brought the horse into the City of Troy and celebrated. But at night, the Greek forces slipped out of the horse and opened the gates to the city. The returning Greek army entered Troy and slaughtered everyone. The Trojan horse is one of the most famous stories in Greek mythology. Today, it’s a metaphor. It’s something that is intended to subvert from within by deceptive means. In 1985, Nintendo had their own Trojan horse. Only… he was a robot. And his job was to get the Nintendo Entertainment System into stores that were no longer interested in video games. His name was R.O.B. *Gyromite theme plays* On July 15th, 1983, Nintendo released the Famicom in Japan. It launched with three games: Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye. All faithful ports of their arcade counterparts. Within the first two months, Nintendo sold 500,000 units. By the end of 1984, it was the best-selling system in Japan. Nintendo sold the Famicom as fast as they could produce it. Even better, Nintendo faced little to no competition. Sega’s first console, the SG-1000, was released on the same day as the Famicom. It flopped. With a 90% market share in Japan, Nintendo set their sights on the rest of the world. At first, they tried to broker a deal with Atari, the largest video game company in the world. The deal stated that Nintendo would create the hardware and software. While Atari would sell and distribute outside of Japan. Atari also requested that Nintendo program four of their games for the Famicom. But the deal fell through for several reasons. Atari didn’t like that they did all the work, while Nintendo reaped the rewards. Atari also felt their upcoming 7800 console was superior to the Famicom. But the biggest reason of all was the video game industry in North America was crashing. A flood of consoles and poorly made games destroyed consumer confidence. In 1983 alone, Atari lost five hundred and thirty nine million dollars. CEO Ray Kassar was fired and the company was split in half and sold to the highest bidder. Retailers begin clearing their excess inventory. Games that retailed for $40, now sold for $4. And there stood Nintendo, still wondering how to bring the Famicom to North America. They technically had a presence in North America with their arcade games and Game & Watch handhelds. But it was small potatoes compared to launching a video game console. But they didn’t have a lot of options. No other companies wanted to work with them So Nintendo bet on themselves. Nintendo of America president, Menodu Arakawa, assessed the situation. While the industry had indeed crashed, kids still poured into the arcades. He was convinced that the market crashed due to poor business practices, not a loss of interest in video games. Previous video game systems had failed to bring the arcade experience home. Arakawa new the Famicom could do it. But retailers wanted nothing to do with the system. Video games were a dead fad. “It would be easier to sell popsicles in the Arctic”, said one executive. So Nintendo shifted gears and redesigned the Famicom to look more like a computer. Personal computers were on the rise. In fact, it was a contributing factor to the video game crash. By 1983, it was estimated that there were 10 million PCs in US households. Why buy a video game console, when you could get a PC? Nintendo designers, Lance Barr and Don James, came up with the ‘Advanced Video System’. It looked sleek. High-tech. Not anything like a video game console. It featured a keyboard, a Zapper gun, joystick, wireless infrared controllers, and a tape drive to store and save custom data. In January of 1985 at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show, Nintendo unveiled the Advanced Video System to the public. People were intrigued. “We were very surprised to see it due to the fact that everyone has run scared regarding dedicated gaming systems. Certainly, it’s eventual success in this country is impossible to predict.” – Computer Entertainer, February 1985 The Nintendo booth was busy the entire show. They passed out brochures to hype the system. “Welcome to the future of American home video entertainment”, it said. Businessmen lined up to fire a few shots in Duck Hunt. But despite all the press, people could see right through the high-tech design and fancy peripherals. This was an expensive video game system. Nintendo didn’t receive a single order. Back to the drawing board. To get retailers interested in the Famicom, Nintendo needed to do two things: Lower the price point, and make the system look even LESS like a video game console. From there, the system got a new and final design – A gray and black box that loaded games similar to the way a VCR accepted a videotape. Nintendo of America employees called it “The Lunchbox”. Nintendo of Japan also created a new toy inspired accessory for the system. Gunpei Yokoi and his team at R&D1 (Nintendo Research & Development 1), landed that job. Yokoi was Nintendo’s top engineer who had come up with several popular toys and games, including the Ultra Hand and the Game & Watch handhelds. If anyone could create a fun eye-catching toy for the system, it was him. Several months later at Nintendo of America headquarters in Redmond, Washington, Warehouse manager, Howard Phillips, opened up a package from Nintendo of Japan. Inside was a small toy robot. After reading some instructions and hooking everything up, Phillips tried it out. A small crowd gathered around him. Philips input commands from the controller. The robot moved. … Slowly. And it made a loud grinding noise. People laughed. “That thing was definitely like watching grass grow,” said Gail Tilden, head of marketing and PR. Its name was R.O.B.; short for Robotic Operating Buddy. Its supposed purpose was to play video games with you. But R.O.B.’s real goal was to get Nintendo’s new system, dubbed the Nintendo Entertainment System, onto store shelves. Despite his slow gameplay, R.O.B. was very cool looking, and robots were all the rage in pop-culture. He fit right in with other popular toys of the time, including Transformers. But Nintendo of America was skeptical. R.O.B. looked cool, but he was slow and loud. He wasn’t that much fun! They needed to get their console into American stores, but R.O.B. didn’t seem like the answer. A few employees joked that they should offer a conversion kit to turn R.O.B. into a lamp. Despite internal skepticism, R.O.B. made his debut in the summer of 1985 at the Consumer Electronics Show. Two R.O.B. compatible games were playable at the Nintendo booth: Gyromite and Stack Up. “Nintendo showed off its video entertainment system in a CES booth that was constantly filled with a steady stream of game players. If games are truly dead, as much of the press has been claiming, Why were all these people crowding the controls of the 20 different titles available for play?” – Computer Entertainer, July 1985 Reaction to the Nintendo Entertainment System and R.O.B. The Robot was much better than the Advanced Video System. R.O.B. The Robot seemed like fun. Still, retailers were reluctant to place orders. Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa considered his options Why release a system if no one is interested? He called Nintendo of Japan president and his father-in-law Hiroshi Yamauchi to discuss Yamauchi refused to give up. “We must get it into the hands of the customer”, he said. kHe said he suggested they test the market by releasing the NES in one city: New York City Nintendo chose New York City for several reasons. It was the largest city in the United States, which would give them a good sample size. The market was also extremely competitive. It was home to FAO Schwarz, arguably the most famous toy store in the world. And, as Frank Sinatra once sang in “New York, New York”, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” In the summer of 1985, Nintendo of America had a budget of 50 million dollars to get the Nintendo Entertainment System into stores. They rented a warehouse in Hackensack, New Jersey and got to work. “That summer we had to create not just the name of the product itself, but the logos and packaging, and the look and feel, and the manuals and writing… just anything you can imagine doing, but doing it all at one time”, recalled Gail Tilden. To help get the NES into stores, Tilden made it a point not to use the words “video game” anywhere on the packaging or in the marketing. The NES wasn’t a video game console. It was an entertainment system. Game cartridges were called “game packs” To show off the graphical capabilities of the NES, Nintendo chose to show in game sprites on the covers of games But the star of the show was R.O.B the Robot. The TV commercial and print ads featured R.O.B. hatching out of an egg, giving birth to a new form of entertainment Meanwhile, Don James and Lance Bar worked on the in-store display units Inside the glass was everything that came in the NES Deluxe Set. On top was a giant R.O.B. head along with screenshots of the various games. To convince stores to take the system, Nintendo took a gamble and presented a wild offer. They would stock all the stores and set up all the displays. For 90 days, stores wouldn’t have to pay a dime for the inventory. After 90 days, they could pay Nintendo for what sold and give back the rest of the stock. Store managers thought Nintendo was nuts, but there was a little risk for them, so it was an easy decision All day and night, members of Nintendo of America raced to set up in-store displays at 500 stores in the New York, New Jersey area. “It was probably the longest and hardest I ever worked consecutive days in my life”, recalled Don James. On Wednesday, October 9th, Nintendo held their NES launch party. Pins and t-shirts were handed out featuring R.O.B. with the text “a star is born”. Although the media was invited to the event, no one from the press showed up. The following weekend on October 18th, 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System and R.O.B. the Robot officially launched in North America with the suggested retail price of $159.95 Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $320 today. In Japan, R.O.B. was known as Famicom Robot and had colors to match the Famicom system. The Nintendo Entertainment System launched with 17 games. Two of them were compatible with R.O.B.: Gyromite, which came packaged with the system, and Stack Up Let’s take a look. the NES deluxe set comes with the Nintendo console Hookups two controllers a zapper gun R.O.B. the Robot and two games Duck Hunt and Gyromite R.O.B. comes with a few attachments as well a Gyro holder a controller tray a gyro spinner two gyros and hands to pick up the gyros These are all required to play Gyromite with R.O.B. R.O.B. also comes with a little I’ve Iser if your television is too bright R.O.B. can have trouble reading signals that come from it So the visor is there to help with that issue Besides the deluxe set Rob was also sold separately for a suggested retail price of $49.99 You would have had to buy the retail release of gyromite to get them Rob requires four double A batteries to operate while the gyro spinner requires one D battery To get Rob the robot ready to play first you have to get him in the standby position When you power Rob on he will start adjusting himself to the correct position with his arms open and facing forward once That’s done. You can attach the gyro accessories now that Rob is set up Let’s test them out with gyromite you take controller 1 while Rob Uses controller 2 on the main menu of gyromite are several options the first is test This sends a signal from the TV to Rob to ensure He is focused on the television screen when the light on Rob’s head lights up He is ready to play now before we go any further. Let’s dive into how Rob actually works inside of Rob’s eyes are photosensitive lenses the game will transmit signals to Rob through the television screen with timed flashes Using the colors green and black Rob will pick up these signals Translate them to a command and move accordingly using battery powered motors and gears Located inside and that’s basically it Technically Rob is a wireless accessory for the NES, but he doesn’t interact with the console directly He’s just a robot that can push buttons on a controller albeit very slowly You’ll see in a minute back to gyromite option two is direct This is where you can input commands and test out Rob’s functionality and movement basically a practice room Then there is game a you control professor Hector And your goal is to collect all of the dynamite in each room before time runs out all while avoiding these enemies called snicks Professor Hector has turnips he can put down to distract thus mix along the way you will be blocked by red and blue pipes This is where Rob comes in if you want a pipe to move you need to ask Rob for help By pressing start the game enters a command screen Then you enter a command for Rob pressing up raises his arms pressing down lowers his arms pressing left turns Rob to the left and pressing right turns Rob to the right a Opens Rob’s arms and B closes Rob’s arms so in this game You will need to grab a gyro and press it down on the corresponding color Pressing down on these will press either the a or B button on the NES controller located in the tray now. You might be wondering Why are there two gyros? Why is there a gyro spinner in some levels you will need to press down on both buttons Using the gyro spinner allows you to keep one gyro pressed down on a button while you grab the other It seems like a lot of work. Just to press the a or B button on the second controller well You’re right It takes a long time and one wrong move can be detrimental to finishing the level on time it is infin Easier to just input commands yourself on the second controller Or have a friend do it the final game on gyromite is game B in this game Professor Hector is Sleepwalking and you have to ensure he makes it to the end You’ll need to use Rob to raise and lower pipes as he walks along This game was more fun with Rob than game a but it’s still quite a struggle and that’s gyromite Playing with Rob is kind of a chore, but with a second player or by playing solo It’s a fairly decent game it has some pretty catchy music too now Let’s move on to the only other Rob the robot compatible game stack up Stack up was sold separately at a suggested retail price of thirty four ninety five Inside was the game along with five trays and five different colored blocks Rob Also, got a new set of hands to help him pick up the blocks however. There is no controller tray How does Rob play this game well that’s the interesting thing about stack up it uses a trust system There are five game modes in total test just like gyromite allows you to confirm that Rob is ready to play direct lets you control Rob directly But it also contains a game where you have to arrange the colored blocks to match the picture each picture has a par Meaning the number of steps it should take to match the picture match everything up and press Start to let the game know you are Done, that’s what I mean by a trust system The game is just assuming you did the work and scores you accordingly the next game is memory here You have to input a set of commands to ensure the blocks will match the picture unlike direct however You have to input all of your commands first before Rob moves this one is a little challenging But it is rewarding to see your laid out plans come to fruition The next game is one player bingo in this game you control professor Hector in a 5×5 grid When you press on five blocks successfully it will input a command to rob Your goal is to once again match the picture on the screen this time You don’t have to worry about the color of the blocks You also have to watch out for flipper and Spike who can input their own commands and mess up your sequence The final game is two-player bingo player one controls professor Hector while player two controls professor vector I guess that’s his brother The goal of the game is to compete for blocks player 1 gets tray 1 and 2 and starts with one block Player 2 gets trays 4 and 5 and starts with one block the remaining three blocks are in the middle tray You have to compete two input commands and grab the most blocks before time runs out so there you have it Rob the robot and the only two compatible games Gyromite and stack up fun fact both of these titles were never officially localized to save time and money in Tendo of America took the Japanese versions of the games and added a pin adapter to the Cartridge so it would work on an NES That’s why the title screens of these games show the Japanese name gyromite is robot gyro while stack up is robot block According to computer entertainer magazine Nintendo planned to produce for more Rob compatible games, but they were never released During the early days of the NES Rob was used to showcase the Nintendo Entertainment System and was demoed in store Product managers were given a script to read while playing with Rob But when it came to reviews people weren’t so eager to praise the robotic operating buddy Mark Seeley of crash magazine said I asked for a demonstration of this system using the robot assistant and have never seen anything so Complicated and difficult in all my life Family computing magazine said while Rob is a cute little guy there isn’t much you can do with him There are only two game cartridges available that interact with Rob and neither generates much excitement The reviews weren’t glowing, but it didn’t matter Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi was correct when he stated that they must get the system into the hands of the consumer Word spread quickly about how much fun the nintendo entertainment system was particularly games like super mario brothers by the end of 1985 Nintendo passed their projected goal of 50,000 units sold in January in February of 1986 an independent research firm pulled 200 NES owner the results were very encouraging for the question have you recommended this system to friends or neighbors 89% of adults said yes 83% of kids said yes and a whopping 95 percent of teenagers said yes the final question asked what the main reason was for purchasing an NES 26% of shoppers stated their child asked for it the main reason children asked for it coming in at number one with 19 percent Was Rob the robot it was clear evidence that the Rob the robot marketing angle worked perfectly Nintendo launched a second test market in Los Angeles in early 1986 on March 20th 1986 Nintendo announced they were shipping the console nationwide with a 20 million dollar advertising campaign But there was another interesting announcement as well Nintendo would begin selling a new console package the package included an NES two controllers and Super Mario Brothers It was a smart move by the end of 1986 Nintendo had sold around 4 million consoles It was a huge turnaround after a devastating market crash in 1983 video games were officially back in North America by 1988 the Nintendo Entertainment System had become a smash hit it was no longer considered a fad Critics were no longer skeptical at this point Rob The robot was essentially retired his job complete It’s fair to wonder if Nintendo could have succeeded without Rob they probably could have but not as quickly Rob launched the company into a new era of financial success and Revitalized what many experts claimed was a dead industry? Today Rob the robots legacy lives on in the form of videogame cameos he makes an appearance in several Nintendo games Including startropics and the Super Smash Brothers series he even got his own amiibo toy Today Rob is considered a collector’s piece more of a statue than an actual accessory is Rob the robot fun Not really, it’s a unique piece of technology sure but it’s painfully slow But Rob did look cool, and that was really all that mattered Gamespy’s Christian Nutt commented the whole Rob thing totally worked on me in 1986 I was nine, and I just been completely bowled over by short circuit the first time I saw anything about the NES I didn’t even pay attention to anything about the system besides the simple fact that it came with a robot That sums it up pretty well Rob the robot Nintendo’s a Trojan horse That’s all for this episode of the gaming historian. Thanks for watching Funding for gaming historian is provided in part by supporters on patreon. Thank you

9 Replies to “The Story of R.O.B. the Robot | Gaming Historian”

  1. Hello everyone! Most videos on R.O.B. make fun of him, but he was vital to the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System. If you learned something new, please share this video out! Thanks for watching and have a great weekend!

  2. I honestly feel really bad for R.O.B. He feels like a living and breathing creature and everyone just laughs at him. The idea is really fun but no on took him seriously. I love R.O.B.

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