|Freak Boy dates way back to 1993 where the concept and core play mechanics were created by William Novak, for a game called "Stacker". |
Originally the game idea was supposed to be pitched to Sony back in the day as game to be released on the Playstation, but as we know, that changed.
William Novak |
I came up with the Freak Boy concept mainly because of DOOM's success. DOOM is a FPS, Freak Boy was not in any way to be a FPS, which was the point.
The original 1993-4 name of Freak Boy was "Stacker" because the main play mechanic consisted of stacking pieces a certain way in your character's body. The position of pieces in the "stack" determined a piece's function or special ability.
Virgin Interactive partnered with Novak and his development company, Zono, to develop Freak Boy at Virgin's Irvine-based development team in California, Burst Studio.
William Novak |
I was getting ready to pitch to them, but then I got a phone call. A friend I had worked with at Mattel was a producer at Virgin Interactive. She said Virgin's president, Martin Alper, was hell-bent on getting Virgin on Nintendo's elite Dream Team developer
list. But they didn't have any worthy concepts, did I have anything? I told her I was going to Sony, but she set up a meeting with me and Alper. He got me on board. He set up a meeting with me and Nintendo senior management at CES.
I presented to 5 "older" Japanese men in gray suits. They were all stone-faced. I was told before hand that one of the men was the guy who did the original 8-bit Metroid, and invented the Gameboy. The 8-bit Metroid was and is my all-time favorite game.
I was never so nervous. I told them my idea. I didn't have any videos or anything like that. After 15 minutes they were all smiling and nodding. Virgin got on the Dream Team.
William Novak |
I was on it for the next 2 1/2 years. 3 days a week on-site. At the same time I was also lead designer on Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn.
Freak Boy was announced at E3 1996 as Freak Boy and presented in a non-playable form, EGM's September 1996 issue mentioned that the game would be released during the first quater of 1997 and was said to be 50% complete.
However in May of 1997, IGN learned that Freak Boy wouldn't even be shown at E3 that year and instead the game was set to first quater of 1998. It could be though that EGM got the year wrong in their article.
The game was redesigned multiple times before eventually getting scrapped in 1998. Virgin Interactive's ex-VP of Design Julian Rignall made the following quote to IGN.com
Julian Rignall |
It was a combination of idiots, morons and stupid management decisions. Development dragged on for years and it just never got anywhere. It kept being restarted, scrapped and overhauled and by the time it kind of reached
a point where the game was playable, the code was so unstable and badly put together that they couldn't actually build a game out of it.
William Novak had the following to add...
William Novak |
It was "re-done" many times because of Virgin's financials. About 10-12 months into development Virgin posted a $250 million dollar loss for a single quarter. Their owner, Spelling Entertainment, dropped them like a hot potato. When we started Freak Boy,
there were about 18 projects in development at Burst. After about 2 years, there were just 2, me and a PS game. As projects were being killed off, Freak Boy saw a revolving door of new producers.
When the original producer for Freak Boy left Virgin and a new producer was assigned to the Freak Boy project, all previous work was thrown away.
William Novak |
It was maddening, because there was A LOT of excellent artwork, stuff I had never seen before in a video game. One artist, Quinno I think, did an interior of a space ship that was absolutely stunning. It got trashed because it didn't look like a "regular"
Virgin had a bit of turbulent time during the mid-90's. They were bought by Blockbuster in 1994, who then was sold to Viacom. In August of 1998 Electronic Arts then purchased part of Virgin Interactive, the Burst Studio, along with Westwood Studios and according
to former Virgin employee Stuart Roch's LinkedIn profile, it was during this time the game was shelved completely.
On a side note, the British Virgin Interactive operations were acquired in 1998 management buyout by former Managing Director Tim Chaney, and Mark Dyne, who then sold their part of Virgin to Titus in 1999.
So Freak Boy had been shelved and would most likely never see the light of day, a game that had only been briefly shown to the press and with almost no screenshots or footage in existance.
However in September 2015 a prototype containing Freak Boy was found at a carboot sale in Guildford, in the United Kingdom. A seller at the carboot had three tall N64 carts up for grabs, one said "Casino", another "Mario 2" and the third one "Freak Boy". And to
everyones surprise it was indeed a prototype of the long lost Freak Boy.
In 2016 the following post was made on Unseen.
Mark Kelly |
That is so cool. I am the person who wrote the names on the back of the cartridges. #10 was a test rom that I sent to our UK office "to tease the UK press". Small world!
Several attempts to purchase the prototype were made after the discovery, but no one was able to secure a deal. That was until 2020 when the prototype finally was sold to Olivieryuyu for an undisclosed amount. A gofundme was setup to raise 750 euros, no where
near the cost of the prototype, I was told, but it was made to recoup a little bit of the money along with a sale of the actual proto, which has already been passed on to a collector.
William Novak |
I believe it's the first-playable that ran on the target hardware, a retail edition of the N64. I think it was about a year, year and a half into development when we started to burn ROMs for testing on the target.
So what does the Freak Boy prototype offer?
Well it supposedly consists of 4 levels, with that in mind please note that IGN, back in 1997, wrote that the game would feature 25 explorable worlds.
It features a small intro showing the Virgin logo as well as a title screen, with music, that will loop until the start button is pressed.
The game starts off in a dungeon which contains 3 giant doors with a sign on the floor in front of each of them. A 4th door is open to the first level.
Freak Boy can obtain various pieces of equipment that it scattered around the levels. The Red piece is the bomb suit.
Silver piece is ?? and the purple piece is used for drilling.
Why not let William Novak explain a bit...
William Novak |
- If placed in the leg/foot, your guy could drill downward through the floor and open up new areas.
- If in the belly area, you could drill forward and break through walls and stuff.
- If in the head, you could drill upwards through ceilings, overhangs and/or enemies.
- If in foot, can better walk on slanted or narrow planks without falling off.
- If in belly, can stick to a wall and inch your way up.
- If in head, stick to the ceiling and "walk"/glide with your head over barriers, etc.
Bomb Piece, and I can't remember all the others, etc. etc. etc.
- Foot: shoot bullets across the floor, tracking hills and killing crawling guys.
- Belly: Shoot straight out and around you.
- Head: Shoot bullets in an arc to shoot over barriers enemies are hiding behind.
To get a piece, say the Drill, you'd jump on it. The piece enters your body and becomes your Drill foot.
If you then jump on a Sticky piece, the Drill moves up to your belly, and the Sticky becomes your foot.
If you then jump on a Gun piece, the Drill moves to the head, then Sticky to the belly, and the Gun goes into the foot.
Pressing the "Pop" button ejects the top-most piece in the stack onto the playfield. And it's how you would detonate the Bomb.
So the goal is to find the three missing pieces to open the 3 doors in the first dungeon, and these three pieces are scattered across the level it seems. This is how far I got into the prototype, the rest is for you to discover, but one thing is
for sure, the Freak Boy prototype is early, hard to control and the super jump hidden in the start button will make the game do odd thing if used in the wrong places...
That's it for now have fun with the Freak Boy ROM when it is released and let's end this little article with the Freak Boy press release.
IRVINE, CALIF., May 16, 1996 - Enter the world of FREAK BOY in Virgin Interactive Entertainment's (VIE) first NINTENDO 64 (N64) game. Three-dimensional graphics, addicting play mechanics and cutting-edge technology that uses morphing special
effects define the world in which FREAK BOY lives - an alien world N64 players won't ever want to leave. Created by Burst, VIE's in-house development team, FREAK BOY is scheduled to be in stores in early 1997. |
Created using SGI workstations, FREAK BOY utilizes the N64's advanced 3-D technology, allowing all aspects of the game to be experienced in 3-D. Not only are the characters presented in realistic full 3-D, but their
worlds and interactions with other beings are amazingly multi-dimensional. The 3-D power of the N64 also gives players the ability to experience gameplay from thousands of different points-of-view.
The result is a unique visual experience that intensifies the gameplay to such a degree that even the most experienced game player will be challenged. Players will be drawn into the intense 3-D action as they
assume the role of FREAK BOY, the lone survivor of a massive alien invasion.
On New Year's Day, when the planets are aligned with the sun, the ZoS, an alien race from a parallel dimension, take over the Hedron Universe, extinguishing the sun and transporting all of the Hedrons to the
alien dimension. The only Hedron to evade capture is FREAK BOY, who is destined to become the hero of his people, provided he can rid his universe of the alien threat and return the captive Hedrons to their rightful dimension.
As FREAK BOY, players can absorb remnants of the destruction into their body and utilize them as weapons to destroy the alien invaders. What's more, the variations on these weapons are almost endless. Capable of holding
three new artifacts at a time, each with a different capability when used as head, chest or feet, FREAK BOY is never the same character twice. FREAK BOY'S body is
constantly morphing as new artifacts are assimilated and old ones are discarded. In managing the inventory of weapons as they enter and exit FREAK BOY's body, the player gains new abilities in his fight to destroy the more
than 50 enemies who have set out to conquer the Hedron universe.
On their quest for more powerful weapons and the alien enemy, players will explore more than 25 distinct worlds throughout five levels of difficulty. Each world is radically visual, arid and stark, yet with texture, mystery
and entertainment that lure the player further into the world of FREAK BOY.
"FREAK BOY's out-of-this-world graphics take the N64's capabilities to the limits," said Chris Yates, a vice president at Burst. "What is more, play mechanics such as Freak Boy's have never been used before. When combined
with these intense graphics, you have a level of gameplay that is altogether unprecedented."
Burst, based in Irvine, California, is a division of Virgin Interactive Entertainment. The company is dedicated to high quality entertainment title development