Closer Look: Nevada Bob 1: He's On The Job

Good humor, great music, poor design, and the giant robot battle is optional?

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Mar 27, 2019
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Our poll winner for march was the sole release of Ryan Ferneau. A ZZTer who showed up on the forums in 2003, stuck around for a little bit, and left. His first and only release Nevada Bob: He's On The Job is a pretty basic game overall, that brings in a few nice aspects (the very distinct soundtrack in particular) but suffers from a lot of issues that make it clear this is his first ZZT game.

The game was positively received though, and you can't help but see the potential here. Nevada Bob still manages to stand out among other basic ZZT adventures, and the game will leave you cautiously optimistic about what Ferneau would go on to make next. Except this is his only release so unfortunately, the inklings of something greater have no later releases to gain traction on. What we're in for today, is a strange curiosity of what kind of game somebody would make in 2003 in ZZT without any previous work.


The titular character here, Nevada Bob, may sound like an Indiana Jones parody at first, but aside from having a name after a US state, that's where the similarities end. Ferneau had previous done a small selection of comics starring the character (almost all preserved!) and it's clear that the character has been around (at least for Ferneau) for some time. The name itself being made up when a young Ryan asked his brother who who the shopkeeper was in the original Legend of Zelda.

Ferneau starts off strong with this title screen which plays Nevada Bob's theme, a very jaunty little tune that really sets the cartoony tone of the game!


Though a shopkeeper just like his visual origin, Nevada Bob has a much better defined personality and an interest in selling things a bit more powerful than hearts and keys. The game opens with some text giving a backstory, and while citing "wmds", NB's interests are in the far more fun weapons of death that are giant robot suits.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
   Today you are William Robert Joseph
Pinze, known by all as "Nevada Bob", the
world's greatest giant robot suit invent-
or. Although his enemies often dub him a
"brainless country boy", Nevada Bob has
made many advances in the creation and use
of giant robot suits, which were once
merely the things of action cartoons.

   Bob's first breakthrough was the design
of large robots that are made completely
out of corrugated cardboard but manage to
be both mobile and durable. Some criti-
cized them for increasing the demand on
trees, but for the first time, giant robot
suits were biodegradable. Bob has seen
many competitors try their hand at making
biodegradable robots, including the infa-
mous Professor Stuart "Stupid Stu" Pot-
crack with his junk-'n'-garbage robots,
but none has come up with products more
reliable than Bob's.

   Now Nevada Bob has just released his
latest giant robot technology: A miniature
robot that grows to pilotable proportions
upon adding a single drop of water. Happy
customers are pouring in and out already
to get their hands on the new models. We
join Bob (soon to be you) as he busily
sells his new robots.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Not only does he sell giant robots, but he is famous for having invented them in the first place. By making them out of a modified cardboard, Nevada Bob has not only invented giant robot suits, but Labo. The player gets some relevant information far more quickly than in say, Stupid RPG, with the game's antagonist "Stupid Stu" and a general idea on what the protagonist is like right away.

Buyin' somethin' are ya?

"Yeah, uh, check out this coupon."

Well thayt's fer 99% off!

Yew caughtcherself a deal! Yayhoo!

Not only is NB a talented inventor, but he's also quite generous with his coupons.

Why that's--

That's Stupid Stu, mah business rival!

What's 'e doin'?

"Hey, dude, can I check out this robot?"

Hold ouun, son. Thar's someone suspicious!
Better follow 'im!

Prof. Potcrack: OyOYoy HAR haR hA! DO nOt
fOLlOw Me, oR YOu wIll caTCH mE!

Prof. Potcrack: eR, i MEan, yOU canNoT
cATch me BECAuSe i am toO fAst!

Prof. Potcrack: IN addItIoN, I HAvE a guN
tHAt sHOOts rEd FaKE waLLS onTO pEoPLe aNd
RodS That cHANge CoLORs!!!!!!!!!!@#$%^&*()

So many ZZT games want to be funny and fail miserably the entire time. Ryan Ferneau got a laugh out of me with "Do not follow me, or you will catch me!" maybe two minutes into the game. Nevada Bob is a goofy game that sometimes overdoes it, but does a refreshing job compared to countless other games by bringing you humor that's generally pretty enjoyable. The game feels like a cartoon and I think fits in with the weird obsession the Internet had a few years ago with that The Dover Boys cartoon all of us cool people on the Internet got way into a while back.

Plus, there's a lot of music in this scene, among which, Professor Potcrack's theme really stands out:


The opening goes on a little longer with NB closing his shop and sending his security team after Potcrack.


Definitely showing some creativity, Ferneau continues with another cutscene, but rather than take the traditional path of locking the player up a corner, the player does get to try and chase Potcrack only to constantly be blocked by a security guard trying to protect NB. It's even more notable for the cutscene actually being temporary, this board becomes fully playable later once the scene is over.


The scene is fun to watch as one by one Potcrack manages to set up ambushes and turn the security team into red fakes, just as he threatened!


Once most of the team is dead turned into red fakes, NB can finally move through the board, but it doesn't take long for Potcrack to get off one last shot and defeat the last of the security force.


The board itself is an interesting blend of classic ZZT architecture combined with basic STK graphics. It winds up looking distinct and quite colorful, and would fit right in with City of ZZT. Perhaps adding to the old-school feel is the currently inaccessible pocket of items in the lower right corner. Nevada Bob has its fair-share of shooting a bunch of lions and tigers, but there's definitely a healthy blend of old and new throughout the game that just happens to tilt a little more in the direction of old. File off the release date and tell me this game was made in 1996 and I'd completely believe it (and probably praise its graphics a bit more).


Oh, er, well, maybe the graphics aren't that exemplary even pretending it's 1996. This is really the odd board out visually. There are a few other more simple looking boards, but this one contrasts with the gentle colors of the previous board and really sticks out.


The only way to proceed is after Potcrack, which involves a chase around the back of NB's store where the crowd that's been locked out demands more robots. Potcrack has a big head start though and also slows NB down with some stars.


Potcrack feels like a goofy character made up for a Strong Bad E-Mail, which given the time frame, (and that Homestar Runner is cited in the credits) is a pretty solid compliment on humor of the era. This is genuinely the first time a game has been goofy since starting this series that it's working.


After a fun little opening that really does a good job at keeping the player invested, it's time to enter the... dark sewer maze. Oh no. Ferneau what are you doing?


I wish I was kidding, but unfortunately Nevada Bob quickly spends any goodwill it gained in the game's introduction as soon as the player really gets to play.


Though the path doesn't branch too much, it's still compounded by having transporters as well. The player doesn't know where they should be going at all and can't easily tell which board connects to which since paths may be locked behind transporters like this. It's not fun.


20-some unused screenshots later, I hit a breakthrough by wandering onto a board that has a passage on it. It had to be an exit.


I see. It's just a tiny little room with a lone object.

NB takes the lightning rod and questions its purpose. Then it's back to the maze.


Eventually I did manage to wander where I should have wandered, outside Potcrack's secret factory which is protected by some blinkwalls with staggered timers that make the player have to wait a little bit to cross safely.


There's a warning for the player to stock up on ammo and health, but I ignored it because that would involve wandering in the maze some more.

I ask you whether me ignoring the warning or Ferneau making the maze was a bigger mistake.


Of course, there's also a particle accelerator out here, endlessly ricocheting bullets in a rectangle while another machine flashes colors. I figured I'd need to destroy the machine, but shooting it did nothing, and the button only lets the player toggle whether or not the colors flash or not.


Things get rough up ahead with more darkness and this time some enemies. There are a bunch of ZZT's default enemies, mostly tigers, with a few lions and bears for good measure. Some are behind duplicators as well so the board will keep being populated with enemies, but they run at a generously slow pace, so once the room is cleared out of the pre-populated enemies, it gets significantly easier.


The room also includes a source of infinite ammo, but it's behind the slowest duplicator of all. It'll make a small pile while you fight off the first wave of creatures, but it is too tedious to actually wait around to stock up with.


I just want to point out here that each of these little alcoves is filled with bears, and at the end of it is nothing. It is a complete waste of time and ammo to head to this corner of the board.


There are also some broken robots. Potcrack just can't compete at science with Nevada Bob.


I turned on the lights at this point since I felt like I was missing a lot of the board, and sure enough I was since I missed that it's split into thirds from the previous board. The last one has some gems and torches, but it's mostly a trick. The pocket with the purple key is surrounded by invisible walls and isn't meant to be collected, meaning the reward for fighting through to the corner is 6 gems/health, and four torches. Not worth it.


NB enters an arena of sorts.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Bob: Oh! Ah see! This is one o' those
     dealies where Ah stand in the center
     and wait fer those guys to come out
     and try to get may!

Voice: Right, brainless country boy. I
       suppose you do have some common

Bob: Ah'll get ya all!!! Yerp!

Echoey Voice: I doubt you can take on all
              four of ussss!

Bob: We'll have ta see about that, eh?
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

So it's time for a boss rush. With my six ammo. I shouldn't have ignored the sign. The good news is that the player is free to leave this room and get more supplies. There's always the ammo duplicator on the previous board if you're willing to wait. (And there's always the ability to max out ZZT's speed setting.)

Also I really like "Yerp!"


Grabbing the ammo that I hadn't collected on the last board at let me at least fight off one of the robots. All four of them behave the same, attacking in a waving pattern with some technobabble whenever the robot is shot. They do throw stars at the player as well, but are coded to destroy the stars manually, so at least Ferneau definitely recognizes that stars last way too long to be viable without manual intervention.

But while the boss fight is pretty repetitive, Ryan Ferneau presents a fantastic boss theme that plays during the fight. The credits list Mother/Earthbound and Contra as sources for music, and I'm guessing this is from one of the Mother games, but maybe it's original! There's a part towards the end that sounds like it's taken right from a Mega Man as well and the game does have some unused music that is absolutely from Mega Man 3.

Still, there was a huge ammo shortage and I really didn't want to wait for that duplicator. Sadly, I don't think it's possible to actually make it out of the factory with how the blinkwalls are timed. To make it worse, a bug in how blinkwalls try to move the player after being hit causes an instant game over as ZZT thinks there's nowhere to push the player out of the way of the blinkwall ray.

In order to go back, I had to cheat my way through.


With hardly any torches left, and knowing the maze was going to be terrible, I gave in to cheats again immediately to turn on the lights. This is the sort of thing that needs to be navigated.


After some more wandering, which was at least a bit more productive when I could see where I was going, I managed to wind up at the starting board and able to pick up the items there. This still really isn't enough though.


It turns out I missed a big pocket of ammo and gems on the very first board of the maze! The player really needs to find basically everything to have a chance, but actually doing so is just really tedious. There's still one more secret pocket of supplies that I just never ran into in my playthrough.


With a slow walk back to the factory, I finally had the resources to get through the robot battle. This fight would actually be significantly easier if you had to fight them all at once and could rely on them to shoot each other. Instead it's the same fight four times in a row.


The path splits and NB can take two paths forward. I figured they'd both lead up to the same place, and they do, but the left path is way more involved to the point where I had to play the game a second time just to see the rest.

This board meanwhile, is just showing of some oddities Potcrack has collected.


None of the exhibits let NB interact with them. The very good name of "water rats" for sharks would be a contender for the best exhibit, but the pattern of bullets in the lower right corner endlessly spells out "EVIL" until NB checks the sign and can head inside to move along to the next board.


The right path leads to an ambush of more robots, but these ones do politely shoot at each other a lot. Potcrack can be seen on the sidelines watching the fight against these color changing robots. NB can also try and scrounge up some health here since hitting a robot changes all the bullets on screen into gems. Gems can also be destroyed by bullets though, so they're usually not around to be collected for very long.


With the last of the robots defeated, Potcrack flees and NB gives chase once more, but this time away from the factory. This board serves as a transition and the black space at the end is just a column of invisible passages to warp NB where he needs to go next.


Which is, ugh, back to the sewers.


Now, there's actually a few weird things happening here with Ryan Ferneau's design sense and ZZT's own behavior making things even weirder.

First off, upon leaving the factory the passage takes NB to this sewer board which would be dark if I hadn't cheated earlier. There's no reciprocal passage here to the factory, so ZZT leaves the player where they were last on this board, which is going to be one of the edges since this is the first board of the sewer maze.

Then the door here opens up now that the factory's been completed as a way to let the player backtrack, except it connects with the previous exit board causing the player to immediately hit a passage back to this board, preventing you from actually backtracking through the exit.

Then, the exit board itself actually does have a board connection to this board!It seems like Ferneau couldn't decide how to have the player exit the factory which leads to this weird situation of putting the player back in the dark and having them try to go through this now-openable door only to immediately be placed exactly where they were before walking off the edge.


Thankfully the maze is over and done with and NB is supposed to head back to the main hub and travel east where the guards blocking the road will now step aside so NB can hunt down Stupid Stu (who I had to double check to confirm is the same as Potcrack)

There are two people NB can interact with here. The first is a shopkeeper that sells ammo, torches, and health in the form of BANG! brand bananas. The economy here isn't very balanced with a price of 3 gems for 5 ammo, 9 gems for 25 health, or 1 gem per torch. The game's supply woes aren't so bad from here on out fortunately, but seeing that ammo pricing really had me worried I'd need to cheat for a bunch more.

Link has come to town
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
I hear of a new evil in town.

Bob: Wowee! Just lahk in Legend o' Zelda!

No, seriously, this guy is so evil that he
hacked all the computers in town.

Bob: Did 'e hack mahn?

Yup. He changed your 99% discount to a 9%

Bob: Na-that's not raht!  Where is this

Well, I hear he hides out beyond the
mechanical area, if you want answers...
but that's just what I HEARD...
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The other is none other than Link! A few notes of the game's main theme play when you talk to him, and he foreshadows the next villain NB will need to go after once he defeats Potcrack, and evil hacker who... increases prices.


Although the game seems to offer a lot of branching paths, there's only ever one way the player can go. In this case, the forest (I'd have guessed it was a park) leads to this crossroad towards Potcrack's cave and "machine area".

Professor Potcrack
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Prof: wHy heLLo, bRaiNLeSs cOUnTrY boY!!#@

Bob: Well-uh where'd ya go? Ah can't see
     ya 'cause it's too dark!

Prof: ThAt's RiGHt! OyoYOyoYoYoYYoyOYOY!!!

Bob: Ah can hear ya, but Ah can't see ya.

Prof: BuT beFoRE wE BaTTLe FacE to fAce, i
      HaVe To Ask yOu SOmEthiNg.

Bob: Well shoot.

Prof: dO yOU haVE whAt I'm LooKING fOr?

Bob: Well, uh, whaddya mean?

Prof: I meAn my LIgHtning ROd, yOu iDiOT!!

Bob: Oh, Ah see. Ya, Ah picked that up in
     the sewar, ya know. Didja wannit?

Prof: Of CouRSe yOu bLUbBerInG foOL!!!@#!1

Bob: Well here ya go.

     Bob tosses the lightning rod blindly
onto the ground because he is not certain
where Potcrack is, due to the echoey walls
of the cave. He hears footsteps dash to-
ward where he thinks he threw it, and then
they fade away.

     Bob decides that it is now time to
put on his FIGHTING CAP so he can morph
into a spectacular figher!

Bob: Well Ah'm a gonna put on mah cap!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The message pops up immediately, but from what can be seen around it, the room consists of nothing but solidly gray tiles rendering the board's contents invisible.


Throwing the lightning rod causes the room to flash before lighting up permanently.

I really want to stress here that the lightning rod is just hidden in the maze, and while the passage is visible making it likely the player will actually find it, the fact is that if you do not find it you have to fight Potcrack completely blind. So, imagine fighting a boss fight in the dark and also being shot by tigers and having no idea that there are even tigers there.


As is to be expected, the music is wonderful. Unfortunately, the actual fight isn't. The good news is Nevada Bob's fighting cap gives you a bunch of health and ammo for the fight. At first, it's mostly just a matter of avoiding Potcrack until you clear out the creatures before finally going after him. After a few hits he changes form by changing from ☻ to ☺, getting a lot more aggressive and a lot less fun to deal with.

A few hits later and he changes once more to triangle/mongoose mode, and the game gets pretty impossible. His attacks get much more aggressive and stars are thrown into the mix as well. Your options become "tank a ton of hits and use a ton of ammo" or "shoot in his vicinity and hope he wanders into the bullet". Neither of these strategies make for a fun fight, and I had to cheat again for a lot of health and even ammo.

ThiS hURtS. oY !

Bob: That's what happens
when ya start fights!

(And that's what amounts to clearance
around these parts.)

After brute forcing my way through, Potcrack was finally defeated for good*. NB is free to move on to the machine area and move on to his next foe.

(*he'll be back)

But first, let's take a look at the other path in the factory because there's so much there and it's so easy to miss.

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