Saturday Crapshoot: The BlobJob

Richard Cobbett at

The Blobjob

Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, it's a twisted slice of European edutainment from 1998. Prepare for everything you need to know about... wait. It's calledwhat?

Names have power, especially the flat-out wrong ones. Who knows what went through some designer's head when he decided to name the evil aliens of the X series the Khaak? What possessed the creators of The Tone Rebellion to look at their aquatic world of water creatures and call them Floaters? Above all else, why upon why did the Two Guys From Andromeda, thinking up a name for the venerable Space Quest series' love interest, finally settle on Ambassador Beatrice Wankmeister?

We may never be able to say. But The BlobJob may be the king, with no fewer than four squicky definitions on Urban Dictionary. Luckily for kids everywhere, it's not about any of them. What is it about? No idea. Meet the weirdest game you really, really shouldn't Google for hints on at school.

'He's hurt! Get an uninformed schoolchild, stat! They'll totally learn something from this!'

Most edutainment has a simple goal: to teach something. The clue is in the name. The BlobJob has a different approach. It wants to teach kids everything in the entire world. How long does its in-depth life lesson last? Ooooh... about 20 minutes. Got to give it points for ambition, at least.

"I could smell trouble the moment my beeper went off. It was a message from Mrs Steel, the main honcho at NanoBlob Enterprises, or the Steelworks we called it in her dubious honor," explains the hero, whose name is Joe Ridley. "My name is Joe Ridley," he continues, pointlessly, in the gravelly voice of a man who longs to be a film noir PI, but has the misfortune of living in a crapsack world devoted to safety. "and I'm a low ranking security officer at NanoBlob. A full time punching bag for Mrs. Steel."

"We sometimes refer to her as the Iron Lady-" he explains, to the delight of pedantic smartarse kids, "...and not only because she acts like she had a hammer in her head. The thing is, Mrs. Steel had a so-called 'accident' when she was a teenager. She'd overdosed on some exotic new teen drug called LBD. It had messed up her hormone system, made her limbs grow disproportionately."

Remember kids, drugs may make you break out in shitty prosthetics!

THINGS WE LEARNED: Drugs give you Dumbo ears and a forehead that makes Klingons giggle.

Right from the start, The BlobJob adopts the somewhat unusual "Confuse 'Em Straight" approach to teaching. Your mutant freak boss announces you've been volunteered for the messy task of track down five 'skin blobs', presumably making you some kind of Spoon Runner. These are 'nanomanufactured human organisms', which is a fair whack of syllables for a game that's about to patiently explain you need to use a fire blanket to put out a fire. Then it gets more confusing.

"The blobs were supposed to deliver a supersecret nanoformula to the Central Patents Office. They never got there. If anyone gets hold of the formula, we are in deep trouble, and I don't mean only you and me and this company, but the rest of the humanity could face extinction. Our nanoformula solvent is immensely powerful. It's able to shrink and expand organic material on a molecular level. Someone idiotic enough to fool around with it could turn Mother Nature into a peanut. Are you following me?"

...

Let's take this in stages, shall we?

1. 'The' humanity? You're an edutainment game. For shame!
2 You want this to be a secret for the sake of 'the' humanity, so you're taking it to the Patent Office, where all the details will be stored and published. Now, there are classified patents out there, which this might cover, and this being a futuristic city, there may be some other equivalent we're simply not told about. However, I suspect that this wouldn't apply to one simply being dropped off.
3. That is not what solvents do.
4. YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

Still, it can't get any worse, right?

"I need you to track down the skin blobs and retrieve the cases. They are all identical, right down to the attache cases they carry. For safety precaution, only one of them carry the authentic formula, but the fake formulas contain information to determine which one is authentic. So we need all five cases."

...sigh.

5. There is a story of a wise man who once did his king a favour and was, in return, granted a boon. "I am a humble man," he said, "I have simple needs. Perhaps... yes... a small thing. Perhaps we could take a chessboard, and place a single grain of rice upon the first square, and then two upon the second, and then four upon the next, and so on." The king agreed, until after much effort, the royal taxman nervously approached him to explain that he had, in effect, promised 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice to the wise man, which would have been many, many times his kingdom's total production over the course of many, many years. The wise man promptly found out that no king likes a smartarse by promptly having a red hot poker shoved up his. And so was a valuable lesson learned by all.

But our story continues! For, as his freshly decapitated body lay in the dirt, one more person enters the story. The village idiot who, granted the good fortune to have the head roll to his feet, picked it up in triumph. "Look!" he said, roughly shoving his hand inside, through bone and gristle. "I can make it talk!" And so, in the sight of his monarch and his countrymen, did he get through precisely twelve seconds of his latest work-in-progress sketch "The King Is A Fat Scrofulous Poopy Headed Wanker".

That was way dumber than any of this. But this is still pretty damn dumb.

On the plus side, he'll never accidentally switch over to Big Brother.

Accepting the offer, Mrs. Steele hands Ridley a portable 'blobber' which will shrink any objects and put them in some kind of 'inventory' type thing, and sends him off to investigate the intriguingly named 'Building 42'. Instead, Ridley goes straight home to have a nap. Our hero.

He wakes up to find his TV on fire thanks to too much electricity coming out of the plug socket, because that's how fire works. Being the hero of an edutainment though, he has a fire blanket under his sofa which can be pressed into service instead of throwing the water from his aquarium on it like some kind of idiot monster. He's still kind of a monster though, as his response to looking at the tank is an almost anticipatory "Soon to become fish soup..."

Opening the door to his hallway he finds that the fire from his TV has "spread along the cables to the hallway," and in the same selfless, heroic way that made Ridley action figures the hot toy of 1998, adds "My kinda luck. Time to leave the sinking ship and call the fire brigade. Adios, fish!"

THINGS WE LEARNED: In an emergency, jumping out of the window is a good way to keep yourself save. Leave all fish behind, even if they could be easily saved, because fuck 'em.

"A beautiful fire," growls Ridley. "If it wasn't for the fact that it was my home in the pyre. I could only wonder... was someone trying to stop me from finding the nanoformula? If so, I had to make faster moves, and watch my back. Or share the fate of the fish."

Don't be left to die by a lazy, useless sociopath? Yeah. There's a safety tip for the kids.

Remember, if you see Ridley coming, scream for your parents! We mean it. IMMEDIATELY!

What? It feels like ages since I've used that picture.

Kids! Don't try this at home! This game, I mean. Drink acid for all I care.

The search for the Blobs continues at Building 42, where the first of the Blobs is on the ground and choking, having taken a swig of... sulphuric acid. "Looks like he's in pain," observes Ridley, ever vigilant. "Hey, buddy, you got a frog in your throat? Hmm. Guess I better call the poisoning center and ask for advice. Hmm. But there is no phone in here. I have to solve this myself."

THINGS WE LEARNED: Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Even if it's taking a few seconds to find a phone and call someone who knows the right thing to do.

Despite not having a phone in his apartment, the unlucky Blob does have milk, which Ridley forces down his throat. Since acid doesn't actually burn you or anything, and this totally wouldn't be a situation that should have you at the emergency room five seconds before you even think about drinking concentrated anything acid, this perks the Blob right up in an instant. "Milk's a heavenly gift, even to an artificial stomach that's just been subjected to a doze (sic) of sulfuric acid!" he announces.

"Do yourself a favour and switch to 7-Up," Ridley suggests, because that's a good lesson.

The Blob explains that his friend went off to get help on a bike borrowed from a biochemist on the other side of town and hands over a business card. The game then forgets that you might want 'clues', and simply unlocks all of its other areas where the rest of the Blobs are hiding - the Hotel Zero, the Recreation Center, an Intersection and a Bus Station. Which is pretty helpful, really.

THINGS WE LEARNED: Putting effort into finding things out is for suckers.

I should go with the second... but I'd hate for him to think I'm not cool...

The next Blob is sitting behind the wheel of a car, and a pile of bottles containing that naughty stuff only mummies and daddies drink but you should never even think about. "Booze," growls Ridley. "Bad habit."

"Damn. The key won't fit in the lock," says the drunk Blob. "I can't start the car. Can you help me?"

Obviously, you say yes. Because being helpful is always the right thing to do!

Uh-huh. How about you give that ungrammatical sentence another shot and prove you're worthy of teaching kids.

...or not. Apparently finding a coin and buying a drunk man a one-way ticket to "Las Degas" is perfectly morally acceptable though, so Ridley does that instead, collecting his briefcase from the car trunk. (The other options? "Salt Cake City" and "Sun Fundisco." But you can't afford a ticket to either of them any more than the writer could apparently spare more than five seconds thinking up funny names.)

One briefcase down, four to go. At a seemingly random Intersection that Ridley just happens to know about, the first Blob's friend is lying flat out in the middle of a conveniently empty road. There are no real clues as to who might have done it, except for a piece of toilet paper marked 'RC-WC3'.

"Is this guy a pervert?" Ridley muses, completely appropriately, before solving a quick puzzle involving putting him into the Recovery Position. This seems... unwise. Ordinarily, yes, it'd make sense. Here though, he's had a fall that's left him flat on his back and potentially sustained a serious injury in the process. You have no way of knowing if he's suffered any bone damage, especially to his spine, so twisting him around seems worryingly close to the kind of thing Good Samaritan laws are invented to protect. At the very least, since he was okay until you arrived, and he's still breathing, it'd seem like good sense to go across the road to the phone booth and ask for advice first. Except...

THINGS WE LEARNED: Putting effort into finding things out is for suckers.

THINGS WE LEARNED: Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Even if it's taking a few seconds to find a phone and call someone who knows the right thing to do.

Oh, yeah. Sorry. I forgot. After potentially cracking the Blob's spine trying to help him, Ridley wisely leaves him lying in the recovery position in the middle of the road to call an ambulance. All you need to provide is the number that 'everybody knows by heart'. So... 999? No. 911, since this is clearly set in America? Nope. You have to dial 112, because this is a European game.

THINGS WE LEARNED: The 'Or' operator is an incredibly advanced bit of programming.

Returning the bike to its owner gets you another briefcase, but more importantly marks the point that The BlobJob goes from being 'a little bit weird' to full on 'what the hell?' The next destination? A nightclub.

Floozies in an edutainment game? Roll over, Mavis Beacon!

"Get lost. This table is for me and my bits of crumpet," the Blob warns, to the sound of eyes-popping. I'm not kidding. That's not a joke. That's actually what he says, followed by: "Tell you what. If you give me some advice on how to handle these... then maybe, just maybe I can help you.

"Twin motorboat engine?" suggests Ridley.

Okay, that I made up. But I'm not making this up: the solution is to find a coin lying on the floor at a nearby hotel and buy the Blob... a packet of condoms. Really. It's meant to be a Lesson.

Here you go. Lubed for your convenience, ribbed for her pleasure, and filled with chilli powder for my amusement.

"Thanks," he says, taking it without offering to refund the $5 it cost. "Okay, I only know that NB-3 is in Hotel Zero suffering from a nicotine withdrawal. He might talk to you if-"

Blah, blah, whatever. Can we get back to how you scored a date with two blonde hotties in the middle of an edutainment game? Dude! You may just be the most awesome guy ever! Sadly, he departs without sharing his amazing pick-up secrets, so Ridley has no choice but to seek satisfaction elsewhere; with a stick of nicotine gum now, and most likely some bootleg Carmen Sandiego porn later.

For reasons that... I really don't want to think about too carefully... the nightclub is deserted, but its toilets are doing good business. "Hey, I need some peace here!" shouts the man in the first cubicle when you try to open the door. "Freck off!" shouts the man in the second. And the third?

"I'm the Sheriff in this town and you're presently suspected of public disturbance."

...

Moving swiftly on then...

The Hotel Zero. Roaches check in, but they don't check out. They're very inconsiderate guests.

"Welcome to Hotel Zero. We've had 13 fires in three monthzes, all cauzed by drunk or drugged people smoking in zer beds," says ze receptionist. "People say many bad things about Hotel Zero, and most of zem are are true! But, ve are ze only hotel in Safe City.

Ridley easily bluffs his way past by claiming he's making a delivery to the Blob upstairs. "He's staying in Room 2," ze receptionist reveals. "Go ahead. The bastard is in his room."

Did you just say...? No. No, you couldn't have. Not in an edutainment game...

Upstairs, the Blob is fast asleep next to a burning... something... and the Hotel Zero's poor security is explained by the fact that no alarms are going off. Ridley puts the blaze out with a bottle of Coke, which wakes him up instantly. Handing the nicotine gum over to give him a hit without burning down half the city, the Blob instantly hands over his briefcase, having gotten bored of carrying it anyway.

Well, that was easy.

Since it's the adventurer's solemn duty to explore the world though, it's then time to head upstairs for no better reason than that they light up when you swing a mouse pointer over them. What? It made (some) sense back in the 90s. And what does Ridley find randomly waiting for him upstairs?

OH MY GOD!

OH MY GOD!

OH MY GOD!

WHAT THE HELL?!

(And no, that's not a joke. The BlobJob genuinely dedicates a screen to his hairy crotch.)

Ridley uses his CSI skills to flip and examine the body. "If this man was alive, his face would never be the same," he breathes. "A kick in the temple might have caused internal bleeding and lead to his dead," he adds, again not exactly King of the Grammar People. For the neck, covered in blood and obviously punctured, he offers "Nasty marks. Looks like someone possibly hit his neck?"

As for his wet, sticky balls? "They really hammered him," Ridley muses, not desperately bothered. "Looks like at least one kick in the crotch. If he were alive, he'd never be able to have children."

But who are 'they?' Who could they possibly be? Checking under the bed reveals a card for a call-girl service, along with photos labelled Svetlana and Natacha... also known as the two girls on the Blob's arm in the nightclub. Oh, sleazy nightclub guy. You have most disappointed me.

THINGS WE LEARNED: There are no heroes.

Hallo. To zee boobies, please be buying sequel, Joe Ridley und ze Temple of Bukkake

Trading a lighter for the right to make a phonecall... it's a game where you buy condoms for men who use escort services and zoom in on corpses' private bits, nothing can be surprising any more... Ridley calls Svetlana and Natacha. "Pretty promiscuous, wouldn't you say?" smirks the receptionist, to which the answer is: yes, obviously. Not sure people would hire their services if they just wanted to play chess and discuss the moral lessons of Corinthians. Though with Rule 34 still firmly at work around the internet, who knows? Have some Team Fortress 2 erotic fan-fiction. You deserve it.

THINGS WE LEARNED: Not to instinctively click on links. Especially this one.

Svetlana or possibly Natacha - collectively 'the chicks that were with Nanoblob 5' in Ridley's mind, answers the videophone while still apparently servicing the man who was once called king of all men. If Ridley asks for a date, they tell him they're too busy... though apparently not too busy to answer the phone to tell him. Alternatively, he can ask to speak to Nanoblob 5 directly. Without suggesting he, for instance, not be in the same room as two murderesses before he exposes them in a way that even this game can only rub itself longingly at the thought of, Ridley flat-out tells the Blob about the murder. The Blob, no less subtle, announces his plans to skip town immediately, and tells Ridley where he'll leave a key that will allow him to get his briefcase. Of course, since the key ends up being where he says, Svetlana and Natacha apparently let him go on his merry way without any objection.

So... er... congratulations on a successful cockblock, I guess...

THINGS HE LEARNED: Karma exists. Mwah-ha-ha-ha.

'Dammit! Thanks to you I'm getting less action than a games journalist!'

That leaves just one final briefcase - in a toilet at the nightclub, now the Sheriff has finished whatever the hell he was doing in there last time, and Ridley's mission is - almost - complete. All that remains is to visit Mrs. Steel back at Nanoblob HQ and be treated to a hero's welcome.

And he almost gets one.

"Good job, Ridley. I suppose you've earned a bonus. The nanoformula is safe again." Mrs Steel smiles. "I thought we'd celebrate the occasion with a little champagne, special a'la NanoLabs."

Actually drinking it isn't a good idea though. Mrs Steel grins triumphantly as Ridley starts to shrink down before her very eyes. "You just got Blobbed, Ridley," she announces. "That glass contains the shrink formula. You realise of course, no-one must know about the formula, and I never liked you anyway. That's why we chose such a second-class errand boy to do the job. Bye-bye."

THINGS WE LEARNED: Women are not to be trusted. EVER.

Pro tip: Conspiracies work better when you don't actively write your evil plans on the label.

In the good ending, Ridley is smart enough to insist that she drink first, and calls her out on the illegal stuff she's apparently been doing but wasn't really important enough to cover in the game. To prove it, he presents a jar of nanoformula found in the laboratory earlier, which... makes her screaming face disappear into a Adobe Premiere 'Twirl' effect. It'd be nice if this made sense.

Right. Like the game would start doing that now...

"She got her share," grows Ridley, triumphant, "And I got mine. For my services saving Mother Nature, along with the future of Nanoblob Enterprises-" When did that happen, and when did the company stop being Nanoblob Inc? "-and 'a course the poor Nanoblobs themselves, the board of the City Council made me their new Sheriff in Town. The rumour was that the previous sherrif got sacked after they found him painting graffiti in a public toilet. Who knows?"

Confused Richard is Confused. Not least because that graffiti is shown to be the word "FUK".

And that's The BlobJob. Goodness me. I can safely say this is the strangest edutainment game I've ever played, but was it successful as a teaching aid to Inform Young Minds? Let's recap what we learned. In event of fire, put it out. In event of drinking a whole bottle of sulphuric acid, a quick milk chaser will set you straight. If you find someone in trouble, leap before you look. And if you do feel the urge to call an escort service and set up a date with murderous prostitutes, at least practice safe sex.

Well, can't argue with any of that. But if you want to, here's proof that none of this was made up.

RANDOM EXTRA THING: It came to my attention this week that there have now been 50 Crap Shoot columns - 51 if you include this week's descent into madness. Since reading is fun, why not check out some of the ones you've missed? Past classics include Les Manley and its sequel, the gleefully blasphemous The You Testament, the insanity that is the Doom novels, a return of 80s childhood horror in Granny's Garden, the dating disaster that is Man Enough, and the only article in the world that truly understands the meaning of Bouncing Babies. Some of the others are pretty good too.