Interview: Boom Blox
Boom Blox should have been a massive hit. It's a Wii game that allows players to wave the Wiimote around, which is something they usually enjoy. It takes the boring word "blocks" and spices it up with an X. (That's the secret technique game writers have for making the English language pop a wheelie.) Most importantly, it was created with the help of Steven freaking Spielberg, America's greatest resource of wonder and amazement. His name is right there on the front of the box. How can a game sell only 60,000 units in its opening month when the box says Steven Spielberg?
To find out, Gamers With Jobs went straight to the source with an exclusive, hard-hitting interview. When we think Boom Blox, only one name comes to mind. It took a lot of calls and favors, but we finally managed to corner him and get the straight dope.
Who could it be? Hint: Just look at the box.
Sherman Woolington the Third is best known as the startled sheep being thrown from an explosion on the Boom Blox cover, but a quick glance at his IMDB page reveals an accomplished and versatile character animal whose work goes back decades. He's played Startled Sheep No. 2 in Babe: Pig in the City, and brought a quiet dignity to countless startled sheep roles in various racy Westerns. We caught up with him at his ranch in the Nebraska foothills.
SH3: Oh! You startled me.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: Sorry about that, Mr. Woolington. We just wanted to ask you a few questions about your work on Boom Blox.[/color]
SH3: Boom Blox, of course. I've never had so much fun being blown up, and everyone on that shoot was a true professional: the monkey, Spielberg, even the penguin. And it's a lovely game, there's never been anything like it.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: Really? Tell us a bit about how the game works.[/color]
SH3: Well, I suppose one could describe it as a bunch of blocks arranged in a complex tower. People take turns removing them without upsetting the main structure.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: Like Jenga?[/color]
SH3: Er, yes, that's what I said! And the Electronic Arts people said, no, it's different because you can throw a baseball or bowling ball at the structure and it occasionally explodes. And then they made me work unpaid overtime for a while until the game went gold.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: Like indentured servitude?[/color]
SH3: That's what I said, too, but they explained it as something different.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: Tell us a bit about your role in the game.[/color]
SH3: I don't want to give too much away, because it's really best if you experience all the twists for yourself, but I can say that I play a medieval sheep who desires some colored gems sitting atop a tower made of blocks, and the player helps me by throwing things at the tower and causing destruction. We also do battle with some other animals for the gems. But the question is, once we have all the gems, will we be happy? In a world where animals steal gems from each other, is it inevitable that some other animal will swoop in and take our gems? There's quite a lot there.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: So is the whole game like that? Throw things at other things, which explode? Because that sounds difficult to get across with just a picture of some animals looking surprised.[/color]
SH3: It's subtle, but I do some things with my eyes which express the fact that although it can be played like Jenga or, shall we say, Explosive Jenga, there are many, many other gameplay modes. You'd be surprised how many variations they came up with on that basic theme. Of course, I'm in the exploding tower mode, which is really the best one. Some are, um, less entertaining.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: Such as?[/color]
SH3: OK, I'm just going to come out and say this. Gorilda the gorilla. Her story is essentially an escort mission in what is supposed to be an explosive, no holds barred puzzle game. She's on one side of the map, her babies are on the other, and she slowly, slowly walks towards them while you clear a path. Half the time you end up killing her, or the babies, with a single slightly misjudged throw. It's annoying. Also, Gorilda doesn't really sell it. If my gorilla babies were being held hostage, I'd walk a little faster, squeeze out a tear or two. Gorilda, meet glycerine. Please use some.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: It sounds like that could be improved by making Gorilda more interactive. Player two could hold her back until the bridge is cleared, much like the Star Bitch role in Mario Galaxy.[/color]
SH3: Well, that's something I noticed throughout the whole game. The good levels are the ones where multiple players get together unhindered by the feeble AI. The bad levels are anything where a computer controlled character tries to influence the board, because they are absolute dullards.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: Present company excepted, of course.[/color]
SH3: Any time I take control away from the player, it's a subversive meta-commentary about how video games present the illusion of choice but ultimately a true auteur must force the player to obey his creative drive. When Gorilda does it, it's because she's a brain damaged ape.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: So, you're saying that Boom Blox is a party game, a purely multiplayer title.[/color]
SH3: That's right. And that's fine, you know? Get some friends over, ferment some silage, eat some good clover, and have a good time making blocks go boom. Who cares if one third of the minigames don't quite work? Don't play them.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: It's an appealing scenario, which brings up the question: why didn't it sell?[/color]
SH3: Oh, it sold well enough. We're taking a long tail approach to this, you know, word of mouth, shelf space visibility, phases of the moon and so on ...
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: No, really, what happened?[/color]
SH3: A respectable showing for a new IP ...
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: EA can't hurt you now, Mr. Woolington. Let it out.[/color]
SH3: Because it was fifty dollars! Oh, it feels so good to finally say that. It's a fifty dollar game! And I don't blame Spielberg, either. He just wanted to make a fun family game. It was Electronic [censored] Arts, trying to squeeze blood from a Blox.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: It's as simple as that?[/color]
SH3: Look, what kind of [censored] makes Spielberg share the marquee like that? "A Stephen Spielberg/EA Game?" That's like saying Brought to You by Cotton Candy and Tetanus. You kind of ignore the cotton candy, right?
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: It sounds like that's one mystery solved at least.[/color]
SH3: Yes, turns out it was Colonel EA in the Library with the $50.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: Is there anything else you'd like to mention about your role as a Boom Blox?[/color]
SH3: Well, I don't mean to brag, but I've seen a lot of actors gain or lose weight for a part, but I've never seen them squeeze themselves into a rectangular prism. I mentioned this to Stephen and he thinks it has potential. So don't be surprised if you see me in a major motion picture, acting alongside a cuboid Shia LeBeouf. I could play a father figure, or a villain, or I can do a surprisingly subtle Startled Sheep. "Oh no!" That's a freebie, kid.
[color=#D33A1C]GWJ: Thank you, Mr. Woolington, and we hope to see more of you soon.[/color]