Original Post

Forgive me if this was already discussed, but has anyone attempted to contact the author of the article who reviewed Dragon Hopper in Nintendo Power to ask what happened to his review copy?

I realize that with the magazine going defunct years ago makes tracking the guy down more difficult, but that’s where I would start. If he didn’t have the cart currently in his possession (wouldn’t that be nice?) he may know what happened to it after he was finished with it.

50 Replies

If Nintendo still has all the VB protos (or possibly no hardware, but still the source code/ROMs), I don’t see them getting out, unless they go under (look at all the crazy Atari stuff that has appeared from them closing).

I hate to say it, but given the success, or rather lack thereof, of the Wii U, the day Nintendo goes under might not be too far off. I will certainly make every attempt to be at that auction and throw my whole life into the VB carts!

I think 3rd party protos are more likely to be released… probably just sitting in a box somewhere, or maybe backed up by one of the programmers… not even realizing that anyone would want that stuff, or not releasing the stuff since it’s technically “owned” by the company.

I actually had a dream once that I was playing Virtual Bomberman. Perhaps it was a sign that it will be the next unreleased VB game to surface.

Benjamin Stevens wrote:

If Nintendo still has all the VB protos (or possibly no hardware, but still the source code/ROMs), I don’t see them getting out, unless they go under (look at all the crazy Atari stuff that has appeared from them closing).

I hate to say it, but given the success, or rather lack thereof, of the Wii U, the day Nintendo goes under might not be too far off. I will certainly make every attempt to be at that auction and throw my whole life into the VB carts!

Nintendo has over US$5 BILLION in cash as of the middle of last year — and nearly as much in short term investments. (Their next financial report comes up next Wednesday.) They can afford to weather a few bad years so long as they keep their brands relevant.

Gamecube didn’t sell super well, but its “Nintendo” brand games were good and kept those brands alive. Wii came around and sold something like infinity units (well, 100 MILLION, still a lot). It isn’t remembered super fondly by most internet gamers, but it had a lot of really great games. Wii U is more on target to be like the Gamecube… so maybe Nintendo is following the trajectory of Star Trek movies — every other one is good.

On top of that, the DS sold super well (~150 million) and the 3DS is doing alright (~43 million) and its library keeps getting better.

I don’t think we’ll see the end of Nintendo any time soon… though I think we’ll see the Wii U’s successor faster than you might think if this were a “normal” console cycle for them.

DogP wrote:

Obviously I’d love to see any unreleased VB game dumped and released, though if I could choose any game, I’d personally go for Zero Racers. Dragon Hopper just didn’t look that exciting to me (my opinion could certainly change after playing it though 🙂 ). It does seem like Dragon Hopper was likely closer to release though.

I kinda got that (not exceptionally exciting); but it would likely be better than Faceball (as programmed) was.

DogP wrote:
I’d guess that it’s very likely that these still exist somewhere, but I’d be a bit surprised if they were actually in a private collector’s hands.

How did Faceball get into private hands? And the demos — I corresponded once with an ebay seller who had “Dolphins”. He wanted way too much for it; but I wouldn’t expect the demos to be privately owned. Games otoh, I’m not sure the protocols behind managing the E3 ’96 booth were — did they do high-security, diligently tracking every proto cart each day, placing them in a safe? I doubt that; they probably all went to one person who threw them in a box in his hotel room. Had I managed to insert myself into the “booth staff”, it would have been sorely tempting to swap one of the carts with, say, “Tennis” that had been given a burst of high voltage (and swapped stickers; protos were said to have been labeled with a basic label printer). If a proto cart showed up DEAD, there probably wouldn’t have been as much investigation as if one had gone MISSING.

DogP wrote:
If Nintendo still has all the VB protos (or possibly no hardware, but still the source code/ROMs), I don’t see them getting out, unless they go under (look at all the crazy Atari stuff that has appeared from them closing).

Someone help me understand — what possible reason does N have for the nasty “screw you” attitude? Letting one slip out (or two or three, Dragonhopper/Zero-Racers/Goldeneye) won’t hurt their bottom line one bit, but would go VERY far in promoting good PR with clearly loyal and dedicated customers. If _I_ was running a company, I would be PLEASED that a group of people loved a product (especially one that so many considered a FLOP), I’d be delighted to give those customers with what they want. Good PR can only mean more profit in the long run; why in God’s Universe would they dis loyal customers?

:-/

DogP wrote:
I think 3rd party protos are more likely to be released… probably just sitting in a box somewhere, or maybe backed up by one of the programmers… not even realizing that anyone would want that stuff, or not releasing the stuff since it’s technically “owned” by the company.

Oh programmers realize; apparently “N” has a hard-nosed “sue-you” attitude towards former employees. Again, what possible harm could come of letting a couple protos out? None; and plenty of good will come of it.

http://www.linkedin.com/in/danowsen

I have added him and am awaiting his return invite so that i may message him on the subject.

Are any other efforts underway?

KJ4860 wrote:

I have added him and am awaiting his return invite so that i may message him on the subject.

Just in case this doesn’t go w/o saying. If I were you Id become better friends w him before asking. You may get a lot further if he doesn’t see the question coming. And after all you might make a good friend.

vb-fan wrote:

DogP wrote:
If Nintendo still has all the VB protos (or possibly no hardware, but still the source code/ROMs), I don’t see them getting out, unless they go under (look at all the crazy Atari stuff that has appeared from them closing).

Someone help me understand — what possible reason does N have for the nasty “screw you” attitude? Letting one slip out (or two or three, Dragonhopper/Zero-Racers/Goldeneye) won’t hurt their bottom line one bit, but would go VERY far in promoting good PR with clearly loyal and dedicated customers. If _I_ was running a company, I would be PLEASED that a group of people loved a product (especially one that so many considered a FLOP), I’d be delighted to give those customers with what they want. Good PR can only mean more profit in the long run; why in God’s Universe would they dis loyal customers?

:-/

DogP wrote:
I think 3rd party protos are more likely to be released… probably just sitting in a box somewhere, or maybe backed up by one of the programmers… not even realizing that anyone would want that stuff, or not releasing the stuff since it’s technically “owned” by the company.

Oh programmers realize; apparently “N” has a hard-nosed “sue-you” attitude towards former employees. Again, what possible harm could come of letting a couple protos out? None; and plenty of good will come of it.

I think it has more to do with Nintendo needing to protect their goods than it does a goodwill gesture for a few dozen or hundred enthusiasts.

Part of US law regarding either trademarks or copyrights (I can never remember) is that the company has to show actual effort in protecting their IP, otherwise they could lose the trademark/copyright. So, if Nintendo became blasé about releasing unreleased stuff, it could potentially do them actual harm.

I’m sure they’re thrilled to have enthusiasts out there who are interested in their old system… but there’s really no good mechanism for them to “just give us” the goods.

More likely beyond that is that Nintendo tends to not release a product until it meets a certain quality requirement. And if they feel that what they have on hand does not meet that requirement, the cost to build up the engineering team to finish it would probably be too great for them to consider it.

Until then, Dragon Hopper & Zero Racers, etc., will just have to sit in the Nintendo Vault alongside the English release of Earthbound Zero and other games… I completely agree that it’s a shame, but it’s also more complicated than “it’d be cool if they just let one slip out here and there”.

…that’s not to say it doesn’t happen, just that it’s unlikely. 🙂

HP Lovethrash wrote:
Sadly I’ve wondered if the secrets would only be revealed once general interest dies down. If nobody is going crazy with anguish over these lost games, there’s no point in hiding the game to gloat. My hope is that the supposed owners would feel the urge to be the first to “donate” the ROMs. Would you rather sit on it forever or be canonized as the one who finally made the games playable to all? You can nurture a power-hungry mentality by being nice as much as you can by not giving people what they want 🙂

The problem with your idea is nobody is ever remembered for releasing their unreleased game to the public. Very seldom do written articles even include the names of people involved with the dumping of a lost game. There’s no actual glory in it, thus zero incentive for those who own these prototypes. The only real motivation is MONEY. Gathering funds to pay for the destroyed value of their prototype is what people in the know want. Yes, nearly every unreleased game prototype cart drops dramatically in value once it’s dumped.

What often happens with unreleased games is the original owner sells their cart to somebody who DOES want to preserve it online. Lots of prototypes fall into the hands of archivists simply by purchasing the cart off an auction site like eBay or sometimes Yahoo Japan Auctions, or more private means like on a forum or newsgroup.

DogP wrote:
I think 3rd party protos are more likely to be released… probably just sitting in a box somewhere, or maybe backed up by one of the programmers… not even realizing that anyone would want that stuff, or not releasing the stuff since it’s technically “owned” by the company. Oh programmers realize; apparently “N” has a hard-nosed “sue-you” attitude towards former employees. Again, what possible harm could come of letting a couple protos out? None; and plenty of good will come of it.

The actual reason Nintendo prototypes almost ever surface is because Nintendo keeps a stricter rule on their prototypes being returned and not suddenly lost. Any protos that have unfinished code on them stay within the developers’ hands, rarely do they escape. Nintendo does give out review copies to magazines but Nintendo cares a lot more to have those returned than the average 3rd party company.

For example, pre-release versions of Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Perfect Dark (N64) with some differences were recently dumped, sometime last year. Those two prototype cartridges were stolen from a trade show of some type.

I think it has more to do with Nintendo needing to protect their goods than it does a goodwill gesture for a few dozen or hundred enthusiasts.

Part of US law regarding either trademarks or copyrights (I can never remember) is that the company has to show actual effort in protecting their IP, otherwise they could lose the trademark/copyright. So, if Nintendo became blasé about releasing unreleased stuff, it could potentially do them actual harm.

Most companies hold onto unreleased prototypes simply because they are assets they own. It’s no different from old dev hardware or other obsolete items that might be lingering around. Even if the company really has no plans for using said items, having them is better than not having them. Besides, what right thinking company would just give away ROMs? Only old MS-DOS era companies that aren’t making new games, that’s who.

I’m sure they’re thrilled to have enthusiasts out there who are interested in their old system… but there’s really no good mechanism for them to “just give us” the goods.

I can assure you Nintendo is not that concerned about what people do with their old hardware. They do not sell licensed clones for one thing and they have the Virtual Console. There is zero money in any obsolete products, to them at least.

More likely beyond that is that Nintendo tends to not release a product until it meets a certain quality requirement. And if they feel that what they have on hand does not meet that requirement, the cost to build up the engineering team to finish it would probably be too great for them to consider it.

According to quite a few Nintendo sources (particularly Phil Sandhop and anyone involved with Starfox 2), the number 1 killer of unreleased Nintendo games is simply marketing. Is the market for a console drastically shrinking thus the game (Earth Bound NES) will sell poorly? Cancel the game. Will the game (Starfox 2) distract sales from an upcoming console? Cancel the game. Will the game (Earth Bound NES) cost too much to print and be too niche to sell decently? Cancel the game. Look up some older interviews, marketing is the common reason.

Speaking of stupidity, there was recently an interview with one of the team members for Superman (N64). You know, that really awful N64 game? It was originally much better, but political issues with the license holder forced the developer (Titus) to do increasingly stupid and time wasting things (like invent a virtual world so Superman doesn’t hurt real people), thus the game ended up being garbage.

Until then, Dragon Hopper & Zero Racers, etc., will just have to sit in the Nintendo Vault alongside the English release of Earthbound Zero and other games… I completely agree that it’s a shame, but it’s also more complicated than “it’d be cool if they just let one slip out here and there”.

…that’s not to say it doesn’t happen, just that it’s unlikely. 🙂

Except EarthBound “Zero” was dumped publicly in 1998 and is one of the oldest NES prototypes around. It was also just called Earth Bound (with a space), Zero was tacked on by hackers. Going by Nintendo’s official word, we have Earth Bound and EarthBound.

SirGuntz:
Those two prototype cartridges were stolen from a trade show of some type.

Nope thats not true.

Strange, every source I’ve come across about those two protos says they were stolen from a trade show (ECTS?).

Dragon Hopper is one of my most wanted prototypes. I found the website of the guy who did both the music and programming on the game. He also worked on all the Paper Mario titles and is still employed with Nintendo. He didn’t have much to say publicly about it. I do believe Nintendo still has the assets to the game archived, as we have seen with US Earthbound for NES being the basis for the japanese GBA port (censorship is present, and such). It’s the only VB prototype that I find remotely interesting. That being said, if we could have Nintendo legally port/remake it for the 3DS (which would be a suitable platform to adapt it) that would be a lot more viable. With games like The Diamond Trade of London for DS being funded and officially licensed through Kickstarter, I don’t see how it’s not possible with Dragon Hopper.

As far as dumping; as someone who owns prototypes, I would rather realize the value of the item in my lifetime than never. In that case I’d prefer a donation in return for dumping the games in question so both parties are happy. I find the idea of possessing a one-of-a-kind item of that magnitude or value, that bears a sense of mortality to be unsettling. And I want to see them shared because I like people’s enthusiasm. The truth however is that most collectors tend to lose interest at some point when the novelty wears off and they start focusing on collecting what they enjoy than just to collect for collecting’s sake. Some lose interest in games entirely and move on. With the unpredictable way technology evolves and changes, some of what we considered standard may change so significantly that many older devices including consoles will end up difficult to replace/repair and thus obsolete. So thinking something like Dragon Hopper could remain forever undumped is a bit unrealistic.

To add to that, I’m apathetic about legality when it comes to these dilemmas. Yuji Naka was more enamored with the idea that Sonic 2’s prototypes have survived, as he has no copy himself of either that or the original Sonic 1 demo that people are after. I think it is in some sense ‘silent consent’. In some countries it would even be considered legal without question.

  • This reply was modified 8 years, 4 months ago by Dr. Jeckidy.

Dr. Jeckidy wrote:
As far as dumping; as someone who owns prototypes, I would rather realize the value of the item in my lifetime than never. In that case I’d prefer a donation in return for dumping the games in question so both parties are happy.

There have been a number of protos for different systems that have been dumped after a community donation. I’m 100% confident that if someone would admit to having Dragon Hopper or Zero Racers or *ANY* lost VB game, the community here would be willing to compensate them for a dump so that we can all play the game. If there are 50 of us in for $100 each (a bit more than the cost of a repro from Uncle Tusk), that’s $5k. Heck with a little bit of news coverage we might be able to go beyond that, too. That’s low for an unreleased VB prototype, but we’re a small community. The cart would still have value on its own — look at The Big 4 — they’re all dumped, but they’re still several hundred or thousand dollars a piece.

The big problem seems to be that, if anyone *does* have any unknown VB protos, they’re not talking about them; they’re keeping them secret or they just don’t care. To each their own, but dang do I hope someone comes forward with one of those protos one of these days…

Dr. Jeckidy wrote:
Dragon Hopper is one of my most wanted prototypes. I found the website of the guy who did both the music and programming on the game. He also worked on all the Paper Mario titles and is still employed with Nintendo. He didn’t have much to say publicly about it. I do believe Nintendo still has the assets to the game archived, as we have seen with US Earthbound for NES being the basis for the japanese GBA port (censorship is present, and such). It’s the only VB prototype that I find remotely interesting. That being said, if we could have Nintendo legally port/remake it for the 3DS (which would be a suitable platform to adapt it) that would be a lot more viable. With games like The Diamond Trade of London for DS being funded and officially licensed through Kickstarter, I don’t see how it’s not possible with Dragon Hopper.

How hard would it be to convert it back to VB, from a 3DS copy (assuming at least the ROM would exist)? I’ve never played a 3DS — it’s my understanding that it uses a “line filter” to create the parallax; therefore it outputs only one combined screen. Shouldn’t be too hard to convert it back into two screens. Have no idea how similar the microprocessors are…

As far as dumping; as someone who owns prototypes, I would rather realize the value of the item in my lifetime than never. In that case I’d prefer a donation in return for dumping the games in question so both parties are happy. I find the idea of possessing a one-of-a-kind item of that magnitude or value, that bears a sense of mortality to be unsettling. And I want to see them shared because I like people’s enthusiasm. The truth however is that most collectors tend to lose interest at some point when the novelty wears off and they start focusing on collecting what they enjoy than just to collect for collecting’s sake. Some lose interest in games entirely and move on. With the unpredictable way technology evolves and changes, some of what we considered standard may change so significantly that many older devices including consoles will end up difficult to replace/repair and thus obsolete. So thinking something like Dragon Hopper could remain forever undumped is a bit unrealistic.

To add to that, I’m apathetic about legality when it comes to these dilemmas. Yuji Naka was more enamored with the idea that Sonic 2’s prototypes have survived, as he has no copy himself of either that or the original Sonic 1 demo that people are after. I think it is in some sense ‘silent consent’. In some countries it would even be considered legal without question.

Okay, by now the novelty HAS to have worn off. Surely someone reading this is or can CONNECT with such an owner — I’m not in a position to fork over thousands, but I could come up with a hundred or two. Even if I would have to sign an agreement to never disclose/release the code or cart.

I’m grateful to have an actual cart of “Bound High” — but when I view the 27-second “E3” video from 1996 it would be nice to also play the other featured proto.

jrronimo wrote:

There have been a number of protos for different systems that have been dumped after a community donation. I’m 100% confident that if someone would admit to having Dragon Hopper or Zero Racers or *ANY* lost VB game, the community here would be willing to compensate them for a dump so that we can all play the game. If there are 50 of us in for $100 each (a bit more than the cost of a repro from Uncle Tusk), that’s $5k. Heck with a little bit of news coverage we might be able to go beyond that, too. That’s low for an unreleased VB prototype, but we’re a small community. The cart would still have value on its own — look at The Big 4 — they’re all dumped, but they’re still several hundred or thousand dollars a piece.

The big problem seems to be that, if anyone *does* have any unknown VB protos, they’re not talking about them; they’re keeping them secret or they just don’t care. To each their own, but dang do I hope someone comes forward with one of those protos one of these days…

You’re absolutely right. There really is only one place on the Internet where VB enthusiasts congregate — so if anyone HAS a prototype, it’s most likely he (or someone he knows) is reading this. Coming up on 20 years after the discontinuation, it seems reasonable to get cash instead of a faded “one-up-ownership” thing.

Still seems like two ways to go:

1. Announce the release of the ROM for donors, everyone here could easily come up with a reasonable price; future dispensations would be available but for the same price as the donors paid.

2. Agree to release the ROM, but privately, a select group combines money for a single purchase, but signs a “non-disclosure” agreement. Perhaps the ROM could be serialized, so any public release can easily be traced to one person.

Even if there is such a thing as “hoarding” still happening, what would be wrong with #2? The owner could have his cake and eat it too!!!

Virtual Console WAD files for the original Wii contain the untouched ROM and an emulator, basically. There’s good odds any 3DS VC titles are done up like this as well. All you’d have to do is recover the WAD file via a hacked system and extract the ROM file from it.

Thing is though, Nintendo hasn’t even released a Virtual Boy VC title yet. If they were to, such titles might be released as 3D Classics (or WiiWare / DSiWare going by old terminology), where the odds of the original ROM being retained are low.

vb-fan wrote:

2. Agree to release the ROM, but privately, a select group combines money for a single purchase, but signs a “non-disclosure” agreement.

There’s a good chance that this has already happened, and of course none of us would be the wiser, lest the NDA be breached. If this hasn’t happened yet and it hasn’t been dumped, then those who do have this prototype are essentially on a time limit. As has been stated before, the data on this cart isn’t going to last forever, and hopefully these people realize it before its too late and its lost forever.

I guess I don’t really see the point of buying something special and rare, and not saying anything to anyone about having such an item. What’s the fun in it if you can’t hold it over people’s heads?

If we had an “in” with Nintendo, or at least knew the name of an individual who might know what happens to such prototype carts, I think we could at least get an answer as to whether or not it would still exist (and if not, we could at least stop wasting our time looking for it). SOMEBODY over in Nintendo of Japan or America must know what happens to these unreleased, canceled games. Even the developers must have an idea of what happens to a completed game that had the carpet pulled out from under it.

How exactly did we end up with Bound High? Wasn’t the source in the developer’s portfolio or something and he just handed it out after realizing how much people wanted to play it? I know that in this case a developer working for Nintendo might not have a copy of the source laying around, but at least we could be pointed in the right direction…

Honestly, I think our best bet is to find out who worked for Nintendo Power 1. when the game was previewed and who did said preview 2. when the original office closed. Since it is confirmed that they had a copy of Dragon Hopper (and Zero Racers) to do the preview, this is really the only strong lead that could go somewhere. I highly doubt we would get any solid info from the big N themselves.

On a related note, someone could ask the guys with Mega64 if they can find any info, as apparently they now have some relationship with Nintendo as shown in the E3 announcement video. Or if anyone will be present at E3, ask Treehouse themselves, as they would most likely have had some hand in the localization of Dragon Hopper as they pretty much handled every localization for Nintendo back then.

Considering how many unreleased games have been released to the public, including completely unknown games with no leads (Bio Force Ape) and even some Nintendo titles (Earth Bound, Starfox 2), I think it’s simply a matter of time before more Virtual Boy titles surface. Of course, a little encouragement always helps, but so many unreleased games over the years have just up and surfaced online one day from a generous collector, out of the blue. Some have had donation drives but lots were dumped and spread publicly just from sheer interest from parties involved.

shiro_akechi wrote:

There’s a good chance that this has already happened, and of course none of us would be the wiser, lest the NDA be breached.

So why can’t more people be added to the “NDA”? Newcomers would be willing to pay the same as the original members, unless it’s in the thousands. And they could join the “NDA”.

If this hasn’t happened yet and it hasn’t been dumped, then those who do have this prototype are essentially on a time limit. As has been stated before, the data on this cart isn’t going to last forever, and hopefully these people realize it before its too late and its lost forever.

Well, it has been dumped — that is, assuming someone really HAS a copy. People know how valuable the code is, and would never take a chance on it being lost. There are plenty of devices around capable of dumping (I just received my Retrode TODAY, now I have to make the vb adapter).

But all I’ve heard are rumors of “so-n-so or other has a copy”. Sometimes the rumors are true — I knew someone who knew someone who had a copy of “Faceball”, and that is the exact same actual cart the people here at PlanetVB acquired. Given that so many Dragonhoppers existed (the E3 video on Youtube linked at PlanetVB had at least six actual carts), it is possible one got loose. It’s also possible N kept a tight control on every last cart.

I’ll believe that a private person has a cart, when I see the ROM file…

I like your thoughts on trying to find a copy, or the source-code. “Bound High” was created from the source code, it’s easily the best VB game so far. But perhaps someone can do a home-brew similar to “Zero Racers”…

I know this is going to sound like a farfetched attempt but I sent a message to Next Level games about Dragon Hopper. They made the most recent installment of Luigi’s Mansion for 3DS and are one of the few english-based companies to have a good relationship with Nintendo. They don’t have that many games in their catalogue but they said most of their future stuff is going to be exclusive with Nintendo. That being said, I asked them if they would ever consider remaking Dragon Hopper for 3DS, since the system is technically able to recreate what was envisioned for it in the VB game. I even asked them if I could help them anyway if they are interested such as a Kickstarter or whatever. That’s just icing on the cake, but I told them my story and am awaiting a response of some kind. They seem like talkative people, for the most part. I have an independent multimedia-type group on the horizon but at this time we don’t have any relationship, reputation or backing to attempt to do this, if for instance, we had the opportunity (provided Next Level doesn’t care) to produce this game for Nintendo. Of course, that could change in the future, but we’ll see how things go.

 

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