While the Mice Are Away

Well, another month is upon us. This time an issue specifically geared towards prototypes and unreleased games. Jeez. I should have saved last issue’s column for this time. Well, I hate to break tradition so let’s talk more about prototypes and unreleased goodies in a second but first I want to address some of the feedback I’ve gotten since taking over this column.

The response to my first column was fantastic and I’m pleased that many of you took the time to contact me with your thoughts. Almost all of the comments were positive (there was only one naysayer in the bunch) and there were several good suggestions for future columns. Here are just a few of the remarks I’ve received:

“Hi John. Great column! As you probably know, I completely agree with you.” – M.K.

“John, thou speaketh the truth. How about a future article on the pros & cons of copyright infringement?” – D. Lowenstein

“Although not everyone will agree with you, thanks for saying what I’ve been thinking for a long time.” – C.V.

“Bring back Sean. Your articles are about as funny as mopping a floor.” – ANES LEKLY

I included the negative message I received so you can see that not everyone agrees or likes me. The main purpose of this column is to get people thinking. Not everyone will agree or disagree with me but I hope it will provoke them into formulating their own opinions. If you have any comments or suggestions for future columns (perhaps a topic you’d like to see raised), please send them to me at: jhardie@pipeline.com

P.S. to those who asked: The Elevator Action scenario I discussed last issue was just that – A hypothetical situation. Sorry to disappoint.

O.k. On to our discussion. Why don’t we look at the actual releasing of prototypes. Not the argument of whether or not they should be released but rather where to find them. I’m not talking about emulation ROM sites here but rather the people that are bringing us new, never-before-seen prototypes. Several owners and groups of people have been making these prototypes available for everyone (except Scott Stilphen) to enjoy. Here’s a very brief run-down:

One of the best places to start is the Atari 2600 Nexus (www.atari2600nexus.com). Alex and his crew have been diligent in providing many hard to find ROMS that have been previously unavailable. The Nexus is also a great news site to find out the latest happenings in the classic community.

Atari Gaming Headquarters (www.atarihq.com) has released several protos over the years, even going so far as to provide game reviews and screenshots. Their webmaster, Keita Iida keeps a diligent finger on the pulse of the gaming community.

At the Classic Gaming Expo web site (www.cgexpo.com) we’ve released many of the games that we have gotten through our contact with former employees of the classic era.

Individuals like Marc Oberhauser and Marco Kerstens have graciously released one of a kind prototypes that they owned for all to enjoy. Marc has even gone so far as to make boxes and instructions for some of his carts so that people can buy copies cheaply and have a nice product to put on their shelf.

Curt Vendel (www.atari-history.com) has released several prototypes which seem to be different from the versions that were previously available.

Even Glenn Saunders got into the act by taking a prototype ROM image that was entrusted to him and releasing it without the owner’s permission. The owner planned on releasing it himself but was waiting till a later date. Unfortunately this incident has left a bad taste in the owner’s mouth and we may not see any more protos from him.

Another hard-working individual that I have to mention is Matt Reichert (www.msu.edu/user/reicher6/). Matt’s enthusiasm in documenting prototype differences is incredible. On his page he goes into detail surrounding the differences in proto versions as they progress towards completion. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I personally find it fascinating. Nicely done.

There are others who support efforts like this and I’m sorry if I’ve missed or overlooked anyone. Let’s go one step further and examine several other thoughts. Once a proto is released, does the original owner have any say as to what happens to it? Can that person dictate how and where the ROM is distributed? Can the company that holds the copyright on that game dictate terms? Case in point – Recently 2600 Garfield was discovered and permission was secured from Jim Davis (the cartoon’s creator) to release the ROM to the public. The only stipulation was that people could not build and sell cartridge versions to others. It’s o.k. to build one for yourself but not to give or sell to others. Yet Hozer Games lists it on their site and are more than willing to make a cart version for anyone who shells out $12. Granted, the stipulation to not give or sell carts to others seems silly, but it is Davis’ right to request that. Or is it? Does anyone care what Jim Davis wants? Probably not since we’ve gotten what we wanted from him and the odds of him going after Hozer or anyone else are ridiculously low.

But imagine this scenario for a minute (note the word “imagine”): A reporter is assigned to interview Jim Davis about the history of Garfield. During the interview, Jim takes the reporter into his personal archives where he keeps early sketches and other items of historical value about Garfield, Odie, Nermal, and Jon. The reporter picks up a black, square-shaped object lying in the dust and inquires to Jim: “What’s this? Looks like one of those old Atari cartridges.” Jim responds: “Yeah it is. It’s called ‘Odie’s Tongue Adventures’. We had a deal with Atari to make three videogames for their 2600 system. One of their programmers did the first game and we were going to do the other two in-house. We only completed the Odie game before the deal fell through.” The reporter makes his notes and continues on. When the article hits, a keen-eyed classic gamer sees it and posts the info in the newsgroups. Digital Press, 2600 Connection and others report the latest news about this find. Everyone wants to know how and where the game will be distributed. After all, Jim gave us permission for Garfield, why wouldn’t he do the same for Odie.

Now suppose Jim is contacted and refuses to share the Odie game with the classic community. He cites the fact that we didn’t follow his silly wishes with the first game we found. Would we then blast, curse, and denounce him as an enemy of the classic gaming community? We may find that we have now shot ourselves in the foot. At what price? Was it worth it? Is the entire community now being punished for the actions of a few? Food for thought as we continue our quest for the latest ROMs without any thought to who’s toes we step on along the way.

The same situation exists in the case of someone sharing a ROM without the prototype owner’s consent. Yeah, Great! We finally got the ROM. But the fact is we would have gotten it anyway if we had just been patient. Do you think the owner of this prototype will be in any great rush to share others he may own?

Let me throw one more at you before we sign off for this month’s edition. Could we argue that prototype owners have a moral responsibility to dump their protos since they don’t own the code to begin with? Is it Jim Davis’ right to not release the proto since he actually owns the code? Who’s right should it have been to release Garfield? Steve Woita, who wrote it? Atari, since the code most likely belongs to them? Jim Davis, since he owns the characters? Or all three? If you really want to get technical, all protos are supposed to returned to Atari and Atari still exists in one form or another.

Well, it’s getting late here at DP central and I’m holding up Sean, er, I mean the cleaning crew, from getting the offices in shape for another day. Remember, I’m not saying what’s right or what’s wrong, but I hope everyone will think about this situation before we go blindly into the wild. Our next meal may be our last.


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