More Prototypes

Hey boys and girls! Did ya miss me last issue?? I'll bet that DP didn't completely fill that videogaming void like it usually does, but not to worry...I'm back!

Our theme this issue is emulation or something along those lines and I was thinking to myself..."self, didn't you already write about emulation in a previous issue?" I answered myself back. "Yes, you did write about emulation but it was quite a few issues back and since when do we adhere to the theme anyway??" I got into this lengthy discussion with myself, which got quite heated at times I might add, and in the end, we decided we should write about little furry animals.

Little furry animals are just so soft and fun to touch how can anyone resist them? Sometimes I find myself just petting and petting them until all their fur has fallen off into a big pile of lint on the floor and they are nothing but a bloody pulp - myself has a tendency to get carried away at times.

I'll bet you're wondering by now what the hell I'm writing about little furry animals for aren't you? Well, the real problem here is basically the same as it was last issue - nobody has really pissed me off of late!

My job here at DP has traditionally been to point-out the morons involved in videogaming - both past and present. "See that guy over there? He's a moron! Sit back, tear open a fresh bag of pork rinds, and I'll tell you all about him". Luckily for us, and unluckily for my column, I haven't run into many in the past couple months so I find myself sitting here staring at a blank screen (myself has also been known to sit and watch ice melt, but that's another column) with nobody to warn you about.

Actually, there was this one guy about a month ago…

This guy is not a videogame collector - he's a "professional" eBay'er that ran across a very nice stash of prototype classic videogames. Included in his score were two previously undiscovered Intellivision games and prototype versions of several released Atari 2600 titles. I don't recall how the guy found me, but he got in touch with me and asked about having the games archived to preserve the data onto a more secure media (ala CD-ROM).

As you might expect, I was anxious to check-out the goods. I get a fair bit of mail from people asking about "prototypes" they have and the vast majority of them simply don't know what they're talking about so I was only about half-expecting something decent, but I was anxious nonetheless. I mentioned to him that it would be best if he sent them as soon as possible because of the possibility of bit-rot and he eventually sent them.

When I opened the box, the first thing I noticed was that these protos looked like they had been buried under 87 tons of dirty diapers for the last 20 years! They were disgusting! By the same token, they also looked quite "real". Some of the Activision titles had the standard solid red label that Activision slapped on many of it's prototypes although the color of the labels was very difficult to judge considering their condition. I started plugging them in one by one and sure enough, they were the real deal.

The two Intellivision titles were Robot Rubble and League of Light - both of which I thought to be undiscovered as of yet. There were several different revisions of Robot Rubble and, I believe, at least two copies of League of Light.

One version of Robot Rubble seemed the most complete of the lot and I played it for a while. The game was fairly unique and I enjoyed it for the most part. You play a standard "running dude" who's running along the bottom of the screen trying to avoid the robots laser fire while tossing some sort of grenade at the robots above. The longer you hold-in the fire button, the further the grenade goes so it was a skill to be mastered in getting the distance right. For bonus fun, sometimes your grenades didn't quite hit the robots dead-center so it would only damage them and they would quickly re-assemble themselves if you didn't toss another grenade up there to finish him off right quick. In later levels, the robot would have one of his buddies helping him smoke your ass so the action got quite hot and heavy in trying to avoid fire from two robots who eerily seemed almost intelligent in the way they were very protective of each other. Not a bad game at all!

League of Light, on the other hand, was almost certainly drug-induced. I have yet to figure out what the purpose of the game is. It's some sort of 3D perspective tunnel-traveling thingus. You have no character on-screen to control yet in front of you there is this tunnel of sorts that's comprised of multi-colored blocks. The disc, sometimes, controls movement in the tunnel and it seems you are supposed to help your non-existent character avoid the sides of this tunnel. As you might expect, I crashed into the walls virtually every time within the first ten seconds. I don't know whether the game is incomplete, I'm an idiot that can't figure out how to play, or there actually is no point to the game and some sicko programmer still occasionally chuckles when he thinks of someone trying to play his game.

There was also a sprinkling of released Atari 2600 titles in various stages of development. Most only had minor graphic differences from the released versions and I didn't find them all that interesting.

So back to our "hero" that found this stuff. After I had gone through the stuff, I got in touch with him and told him he had some really cool stuff here that could fetch a decent buck. He even had several copies of most of the games.

Naturally, I went after one copy of Robot Rubble for my personal collection to which he responded that he wasn't sure he wanted to get rid of them so that deal wouldn't be possible. I had mentioned these protos to a couple friends of mine one of which noticed an auction on Yahoo for Intellivision and Atari 2600 prototypes. The starting bid was $1,000,000 (yes, you're seeing the correct number of zero's there). It seems my "buddy" thought I was stupid and I didn't know there were these websites out there that allowed you to post items for sale - or better yet, for auction. You know, eBay and the like. Apparently he's the only one that knows about these places and I'd never find-out he'd listed that auction. Lucky for him I'm too stupid to find places like that on the internet...otherwise I might have been pissed that he was trying to blow smoke up my ass.

When I call him on the Yahoo auction, the tone of his emails quickly changes. No, no, no...he's not selling them. He's just trying to see if anyone would be interested in them. I mean it's a very distinct possibility that even though there are over 5000 auctions on eBay for Atari, Intellivision, and Coleco stuff, nobody would want this shit he'd found.

My advice to him is to end the Yahoo auction that's currently making him look like an asshole and keep quiet about them for a couple weeks. Let people forget about the moron that thinks he's found the Holy Grail and come back with them in a few weeks on eBay - one at a time though! I tell him that many people into classic gaming know me and that if he were to allow me to help him devise a strategy for selling them, he could probably do much better than he will as some schmoo that nobody has ever heard of. Mr. eBay knows better than me, but, here again, he's trying to be cautious with his words because he's starting to get a little worried that I might not send his stuff back for some stupid reason. The guy's obviously an asshole, unfortunately though, that doesn't give me the right to steal his stuff as much as I wish it did.

It's kinda like people that drive like assholes. There truly should be a national "Smash Into an Asshole" day in which you're allowed to take out some piece of junk car and just crash it into people that don't know how to drive all day long. I've had dreams about a day like that! Same goes for my prototype buddy here...if only he had sent them to me during national "Steal Stuff From Someone That Doesn't Deserve It" week, the stuff would have been mine. He was apparently without a calendar and was concerned it was that week so seemed fairly panicked that I wasn't going to send his stuff back even though I would never consider that. I ran with it and made sure I DIDN'T do anything to reassure him I wasn't a thief.

One of the friends I mentioned the prototypes to was Keith Robinson of the Blue Sky Rangers. I had dropped him a line to see if he knew anything about the two titles. Keith said he already had a copy of Robot Rubble but hadn't heard anything about League of Light and would like to get a copy of it but he wasn't willing to take-out a second mortgage on the house (Keith had seen the Yahoo auction also) for it so he was going to check around with his contacts and see if he could locate one of his own. I mentioned this to our hero and suggested that he offer a copy of League of Light to Keith at a reasonable price (like $150-$200) which would satisfy the BSR's, keep Keith from going out to find more of them, and then he would still be the only one with a copy of League of Light available making it a bit more valuable. This was before I had sent back his stuff though so he tried to pacify me saying that he'd seriously consider the idea but I should just send them back right away because he "misses them".

So I've read-in all the data and I box-up his games and send them back but I forgot to toss-in the CD-ROM with the back-up of the data. When he gets his box back, he goes off on me. Because the CD with the data was not included, I am to delete all the data off of the CD (hello? I didn't think you could delete stuff from a CD-ROM) and destroy any copies of the games I had. Does that mean I have to smash the cartridge I made to play Robot Rubble from? Ummm...I don't think that's going to be happening anytime soon but he did say to delete the files from the CD and the only CD I had was his. Since I couldn't delete them, I had to snap his CD in half to be safe. Hey...I was only doing what I was told to do.

Now he's full-blown into "I have found the Holy Grail" mode and is threatening (yikes!) legal action and everything. He's telling me how I'm just a "baby" because I didn't get what I wanted and that my idea about offering a copy to Keith Robinson at a reasonable price was just my way of trying to kiss Keith's ass to get stuff out of him. He tells me all about how bit-rot is just a line of bull I fed him to get him to send me the carts and how Keith never really had Robot Rubble until I'd sent him the data. If we could go back to the national holiday concept for a moment, the same holds true here. Even though I would have liked to, I said I wouldn't distribute the data and just because the guy is an asshole, that doesn't mean I get to go back on my word. I have the data to several games I've read for archiving purposes that I would like to distribute but I can't because I said I wouldn't. Several of these people are assholes too so let's just hope that we can vote-in a "You don't have to honor promises to morons" day!

The bottom line is that I got exactly what I wanted from him - the data is now preserved! Sure I would have liked a cartridge for my collection, but I can certainly live without it and I'm not going to sell my kids into slavery to get one. I get sick and tired of these people that have no clue what they're talking about telling me I'm wrong. I'm referring to bit-rot here. While I don't want to get too technical, in a nutshell, what it means is that the chips that prototype games are stored on WILL eventually start randomly losing their data. The data is stored on them with an electrical charge and the estimated shelf-life is around 15-20 years. In case you haven't heard, this is 2000 and these games were made in the early 80's. Do the math yourself and get the data backed-up! If you have the means to do it yourself, please do so. If not, I can do it or send them to Santa if you want, just archive the data somewhere it will be safe. When the chips start losing data, your game will no longer work and without a backup, it can't be restored. That prototype you've been hoarding so you can have that warm and fuzzy feeling about being the only one to have a copy will be worth a whopping ZERO!

Anyway, he continued to ramble on about all sorts of other pyscho bullshit. For a while it was amusing but in the end, I had to remind him where his anal cavity is and ask that he deposit the cartridges there. I did, however, flag his eBay account to see what the Master eBay'er did with them. Sure enough...Robot Rubble shows up on eBay a couple weeks later.

Unfortunately, my buddy had a WebTV account and no real means of taking screenshots or scans of the cartridges. He took what looked to be a bad Polaroid of his TV playing Robot Rubble and the same of the cartridge itself. It's too bad, because I have these nice, clean emulator (ding! ding! ding! See...I'm adhering to this issue's theme!) screenshots he could have used. He had no one to vouch for the authenticity of the protos and nobody had ever heard of him so he ended-up getting around $400 for the cart. Not too bad I guess, but I know I could have done better with it.

So what's the moral of the story boys and girls? Well basically, send me all your protos right away! :) Seriously, two things. First, there's absolutely nothing wrong with trying to maximize what you can get for your stuff, but use your head. I don't do baseball cards at all and I have no real contact with that "world". BUT if I found a rookie Nolan Ryan, I'd certainly enlist the help of someone that knows more about that stuff than I do to help me in doing the best I can with it and I wouldn't mind at all sharing the loot with them. Second, get your protos backed-up - NOW! I'm just waiting for the day that I get an email from the guy that's had this prototype sitting in a little glass case for all the world to see how cool he/she is and one day they decide to put on the white gloves and plug that puppy in and it doesn't work. Then they'll come crying to me to fix it.'s toast and there's nothing that can be done to bring it back from the dead.

One last word about my prototype buddy before I go. As much as I hate to admit it, the stuff he has is real and you'll undoubtedly see more from him on eBay in the future. He does have more than one copy of each of the unreleased titles so there's no need to get real crazy with them as he'll surely be selling the others as well.

Last but not least, go read the Classic Gaming Expo ad in this issue. The dates for the show have been set and it's going to be a blast! Most all of the DP staff will be there and if you missed it last year because (sniff sniff) Las Vegas is too far away or (boo hoo) it's too expensive or (wimper wimper) this hobby isn't supposed to be "commercial". Get a life, save up your pennies, and get your ass out to Vegas this July! Classic Gaming Expo is EXACTLY what this hobby is all about - getting in touch with people just like you. There is no other place on the planet where you will find a larger gathering of people that are into the exact same thing as you!

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