Best of The Escapist

Best of The Escapist
Obscurity Below the Radar

John Szczepaniak | 16 May 2006 12:08
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But Japan is still Mecca, with Yahoo! Japan closely monitored by the influential seeking precious goods. But not everything is so easy, one Mr. Kyu from Massachusetts reveals, "You think just any Japanese collector knows about this stuff? Rare in Japan means business, there are specific 'people' to go through." Duly proven to me when investigating the upper echelons of the collector fraternities in Japan; virtually impenetrable due to the language barrier and sense of security. You need connections to move in their world, and sometimes it takes upwards of 10 years to convince and gain the trust of such recluses. People like ASSEMbler simultaneously own both a home in the U.S. and an apartment in Japan to further such activities.

Luckily a few generous people, such as Mr. L, enjoy buying prototypes purely in order to release them to the community. One such (unsuccessful) attempt was Ochouchi Gengorou Ikka on the N64, selling online for $500. The idea was to fund its release, rather than it disappearing into a collector's hands. Mr. L was eager to speak on such matters, "It's a chance to play stuff that most will never see. Smaller items can cost a few hundred, but purchases can often be in the thousands. Usually it takes a lot of time to acquire items - 6 to 12 months easily, some things take years to surface. Companies should provide more information, instead of leaving it to flimsy press releases, leaked documents and speculation - it would help clear up the facts and paint a better picture of gaming history." So popular is his generosity, there is constant discussion as to which title should be pursued next. Long may he succeed.

But many people abhor public releases, complaining it devalues things, and with CD media, allows people to sell duplications for profit. ASSEMbler is more concerned about the legal implications, "Software allows reverse engineering, and potentially, piracy. Everyone remembers the damage done by the code that became Dreamcast boot CDs. It would be foolish to openly distribute software for dev kits. I don't know if you have ever been sued [or] threatened with legal action, but it's expensive and not fun."

I also spoke to the legendary Lost Levels founder and all around nice guy, Frank Cifaldi, about the reluctance to release publicly. "A lot of people have this elitist need to be the only person able to play a game, some have this weird belief that holding on to a one-of-a-kind game gives it 'legendary' status and makes it more 'historically valuable' than it would be if [publicly available], and still others just mouth off about how much they paid for the damned things. No one but the game's copyright holder is entitled to have a game never sold at retail level. The rest of us either rely on the kindness of strangers, or spend a hell of a lot of money dealing on the black market. To me, once I'm over the excitement of being Indiana Jones and discovering something special and new, I specifically want to see how other people react to it. Seeing people actively playing and discussing the game I found is much more gratifying to me than being able to brag about having something."

There have been two very big events in recent months. The first is that a short playable Saturn demo of Sonic Xtreme surfaced, the seller being an employee of Sega. It was done via proxy with the final bid coming at a cheap $2,500, though only after a rather unpleasant fiasco involving betrayal and vindictive revenge. The community was shaken to its core. Thankfully, when the dust cleared, ASSEMbler assured us it was in the safe hands of a trusted collector. A piece of history was saved, though people wept because it wouldn't be publicly released.

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