Continuing our trip through the various websites and communities related to beta & cancelled games, this time we had the chance to make some questions to Frank Gasking, main webmaster of Games That Weren’t. As always, in this new Unseen Interview we’ll try to better understand who are these lovely geeks that work under the site, to talk about the story of GTW, the unseen gaming world, digital preservation and to discover some of their personal tastes.
U64: Thanks for your time Frank! Would you like to introduce yourself and your site to our readers?
Frank: Hi there – I’m Frank Gasking – 27yrs old and from England. During the day i’m a web developer, and outside of work i’m a retro gaming enthusiast with a particular interest in the Vic 20 and C64 platforms, as well as games that never saw the light of day.
Our site “Games That Weren’t” is a project dedicated to documenting and finding lost/unreleased games which have been subject to mystery for many years across many platforms. Our main site covers news across all platforms, then breaks down into sister projects that focus primarily on a particular system (My own personal focus being the Commodore 64 platform). The current sister sites we have specifically cover the C64, Amiga, PC and 3DO platforms. This year the project is 10 years old, and started out originally as a C64 specific article for Commodore Zone fanzine.
U64: The GTW site organization is in sub-categories, each one with its own webmaster, it’s probably a great way to have more and better content for every section, as each editor can concentrate to work on his specific platform: how did this kind of organization start?
Frank: Well, it wasn’t really planned like this from the start – things kind of organically grew! :-) . Initially the project started out as C64 specific, with myself running it – when others started asking why I didn’t cover other platforms. I explained to people that I didn’t have time to cover many different platforms at once in full detail, but I would be happy for people to join our setup and do their own mirror websites. Timo Weirich was the first to offer to set up a sister site in the shape and form of PCGTW. Shortly after I had Adrian Simpson offer his services to maintain an Amiga site. It was from this point I realised that we had all these little sub sites and needed to gel things together… so we built the main Games That Weren’t site to report on the project as a whole, but also start reporting across many platforms of anything we found or what others were finding across the globe (Like yourself at U64!).
Now we are always looking to get the project expanded out into specific platforms such as the NES, Spectrum, Amstrad etc with hopefully the sister sites we currently have set up being good evidence of the benefits a platform specific sub site can have with concentration focused on that one platform. However, we need dedicated people who are willing to give up a chunk of their free time to something like this! … which is especially hard when you have a family! :-)
U64: How were you able to collect such an huge collection of lost Commodore 64 games?
Frank: Initially after reading a lost game article in an old C64 magazine many years ago, when discussing one particular game from that article called “Gauntlet 3” (which didn’t get a proper release), a friend told me they had the full game cracked on a disk! – Somehow it sneaked out, which facinated me. It was then I started asking friends and contacts if they had various games that never got released, and I started recieving little previews and bits and pieces from them on disk where they had something. At first this was for my own personal collection, but once the Internet came into the house and I started dabbling with HTML for the first time, I set up a very simple website that had a selection of pages on unreleased C64 games under the “Games That Weren’t” header. I added what I had, but also started searching all the FTP websites and came across hundreds of previews and games which never saw the light of day. So this got us started for the project with plenty to read and be able to also download!
It was when we started getting a good web presence, we started getting developers coming forward with their lost wares and also we started to locate developers ourselves and loan their workdisks to port across and back software up. And its spiralled from there really, and now we get a good flow of findings each year.
U64: Why do you think that it’s so interesting to read about cancelled games? Could it be because of our natural human curiosity about the unknown?
Frank: I’m not sure – I think it is different for everyone. For some people it is about finding some new software for their machine, for others it is about the curiousity as you say. Many of us grew up looking at various games magazines and spotted/remember various titles which got preview screenshots plastered across a few issues, but then mysteriously never showed up. We all played the 1 level demo of a fantastic game on a magazine’s covermount and wanted more, but never got it because either the publisher went bust or the market had dried up by that point.
For me personally, I wanted to see or just try and find out what actually happened to these promising games and actually see if there was more to the various previews/screenshots we originally saw. Could “Game X” have been the best game ever seen that never got played?… We wouldn’t know until we found the thing! thats part of the fun and also the hunt itself is exciting. However, occasionally those superb screenshots turn out to play like a brick – which deflates people’s expectations of some titles (I refer in particular to the C64 title “Tyger Tyger” that we recovered…).
The other more geeky aspect for me is the preservation side of things … i’m a huge supporter of digital preservation, especially with deterioating media out there. I help out a lot in trying to preserve C64 software that hasn’t been digitally backed up for the likes of “Gamebase 64”, as well as .SID tunes for HVSC… GTW is another aspect of my personal quest to help digital preservation, on the side of unreleased/incomplete games.
U64: To preserve unseen games that could be lost forever is just a minor side-interest of our gaming hobby, or should there be more “deeper” reasons to archive this kind of rejected digital-entertainment?
Frank: It’s certainly a hobby first and foremost, but the deeper reason is as mentioned above being a case of digital preservation which I feel is very important. Soon a lot of the software on old media will disappear, and if we don’t back it up, then its gone for good. It doesn’t get much deeper than this though (At least for us), and although it sounds like a desperate race against time, one reason for us is that its fun and exciting to uncover something that has been lost for 20 odd years (Kind of like digging for treasure).
U64: Which is your favorite “cancelled game” and why?
Frank: It has to be the mostly unknown “Spellcast” on the C64 that was created by the team behind the C64’s ‘CJ’s Elephant Antics’ and ‘Spike in Transylvania’ titles. I mention this game to death to a lot of people, but it’s got a certain charm about it. Maybe there is an element of “rose tinted-ness” in my views, but sod it!.. :-)
The game is kind of a Castlevania and Ghosts and Goblins type affair with a distinct NES-like feel to it. It was one of the earliest unreleased games that I encountered back when it was released on UK magazine Zzap 64’s covermount. They mentioned at the time that the developers were giving the preview away as the game was no longer being worked on – and after playing it, I was very sad to hear that. I’m still hopeful that the developer has an extra level or two locked away!
U64: What are some of your favorite released games?
Frank: Well primarily i’ve grown up with the C64 and continue to work within its scene, so some of my favourites on this platform include Midnight Resistance, Blue Max, Ikari Warriors and The Sentinel. Going further backwards in time I love Millipede, Battlezone, Combat, Yars Revenge and Missile Command on the VCS – Then Jet Pac, RIP, 3D Silicon Fish on the Vic 20.
I do play modern games, but in recent times i’ve just felt very empty inside playing a lot of the modern titles, but however I love playing the Burnout series, the Pro Evo series (Though sadly I had to deflect to Fifa 09 this year!), the awesome Braid on the 360 Arcade and Geometry Wars 2 Evolved. Due to family life and running GTW, I cannot submerge myself into something as demanding as Grand Theft Auto 4 or Fallout 3, and the likes of Burnout Paradise was hard to play because of its sheer scale/things to do. Ironically being into Retro games offers a perfect antidote to this problem as so many of them are quick to pick up and play at any time.
U64: How do you see the issues about preserving, sharing and downloading cancelled games? Even if they were never officially available in shops, often there are still legal / copyright problems around them.
Frank: It’s a bit of a minefield, and you have to be careful. Our own approach is to try and get permission before we release something to the world, but if we cannot find the developer… we generally release and have a note on the website that we will remove anything that developers do not want up on the site. However, we’ve only had to ever do this once so far.
I’m very respectful to developers who do not wish for something to be released. That respect in turn has earnt us a lot of trust with developers and often opens up other channels of findings. If we broke trust with everyone, then no-one would end up talking to us :-)
Additionally – some people probably have a bit more balls than I do to release everything – i’m just a little bit wary!
U64: Which is your favourite food?
Frank: I’ve got odd tastes, but I really like classic British dishes like Liver and Onions, Toad in the Hole… all things that I grew up with as a kid. Recently i’ve taken to eating Chilli Con Carni with rice, nachos, cheese and soured cream, washed down with a good pint of Guinness (Which actually is also a must have drink with Liver and Onions… just to overdose on the Iron intake).
U64: As you wrote in GTW’s About section, there are just too many cancelled games to cover and it’s not an easy job to store all this stuff: do you think that in the future it could be possible for the various “unseen-gaming” websites and their respective communities to work all together in a big “network” to research, analyze and preserving lost games?
Frank: Certainly – and I hope thats kind of what we are doing already in some way – if albeit in a limited form. It’s almost impossible for one individual project to cover everything, so luckily there are many of us projects doing the work in different ways and sharing the load. As well as our own findings/work, GTW report’s news from around the prototype/unreleased communities such as Unseen 64, Lost Levels, Atari Protos (and many others). All of you guys do a superb job and cover a lot of areas which we possibly couldn’t – so when we can we post the odd bit of news to say whats been going on across your websites as well as our own work.
U64: What do you think about U64? How could we improve the current Unseen Archive?
Frank: Unseen 64 is one of the most active sites in the field and it impresses me a lot with the frequency of updates and content that you report and uncover. There are always improvements that could be made to any prototype/unreleased games site (GTW included!… GTW64 more so!). I think what you guys have works very well – and the site does what it intends very well.
One general thought on the subject is that instead of trying to improve any aspects of a website, I feel its crucial that the main focus is kept with the finding/preserving software. It’s the dichotomy that we are facing … GTW64 is in a 5-7 year old template which is broken in many areas and needs upgrading, but the time spent doing all of this in limited free time could be argubly better spent on finding more lost C64 games for instance. If Unseen 64 does strive to improve its website, then thats great, but make sure you keep up the great findings and updates at the same time! :-)
U64: Well, that was the last question, thanks again for your time! Do you want to add something? :)
Frank: No problem! … This is probably the point where I should say something clever, but then i’m not a very clever person… so I wont.. ;-) Keep up the great work guys and looking forward to your future findings!
U64: We’ll try our best!