In May 2008, mrmark0673 found a working prototype of Hoppin Mad, an unreleased NES game developed by Elite. The game was previously unknown to the public and when it was found, the NES community was really happy to check all the infos and screens that were freely shared online by its new owner. We had a little interview with Mr. Mark, to talk about Hoppin Mad, the preservation of unseen games, the delicate relationship between collectors / developers / gaming community, the future release of the game and some of his personal tastes.
U64: Thanks for your time Mark! Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers? :)
Mark: Thanks for having me, it’s great to be able to share info with such a great group of people. My name is Mark and I’m 24 years old. I live with my twin brother just outside of Boston and I currently work as a 7th grade Science teacher.
U64: Can you tell us a little bit about the Hoppin Mad prototype and how you found it?
Mark: I’d love to! I’ve been collecting for the NES for some time now (around 5 years), and I’ve always been interested in prototypes and unreleased games. Although my brother does not collect for the NES himself, he is a huge part of my collection and is constantly on the lookout for games I need or cool NES related items. He was browsing Ebay one day and came across an auction in the vintage games section that read, “DESIGNERS MASTER PROGRAM-NES-RARE!!! HOPPIN’ MAD L@@K!!” . It didn’t take long for him to realize that this was the real deal. I contacted the seller and we exchanged a few phone calls before striking a deal. The most nerve racking part was the game was completely untested and it was purchased as is. After getting the cart in and testing it, taking that shot in the dark turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
The game is a fun little title that was released on the C64 and other computer systems of the time period. You control a group of 4 balls as the screen automatically scrolls from right to left. You must avoid obstacles that can pop your balls while collecting 10 balloons to complete the level.
U64: Have you found any other beta / cancelled game?
Mark: I like collecting prototypes when I can, but I don’t have many. I have about a dozen total, 3 of them are unreleased, although one is not currently working. I recently picked up a 3.5” floppy disc containing the ROM files for an unreleased Genesis game titled Kartoon Kombat. Unfortunately, part of the file is corrupted and the ROM is completely unusable. I currently have the disc at a PC repair shop who is attempting to recover the game, but I’m doubtful. A friend of mine was able to recover some text from the game (including the fighting locations, the character names, and the character bios), so it wasn’t a total loss. I recently acquired a high profile unreleased NES game that I’d love to share more details about, but that will be just a little further down the road ;)
U64: In the October 2008 issue of Nintendo Age’s E-Zine, you wrote an interesting article about the delicate relationship that exist between a prototype, the collector that found it, the community of fans that would like to play it, the need to preserve that game from being lost forever and the rights of the original developers. After some time and the discussion in the NA Forum, did you find an answer to your questions? How to balance this relationship? Who really own the rights of a prototype: the collector, the original developers or the entire community?
Mark: I’m still having a tough time with the ethics behind a release, but collectors definitely gave me their thoughts on what they though should/shouldn’t be done. I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I think a release of the game is hands down the right choice. There are only so many games for the NES and there are some die hard fans of the system, it would be nice if I could give them a new game to play on their favorite hardware.
As far as rights of the original programmers, I think there are certain things that should be done to give them credit for their hard work. I would love to include the names of the original programmers so they get credit for all their hard work that they put into the game. The programmers involved in creating Hoppin’ Mad are no longer working for the company, so for me to ask permission to release this game from the parent company doesn’t really sit well with me either.
Preservation is probably the most important aspect of the release. Hoppin’ Mad was an entirely unknown title and sat in a storgae space for nearly 20 years before I got a hold of it. Who knows what else is going to be uncovered or what titles have already been lost forever due to bit rot or being thrown away. I think just getting the game out there for the historical relevance is reason enough to release the game.
Another reason I’d really like the game released is because of how enjoyable it really is. It’s definitely a nice title to pop into the NES and I’d like nothing more than for other members of the gaming community to be able to enjoy it.
As to who owns the rights to the prototype, I don’t know if I’ll ever get an exact answer. Part of me says it belongs to me, I’m the one who spent hundreds or more on it. That being said, it’s the programmers that made the game in the first place and put in the time to program it, shouldn’t it belong to them? That being said, if they cared about it so much why would it be sitting in a storage container for 20 years before I got a hold of it, wouldn’t it be better served to be part of the community? Well why would the community deserve it? If they wanted it so badly they should have grouped together and spent the money on it in the first place! You see how many points there are? I think they’re all reasonable and I can understand everyone’s points, I don’t think that I can say who should own the game. I can say that I think I know who will appreciate the game the most, and that is without a doubt the community. Ultimately, that is what helped to make my final decision.
U64: Will Hoppin Mad be released sooner or later?
Mark: Hopefully sooner :) I’ve put together a team of very talented people that are working to help me get the game to the public. One of the members of the team is one of the most talented NES programmers I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with and he is taking a close look at the code before we finalize plans for release. We don’t have a tentative release date planned, but you can bet safely that it will be released before the end of this year.
U64: Why and how should a collector release their prototypes to the gaming community?
Mark: Tough question. As to why the games should be released, I think it’s for the love of the hobby and the joy of NES gaming. To be able to give the community a game they have never played or seen is one of those things that keep the hobby going. In regards to how it should be released, I love the reproduction approach. Sure the game can be played on an emulator, but where is the fun in that? Personally, I don’t emulate games at all because it just doesn’t give me the feel that gaming on the actual hardware does. To put the game on a cart and in a nice package does it justice, almost giving it it’s long deserved official debut.
U64: Even if there are some legal, personal or ethical reasons behind the decision to not release a prototype, do you think that there could be any similar reasons why a collector would not share screens or videos from a prototype, to preserve somehow its existence?
Mark: Oh, absolutely. There is some mysterious aspect to protos of unreleased games that really make them something special. Once those games are dumped and released, they lose that little extra appeal that is hard to match in this hobby. They also tend to drop drastically in value, and that is something that many prototype collectors are very aware of. Would you rather own an unreleased proto of the California Raisins that had open offers of over $2,000, or the dumped version that sold for a mere $500? I for one don’t really care about the “value” of the actual cartridge as I have no intentions of selling any of the protos I own, so the concept is totally irrelevant to me.
Regardless of whether a collector decides on dumping and releasing their game or not, I really wish that more would back up their games for at least their own records. Take Kartoon Kombat for example. If it were backed up 14 years ago, I’d be able to give you a lot more information on the title, but in its current state, it appears as though it serves no purpose to both gamers and collectors. That to me is just devastating and a real tragedy when it comes to the history and preservatin of games.
U64: Do you have any favorite “cancelled game”?
Mark: I would love to one day be able to say that I’ve played Bio Force Ape. When it comes to unreleased games, that one has to be my number one most wanted. I love playing the unreleased games that get leaked out to the public too. As far as cancelled but eventually released games, I thought Happy Camper was a decent title, especially considering it was a cancelled Color Dreams game. I was actually the first gamer to complete the game after receiving a copy, confirming that the game could officially be beaten!
U64: What are some of your favorite released games?
Mark: Hands down my favorite game ever is Mega Man 2. I have so many great memories of playing it with my brother and father growing up and it is the main reason I began collecting for the system. It was the first game I ever beat and it’s definitely a game that will always get some time on my system. Mega Man 2 also started my prototype collecting as it was the first I purchased. It doesn’t have many differences, but it does have some neat text changes. My favorite difference is the name “Clash Man” instead of “Crash Man”.
I’m also a big fan of pretty much any other game that Capcom put out for the NES, they’re really had a great thing going back then.
U64: Where do you usually find prototypes? Ebay? Obscure gaming shops? Flea markets?
Mark: I’ve found prototypes on Ebay, purchased them on forums, and also through private collectors. It’s a tough part of the hobby because it takes a little more leg work to secure prototypes. Unless you’re living in Washington (home of Nintendo’s North American head quarters), I think you’ll have a near impossible time securing more that a few protos at flea markets or the like. There are some high profile collectors that will sell off pieces of their collection for the right price, it just depends on whether or not you’re willing to hand out that kind of cash.
U64: How do you see the scene behind beta/canceled games, their collectors and their fans? Do you think that all the various “unseen gaming communities” are doing a good job to preserve those games that could be lost forever?
Mark: I think most are doing a good job. There are a few very dedicated people out there that have spent many hours (and dollars) doing everything they can to preserve those unreleased titles. Many get a bad rap for being in it for the wrong reasons, be it money, recognition, or other, but most of them seem to be in it ofr the right reasons. Not everyone is going to see eye to eye on the subject and I think the biggest thing is respecting other people’s choices as to what they decide to do with their games.
U64: Which is your favorite food?
Mark: If I had only one thing that I could eat for the rest of my life, I’d have to go with a bacon double cheeseburger, a side of fries, and an ice cold beer.
U64: What do you think about U64? How could we improve the current Unseen Archive?
Mark: When I stumbled across your site, I was incredibly impressed. There have been a few sites dedicated to unreleased games, but very few put together such a polished final product as U64. What’s even more impressive, in my opinion, is the fact that you all can deliver such a product in 2 different languages. It’s a great site and I think you all just need to keep up the good work!
U64: Well, that was the last question, thanks again for your time! Do you want to add something? :)
Mark: It’s been great and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about the game. The group of people that I’m working with, From Nowhere Productions, is in the process of brining a few more unreleased games to the community. Keep an eye out for our releases and I’ll keep you posted on a release date for Hoppin’ Mad!