In this new chapter of our “Unseen Interviews”, a series of articles arranged to know better some of the other websites and lovely geeks that work to preserve unseen games, we have meet Phugolz, one of the minds that are behind X-Cult, a community based project to research, archive, and distribute hard to come by gaming information. In this interview we talked about how their site was born, the preservation of cancelled games, copyright issues, information sharing, proto collectors, gaming developers… and some questions to find out Phugolz’s taste in games and food. Do you want to know more about the X-Cult philosophy? Keep reading!
U64: Thanks for your time Phugolz! Would you like to introduce yourself and your site to our readers?
Phugolz: I am Phugolz / PACHUKA / RealaNightmaren from X-Cult, and half a dozen other cults.
U64: Why did you choose the “Sonic-Cult” / “X-Cult” name for the site?
Phugolz: The whole Cult concept began in 1997 with a site called EmuCult. Back in those days every site regarding emulation was emu-something. My best friend and I started it as a place to host our ROM hacks, and it kinda took off from there. I’ve always felt the Cult was just continued from it’s last version. The spirit of the Cult hasn’t changed at all since it’s original form though, we’ve always been a group devoted to challenging the people’s ideas and distributing information.
U64: There are many people interested in hacking games in the X-Cult community, as we can see from the “Haus of Hacking” section in your forum: if someone would like to learn how to “hack” games to find unused / beta content, from where should they start? It’s there some sort of manual or website about how to hack games?
Phugolz: best way to learn is trial and error. When I started hacking games back in 97 there wasn’t much documentation. So it was a lot of hassle. These days if you’re interested in learning all you have to do is try, and read up.
U64: Why do you think it’s important to preserve lost games and why are we so much interested in them?
Phugolz: I think it’s a passion for a lot of people. Just like books, music, television, and movies, video games are an entertainment platform. It’s a distraction from reality which gives a person a type of emotional response. Since it’s a newer platform of entertainment, we have the ability to document it from day one, so the future can know the roots of where games started.
There was a classic black and white television station in America called the Dumont network. When it was bought up, and it’s intellectual property became someone elses, a large amount of the archives were destroyed. The Wizard of Oz even has lost scenes (Some of which are on youtube) that show cut songs and dance numbers. Being able to see how an artwork was formed gives a person more of a connection to it.
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.
Phugolz: Copyrights and such are a vague thing. When I got into emulation in 1997, I was amazed I could download a Super Nintendo game in ten minutes and play it at almost full speed on my PC. ROM sites were plenty, and unorganized. You could spend hours browsing rom site after rom site looking for one game. Then the IDSA came through with their intimidation tactics and attacked large scale hosts and free hosts to remove rom sites, and even went after a few emulator authors. Even large emulation sites were swamped with cease and desist letters. This was just around the time that companies like Sega and a few others realized the ease they could port stuff via emulation. So they began selling and repackaging their stuff until you wanted to vomit and run.
Nowadays you have No-Intro, and to a lesser degree Goodtools to package everything up and torrents to grab them. The IDSA has grown into some other digital rights monster, and hosts have more backbone. It’s kind of like tug-of-war with legal issues. Personally, I don’t care. I don’t draw the line at a certain system, release date, or availability. Piracy is piracy, and I very rarely download games to -play-. I usually have some curiosity. However, this isn’t a new problem, people used to sell bootleg Commadore64 games at flea markets when I was a kid. And on those 5 1/2 inch floppy disks. 170kb of space. Nowadays if your bandwidth drops under 170kbps it’s cause to complain.
U64: How do you see 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. Who really own the rights of a prototype: the collector, the original developers or the entire community?
Phugolz: Developer owns it, bottom line. Collectors only own stolen copies. Any pre-release data that is under a copyright belongs to the developer and is illegal. When the Beatles were recording, sometimes their stuff ended up getting bootlegged and leaked. Now, even if the person who bought the early bootleg buys the final record, it’s still illegal. However, someday no one will own any of this stuff. A large number of houses shut down, developers go belly up, (Thank god in the case of LJN and Color Dreams) and property is bought up. Like the recent events with Duke Nukem Forever. Now they have to sell the name and rights to the game to foot the bills. Am I going to have any ethical dilemma downloading the unreleased product? Not in the slightest.
U64: Do you think that could be possible to collaborate directly with the various developers / software houses to convince them that it’s important to preserve some documents of their game’s developments? Sadly videogames are still often seen as a “toy” and not a work of art, so it could be difficult to convince people that there need to be a proper archive for the gaming media.
Phugolz: Well, some do, some don’t. Plus some developers demand the destruction of said documents and art. But there seems to be an ongoing theme of extra “making of” features in games.
U64: How do you see the current economic crisis? More and more developers are going to shut down and with them all of their never-released games that could be lost forever if no one cares to preserve them somehow. In that case, maybe only “hardcore collectors” could be able to buy out some assets from those closing companies and save them in their collections.
Phugolz: I’m aware of some collectors who buy up massive amounts of close out materials. It happens. I’m sure with time it’ll be sold piece by piece or released. I just wish it wasn’t such a no-no to ask for such things.
U64: How was to be a game tester for Sega? Do they have any kind of “security system” to avoid beta-leaks?
Phugolz: Being a tester was a lot of fun, but it is a lot of work as well. Plus it’s contract based employment, and very repetitive. I actually tested first at the company 3DO, makers of the Army Men series. If you thought those games were bad when released, you should see them in development. But 3DO’s security was outstanding. Sega was sloppy, and during my time there I could have walked away with any number of development systems, including Dreamcast. The 1991 game of the year award issued to them from GamePro for Sonic The Hedgehog sat on a shelf covered in dust. There were countless burned gd-roms (Some of which I did snag) everywhere, and one of the receiving clerk’s offices had a plastic shell of an unmade console (from around the Saturn Era). At one point I held a CD-Rom with the source codes of Ecco the Dolphin, Sonic Spinball, Golden Axe, and Crazy Taxi. It was some of the sloppiest security I’ve ever seen, but this was also in the transition of going from the Dreamcast to 3Rd Party development.
U64: Which is your favorite “cancelled game” and why?
Phugolz: At the moment I’ve been loving the hell out of Red Star on Xbox. It was released on PS2, and went directly to bargain bin. So if you want a good game to try out that’s cheap, get it. If it’s a game that’s completely unreleased I’d have to say Sonic Crackers. Even if it eventually turned into Chaotix, it was dumped in an era when emulation of the Genesis / Megadrive was new, and I was a huge Sonic fan.
U64: Indeed, The Red Star is awesome, especially in Co-op. Luckily it was released so we can appreciate it! But a lot of time, when a previusly-unreleased game gets leaked somehow, we find out that it was not that much fun to begin with. Do you think that we should care if a “bad game” gets cancelled?
Phugolz: Of course. Bad games are games non the less. 3DO released countless turds when I was working there. However, just prior to the company dying off there was an amazing tech demo they built with robots and monsters fighting through cities. It was AMAZING. But bad games pave the way for better ideas.
U64: Could it have been Big Freakin Monsters? Do you have any idea what happened to that tech demo and what it was about?
Phugolz: Oh my god! That’s the game all right! I had no idea you had pix of it. I hope someday it gets leaked.
U64: What are some of your favorite released games?
Phugolz: God, this one could go on forever, but limiting to my top ten, in no real order: NES: Zelda 2 – the Adventure of Link, (Yes, I loved it!) N64: Zelda – Majora’s Mask, Gamecube: Lego Star Wars, Sega Megadrive: Puyo Puyo, Sega CD: Popful Mail, Dreamcast: Shenmue, PS2: Grand Theft Auto – Vice City, Gameboy: Super Mario Land 2, Gamecube: Pikmin, Arcade: Donkey Kong Jr., Colecovision: Smurfs, Atari 2600: Jungle Hunt, Sega CD: Sonic CD, Sega Saturn: Sonic R
U64: The X-Cult mission to preserve as much obscure information as possible, could pass through absorb documents found on other websites, but while some are pleased to share their content so that it’s preserved in more than one place, other are not so happy to see their stuff archived without credit. How do you manage the arguments with other website owners and how do you see the “ownership of information”?
Phugolz: Ownership of information is retarded. It is literally impossible to contain information. It is something that belongs to anyone willing to listen or read. The only reason people watermark, complain, or battle this point is the simple need for attention. Somehow their mission is self fufillment, and I wasn’t put on this earth to stroke the sensitive egos of people who weren’t hugged enough as kids.
U64: Which is your favourite food?
Phugolz: Liverwurst and Marijuana.
U64: Did you ever receive any information, screens or videos about an unseen game that you could not share with the public?
Phugolz: I have had one or two times were I’ve had access to something and couldn’t share it for one reason or another, but usually in the long run I give in. One time, years ago, a good friend of mine hooked me up with a prototype copy of Sonic Advance 3 while it was in development. I uploaded it to the Cult, and shared it with some of my closer friends, who went nuts telling everyone. I felt terrible. So I learned the lesson, if you can’t distribute something, don’t even mention it.
U64: So, do you think that could be a good idea to hide a “delicate” info / proto untill it could be safe to publically share and preserve it with the community? And if so, how to be sure that it’s not going to be lost in the case we “forget” to share it?
Phugolz: I think every prototype of any format should be digitally backed up as soon as humanly possible. It should be put on a safe data format, and moved to new formats as they are created. If there’s no plan to release it, multiple copies should be made.
U64: Do you back-up all the X-Cult archive offline? What could happen if the site explodes?
Phugolz: Yeah, our server admin Sazpaimon does a really good job backing the site up regularly
U64: Should we try to save screens, infos and videos in other forms than the digital one? I mean, to print screenshots and infos on paper, record videos on analogic VHS or something like that..
Phugolz: It couldn’t hurt, however digital is the best format due to it not degrading with time.
U64: What do you think about U64? How could we improve the current Unseen Archive?
Phugolz: Honestly, I love U64. It’s an honest project, and a labor of love. You’re not in it to gain attention, you don’t water mark, and you’re basically some of the nicest people I’ve met on the internet. Plus you do more article type stuff then we do. You make outline observations, we kind of say “LOOK IT’S BLUE HERE BUT IN THE FINAL IT’S RED.” If I was to compare X-Cult to U64, I’d have to say U64 is like a fully written essay, proofread and spellchecked. X-Cult is like a yellow tablet of paper with loose notes and scribbled drawings of dinosaurs with huge penises. If I were to make any suggestion, it would have to be bring back that old yellow and blue design. I don’t know what it was about that, but I loved that design.
U64: ahah, you are not the only one that was affected to that weird yellow / blue design. It was just ramdomly created and chosed, but it had its charm somehow. Well, that was the last question, thanks again for your time Phugolz! Do you want to add something? :)
Phugolz: nah, I think we’re cool! ;)