Here's a story that shows just how difficult the work of videogame preservationists can be. Forest of Illusion, a group of at least two people in the scene (togemet2 and Marionova64 on Twitter), often finds prototype videogame cartridges from various sources, then dumps the data online to preserve pieces of gaming history.
One of the latest pieces these folks found was a Nintendo 64 prototype cartridge housing a build of F-Zero X. But there was a little surprise buried in the data as well. While the date hasn't been confirmed for certain yet, Forest of Illusion also found data for a The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time build.
This data is incomplete, and not all of it was recoverable. However the cart has been dumped and individuals have been extracting models, textures, and more.
Presumed Space World 97 Ocarina of Time Data Discovered on Prototype F-Zero-X Cart
Currently, this Ocarina of Time build is estimated to be what Nintendo showed off at its annual Space World event in 1997. If you don't know or remember, Space World was a trade show Nintendo ran for its products, often breaking more exciting news there instead of at E3.
Spaceworld was retired after 2001, making content that was shown off at these events that much more enticing for gaming historians. 1997 in particular was a big deal, as that's when the show officially took the Spaceworld branding label, changing it from "Shoshinkai."
This would be the first event to have Ocarina of Time code running at the show, with previous years having only taped footage or tech demonstrations. Obviously we don't know for sure yet, but considering the game was released in 1998, it's pretty good estimation.
We have a prototype Nintendo 64 cartridge of F-Zero X that contained data from an early build of Zelda 64 that used to be on the cartridge. We're estimating it's from Spaceworld 1997. We're going to look into this more. Of course everything will be released. pic.twitter.com/Q5SoAbsdWM— Forest of Illusion (@forestillusion) January 19, 2021
The F-Zero X part of this is more than just a funny misdirection on what many people may have found more interesting. It's also emblematic of how tough this work is. This Zelda data was a bunch of content buried under what was actually running on the cart, a different game entirely.
Many of these Nintendo 64 prototype carts were often disassembled and rewritten, some of them even being held together with tape rather than screws. Barely recoverable Ocarina of Time assets being tucked away in a disparate prototype shows just how little internal preservation was considered in those days.
It's an example of how original game code and assets can be "lost," and lead to things like Kingdom Hearts' HD release having to be more or less reverse-engineered without source code.
You can check out Forest of Illusion on Twitter to see examples of the data dumped from the cartridge, and a link to download the dump (and other previous findings) on their website. Space World 97 was also famous for having a super early prototype of Pokemon Gold and Silver on the floor, data which has been out in the wild for a while now.
Historical preservation isn't something every gamer cares deeply about, but for those who do, this is a pretty amazing find. And it wasn't even obtained by dubious means!
What say you, readers? Is this a pretty cool find? Do you think companies should be more aggressive about preserving their teams' work? Let us know over at the Prima Games Facebook and Twitter channels!