Continuing our extreme bias toward the Nintendo Entertainment System, this time around we’re spotlighting American Technos’ Block Out, based on the arcade game of the same name (which, itself, was based on a PC game).
The Lost Levels pirate crew and I launched our first features on this website exactly ten years ago today*, believe it or not (I hardly do).
We debuted at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, where we had a gigantic booth allowing people to play some of the unreleased games we’d acquired over the years — stuff like Sunman and California Raisins — before they were available online. I wore a cape for no reason, drank too much, and ended up meeting people I became close to over the next decade. One of them is my boss now!
It’s been a strange few years. Because of this website I found myself stumbling into the video game industry, first as a journalist, then as a publisher, then as a journalist again, and now as a bonafide video game developer. I know what goes into the sausage now, which gives me a weird new perspective on unreleased games. I’ve even had a game canceled on me! It was going to be great, too!
I’ve done a lot in the last decade, games-wise. I’ve written some articles I’m proud of, been given the keys to websites like Gamasutra and 1UP, met most of my game design heroes, worked with The Smithsonian AND The Library of Congress to further game preservation, and made a lot of lifelong friends along the way. But to be honest, this dormant, ugly, ignored child of mine that is Lost Levels is what I’m most proud of. When people refer to me (still!) as The Lost Levels Guy, I beam. This website may not have lived up to the potential I saw for it but, damn it, we started the conversation. We really got people thinking about how important it is to save these games while we still can, and maybe that was enough.
We’ve got a new article for you today, one that I couldn’t be happier to finally get around to publishing on our anniversary: the story behind Tengen’s Hard Drivin’ for the NES.
And yes, there’s a demo to download and play with. Have fun.
See you in another ten.
*And by today I suppose I mean yesterday, according to the timestamp. It’s still August 1 as I write this, though!
That spike in traffic can only mean one thing: someone really cool (or at least popular) has linked to us. In this case, it was Simon Parkin’s excellent article on Desert Bus, the parody mini-game that would have been a part of Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors for the Sega CD, 3DO and PC.
I played a pretty miniscule role in the story of the game’s transformation from a canceled project few remembered into something that has earned over a million dollars for charity, so I’m always flattered when I’m recognized as a part of it — even if the part I played was “guy who torrented it on the internet.”
That said, the only reason I had the opportunity to do so — perhaps the only reason the game is playable at all — is because people believe in what we’re doing and offer their help. The history of video games is still young and fragile enough that we’re losing valuable documentation, oral history and, yes, entire games because there are so few of us around being watch dogs and making sure this stuff is safe and accessible 100 years from now.
Smoke and Mirrors is a rare exception among unpublished games in that it is immediately accessible and interesting — Desert Bus is hilarious, and the entire game is a lost piece of Penn & Teller’s career (not to mention Deborah Harry and Lou Reed!). Most of the unpublished games we’ve conserved over the years at Lost Levels have not received anywhere near this level of attention, but as far as we’re concerned, that’s okay. Conserving this stuff now is not for our benefit: it’s for the benefit of future historians. Video games are part of an art form that is still in its infancy, and when future generations look back on them, we have no way of knowing what they’ll consider important. So our motto is “save it all.”
If you’ve worked on a game that didn’t make it out the door, have some information we might find useful, or just like what we’re doing and want to help, my email is here and my Twitter is here. And if you want to see what we’re up to behind the scenes — or you’re just curious about weird and obscure video games that were canceled before they were released — we’re mostly active on our Facebook group these days.
Lost Levels hasn’t been an active website in a really long time now — and even the forums, which were thriving for a while, are starting to die down — but researching the history of dead video games is still an active obsession of mine.
I’m still digging up new stuff constantly, but I don’t have time to sit down and write a proper article, and I know some of you out there would like to see what I’m up to. That’s why I started up a Facebook fan page, to quickly be able to post little nuggets without much hassle.
Lost Levels turns 10 this year, and I have hopes to do something special with it, but in the meantime the majority of what I do is probably happening on Facebook. So go check it out, and show me you like Lost Levels by clicking on a rectangular button that says “Like” on it. One day this will be the primary conversation mechanism of the human race, so you may as well get a head start on it.
Hi folks! I know I haven’t posted here in a while, but I thought some of you might appreciate knowing that (among other things) I’ve been writing a semi-monthly column about unreleased games for the Retronauts Blog on 1UP.com. I did this thing about Titan Warriors for the NES, which was pretty cool, but even cooler is a little piece called How Goofy Killed Desert Bus.
This piece has edited excerpts from my recent interview with Mark Morris, who was a programmer with Absolute at the time that Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors was under development. And hey, it (and this post) are oh-so-conveniently timed with this year’s Desert Bus for Hope charity event. So go put the video stream on in the background and snuggle up with the interview, then get inspired and donate all of your money to Child’s Play. It’s the American way.
Game collector “NationalGamesDepot” has recently discovered, via his collection of various Color Dreams memorabilia and development assets, a copy of the unreleased action-adventure game Happy Camper for the NES.
“It was very um …Camp… I guess you’d say. It actually started out life sort of poking fun at the environmentalist/camping scene and at the same time trying to blend the Paperboy/California Games/generic skateboard game with an outdoor theme. There was going to be a fishing section where you rowed your boat around and every time you saw some fish, you’d throw some dynamite at them, and so on… Basically just the American RV camper destroying the environment as he entertains himself. Unfortunately, due to some limitations in the development environment in use at the time, it sort of shifted into a shoot’em-up in which the ‘camper’ was fighting space aliens… Similar theme, in some ways, but more conventional. The staff testers at Color Dreams liked it very much, or so they told us, but it turned out to be VERY difficult to play. (Out of the entire staff of Programmers, engineers, etc. Only I and the testers were able to get out of the first level). Some revision was done to make it easier, but by that time CD was swinging seriously to Wisdom Tree and the margin in selling that game was too low to justify it.”
NationalGameDepot has plans to make the game “available” - either physically or through a binary download - through the Nintendo Age website. And, though it took some time, he too was able to surpass the first level - level two is represented in the darker screenshots seen below.