Thank you for sharing your work process!!
I really like how you've articulated your entire process. This was a very enriching read. A Well deserved feature!
Great article! Thanks for the awesome read.
Sometimes you keep waiting for some game to be released to finally play it, but it gets cancelled. Yet, there’s another option – the game is released, but that’s not what you expected – it lacks some features, original visuals or something else. The Unseen64 is a book about these games. It is a truly unique project created by a collective of gamers from all around the world that tells stories of games we’ll never get a chance to play, games that didn’t make it through beta stage and never got released.
Unseen64 is a collective of gamers from all around the world that work together to remember lost video games in our online archive at Unseen64. In our website we publish articles, screens and videos to preserve some memories from cancelled and beta video games, all those games that we will never play because they were not released. Sometimes games are really different in early development and the final ones have cut content or heavy changes. Sometimes games are canned by their developers or publishers, and risk to be lost forever. Every change and cut creates a different gaming experience; we would like to save some documents of this evolution for curiosity, historic and artistic preservation.
There are no proper studies, universities or museums focused on the preservation of these unseen games, most of the people that offer their free-time to research lost games do it because of personal interest and experience. Unseen64 is an independent collective, we are not related to any companies or other organizations, even if some people that help the archive could be related to other gaming websites or magazines, sometimes even developers that worked on lost games help us to save some documents from their unreleased projects.
Probably it all started in late ‘90s when we were waiting for Nintendo 64 games that were never coming out. I did not have much money to buy games at the time, but on the N64 my most wanted games kept to be postponed or cancelled anyway, so I spent a lot of time looking at their screenshots in gaming magazines. When some of those games were released, I started discussing with friends how some of them were nothing like the old screenshots (different graphics, deleted areas and characters, etc.). We were dreaming about all those different beta worlds that we would have never be able to explore.
Zelda Ocarina of Time for 64DD
One game in particular had our attention; Zelda Ocarina of Time. It was meant to be released for the 64 Disc Drive, but after many delays, when it came out for the N64, most of its features and places from the 64DD version were removed without explanation. In 1999 internet was becoming more available in Italy too and we started reading crazy theories online about what happened to Ocarina of Time. We hunted through the web to find more and more early Zelda 64 screens, from official websites and fansites. In one of those fansites, there was a nice section named “Unseen Zelda” about the removed stuff in Ocarina of Time. It was cool to know that there were more people interested in the original Zelda 64.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I had already amassed a big collection of screens and videos from beta and cancelled Nintendo 64 games; but it was nothing more than a chaotic directory in my PC. In late 2000 / early 2001, we created a fansite about Perfect Dark, inspired by our love for its multiplayer mode. In that Perfect Dark website we decided to open a little section to organise all those files with beta and cancelled N64 games, and to share them with other potentially interested geeks. Taking inspiration from that nice “Unseen Zelda” page, we decided to name the section “Unseen64“, as it had many more unseen Nintendo 64 games than just Ocarina of Time. The Unseen64 page in the Perfect Dark website was the first version of Unseen64 as it’s known today.
In 2003, we stopped working on the Perfect Dark website, but we still had many visitors in there just for the Unseen64 page and I still had many GB of screenshots and videos of beta and cancelled games for various consoles that were not archived online yet. It became clear that it was time to organize all that mess into a single, dedicated website. That is when the current version of “Unseen64” was born out of; initially as an ugly series of pages made in HTML with Office Front-Page. Even if we archived images with beta and cancelled games for all the major consoles, we decided to keep the name “Unseen64” because we had grown attached to it.
We work on Unseen64 in our own free time, being an independent site about a niche (yet very important for us) topic, we don’t have many resources, we don’t have money to pay a full-time staff, we just try the best we can to keep the site online and to update it as much as possible. It’s really a labor of love. If we did not love to research and preserve info on lost games, we would have stopped doing it years ago, as it’s a difficult and tiresome project with no real money to earn from it. We are super happy that there are other people all around the world that understand the importance of having an archive for unseen games and they help us to pay for the site server and other related expenses by donating one or more dollars every month through our Patreon campaign.
Choosing the Best Stories
We find out about dozens of new cancelled games every month, because of personal researches, help from our readers, help from developers and so on. As we don’t have enough free time to write about all of them every month, we have a huge offline archive of lost games to still add to the Unseen64 website, hundreds, maybe even thousands. We try to save as much as possible from all of these (info, images, videos, etc.), but we are not able to do a deep research on all of them obviously. A proper research on a single lost game could take weeks or months, by trying to contact developers, organize interviews, edit all the details together, and so on. We usually try to first publish the most interesting ones, those that we think could have been fun games, or maybe those that have some kind of historical importance, some strange curiosity attached to them. In busy months we could also choose to write about those games that don’t take too much time to write about, because unfortunately we would not have time to do more than that. This is the life of a fully independent, obscure, niche archive of forgotten games!
To write, edit and publish our book was really hard. Initially we thought we could need about a year of work to do it, in the end we spent almost 2 years on the project. By working on it in our free time, we just had a few hours every week to research and write articles, to contact developers, to organize interviews, to find new images, etc. Me and a couple of Italian friends who compose the main, original Unseen64 group started by planning the book content, choosing articles and creating a list of developers to interview. Then we asked for help in our website, to let readers know that we needed more volunteers to write the book. This is a great community and many people answered our call! Some people were able to write dozens of articles for the book, others only one or two articles, but by collaborating all together we were able to reach the 480 pages the final book is composed of. To be honest, the first version of the book was more than 700 pages, but then we found out that the print-on-demand service we used to publish it had a limit of 480 pages for full-colors book, and as we wanted to have both full-color and black/white versions, we had to resize all the content to fit as much as possible in 480 pages. We used smaller font size and margins, we removed space between paragraphs, we had to cut some articles, interviews and images… but in the end we were able to fit a lot in those 480 pages. Everything else that was cut from the book will be published on the site in the following weeks and months.
All work on the book was done by volunteers, this is another labor of love and passion. I spent thousands of hours writing and editing the book, I will never repay all the time I spent on this project, but I’m just happy to finally see it published. There was just a small budget planned to send a free copy of the book to each author that wrote a good number of articles, as a way to thank them for their help. This budget was fully covered by donations of our readers that each month support us through Patreon. Now that it’s available on Amazon and Createspace I don’t know how much our book could sell, but every profit earned will be used to keep Unseen64 online and to make it even better. Unfortunately with such a huge book with almost 500 pages, the physical print cost and Amazon’s percentages are quite high, we did not want it to be too expensive so we don’t really earn much from each copy sold (for example, we earn a bit more on the black/white version than from the full-color version, even if the price is higher), but as for the website, we mostly did this for love and to remember lost games that could have been forgotten.
There are a lot of interesting stories that I’m happy we were able to publish in this book. One of the first I can think off is an interview with William Novak, a less-known game designer that worked on a legendary cancelled game planned for Nintendo 64, titled Freak Boy.
Novak is a super nice person and his backstory is awesome: before working on games he was a central figure in San Francisco’s emerging punk rock scene. He founded two independent record labels, Dumb Records and Nth Degree, and produced underground hit records for the most notorious first wave of San Francisco alternative bands. He was also the designer of “Super Glove Ball”, one of the only games designed for the Power Glove (the “motion controller” created by Mattel for the NES).
Another story I’m really proud off is the unveil of the lost GameCube project by United Game Artists, the team behind cult-titles such as REZ and Space Channel 5. It would have been a super charming and stylish action adventure, they were such a talented team. This is the first time that details and a few images from that game are seen outside of Sega.
Depending on the game and on the developers involved, sometimes the research was super hard, sometimes easy, sometimes impossible. We usually start using Google, as everyone else would do, to find people that worked on a lost game or in a company that had such game in development. Then we try to find an email or a contact, on Twitter for example. Once we have sent our message, it’s mostly luck: even the most nice person could be busy during that time and never reply back, sometimes they initially say they are available to answer questions but then never do, sometimes they give us a lot of into, images, videos or even playable ROMs for our researches, sometimes they give us answers but asking us to not reveal those details until some time has passed, because there could be Non-disclosure agreement involved or they don’t want to get in trouble with publishers or former studios. An important part of this process is the trust that Unseen64 collected during all these years of archiving beta and cancelled games: we respect the privacy of developers and they can remain anonymous, just in case that there could still be some copyright issues by sharing memories or documents from those lost games.
The first thing we’d like to do is to rest a bit, it was super tiring to work on the book, I had to put aside other projects I’m involved with and often even spent less time with my girlfriend because I had to complete an article before a deadline. At the moment I’m still busy with the book launch, but I hope to finally get some rest in October. As of 2016, Unseen64 is mostly a website about cancelled video games, as we found it harder to archive beta differences for games we didn’t play. User-driven Wikis such as The Cutting Room Floor are much better at detailing what changed in released games, and we can focus on what we do best: researching lost video games.
With cancelled games, we just need to know that they were never released, and they are good to be investigated and archived. We love to seek more info on unreleased projects and it’s great to create reliable relationships with developers and collectors to preserve as many details as possible. Thanks to all the new friends we made by working together on the book, we are planning to re-organize the main Unseen64 staff for the website in the next few months, to publish better articles and especially to create more video-articles. In the last few years, Youtube became the primal source of insight for gamers. Detailed video-articles can spread the memories of cancelled games wide and far, more than what a written article can do, giving seemingly forgotten games a new chance at being remembered. Today people are more likely to support and donate for video content than for traditional text articles, and if that is the best way to secure a steady support for Unseen64, then we’ll do it as best we can.
Get the Unseen64 Book on Amazon and Createspace