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About: Associate Producer at CAPCOM. 7+ years in the industry.
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Shana

The Mysterious History of Dark Void Zero!

Monday, January 18, 2010, 1:48 PM [General]

Whoa, it's been a while.
I've been trapped in the Void for a few months, but I always return bearing gifts.  On the docket for today?  Dark Void™ Zero emerges from the Void and jets over to DSiWare today! Just 500 points! 

You know, ever since we announced the game last April, er...I mean last December, I've been bombarded with questions about the secret and mysterious history of this legendary lost project.  "Where did Dark Void Zero come from?"  "Is the trailer really true?"  "Did Bear McCreary really compose the soundtrack?"  "Why is Capcom so freaking cool?"

To get the answers to these and more, check out The History of Dark Void Zero - Part 1 below.

 The History of Dark Void™ Zero - Part 1

It was the opportunity of a lifetime: to resurrect a game that nobody knew existed. Sure, the console game was starting to be announced – but who knew it was based on a lost gem for NES™? Nobody. Not even employees of Capcom until a deep dive into several boxes of marketing materials exposed several unreleased NES games. Yes, several. But before we get ahead of ourselves, the most comprehensive information came from the Dark Rift/Dark Void flat files that were buried in the Osaka office for far too long.

Airtight knew they had something special. Creating a game that Capcom had equity in and really believed in was a great way to launch a “new IP.” But where was the game? It would be great to see what the original game had, since the team itself was built by some of the greatest designers at Capcom. Some of the team still works in the Osaka studio, and it was hard for them to remember the game let alone what happened to the source code. In fact, all they really remembered was how fond they were of the game and how disappointed they were that they could not complete it before moving onto the newly received SNES™ development hardware.

So where was the game? How could it be lost? One account was that the game, stored on tape at the time, was lost in a magnetic mishap. More likely, and typical of those older days, is that the tape was recycled for a game that actually shipped. This left the team at Capcom at wit’s end. There was a team, however, known for digging up old games thought to be lost forever. That team is Other Ocean Interactive, who specializes in behind the scenes restoration of classic arcade games, software, and archival. Along with the newly founded Videogame History Museum, they were hired to find and hopefully restore this lost classic.

The restoration team at Other Ocean set out to find any and all clues to the existence of Dark Void. With the clock ticking, all references and materials related to Dark Void were sent to Other Ocean for inspection. Names of team members, any logged demonstration dates and guests lists were sent out as well. Interviews were quickly lined up with the original team. Surely one of the team members had a ROM or development disk with the game? A lot emerged from the materials. Other Ocean compiled a quick FAQ on what we knew.

  1. The cartridge used special hardware to support networking between two NESes as well as used a special chip created to increase the raw processing power of the NES, increase the sprite limitation to reduce flickering, and introduce a few new colors. The advantage here is that the chipset, known as the System Zero (Note: The renaming of Dark Void Zero was to acknowledge the lost chipset), was well documented and the hardware still existed within Capcom. If a ROM could be found or even source code, we had 50% of the puzzle already solved.
  2. Box art, manual, and some sketches and marketing materials still existed. From these materials, we were able to recover up to ten screenshots that correlated well with original team’s accounts and design materials.

  3. Another clue was that the game was actually designed for the PlayChoice-10, an arcade cabinet with two monitors. If we were going to find the game, we’d likely find it in the arcade division, not the home division! This revelation didn’t lead to the actual ROM or code, but we did unearth a large amount of new marketing materials that gave us a name: Rand and Tyler Marketing.
  4.  While big in the 80s, the Rand and Tyler Marketing firm shuttered in the mid-90s. Even so, we tracked down one of the founders and found several key clues that would ultimately send us in the right direction. Most importantly, we uncovered a key promotional event that placed an actual cartridge in the hands of a contest winner.

It seemed, at least for several weeks, that the trail would run cold and would remain cold, since no one could track down the name of who actually won the contest. All that existed was a chop-shop image of a young boy playing a home version of the game on the NES. It did uncover that a home version was planned and possibly playable, and Mr. Rand testified to the game actually being given to the boy as a prize for winning the Capcom Commando Challenge. The prize? You get to star in an upcoming Capcom NES game and be the first to play the unreleased game!

Suddenly a break! Never underestimate the value of a new pair of eyes on something you’ve been staring at for ages. The wife of one of the Other Ocean team members, in passing, thought the boy looked like someone she was a big fan of. The boy looked an awful lot like Jimmy Fallon.

At first, it was just a laugh. But the more anyone thought about it, the more it actually looked like Jimmy Fallon. Could it be? He did promote the fact that he was a huge fan of video games, and a big fan of the NES. He was not afraid to expose his vast knowledge of gaming history, and his age did likely put him in the timeframe of the contest. The good news, we had a person we knew was alive and we had a name. But, how could we get in touch with him? What do we say?

Through a quick and blind call, the team was able to at least get someone close to Jimmy to ask a simple question: Did he win the Capcom Challenge in what may have been 1987?

And so began the wait. Two days. Nothing. Two weeks. Nothing. Our contact went silent. Just as we thought we’d have to find another avenue, we got the response we were waiting for, and it came from Jimmy himself. Not only did he win the contest, he had a copy of the game. And more importantly, he STILL had the game stored at his parent’s house. We found the game. But would it be complete? Would it work? Check in for Part Two: Vaporware No Longer – The Resurrection of an Unreleased Classic.

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