Once upon a time there was going to be a Rayman game for the SNES. Series creator Michel Ancel was one of two people working on it, but the project never came to fruition. A prototype build of the game that surfaced last spring, however, has finally made it onto the internet thanks to game designer and archivist Omar Cornut.
Cornut announced today on Twitter that he had uploaded an early build of the game to Dropbox. When asked by Kotaku about how he had come to possess the file, Cornut said in a message that it was straight forward. "There's not a lot to it really, I borrowed the cartridge from Michel Ancel who kindly let me look at it and dump it."
— Omar (@ocornut) July 3, 2017
Cornut runs SMS Power, a site dedicated to logging and archiving games from several different platforms, including the Sega Master System and Game Gear. Established in 1997, SMS Power objectives include to "Discuss, gather, publish and preserve historical facts, data and knowledge related to [Sega] systems."
"I've been gathering odd games and prototypes for a long time through my website, so when I saw his friend found that cartridge I immediately suggested dumping it," Cornut said.
Information about a long lost SNES Rayman game first re-surfaced last spring when designer Michel Ancel, the series creator, shared pictures of a ROM for an old prototype build of the game that had been re-discovered by a friend. The first Rayman game ended up metamorphosing and coming to the Atari Jaguar, Sega Saturn and PS1 instead, with the original SNES vision lost to time. But after 24 years the ROM still worked, and now, thanks to Cornut, what exists of it is even playable.
It's extremely limited in its scope, including a small environment, the ability to jump, and a few other character animations. "That prototype it is a very early build," said Cornut. "So the stuff like two-player mode that have been shown in screenshots are not really in this build. Perhaps the ROM contains secrets in which case homebrew hackers will hopefully unearth them soon. "
As far as legal concerns go, Cornut is hopeful that the prototype's release into the internet wild will be understood as an act of researching and preserving gaming history. "Effectively I have preserved the entire Sega 8-bit library this way, and I think people understand that the intent is preservation and not malicious nor commercially harming."
If you've played Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, then you're already intimately familiar with Cornut's work. His studio, Lizardcube, was responsible for remastering that game for current gen systems, and the results speak for themselves. In a post last year, he explained in detail how the team tried to recreate the original game while still being true to its intent. This meant dissecting the code for the 1989 Master System version and effectively translating it nearly three decades into the future. For Cornut, archiving and design are intertwined.
And in a way, the SNES Rayman prototype is a perfect metaphor for the philosophy underlining that approach. The same kind of "electronic archaeology" that's reflected in games such as The Dragon's Trap remaster is manifested in the original Rayman prototype's premise, in which Rayman exists inside a computer and must face-off against a computer virus as the game's main villain.