Project Deluge, a video game archival project from The Hidden Palace, may be the single biggest game preservation effort yet undertaken. Since March, this dedicated group of video game archivists has been releasing many hundreds of unreleased prototypes for classic systems, and now, it’s the Dreamcast and Xbox’s turn.
Project Deluge publicly launched in March of 2021 as an archival project dedicated to documenting and uploading never-before-released game ROMs from the massive catalogue of one extremely dedicated collector. This includes prototypes, early press copies, mid-localisation builds, and perhaps most exciting, entire unreleased games.
Each of them is dumped by the (apparently very nice) owner, checked for differences from the final build, and then finally playtested by a devoted team of archivists. The unique features of each build are then catalogued and a disc image is uploaded to the archive.
The project’s debut back in March saw it release over 700 pre-release curiosities for the PlayStation 2. Some Saturn, PlayStation, and CD-i protos followed in April, and just a few days ago, on September 18, the team completed the gargantuan task of documenting almost 500 Dreamcast and Xbox prototypes, which are now available for everyone to check out.
Each of the 135 Dreamcast prototypes included in this batch had to be dumped by hand using retail hardware. Dreamcast GD-ROM discs can only be read by Dreamcasts, because Sega used a proprietary 1GB disc format it called “GD-ROM.” To actually pull the data off of these prototype builds, which were then uploaded to and scanned by the archival team, the dumper had to use a vintage Sega-made boot disc called System Disc 2. This allows a retail Dreamcast to read pre-release GD-ROM builds, at which point the dumper can pull them from the console’s serial port using an SD card reader. This process then repeats for every single disc.
Notable games from the Dreamcast dump include prototype builds of Illbleed and Tony Hawk Pro Skater, both of which have debug modes, and a version of Sega GT with Luigi in it. An important thing to note about that Pro Skater build is that the code to remove the game’s hud while in debug mode is “SLUT,” which is kind of messed up but I personally find it entertaining. As an aside to make you feel old, here is a short list of interesting builds made before I was born:
- Soul Calibur (October 4, 1999)
- Crazy Taxi (December 3, 1999)
- Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (December 13, 1999)
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (February 11, 2000)
- Time Stalkers (February 25, 2000)
The project’s Xbox ROM release is much larger and includes 349 games, none of which were made before me. According to the archivists, Xbox discs are less proprietary than Dreamcast discs, but also less consistent, presenting a whole different suite of problems when it comes to preservation. Xbox games are usually printed on dual-layer DVDs with distinct DVD-Video and Xbox game partitions, but some prototypes are also on CD-ROM. This makes them annoying to dump, and even harder to check for build differences as you have to determine whether you’re looking at two different builds, or the same build on two different styles of disc.
In spite of these difficulties, a ton of unique and interesting prototypes ended up included in this batch. There’s the earliest known Psychonauts preview build, a Jet Set Radio Future prototype, and a build of the Shrek video game which barely predates the final retail build. There are hundreds of unique games in this lot, some of which were never released. The Vatz stands out as an incredibly early demo of a cancelled game, which includes pitch notes to explain goals and ideas to potential investors or press.
These are just a handful of examples of the really cool shit included in this most recent release from Project Deluge. To this point they’ve assessed over 4,000 discs (some have turned out to be duplicates or identical to retail builds), and have apparently only scratched the surface of the full collection. Look forward to more wild finds as the project continues to delve into, document, and release its massive stash of lost relics.