Has the ROM kidnapper gone too far in preserving Atari's legacy?

Original author: Kyle Orland
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At the beginning of this month , the digital heritage preservation team of The Dumping Union made a statement important to the world of arcade emulation. This team got into the hands of the ROM image of Akka Arrh , an extremely rare prototype of the Atari game for arcade machines, as well as one of the few remaining machines that until recently had not been emulated in MAME ( Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator ).

This news in itself could be a remarkable event in the world of game history, and the Dumping Union accordingly entitled its announcement on the forum.. But that's not all - the story, which at first seemed the discovery of a rare game, turned into a believable tale of the "robbery" undertaken by the "people's avenger."

A bit of history

The story of Akka Arrh (during development also known as Target Outpost ) dates back to 1982, when the game was developed by Dave Ralston and Mike Halley from Atari. These developers created many other memorable arcade games for the company (it seems that the name of the game is an abbreviation for "Also Known As Another Ralston Hally", "also known as another Ralston and Halley game"). After a small trial release of the machine in 1982, rotary control using a trackball was considered too complicated for the mass market of that time. Therefore, despite the fact that Akka ArrhIt was almost ready and already had its own unique design of the machine, a large-scale production was abandoned in favor of more promising Atari projects.

The surviving test prototypes were saved from destruction during the liquidation of Atari's warehouses, most likely during or after the spectacular collapse of the company , and years later they reached extremely secretive collectors of arcade machines. It is believed that there are only three of these machines, and only two of them are registered in the census of the Vintage Arcade Preservation Society, which includes approximately 8,500 collectors.

In Akka Arrh played on MAME.

Due to such a low prevalence, ROM chips containing the Akka Arrh game program were not (until recently) dumped and cataloged in the huge Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator database . This is bad for a community of people preserving history, but can have a good effect on the value of these extremely rare cars. In the end, collectors might not want to pay the same price for a rare machine, if they (like any other) could just play a game in the emulator.

But the owners of Akka Arrh hid this rare game from everyone. From time to time, machines are offered for free play at events such as California Extreme, which providethe only way to appreciate the game to the public . However, many members of the emulation and game preservation community have expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that such an exceptional example of Atari’s story is essentially not available to everyone except a handful of private collectors.

Doubtful repairman?

All this makes it clear how important it was to finally see that Akka Arrh had a dump with ROM , and the game can be played on MAME . This happened earlier this month, 37 years after the creation of the game. But where did this ROM come from, and why did it dump just now?

The director of the Dumping Union, known online as Smitdogg, only said that the dump was received from an anonymous donor. But a visitor to the MAMEWorld forum with the call sign “atariscott” made a loud statement on this topic :

In total, three cars were created. All of them are kept in private collections. A specialist came to one of the collectors to service part of the machines. Unscrupulous specialist copied ROMs without the permission of the owner . The game was not broken and there was nothing to “fix” it. The owner watched a couple of months of surveillance cameras, trying to catch the thief in place. For the first time in history, someone ventured to steal ROMs from a collector.

Without knowing the context, this story is easily skeptical. For example, the charge was brought in a single atariscott post on the MAMEWorld forums. However, this account was created back in 2005 , and for a regular troll, this seems like a long preparation of the plan.


Two Akka Arrh assault rifles from the Scott Evans collection.


A detailed snapshot of the ROM chips that store Akka Arrh game data from no one knows where it came from .


In Akka Arrh play at California Extreme show, about the year 2003.


The Evans collection also contains a unique version of Battlezone , which was used to train the U.S. Army.

Atariscott is also the nickname of Atari collector Scott Evans, who uses it to post on other retro-game forums (as well as on Instagram ). And Evans most likely can know something about the state of Akka Arrh , because he is widely known in the collector community for owning a large number of rare prototypes of arcade machines . There are not one, but two Akka Arrh assault rifles on this list (at least one of them has since been sold to another collector).

Evans also owns two machinesMarble Man - prototypes of the sequel to Marble Madness , which is another “undamped” grail, inaccessible to the community of emulation lovers. He also has a Bradley Trainer - a version of the Atari Battlezone assault rifle , modified for training the US military. Evans discovered this only surviving machine, "next to a landfill near the closed Midway offices," according to his story .

In addition to arcade machines, Evans also collects information about Atari. He recently donated an almost complete set of source code for Atari arcade machines to The Strong Museum of Play.. He also collected it in the Midway trash. Evans also contains an online catalog of information about Atari arcade machines; first it was on at Safestuff.com , and later on AtariGames.com .

Is it true?

If the “atariscott” that posted the post on MAMEWorld is Evans, then there are good reasons to believe this story. We tried in different ways to contact Evans, but he did not answer anything about this.

But this forum post is not the only source of information. One respected collector of machines, directly aware of all the surviving Akka Arrh machines and their owners (he wished to remain anonymous), told me that "this seems to be true." This source told me that the victim of the alleged theft told a similar story to the other owners of Akka Arrh (it shouldn't surprise you that they know each other).

“They were informed that the theft was committed by a specialist who had access to the machine. Even before the publication of the ROMs, there were rumors that this person was dishonest, ”the collector told us. "The dump was not made from their board, but they were very upset by the publication of ROMs, because this machine is very rare."

This is far from direct evidence and not evidence confirming the history of “inconsistent copying by a repair specialist”. But given the isolation and secrecy of the world of collecting rare arcade machines, this is the best we can count on so far.

However, even if such a story walks in these circles, this does not mean that it is true. For example, “theft” may be a cover for the owner of Akka Arrh (former or current), who simply decided to voluntarily share his own ROM dump.

Arcade Heroes blogger and arcade game owner Adam Pratt has his own opinion, which he shared with us:

It seems that there is something missing in the history of the network ... It seems to me unlikely that the technician came to the collection to fix another machine, cracked Akka Arrh , pulled out all the ROMs from it, and rewritten them one by one (for this he needs to there was equipment for reading ROM and a computer), and then put everything back together and no one noticed it. There is a possibility that Evans or one of the other two collectors once made a backup copy of the ROMs, and then this copy leaked to the network, or one of the collectors finally decided to upload them anonymously.

Should they be in the museum?

This video, shot in 2014, shows a prototype Akka Arrh from the collection of Joe Magiera (12:24).

True or not, the prosecution has again revived the debate that has long existed in emulation circles. Do collectors of rare games and prototypes have a moral obligation to publish code to preserve history? And if they refuse, is there any ethical argument for literally entering a private collection and making an unauthorized copy of the game for posterity?

“All ROMs have already outlived their estimated storage period,” writes Smitdogg of Dumping Union in a post on MAMEWorld. “It's amazing that data can still be extracted if the ROMs are original. This is just a miracle. The first logical action of any intelligent techie would be to dump the ROMs. “I am surprised by people who think they own this data, as if they own copy rights.”

Creating a ROM dump, says Smitdogg , simply makes Akka Arrh “similar to all the other games that have been emulated over the past 25 years.”

Some disagree. “If this statement is true, then the collector, who was allegedly robbed, has every right to be angry,” says MAMEWorld Mooglyguy. “A person’s personal thing acquired as a private purchase is his sacred right. We can sit here and argue about the moral obligations of preserving history, but in the end, these collectors must either come to the kindergarten concept of donation of their own free will, or they must be left alone. Forcing them to do something is incredibly bad. ”

And just because the game is inaccessible to the society of emulators does not mean that the individual owner does not save it for history. As Evans himself said in a 2009 post , “they do not have to be in MAME to“ save ”games.”

If the atariscott story about ROM Akka Arrhtrue, then Pratt believes that the actions of the repairman "were right, but at the same time the act was wrong." On the one hand, Pratt says he is “pleased that the game will be saved and made available to the general public.” On the other hand, "there is a level of trust at which the collector allows someone to come and work with his games."

It has not yet been proven whether the release of the game in MAME can reduce the collection value of the still extremely rare prototypes of machines. “In my opinion, having Akka Arrh on MAME doesn't detract from the value of the surviving cars,” says Pratt. “Moreover, it can even enhance it, because now more people know about the game.”

“Arcade machines are not just programs,” he continues. “When the equipment is specially adapted for the game process, it has more value than buying a simple digital copy on Steam ... Akka Arrh equipment is unique, so if I had a chance, I would prefer to play on the original machine, rather than the emulated version” .

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