How NDAs Killed The Chance To Examine A Storied Relic of Our Gaming Past… After the Break…
The Death of Prey…
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have a soft spot for lost media. Anyone who appreciates media, be it music, books, movies, gaming, television or any other type of media, ought to have a soft spot for lost media, too.
Lost media affects all of us. It affects you. It affects the people who aren’t even born yet.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment; Lost media is not landmines. It’s not world hunger. It’s not political oppression or global warming or a new disease or an asteroid about the strike the Earth and wipe out billions of lives.
Yet lost media affects all of us because it is the silencing of voices that will never be heard from again. It is a jigsaw puzzle piece that is never found and, if enough jigsaw pieces are missing, the puzzle not only looks incomplete but hard to comprehend what it really conveys at all. Our media is our culture; It’s who we are and who we were; It’s what we were thinking and wearing and speaking and driving and drinking at the time. It is the practical application of our history and, when pieces of that history go missing, we all lose out as a result.
Recently, I was privileged to read the efforts of someone who was trying to convince The Powers That Be to release whatever materials were still available for the early versions of the computer game Prey. For those who are not computer game enthusiasts, Prey was to be a first-person shooter and, not only that but was also considered a contender to be a “Quake Killer.”
What’s a “Quake Killer,” you ask? Well, in 1996, the computer game “Quake” was released. That game was hugely popular and the first to truly utilize polygon technology that allowed for true room-over-room experiences. A lot of gaming companies wanted to release a game that was more technologically-advanced than Quake and, thus, the “Quake Killer” moniker was born.
“Prey” went through a series of internal re-boots before finally being released in 2006. Before then, though, were demos and trailers featuring the game using prior engines and graphics before the re-boot that finally made it to retail.
Unfortunately, based upon the replies from The Powers That Be, all of the pre-2006 iterations of Prey will likely never see the light of day thanks to indifference, legalese and the All-Powerful NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). To be fair, the Prey incarnations from 1998 all the way until the 2006 re-boot were not very close to completion, despite some E3 trailers and demos that blurred the line on how honestly they were progressing. Yet they did make progress and a lot of what they showed was, in fact, legit. Engines were made; Characters could move; Portals really were working.
The pre-2006 iterations of Prey were, indeed, vaporware. Yet they were touted as being much farther along in the magazines and in interviews than what was actually occurring. Is it really criminal to ask for that material to be released to the public so that they could get a first-hand look at how the engines and the technology actually were? Where is the profit margin and the business plan to keeping this material locked away for no one else to see? How will releasing this material damage Bethesda’s 2017 version of Prey (which, by all accounts, looks to completely avoid any relation to the 2006 original)?
Prey was not some little-known vaporware title; It was everywhere for awhile. It was touted as a much-anticipated Quake Killer. It’s claims were legion. It’s screenshots were much coveted for their time. Those who hold the rights to them shouldn’t be ashamed of it’s legacy but thrilled to release what they have to a gaming public that remembers and cherishes it’s former hype. Who knows what a maturing Internet could do with the source code… Perhaps the Internet could even complete what 3D Realms had started.
Some media will forever be lost; It is doubtful that we will ever see every single episode of Doctor Who ever again. The first BBC radio version of “War of the Worlds”? Likely gone. The expansion pack for Ultima 8: The Lost Vale? Just a prototype box, some screenshots and some design documents that may or may not have been closely followed.
Prey doesn’t and shouldn’t be lost forever. It shouldn’t be remembered as that neat game that was previewed in the magazines before disappearing forever. 1998 is nearly 2 decades in the rearview mirror. Even the retail version of the Prey that finally was released is a decade old.
The time to start preserving our endangered media is yesterday. CD-ROMs are not the proverbial “twinkies”; The data on them rots just as with film stock and cassette tapes. Thumb drives are not invulnerable; Hard disks crash. Floods; Hurricanes; Tornadoes. The passage of time eats anything it can get it’s grubby little hands on.
We, the gamers, are the caretakers of gaming history. It is our responsibility to pass along the experiences and the stories of our present into the future for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. OK… So not every 10-year old appreciates a 1953 black-and-white western movie. Just because not everyone appreciates every single aspect of gaming doesn’t mean that we should allow these treasures to be thrown into the trash because of our indifference. When these treasures are gone, that 10-year old kid will never get the chance to grow up and appreciate the classic western.
Lost media affects all of us. It hurts us when it happens and there is no recourse once it occurs. The Powers That Be should reconsider Prey’s fate and allow that media to flourish onto the Internet. It may not be the best business plan but it would be the best plan, not just for us but for all of the gamers who have yet to be born.