• =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Did_a_vigilante_ROM_leaker_go_too_f?= =?ISO-8859-1?Q?ar_

    From John Geoffrey@21:1/5 to All on Mon Jun 3 14:17:39 2019
    https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019/04/after-a-lost-atari-rom-lea ks-retro-fans-ask-was-it-stolen/

    Did a vigilante ROM leaker go too far to ?preserve? a lost Atari ROM?

    Long hoarded by collectors, Akka Arrh prototype is now part of MAME.

    by Kyle Orland - Apr 26, 2019 12:30pm CEST

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    Your mission... should you choose to accept it...

    Paramount Pictures / Aurich Lawson

    Earlier this month, the digital preservationists at The Dumping
    Union made an important announcement in the world of arcade game
    emulation. The collective had gotten its hands on a ROM image
    of Akka Arrh, an extremely rare Atari arcade prototype and one of
    the most prominent remaining cabinets that had, to that
    point, never been available through emulation on MAME
    (the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator).


    That alone would have been notable news in the world of gaming
    history?the Dumping Union suggested as much by titling their
    forum announcement "Sit down on the toilet before reading this or
    else you will shit your pants." But the story might require
    another round of toilet sitting, because what started as a
    rare-game reveal has turned into a credible "heist" tale,
    perpetrated by an alleged MAME vigilante, no less.

    A bit of history

    The story of Akka Arrh (also known as Target Outpostduring
    development) dates back to 1982, when the game was created by
    Atari's Dave Ralston and Mike Hally, who would go on to work on
    plenty of well-remembered arcade games for the company (the title
    is supposedly a mangled initialism for "Also Known As Another
    Ralston Hally"). After a small test-market release in 1982, Akka
    Arrh's rotational take on Missile Command's trackball targeting
    was reportedly deemed too complicated for the masses at the time.
    So even though Akka Arrh was practically complete and had its own
    unique cabinet art and design, wide release was scrapped in favor
    of more promising Atari titles.

    The existing test-market prototypes were at some point rescued
    from the refuse of Atari's warehouses?likely during or after the
    company's spectacular crash?and over the years made their way to
    the hands of some extremely private arcade-cabinet collectors.
    Only three such cabinets are believed to exist, and only two
    are registered in the Vintage Arcade Preservation Society's
    census of nearly 8,500 collectors.

    A demo of Akka Arrh being played via MAME.

    Perhaps because of that rarity, the ROM chips comprising Akka
    Arrh's game program had (until recently) never been publicly
    dumped and cataloged in the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator's
    massive database. That's bad for the historical preservation
    community, but it could be good for the value of these extremely
    rare machines. After all, collectors might not be willing to pay
    quite the same premium for a rare cabinet if they (and anyone
    else) could just play the same essential game on an

    But Akka Arrh's few owners haven't hoarded the rare game
    completely to themselves. The cabinets are occasionally set out
    for free play at conventions like California Extreme, which
    provide the only public opportunities to experience the game.
    Still, many in the emulation and preservation communities have
    expressed dismay over the years that such a singular piece of
    Atari history is essentially inaccessible to all but a few very
    private collectors.

    A shady tech?

    All that context should highlight just how big a deal it was to
    finally see Akka Arrh dumped and playable via MAME earlier this
    month, 37 years after it was made. But where exactly did that ROM
    come from, and why was it dumped now?

    The Dumping Union's CEO, who goes by Smitdogg online, says only
    that the dump came from an anonymous donor. But a MAMEWorld
    forum-goer with the handle "atariscott" had an explosive
    accusation on that score (emphasis added):

    There were only three machines ever built. All are in high-end
    collections. One collector had a tech come and work on some of
    his games. The unscrupulous tech copied the ROMS without
    permission. The game was not broken and not one he was supposed
    to "fix." The owner is reviewing a couple of months of security
    video to see if he can catch him in the act. This is the first
    time that someone has actually had the balls to steal ROMS from a

    Without context, there are reasons to be skeptical of this story.
    For one, the accusation is the only post from "atariscott" on the
    MAMEWorld forums. The account behind it, though, was created back
    in 2005, which would be a pretty long setup for a random


    Safe Stuff / Internet Archive

    Two Akka Arrh cabinets, as they looked in the collection of Scott

    Atariscott is also the public Internet handle of Atari collector
    Scott Evans, who uses it to post on otherretro game forums online
    (as well as Instagram). And Evans is in a good position to know
    something about the state of Akka Arrh preservation, being
    well-known in the collecting community for owning a number of
    rare arcade prototypes over the years. That list at one point
    included not one but two Akka Arrh cabinets (at least one of
    which seems to have been sold to another collector since

    Evans also owned two cabinets of Marble Man, the prototype sequel
    to Marble Madness which is seen as another "undumped" grail
    inaccessible to the emulation community. And then there's Bradley
    Trainer, a version of Atari's Battlezone modified for US military
    training. Evans apparently discovered the only known extant
    cabinet for that "next to a dumpster outside the closed offices
    of Midway," as the story goes.

    Aside from cabinets, Evans also collects Atari information. He
    recently donated a nearly complete set of Atari arcade source
    code to The Strong Museum of Play, also apparently sourced from
    Midway's garbage. Evans has also maintained an online
    clearinghouse of classic Atari arcade information, first at
    Safestuff.com and later at AtariGames.com.

    Is it true?

    If the "atariscott" posting on MAMEWorld is Evans, there's ample
    reason to give credence to his story. Evans has not responded to
    multiple requests for comment from Ars Technica via a variety of
    contact methods.

    But that forum post is not going up in a vacuum. One well-placed
    arcade collector with direct knowledge of the extant Akka
    Arrh cabinets and their owners (who asked for anonymity to "avoid
    burning bridges") told me "it does sound like this really
    happened." That source tells me that the victim of the alleged
    theft is sharing essentially the same story as atariscott with
    other Akka Arrh owners (who, unsurprisingly, all know each

    "They were told it was theft from the tech who had access, and
    apparently there were rumblings about this tech being shady ahead
    of this release," the collector tells Ars. "It wasn't their board
    that was dumped, but [they] were pretty upset when the ROMs were
    released, given the rarity of the machine."

    It's far from direct evidence or on-the-record testimony
    confirming the "unsolicited repair tech copy" story. But this
    might be the closest we're able to come for now, given the
    insular and secretive world of rare arcade collecting.

    And just because the story is being passed around this world
    doesn't mean it's true, either. The "theft" could be a cover
    story for an Akka Arrh owner (past or present) just deciding to
    release his own ROM dump voluntarily, for instance.

    Arcade Heroes blogger and arcade owner Adam Pratt has his own
    take, which he shared with Ars:

    As it comes across online, it sounds like something is missing...
    That a technician would come in to a collection to fix something
    else, break into the Akka Arrh machine, pull out all of the ROMs,
    burn them one-by-one (which requires a ROM burner and a
    computer), then put everything back unnoticed doesn't seem
    plausible to me. Chances are, [Evans] or one of the other two
    collectors happened to have backed up the ROMs when they first
    got the machine and that backup either got out, or one of the
    collectors finally decided to anonymously upload the

    Does it belong in a museum?

    An Akka Arrh prototype is seen as part of Joe Magiera's collection
    at about 12:24 in this video from 2014.

    Story or no, the allegation alone has refocused a long-running
    debate in emulation circles. Is there a moral imperative for
    collectors of rare games and prototypes to release their code for
    the good of preservation? And if they refuse, is there any
    ethical argument for literally sneaking into a private collection
    to make an unsolicited copy of the game for posterity?

    "All the ROMs are way past their lifespan for holding data,"
    Dumping Union's Smitdogg writes in a MAMEWorld post. "It's
    amazing that the data can still be extracted if the ROMs are
    original. A miracle. The first thing any sane tech would do is
    dump the ROMs. It's amazing to me that people think they own the
    data on these, like [they] own the copyright."

    Dumping the ROM, Smitdogg argues, just makes Akka Arrh "identical
    to every other game that has ever been emulated in the past 25

    Others disagree. "If what he alleges is true, the collector who
    was allegedly bilked has every right to be absolutely
    furious," MAMEWorld user Mooglyguy said. "A person's private
    goods, acquired through private transactions, are sacrosanct. We
    can sit here and dither about moral imperatives as they pertain
    to preserving history, but at the end of the day, these
    collectors either need to come around to the Kindergarten-level
    concept of sharing on their own, or they need to be left well
    alone. Forcing their hand, so to speak, is an incredibly bad

    And just because a game isn't available to the emulating public
    doesn't mean an individual owner isn't protecting it for history.
    As Evans himself put it in a 2009 forum post, "everything does
    not need to be in MAME for it to be 'preserved.'"

    If atariscott's story about the Akka Arrh ROM is true, Pratt says
    the repair tech's actions were "the right thing to do, but the
    wrong way to go about it." On the one hand, Pratt says he's
    "happy that the game will be preserved and more available." On
    the other, "there is a level of trust you put into someone to
    come in and work on your games."

    It has yet to be proven whether the MAME release will even reduce
    the collectible value of what are still some extremely rare
    prototype cabinets. "In my view, Akka Arrh's presence on MAME
    won't diminish the value of the existing machines," Pratt said.
    "If anything, it will probably enhance it, since more people will
    know about it now."

    "Arcades are more than just the software," he continued. "When
    cabinets are specially tailored to a game experience, it makes
    that game stick with you more than playing a digital-only game on
    Steam... Akka Arrh's cabinet is unique, so if I ever had the
    chance, my preference would be to play it on the original cabinet
    over emulation any day."


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