Wednesday, 15 Jul 2020

Apparent Pokémon leak turns ‘Beta Wooper’ into a sensation

The drip of early scrapped pocket monsters content continues thanks to recent posts on 4chan purporting to hold the Spaceworld 1999 demo version of Pokémon Gold and Silver. The archive is massive, allegedly containing not only code, but also sprites and email exchanges at Game Freak, the developers behind the popular franchise. Among this pile of historical riches, however, one star has emerged.

The files appear to show early scrapped versions of various monsters, including an unused take on Wooper, a water/ground-type Pokémon. The blue boy is cute and stout, a verifiable chonk if you will, which might explain why the Pokémon fandom has immediately become obsessed with this scrapped design. Many consider this beefy child, which was first a normal/flying type, to be a better take than the final Wooper that actually appears in the games. Unsurprisingly, there is now a cavalcade of fan art celebrating “beta Wooper,” allowing the monster to outshine all the other early sprites purportedly contained within the leak.

While Polygon cannot confirm the veracity of the leak, it is being treated as genuine by Pokémon historians. The Cutting Room Floor, a wiki archive dedicated to collecting unused game content, tells Polygon that while there’s not 100% certainty that the leak is real, there is “too much of it to be fake.”

“There are so many details present in these leaks, and so much of it matches up [with known information], that faking it would be utterly incredible … the attention to detail would have to be extreme,” a Cutting Room Floor representative tells Polygon over Twitter messages.

Indeed, according to folks going through the early build and translating it, there appear to be hundreds of files and exchanges — much of it fascinating, if you’re familiar with the franchise. It is also a revealing look at the game development process. Folks complain, are passive-aggressively rude to each other, and make jokes. The emails are a bit stilted, likely because they’re being translated, but still, it’s amazing to go through the text if you have the time.

Folks have even managed to get the ROMs into a somewhat playable state.

But the biggest thing to wow me in the leak has to be this snippet of code:

It’s practically Nintendo legend at this point, but for those who don’t know, Pokémon Gold and Silver apparently had a rocky development start. The series was exploding, and there was pressure for Game Freak to bring the games to the west — something that would push back the development of Gold and Silver. But the late Satoro Iwata jumped into the fray and helped Game Freak figure out how to fit Kanto, which is the entirety of map in Red and Blue, into Gold and Silver. The man did what an entire team couldn’t do, and he did it in a week, according to an Iwata Asks interview.

“I was more of a programmer than I was a company president,” Iwata said at the time.

You might not be able to understand what any of the code above says, but if it’s real, then it’s a huge piece of gaming history laid bare. According to @MrCheeze_, a known Pokémon tinkerer, it is a “fairly standard” compression, but the dates on the file suggest that Iwata originally wrote the code for Kirby’s Dream Land — which might be why he was able to turn things around so quickly.

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