News/Atmosfear / NightMare

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Atmosfear (Jul 12, 1994 prototype)
Discuss this release on the boards here!

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“So, you want to play the game? My game? By my rules? I am, the GATEKEEPER.”

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For this week, we have a prototype of something you probably would’ve never expected. Believe it or not, there was an attempt to bring one of the best (or at least, most well known) VHS board games called “NightMare” (or “Atmosfear”, depending on where you live) to the SNES!

The game was developed by Beam Software, the same company responsible for Radical Rex, Shadowrun, and Tom & Jerry: Frantic Antics. The game was mentioned in a few magazines in late 1993, and in various parts of 1994 - but in name only. To our knowledge, the game was never formally previewed or reviewed by anyone and remained a complete mystery either or not the game was in production, or that it actually existed. The game was then canceled for unknown reasons.

Rather than have it modeled after the board game itself, this game takes the property and turned into a platformer instead - but with a twist. You play as a boy with a short range laser gun, completing various horror themed worlds while trying to avoid the Gatekeeper’s unfair rules. As you attempt to complete each level, you will be randomly interrupted by the Gatekeeper who will attempt to thwart your progress. The game appears to be almost complete, with the “Bathory’s Castle” level being the most unfinished.

This game was rediscovered by drx in a collection of various loose EPROMs that were donated to him a few years ago, all of which were possibly meant for magazines based in Europe to preview. In various parts of the world, media outlets would often receive prototypes on exposed PCBs with the games burned on EPROMs. This was often times not the case in Europe. Since the cost of development PCBs were expensive at the time, some companies would just distribute the loose EPROMs instead. Magazines would sometimes receive these games in less than stellar condition - often times with bent or missing pins, bad burns, missing EPROMs, wrong games, no instructions for assembly, and even games that were meant for “review” but were too early to even be considered “previews”! When the magazine was done reviewing/previewing the game, they would then send the EPROMs to another magazine to review/preview directly. All of this was done to save cost.

Because of this, the EPROMs in our collection come in various conditions. Some of the EPROMs had to be repaired and dumped numerous times out of sequence with an EPROM programmer. The raw binary dumps were then pieced together by hand to create a working ROM. This takes a long time, as some of the EPROMs were only marked by their ‘sequence’ number or with an obscure name. For instance, “Atmosfear” was labeled “Nightmare # 12-7-94” in the lot, where # would be that particular EPROM number in the sequence that should be be inserted onto a development PCB. When at least one dump is made, we would then take a random byte sequence in the file and compare against various sets of ROMs to find a match. EPROMs that hold Mega Drive games have to be compared against a deinterweaved ROM set, as these EPROMs contain either odd/even bytes, making identification and assembly much more difficult.

Working with loose EPROMs is a tedious process that should only be done by those who know what they’re doing, as there is a risk of permanently damaging or erasing the data stored on them. It also requires someone with knowledge of what to look for in terms of data structure and integrity. Piecing the binary dumps together, while simple, is difficult if the EPROM that the dump originated from wasn’t properly identified for the system or game. This would often times leave us no choice but to compare against every single ROM set of every single system one binary dump at a time. Things only intensify if the game you’re working with happens to be unreleased, and therefore has no direct match to anything - just like this one! If you ever run into loose EPROMs, we’ll always be happy to help back them up for you.

With that said, we hope you enjoy this release. There’s plenty more in store in the not so distant future, so stay tuned!

Until next time!