News/Project Deluge: Xbox and Dreamcast
Project Deluge (Lot Page)
Project Deluge - Microsoft Xbox (List)
Project Deluge - Microsoft Xbox (Matched List)
Project Deluge - Sega Dreamcast (List)
Project Deluge - Sega Dreamcast (Matched List)
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Hello everyone! It’s that time again!
Continuing with our efforts with Project Deluge, today we present over 349 Microsoft Xbox prototypes and 135 Sega Dreamcast prototypes! From unreleased games to early builds, this lot continues to be fruitful.
As a recap, Project Deluge is an ongoing project to archive and assess all of the items featured in a lot of video game development material that has been gathered over the course of many years. This has been made possible through the dedication of only one extremely kind individual, who has taken on the herculean task of dumping every single thing in the lot by themselves. Each item in the lot was assessed by a team of dedicated individuals for playability and integrity on both software (via emulation) and hardware when necessary. Each item was then lightly documented and given a general overview of some of the main interesting facts about the item in question.
In the beginning, we released almost 800 unique prototype builds for the PlayStation 2. Following that, we released over 500 PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and Philips CD-i prototypes combined. As of writing, we have currently gone over almost 4000 discs with absolutely no end in sight.
First up, we have a pretty decent batch of Sega Dreamcast prototypes to show you! We have an early prototype of 4 Wheel Thunder compiled five months before the first available retail build, back when it was called “Offroad Thunder”. We also have a prototype of Deep Fighter compiled a few months before the first final build that still has most of its FMV sequences in pre production (no post effects). We have two nice prototypes of Illbleed and Jet Grind Radio, with both sporting some decent debugging features. We also have some decent prototypes of Ready 2 Rumble Boxing Round 2, San Francisco Rush 2049, Shadow Man, Test Drive Cycles, Vigilante 8: Second Offense, WWF Attitude, and even Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as well. While there weren’t many unreleased games that we could see from this part of the lot, we did find an unreleased English localization prototype of Shanghai Dynasty, which was going to be published by Activision but got cancelled.
As an extra treat, Laurent from Sega Dreamcast Info Games Preservation has kindly donated two Dreamcast prototypes just in time for Project Deluge! Laurent has been in the Dreamcast prototype preservation scene for many years now and has accumulated and released many prototypes. He has plans on releasing many, many more later this year so be sure to be on the look out for more just on the horizon!
Not a bad start, but could be better, right?
Next, however, we have a very nice collection of Microsoft Xbox prototypes! From unreleased games, early prototypes, tech demos, localization prototypes, debugging builds, and some near final builds with debugging features enabled, this part of the lot has you covered. It’s somewhat fitting too, since the Xbox was a spiritual successor to the Dreamcast in a way.
In this part of the lot, we have an unreleased Xbox port of American Idol, Hail to the Chimp (which would be released on the 360), He-Man: Defender of Grayskull, and Pac-Man World Rally. We have an unreleased English localization of Dinosaur Hunting: Ushinawareta Daichi , which was originally going to be published by Metro 3D sometime in late 2003 but was cancelled shortly after for unknown reasons. We also have prototypes of unreleased games such as The Red Star, US Open 2003, and The Vatz. Ironically, since the Xbox is a bit of a Dreamcast spiritual successor of sorts, we have quite a few really interesting prototypes of some Sega developed titles too! We have a really nice prototype of Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller, ToeJam & Earl III (why are there so many prototypes of this game?!), Jet Set Radio Future, Sega GT, and Gun Valkyrie! Some other notable prototypes - a really nice prototype of Psychonauts which is currently the earliest prototype available, Rogue Ops, Room Zoom: Race for Impact (under the title Micro Mayhem), and much more!
What’s interesting about most of the Xbox prototypes is just how many of them are actually unreleased. Given that Microsoft was relatively newcomer to the video game industry at the time, and given that the Sony PlayStation 2 was taking the entire world by storm, it’s likely that many developers/publishers got cold feet and decided against porting some games that might not have sold well on the platform. There was most likely doubt over whether or not the Xbox was even going to be a success at the time, so most developers may not have been willing to put some of their games on the platform. Fortunately for Microsoft, that changed following the successful lifespan of the Xbox 360.
System Disc 2 (Source: Handheldmuseum.com)
A large majority of Dreamcast prototypes are mastered on GD-Rs, a writable version of Sega’s proprietary GD-ROM optical disc format (which is nothing more than a souped up CD that uses ISO 9660). Dreamcast prototypes are slightly difficult to dump, as even to this day all GD-R discs can only be read on actual hardware. Thankfully, GD-Rs can be read on retail hardware, but with a catch. In order for a Dreamcast to access the contents of a GD-R, if one is not using a Katana developers kit, you would need something called a System Disc 2. The System Disc 2 is a special disc that is used to unlock the Dreamcast’s drive at the drive’s firmware level so that it can read discs. Because the security mechanisms at play are embedded on the physical disc itself, you cannot create a copy of a System Disc 2 by creating a self booting version of it on a CD-R. This small caveat would ironically prove to be more secure than how retail games are protected. Aside from physically swapping the GD-R with a retail disc with the same amount of tracks, System Disc 2s are required in order for GD-Rs to be read and dumped by retail hardware. To this day you cannot read a GD-R even with traditional disc swapping techniques in a CD/DVD drive either. Every Dreamcast prototype featured in this part of the lot was dumped using real hardware along with a System Disc 2 by use of a SD card reader that can be attached to the console’s serial port. Unfortunately, this is not a Redump approved dumping method, so no prototypes can be immediately DAT’d into Redump’s catalog Given that the Dreamcast’s aging optical drives will not last forever, we hope that someday Dreamcast prototypes can be dumped easily with more accessible hardware and techniques.
Thankfully, Xbox prototypes aren’t as proprietary, but are much more inconsistent when it comes to how they are mastered and stored. The majority of retail Xbox games are mastered on dual layer DVDs consisting of a DVD-VIDEO partition (that plays when a Xbox disc is inserted into anything but an Xbox), and a proprietary Xbox “game” partition. This is a consistent partition layout that exists in every retail Xbox game, as far as we know. Prototypes are an entirely different story, however. Possibly because the Xbox platform wasn’t thoroughly established yet, many prototypes are mastered inconsistently. To give you an idea of just how inconsistent, here are the variants in which Xbox prototypes can be mastered.
- Prototypes can be mastered on either a CD, DVD-R single layer, or DVD-R (or pressed, like retail) dual layer.
- Prototypes on any of these discs can be mastered with the following partition schemes:
- One blank DVD-VIDEO partition followed by an Xbox game partition.
- One Xbox game partition.
- A UDF partition for storing game data, equivalent to just burning the files directly to a DVD-R using a separate program.
- ISO 9660 for storing game data, used wherever a CD-R might be used.
- Prototypes can be launched in the following ways:
- Straight from the default.xbe embedded in the Xbox game partition, if present.
- From a stray .xbe located on the root of the disc or inside a separate folder, common if the disc used UDF.
- Forcibly installed onto an Xbox’s hard drive using a CBX installer launcher.
- Forcibly installed onto an Xbox’s hard drive using the game’s own installer.
- If prototypes are mastered on a pressed disc (like retail), they are presumed to work on even retail hardware.
- If prototypes are mastered on recordable media, they will most likely need to be played on a Xbox Developer’s Kit.
- Some prototypes are mastered for 128MB RAM support, usually for debugging purposes. This means the games would never work on a retail unit with only 64MB of RAM.
These inconsistent conditions made going through the discs a bit more of a hassle as each game had to be treated in a different way. While most games can work on retail hardware if put directly onto the Xbox’s internal hard drive, some games require developer kits to work. These prototypes featured in the lot are all from recordable media, as the pressed discs couldn’t be dumped in time. However, plans are underway to archive these discs, so expect this...someday… :)
This also made assessing the games with our scripts more challenging, as each of these case scenarios had to be covered in order to scan every item in the lot. We also had some difficulty in acquiring data from Redump style dumps of retail games as we do not have access to an up to date complete set to work with. Xbox discs that utilize the proprietary Xbox game partition utilizes a unique file system that doesn’t include timestamps on any of the files. Fortunately, every Xbox game utilizes one or several executable files called .xbe’s that contain very in depth metadata for every game disc. We were able to utilize this metadata to determine build dates for discs, game IDs for matching, and more. We continued to utilize our composite checksum method for this part of the lot in order to find games that match the final. However, given that games can sometimes be mastered in ways that are different from the final retail version, in the event that we had a game that contained an executable build date timestamp that matched an equivalent in our final data set, we manually by hand investigated the game to determine if it was actually unique. In most cases, most builds that didn’t have a composite checksum match were different due to watermarks or quirky mastering differences that included directories that were removed from the final pressing, or other inconsequential changes that can be noted somewhere else.
This brings us to the last part in our evaluation - play testing. As mentioned before in our previous announcement articles pertaining to Project Deluge, we invested a lot of our time playtesting every single unique prototype in the lot and wrote a basic summary of notable differences we encountered during play time. We do this to ensure the games are preserved in essence that they can be played somehow. In the past we predominantly utilized emulation to run each game for the sake of convenience and in most cases debugging, and this part of the lot proved no exception. Given the inconsistent nature of this part of the lot, testing on actual hardware proved to be quite difficult especially considering only one or two of us have retail hardware to play with!
While we aren’t affiliated with any emulator developer (nor is anyone affiliated with us), we were very impressed with just how far Xbox emulation has come in just a few years. While Xbox emulation has been around for over a decade now, it’s only been recently that most games can be emulated with a relatively comfortable experience. Of the 349 games presented today, only about 80 of them had to be run on hardware in order to be play tested properly. During play testing, we kept notes on every prototype we ran on any issues we encountered that hindered our experience. We would not have been able to do this even five years ago, which is a true testament to just how far Xbox emulation has come.
As always, we would like to thank all the members of the Project Deluge team for helping us with this project so far. Without your help, it would’ve taken eons for anything to come about. We’d like to thank Jason Scott from the Internet Archive for giving us an opportunity to go through this journey and for providing the hosting for this ongoing project, and Iniche for working with the owner of all of these wonderful builds to make it all happen. Special thanks to Master Emerald for once again creating beautiful art for us to help make each of our releases something special (especially on short notice!). We’d like to thank drx and ehw for writing the scripts and helping get the project initially off the ground, and Sazpaimon for taking everything much further by expanding the capabilities of the script, running some of the builds on hardware, the streams, and so much more. And last but certainly not least, we’d like to thank all of our researchers (Zoda-Y13, GopherGirl, Xkeeper (TCRF), Rusty (TCRF), Shoemanbundy, Hwd45, SolidSnake11, DigitalWarrior, Nex, and Drac for taking the time to help us go through every single build in this lot so far. And finally, we'd also like to thank Laurent from Sega Dreamcast Info Preservation Games for the extra goodies just in time for this release! He has done more for Dreamcast prototype preservation than anyone else and currently holds the world record for most prototypes dumped and owned for the Sega Dreamcast!
This project is far from over and has only just begun! Stay tuned in the next couple of months for more!
Until next time!
(NOTE: We are in the middle of migrating our server to take advantage of more storage. We have added the capability of adding external links on the Prototype form. PLEASE DO NOT REUPLOAD ANY PROTOTYPE FROM THE LOT ONTO THE MAIN SITE FOR NOW. While the links on the wiki side don’t work at the moment, you should be able to get to the externally hosted Archive.org link by clicking on the external link featured in every article. If you encounter an error with the external link, please let us know or make the correction if you know what’s causing the issue. This was a big lot so mistakes may happen, so be aware!)
(NOTE #2: Even though Xbox emulation has advanced to a point where most of these games are playable, please do not bother any developers for support for any of these games. They might not help you.)