Preservation, Legal Questions Hover Over Unprecedented Nintendo Gigaleak

Preservation, Legal Questions Hover Over Unprecedented Nintendo Gigaleak

If you’ve been anywhere on the internet this past weekend, you’ll have witnessed the social media firestorm that has been the Nintendo Gigaleak. Within it, loads of high-level Nintendo information has leaked online, including the source code for some of Nintendo’s most well-known and classic games from the days of the SNES and Nintendo 64, indulging fans with information about unreleased prototypes and hidden content within the files for some of the most popular and recognizable games of all times.

It’s difficult to overstate just how incredible some of the information uncovered this past week is. Thanks to this leak, we know that ‘L is real’ as definitive proof of Luigi’s planned inclusion in Super Mario 64 somewhat puts to rest the playground rumors about the character’s inclusion that’s been an urban legend for years.

As someone highly supportive of preservation movements that seek to chronicle the development of games to create a historical look at an industry that rarely keeps tabs of such information unless they think it could earn them money in the future, access to such information is as unprecedented as it is incredible to witness. Yet alongside this comes leaked personal information and the looming legal questions that surround information that’s come to light under legally-questionable circumstances

A Preservationist Paradise

As a way of preserving gaming history, the Nintendo Gigaleak is a goldmine and a stunning insight into the creative process of one of the world’s most secretive gaming companies.

One of my favorite games to this day is Yoshi’s Island on the SNES/Super Famicom, so seeing a bunch of in-development cut concepts, art styles and changes that help to document the history of one of my favorite games is incredible. It’s a fascinating look at what was changed throughout development, and wow, a lot changed. A completely different egg-throwing mechanic, map design and HUD are just the start!

The legendary Winter CES 1995 demo for Star Fox 2 was included in the leak too. a bunch of interesting early sprite work and completely different music can be found in there, but perhaps most interesting is the inclusion of an early Starfox CAD Tool used by Argonaut staff in the process of the game’s development (as confirmed by the developer themselves!).

Some of Nintendo’s earliest 3D modeling work is hidden in this leak too. Using the SuperFX chip, a very basic early 3D model for Link can be found here, barely recognizable were it not for the shield and his long nose. On the lines of Zelda, early Link’s Awakening graphics from a time the game was known as Dreaming Island are here alongside early Zelda sprite work.

Early Yoshi graphics make up just part of the early development material found in the source code for Super Mario World, which features a far leaner and taller design for the iconic character. Then you have an unreleased SNES prototype simply called Donkey, and while it’s possible to come up with theories that this was an even earlier build from that game with a different protagonist or part of a canceled project, it’s impossible to say. (Music in the video is not present in the actual prototype)

This is before going into some of the Nintendo 64 content within the Nintendo Gigaleak, where Luigi’s reveal is just the start. While that revelation caused their name to trend worldwide on twitter, it’s only a part of what was found when it comes to Super Mario 64. A copyright file hidden in the source code gives invaluable information regarding the exact days the game was in development, while high-resolution images of beta screenshots, cartridge and manual art and more were also uncovered.

Similar art was found for The Legend of Zelda’s various Nintendo 64 incarnations, revealing high levels of detail simply impossible to see before now. The texturing on Link’s tunic and the writing on the map, for example, are now publicly available and preserved for the first time. Away from artwork, internal files for early files, including an early Kokiri Forest, exist alongside cut rooms found in early Spaceworld trailers are explorable in all their glory.

Most of the leaks related to major Nintendo titles from the Nintendo 64 and SNES eras, but Pokemon Diamond and Pearl source code also leaked as early sprite work for Pokemon that changed during development or were even cut entirely can be found here within the gigaleak.

To list all of this still leaves out so much information that was unveiled as a result of this information. Much of it is still yet to be uncovered, and you can bet that more data will be uncovered after this article has been published. After all, early Mario Kart 64 prototypes and more have been discovered days after the leak was first uncovered, and there’s possibly even more hidden within this leak that’s still yet to be found.

Legal Questions Challenge Preservation Arguments Surrounding Nintendo Gigaleak

It’s this last point where many of the issues lie. Nintendo never voluntarily released this information to the public. These are copyrighted internal documents, and whatever your stance is on the tense divide between public preservation and education and company copyright, at the end of the day this is proprietary intellectual property that Nintendo owns and was released against their will.

The source of this information is anonymous, and we don’t know if this is everything or if there’s somehow more data that’s still yet to be released. To speculate is meaningless without any facts indicating where it could have come from, although it is thought that it could have come from a hack on a company contracted by Nintendo in the past. Either way, it’s almost certain the information was obtained through illegal means; the release of this information is certainly illegal.

As noted by prominent gaming commentators, the ramifications of this info reaching the public are the likely increase in corporate security measures that make the work of employees at these gaming companies harder, and the release of such information can just as likely harm the original creators.

This is before we get into the issues that surround the personal information that has nothing to do with game preservation that’s found here within the Nintendo Gigaleak. Highly personal information from emails and chatlogs hidden within these files discuss explicit topics and internal company drama that have no reason being made public. Regardless of whether you agree with the content found within them or not, this is the sort of information that should be scrubbed from such leaks as a minimum before their release to the public.

So what happens next? Well, even if Nintendo tries to scrub this information from the internet, success seems nigh on impossible. Regardless of its questionable origins, the information is out there now, and it’s hard to get rid of something once the internet opens Pandora’s Box and shares it as widely as the Nintendo Gigaleak has been shared around.

Now that the information is out there, you can bet that many of the games and tools uncovered (much of the focus has gone towards the uncovered game source code and rims, but there are internal emulators, Wii Shop back end tools and more hidden within this leak) will continue to be dissected for weeks to come. The information uncovered will give us a greater insight into the history of Nintendo than was ever thought possible.

For Nintendo, searches for the culprit and how this information got out there will begin in earnest. While it’s likely that much of the information was first accessed a long time ago and isn’t indicative of any new breach in Nintendo’s security, the fallout surrounding the illegal access of this information will likely be a running story for a long time to come.

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