We chat to Frank Gasking, who’s looking to put a spotlight on the untold stories of gaming’s history…
Could you please tell us what The Games That Weren’t is about?
So, The Games That Weren’t is primarily a project/website which documents and preserves unreleased games for a large variety of platforms (such as Commodore 64, Super Nintendo, PC, etc.). It’s been going for just over 20 years now, with tons of titles covered with screenshots, and even downloads added from time to time. It continues to grow to this day and has a regular set of updates and contributions from the gaming community.
About 7 years ago I decided to write a book of the same name, putting down on paper detailed stories about a number of games that never saw the light of day to do something more physical that the reader could hold in their own hands. The book however goes into a lot more detail and narrative than we would usually on the website.
Was there a singular moment or game that inspired you to write it?
I’d been working as a programmer/web developer for quite a few years at the time, where you produce websites or software that has a limited shelf life. Part of me wanted to produce something a little more permanent – something that would still be around potentially when i’m not, if that makes sense? Sounds a bit morbid I know, but I wanted to leave my mark in some way and do something potentially cool, hopefully making my family proud etc.
When trying to think of what I could do, I realised that The Games That Weren’t project was coming up soon to its 20th anniversary – so it just made sense to do something to mark that very long milestone, and a book seemed to be the perfect thing to do.
How did you go about researching more than 80 unreleased games, including previously unreleased screenshots?
Initially it was a case of trying to figure out what games I wanted to cover. I shortlisted a number that I thought would be good to include, but then started contacting developers and seeing if they had any games that they would be willing to talk about in a book. For a number of years, I was tracking down and contacting developers/artists/producers/musicians – sending them emailed questions or arranging Skype calls to find out more about what they worked on.
There was a lot of reading old magazines and scans as well to gather information and clues from the press of the time. Once there was a good amount of information pulled together, I’d produce a timeline of events, then an initial draft and pass it onto those involved to check over. Often, other people’s recollections would get them remembering more details to add to further drafts.
With screenshots, we were very lucky in some cases where the developers/artists still had their work archived, and would kindly dig it out to share with us – allowing us to put in some screenshots for the first time. In some cases though, where there is absolutely nothing to show (even old magazine screenshots), we had the idea to get an artist (Trevor Storey) in to produce special “Artist impressions”, showing what the game *could* have looked like – just for a bit of fun.
Is it true you’ve been working on the book for over 20 years?
Thankfully not quite that long. There’s been a bit of a mix up in a few places online – but basically i’ve been running the project/website for over 20 years. I found an old email the other day where I was discussing my plans – and it seems the idea came back in December 2012 over the Christmas break, then it was started in early January 2013. So almost 8 years in total.
What was the hardest information to get? You hear stories of Nintendo famously being secretive, were there any developers like that?
The hardest information to get is sadly from those no longer with us today. This is especially the case for games from the 1970s. Those developers are now around 60-80 years old on average, and unfortunately that’s when things get really touch and go. This was why it was so important to try and share their stories and preserve a bit of their history, before it’s too late.
Being morbid again I know! Otherwise, the hardest information to obtain is where the developers are tied down by a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) and are not allowed to talk about the games they have worked on. This is more apparent for modern day titles (and from those working for companies such as Nintendo), and was a major struggle for the final decade covered in the book.
It would have been a lot easier if I was just doing a short write up for every game in my own words, but because I wanted to include quotes from the devs themselves, I had set a rod for my own back. Thankfully I managed to find a selection of titles where I could ask questions and get answers in a legal way, then just do simple double page spreads for those I couldn’t (and which people may have expected to see included).
Are there any games that you have found out about recently that you wish you could put into the book?
Yeah, towards the final formatting/editing – some titles such as Akira turned up on the SEGA Mega Drive which would have been nice to do something on. But that’s always the way. Thankfully we managed to get at least a short 2 page spread on Akira added right at the death. There’s also been a few cases where additional information has been unearthed for some of the titles covered in the book. For instance, we cover a game called Captain Seahawk from the 1970’s, and there was nothing to really show from the game. Just a few weeks ago, the developer unearthed a mockup arcade banner intended for the game – which we could have included in the book. However, it’s still great it’s been found – and we’ll add to the website as bonus content for people to check out.
Additionally, there has been that major leak from Nintendo which has unearthed some very cool things that could have been great to cover in some way too. Would have been a legal minefield to trudge through though.
If you could have any of the games finished, which one would you most like to play?
Tricky one – but I would have to say Stunt Car Racer Pro, which was due out back in 2003. I was a massive fan of the original Amiga/C64 racer game as a kid, so was excited for this sequel at the time. I think it would have been a lot of fun with the stunt tracks, and racing against friends.
Do you have any plans to release any more books?
Not at the moment. I feel I’ve now scratched that itch and fancy doing something a bit different, playing some actual games for once and spending more time with my wife and daughter. However, there have been requests to do future writing, so you never know!
We are Upside Down Shark, and as tradition we have to end by asking: What is your favourite shark?
Ah, it has to be Sharky from Sharky and George. This was a cartoon I used to get up at 6:30AM for every Sunday morning as a kid. It was about two detectives who solve these different mysteries in an underwater world.
Watching it back now, it hasn’t aged too well and is as cheesy as hell (especially the opening credits), but I still have very fond memories of it and even named our daughter’s two goldfish after them at one stage. Fancy watching an episode now I’ve been talking about it.
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