Huge apparent leak unearths Nintendo’s prototype history

Huge apparent leak unearths Nintendo’s prototype history

Opening the vault —

Unused designs for Mario, Pokemon, Star Fox, and more see the light of day.

Kyle Orland

Footage from “Super Donkey,” a previously unseen prototype included in the recent Nintendo “Gigaleak.”

A massive leak of apparent Nintendo source code is giving gamers a rare, unauthorized look at Nintendo’s development process dating back to the Super NES era.

The massive trove of files, first posted to 4chan Friday and quickly dubbed the “Gigaleak” by the community, includes compilable code and assets for Super NES, Game Boy, and N64 games in the Mario, Mario Kart, Zelda, F-Zero, and Pokemon series. Hidden among that code is a bevy of pre-release art and sound files that have never seen the light of day, as well as fully playable prototype versions of some games.

Nintendo has not responded to a request for comment, but the sheer size and complexity of the leak points to its authenticity—faking this much data in a believable (and workable) way would just be an incredible amount of work. Star Fox Developer Dylan Cuthbert has also publicly confirmed the authenticity of an early Star Fox 2 CAD tool included in the leak. And many of the assets in the leak also match images previously seen in magazine previews, suggesting either authenticity or an incredible level of attention to detail among the leakers.

Modders and homebrew developers have been digging through the trove of data over the weekend and taking to Twitter and YouTube with their discoveries. Among the most interesting findings:

  • A version of Super Mario 64 including data for a 3D model of Luigi (likely for the scrapped two-player mode). Players have inserted that model into the ROM to create video of Luigi running around. The leak also includes a few unused test rooms for the game.
  • A Yoshi’s Island prototype featuring differences in the map screen, interface, music (and including the prefix “Super Mario Bros. 5” in Japanese). The prototype also features two apparently unused mini-games (No. 1, No. 2) and some unused test levels.
  • Pokemon prototypes featuring early and unused sprite designs for many monsters.
  • An original prototype named “Super Donkey” featuring a Rayman-style character in a Yoshi’s Island-styled world [Update: A previous version of this post mischaracterized the music in this video. Ars regrets the error].
  • Sprite data for Luigi giving an apparent middle finger and Bowser outside of his clown-copter in Super Mario World. The code also contains multiple early designs for Yoshi (some of which match art previously revealed in interviews with Nintendo developers) and a completely new map screen design (which also matches previously revealed screenshots).
  • A version of Star Fox 2 with previously unseen characters.
  • High-quality voice samples from Star Fox 64, F-Zero X, and Super Mario 64 before they were compressed to fit on relatively small N64 cartridges.
  • Graphics for a Pilotwings prototype called Dragonfly, previously seen only in grainy magazine screenshots.

This new leak comes months after a separate dump of internal Nintendo data that included source code for various Nintendo console operating systems, as well as internal Powerpoint presentations discussing various features of those consoles.

While many are reveling in a treasure trove of previously unknown historical information contained in the leaks, some are worried over the privacy implications of some internal emails included in the leak, complete with personally identifiable information in some cases. Others are worried about how the revelations will ripple through the industry.

“This Nintendo leak is bad on so many levels,” Digital Eclipse Developer Mike Mika tweeted. “It hurts them, it hurts fans, and it turns the topic of preservation into a topic of security and tightening the grip on intellectual property regardless of its historical or educational value to history.”

Listing image by Andy Robinson / Twitter