Six years ago I wrote an article at a time when perhaps BattleBots Update had its highest clout urging the founders of the event to strike up a deal to make their cancelled Playstation 2 & Gamecube game a reality. I offered some solutions and raised some important points that involved using this classic game as a barometer to test the viability of a contemporary BattleBots game, assuming the game was appropriately rebranded as “BattleBots: Legends” or something of the sort. It’s been over half a decade now and all we have to show for it is a BattleBots slot machine made by Konami. It’s not even a proper slot machine either it’s one of those all digital ones that can (and probably are) totally rigged. What a letdown.
Six years is quite a long time though. BattleBots departed from ABC, took a year off, and then re-emerged on Discovery Channel (which is probably where it should’ve been all along). I attended the taping of numerous seasons, allowed some jokes from this website to run unchecked, and had a 50/50 public and private meltdown over it. The point I’m trying to make is a hell of a lot can happen in six years’ time. That’s a President and a half. Half an American schooling. A half-decade plus one. However you want to define it I think the most important thing to stress is we’re all still here on this lowly comedy blog reading guff that one talentless hack (me) has been churning out for seven years. Now that’s staying power. And that staying power has finally paid off.
NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER SURRENDER
One thing I’ve never given up on, and something I’ve always been very passionate about, was the aforementioned prototype BattleBots game from the open letter article I referenced in the first paragraph of this post. From a young age prototype games have always fascinated me. This fascination first began with Atari 2600 games when I’d see unfinished productions and scans of “Lab Loaner” cartridges and just wonder what it would be like to hold one and actually play it on real hardware. How cool it would be to have a piece of literal gaming history. Prototypes for the 2600 are actually not as rare as I’m making them sound and plenty of serious collectors have one or two of them but my fascination ended there; I wasn’t about to write a blank check to eBay to obtain one of my own, that was too lux for me.
I’ve always had this casual interest in prototypes however and the significance they hold to the history of games. There would eventually be one prototype that I’d set my sights on and relentlessly search after for years upon hearing the game was cancelled. I think you can guess where this is heading. I remember putting $5 down on BattleBots at a GameStop store back in 2002 because I was so stoked for it. I also remember eventually moving that $5 deposit onto another game when BattleBots was quietly taken out back and put down. Even back then when I was in high school I knew that there had to be a demo or something playable of this game floating around out there. After all sites like Gamespot had trailers and screenshots of the game so somewhere there was a “ROM” of this game just waiting to be uncovered.
I remember I started my search with the PlayStation “Jampack” demo discs that would periodically come out, usually quarterly. I was convinced there was a demo of the game out there and I just didn’t have it. Jampack discs weren’t accepted by GameStop for trade-in so I had to turn my sights to the internet to start looking for them. Thankfully they were relatively cheap and since there was a date on the discs I could further refine my searches only to a specific window of time. I bought three Jampack discs in total and BattleBots wasn’t to be found on any of them. As far as I knew Gamecube demo discs weren’t a thing aside from those you’d see in the kiosks at Best Buy and Walmart so that was a dead end too.
My search led me to contact THQ, the game’s would-be publisher, for information about the game but they were of no help. I also contacted BattleBots who also weren’t able to help me obtain a copy of the game. It seemed the leads went cold around this time but I never forgot about BattleBots. It was always earmarked in my mind. Sometimes I’d get a wild hair and look on eBay for listings that included the prototype disc or I’d search through websites like Unseen 64 for information on the game. Nothing. But the game never slipped my mind, it was always there.
In my searches for the famed BattleBots prototype I’d come upon numerous cold leads as mentioned earlier, but every once in a while I’d stumble upon something promising. The first happened in 2015 when Donald Hutson allegedly brought his copy of the prototype with him along with the special development device needed to play it to the hotel that competitors were staying at for BattleBots‘ first reboot season. This clued me in to the fact that some builders might have copies of the game because Donald did. Also he apparently pissed off hotel security because a crowd of people formed around the television to see the prototype in action. Donald was unlike most people however in that he’d invested the money to purchase one of the Gamecube development systems in order to play his physical copy of the game; you can’t just pop a Gamecube prototype disc into a retail system and expect it to work… because it won’t. So Donald ponied up The Big Bucks™ to make this happen.
I reached out to Donald to talk about obtaining a copy of his prototype. Our conversation was kind of one-sided considering he held all the chips and BattleBots Update wasn’t really “a thing” yet. I told him I had a background in game design and we spitballed some robot combat game ideas but I wasn’t going to be able to make anything happen and thus he became a cold lead on the prototype. But then I had the idea to call Trey Roski directly and I got his number from Donald. Trey seemed more bewildered than anything that someone would want “that old thing” but was welcoming and said if I wanted to I could come down to the BattleBots offices and play the game for myself. The only problem with that gesture of kindness was that BattleBots is headquartered in California and I live in Texas. But it would make sense that Trey would have a copy of the game because BattleBots was demoed at the taping of Season 5.0 for Comedy Central.
April 2016 rolled around and someone with the username “pegleg poop” would register on the GameTechMods.com community simply to post a thread titled “I have THE GAME (the battlebots game)”. In his opening post he’d share a few screenshots of the title screen and some in-game action then respond to his own post with “lolz”. That was it, those two posts and he vanished into the ether. He did not return to answer any questions or respond to any private messages that were sent to him (because I sent him one asking about the game and got nothing in response). So Mr. Poop was another cold lead who was clearly only there to brag and flex but it wasn’t as much of a total loss as you might imagine because his emulator screenshots let us know one very important piece of information: someone had ripped the ISO of their physical copy and the digital version was now “out there”.
Perhaps most famously of all however was a flub from BattleBots themselves when they added the “Vintage” section to their online store. In this section of their shop they had some original era merchandise for sale that they found in storage. Of note were the video games they listed for sale. Yes, “games” plural. For the low low price of $299 you could snag yourself a copy of that god awful Game Boy Advance game… or the Gamecube one? No price was too small for me. For $300 I put the Gamecube game into my cart and went to checkout. I paid for it and everything but almost immediately had my payment refunded with a notice that the Gamecube game wasn’t actually for sale and its inclusion on the online store was “a mistake”. A mistake that to this day they haven’t seemed to fix. (To correct the record, BattleBots has never sold copies of the prototype, for any amount, at any time.)
OBTAINING THE IMPOSSIBLE
It’s 2018 and we’re now several years into the BattleBots Update project. Teams and the producers alike have gotten in on the action and were fans of the blog just like everyone else. For all intents and purposes this project had found its place and after three attempts was a success. People now knew me, my name was out there “in” the robot combat community. So imagine my surprise one afternoon when I’m checking my Facebook messages and I get one from a friend who says they have a digital copy of the BattleBots prototype. They were willing to “trade” it with me if I sent them some of my retired robots for their personal collection. I said I couldn’t do that because these robots – even the scrap ones – were symbolic of the time my father and I spent building them. I could part with them now, but when he’s dead and gone I know I’d beat myself up for having gotten rid of them over some stupid game, even if it was the game.
I said we weren’t going to be able to make a deal and explained why. I was given the prototype anyways, presumably because the person doing all the collecting had a good heart. I remember the first thing I did was figure out how the Dolphin Gamecube & Wii emulator worked because I was about to clear my fucking schedule and play this goddamned game that had eluded me for fifteen years.
I wanted to just share this with the world. I wanted to post about it and include a download link. I wanted to do all the things but I held myself back out of fears of legal repercussions. Who knows what would happen if I released it? I thought about doing so anonymously and contacted the website Hidden Palace about it but they didn’t respond to me. Guess they only care about certain kinds of prototypes. Yeah, I gave copies to my friends. Of course I did. Maybe that means I’m bad at keeping secrets but I don’t give a fuck. These were people who much like me had waited a decade and a half and that wait was coming to an end, damn it. As time marched on my apprehensions started to disappear and I became a little more brazen with my handling of the prototype even going as far as to stream the game as the 2021 season finale of my show Gatorbox and then posting all two hours of the game unedited on YouTube for Christmas that year.
People knew I had a copy of the prototype and I was happy to field questions from those who wanted more information or even footage of the game. A couple of YouTubers that I aided included Dippy Egg (Pory Nog) and the show Lost Legends (BattleBots features in the third episode of the series). All this attention that the prototype was starting to get again had me fired up so that’s when I set the wheels in motion to do the only logical thing I could think of.
It was time to set this game free. It’s been 20 years since BattleBots’ initial announcement of their PlayStation 2/Gamecube game. Two decades. That’s long enough. It ends here, for everyone.
But before we get into the release of this prototype I feel there’s some important ground to cover regarding what makes this game tick. (And what makes it “not tick”?) As an incomplete game there’s bound to be some stuff that causes the game to crash and I’d like to point out the most apparent causes I’ve found in my time playing the game as well as some odd quirks that aren’t game-breaking but are a little annoying. You’re going to have to run this on the Dolphin emulator or if you have a modded WIi or Gamecube you can run the ISO on those consoles.
Firstly, Biohazard will crash the game. Yeah, I know, I know. That’s a huge fucking bummer. This is the “Alpha 4.6” build. Allegedly the version that Trey Roski and BattleBots themselves have is 4.7 which fixes this crash but until that version is dumped this is where we stand. You can view Biohazard on the player select screen but upon trying to load the robot into the game it will hard lock. This includes both you selecting Biohazard or Biohazard appearing as an opponent in Tournament or Arcade mode. Biohazard is this game’s MissingNo glitch; simply looking at it will fuck your game up.
Herr Gepounden will also cause the game to crash but only if you try to get the game to play Mark Beiro’s introduction for it. Considering the introductions are broken this is easily avoided by just pressing the A button to skip them. (For those curious, in order to play Beiro’s intros you need to do the following: allow the camera to pan around the arena and let the camera change to the red square on its own, Beiro will perform his introduction for the bot in the red square, allow the camera to pan all the way around this robot until it switches to the blue square, press A to skip the intro. Beiro’s introduction for the robot in the blue square will play during the countdown before the fight starts. Like I said, it’s a prototype. It’s fucking bonkers, okay?)
Tournament mode seems to not be finished or programmed correctly and completing a tournament successfully will cause the game to crash upon completion of the championship finals.
Losing in a tournament and participating in the 4-way consolation melee can be fun until someone gets knocked out because then the text “FRAME FAILURE” won’t disappear from the screen. Also everyone’s player numbers above their robots are upside down for some reason? Additionally if you win a tournament bout via KO your next opponent will have “OUT” covering their health and stats even though they’re active in the fight. This is just cosmetic.
Some of the featured robots aren’t sized correctly compared to other robots in their weight class. Voltronic comes to mind, it’s fucking massive. Mauler is appropriately sized however if it gets flipped over it can just Mauler-spin against the ground and avoid being counted out (when the big orange “!” hazard sign appears it means you’re being counted out). Nightmare seems too small compared to other bots and can’t be KO’d by being flipped over since it just rolls around on its disc and one wheel. Vlad the Impaler is also big, perhaps a little too much so. Super Ginsu is a behemoth but I think that’s because it’s literally Super Ginsu and not the regular Ginsu. Yes there is a bigger Ginsu built by Trey Roski and Greg Munson called “Super Ginsu”.
The game’s physics are not perfect and often times the kickback you receive from a hit can flip you over or immobilize you. Middleweight Garm comes to mind for this because its spinning vertical disc seems to be a magnet for kickback and if Garm is flipped over it can only coast around on its blade until it hits the wall. Additionally I’m not sure the in-game “judges” work correctly. That’s just a hunch but it seems like something that needed to be tweaked at the last minute. They just throw out whatever random numbers they feel like sometimes and usually all three categories will be scored the exact same even if you fight someone who can’t cause damage like most of Team Toad’s robots.
That’s everything major that comes to mind but just keep in mind that this is an incomplete game so you might find something that crashes the game that I missed!
We live in an era where nothing stays hidden or forgotten forever, for better or worse. Today is one of the better examples of that. Yes, I had this prototype for several years and kept it to myself but I never intended to be a prototype hoarder I just didn’t know what my options were when it came to sharing the ISO and unleashing it unto the world. That was my plan all along, I just wasn’t sure how to do it. I don’t know where this digital version of the prototype originated from. Is this Donald Hutson’s copy? Is it someone else’s? Is this the same image that the showoff from GameTechMods had? I haven’t a clue and it’s not my place to postulate who dumped the ISO, when, and for what reason.
I also wasn’t sure if this was something I was supposed to even have but I’d committed to throwing caution to the wind by streaming the game in December 2021 which was essentially an announcement of “yes I have this, here it is”. When the legal world didn’t come crashing down on me I poked the potential hornets nest and messaged Greg Munson to ask about the prototype and whether I could post a download to it. I was referred to Trey Roski because he’s the big boss when it comes down to these kinds of matters and he seemed completely unfazed that I had managed to swing myself a copy of the prototype. More importantly however he told me that as long as no money was exchanging hands he was completely fine with the prototype being distributed.
So there you have it. This post has the official approval of Trey and Greg from BattleBots. They want people to experience this game! So I invite you to indulge in it. It’s been 20 years. This is the game that has been hiding from you for all this time. Is it a perfect game? No. Is it the game we all envisioned it to be? Maybe, but 20 years of dreaming can set some dangerous expectations. This game is best enjoyed for what it is: an unfinished novelty. This game has a unique physics engine and its own charm but in my opinion it’s a solid “Robot Arena 1.5”; somewhere between Robot Arena and Robot Arena 2.
Play this game and post about it. Share the link to the prototype. I’m not doing this for the notoriety, I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do. Blow this up. Let the world know that a previously lost game has resurfaced after two decades. These are the things that are important, not me. Although the game wasn’t polished up and released like we’d had hoped this can still act as a barometer for BattleBots to get some hard data on how well a video game for today’s bots would fare. So get the news out there! And get to playing this game! Maybe if things go right we’ll see BattleBots secure a new developer and publisher for a brand new game. You never know. And what of this prototype? I am not familiar with the Gamecube modding scene but perhaps someone with more knowledge than I could “hack” this game, clean it up, and then redump the prototype with no crashes?
There is no need to thank me for this prototype; there have been numerous opportunities for this prototype to leak and I just so happened to be the one that paid off. It’s an honor to be the one to break this out, and maybe against my wishes this will be the one thing BattleBots Update is remembered for, but I’m just some random guy with a blog. A random guy who finally found the game that had eluded him for so long. The truth really was out there.