Retro gaming is bizarre, though not exactly uniquely so.
In this day and age of the internet, it seems that every new release is in some way chronicled and talked about, recorded for all time. But looking back as recently as 30 years ago, there are all sorts of hidden gems, minutiae, and oddities still waiting to be discovered.
Case in point: Video game collector and YouTuber Nikolai “Russian Geek” Gubanov bid on an auction for a bizarre cartridge and adapter for the Nintendo Famicom. The adapter, called QTa, is needed in order to play a series of games known as the Space School series, which consists of six programs created with Japanese national broadcaster NHK for schools, with a seventh made for a Japanese gas company. These titles were never offered commercially, instead only being available to those who worked in the education system.
Gubanov’s acquisition caught the attention of an infamous Russian ROM hacker going by the screen name “CaH4e3,” who had other entries in the series, but lacked access to the adapter necessary in order to reverse-engineer it. Now, after ten years and a bit of work, Russian Geek and CaH4e3 have four of the seven Space School titles are available for all to see online.
As Video Game History Foundation founder Frank Cifaldi explained to Polygon about the breakthrough, “not only were they rare, they also ran on unique hardware that had not previously been documented.”
“Not only did the games have to be obtained somehow, which felt impossible enough,” he continued, “they also had to be dissected and reverse-engineered by one of only a handful of people around the world who do that sort of work. The likelihood of both happening felt really low.”
While this can be chalked up as a huge find, with only four of the seven titles logged, the series remains incomplete. Nevertheless, an enormous hurdle has been overcome, as Cifaldi notes that the documentation is done, and it’s merely a matter of extracting the data from the remaining three so that the entire series can be preserved.