Saturday, December 22, 2012

Inside the THQ archive (more Akira!)

During the drafting of HG101's previous Akira feature, I was able to contact Ryan Arnold, an administrator at THQ who deals with the company's data archives - he is quite genuinely, the vault keeper. Quite a few of those contacted during my investigation, not all of whom were quoted there, recommended contacting THQ in case they still had the old builds, which developers such as Black Pearl and Hand Made Software would have sent to THQ. What Ryan revealed was interesting, and also helped draw a line under the THQ investigation. I discussed his statement with him, but after several emails we agreed not to publish it - although it doesn't detail anything scandalous, some people may have been uncomfortable with the openness of it. Recently though, and after some consideration, Ryan has decided that he would be comfortable with publishing this information. As Ryan says: "It is rare that anyone cares about what a mastering lab tech has to say about the development process, and I would like to see my words become part of the public record."

As I'm sure all our readers will agree, what Ryan describes here is a fascinating look at an otherwise hidden world. My thoughts are with him and all other THQ employees, during what is no doubt a very difficult time.

This is what Ryan previously said:

First off, I want to make clear that I am not representing THQ here, so if you print any of this please don't call me an official THQ representative or something. If you want an official statement you should contact someone in PR. I've worked at THQ since 2004, so I don't know Mike Haller or Larry Siegel directly. I was in high school in 1993 so I have zero knowledge of the Akira games from a contemporary standpoint. Honestly, there are not many people at THQ from the SNES days. Anyway, I am uniquely positioned to give at least a little insight into the question of Akira prototypes from THQ. Before I was an admin at THQ I worked in the mastering lab for four years. One of our primary jobs in the lab was data archival and storage of source code and final builds / masters. As such I have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of everything stored in the THQ vault. To cut right to the chase I can tell you authoritatively that the modern THQ archive does not extend beyond the original PlayStation era. We have a few GBC games, but I think the oldest games in the archive are from 1998. I can tell you that there is absolutely no copy of Akira in any format anywhere at THQ.

Every time some old proto showed up in the lab when someone was cleaning out their desk (which did happen from time to time), I'd play it and file it away thinking about how many people would love to see it too. But the oldest prototypes I ever saw were all N64 / GBC protos, never anything on SNES or GameBoy. I am an avid retro game fan, and I was a huge fan of Akira as a kid. If there was any trace of Akira at the office I'd know about it. I'm not sure if it was the case with Akira, but I know that most of the time when THQ gives the licensor back the rights to a game we were working on, THQ hands over all the existing source code and any game assets. We recently did this with Disney when we gave them back the Pixar license. That means if 20 years from now someone is trying to track down the unreleased version of Ratatouille for GBA, they won't find it at THQ even though we worked on it, because we had to purge it when we gave up the license. Not sure that was the case back in 1993, but it's possible that all Akira assets went back to the license holder.

I have seen lots of interesting hardware and unreleased stuff.  One cool thing about the lab is that we'd burn all the pre alpha milestone builds for pitch meetings, so we would see all sorts of stuff that never saw the light of day. I am fascinated to hear about the dev process back then. It probably wasn't that different. We still get builds over the Internet, just not at 56K modem speeds. 

I know we had Gameboy and NES burn hardware and test carts, so a Gameboy version is possible. I never saw any Genesis stuff in the lab. Of course the corp office has moved three times since then. Every move means a big asset auction. A lot of dev hardware gets sent back to first parties like Sony on Nintendo. I do see THQ proto NES carts show up in eBay from time to time, but I assume those come from the dev side and not publishing. We are pretty locked down. The closest I have seen to Genesis protos at work were some old Game Gear test carts (Star Wars and Madden if memory serves).


  1. What's going on with THQ ("a very difficult time")? Are they shutting down?

    Based on what Mr. Arnold says, it might be fruitful to find out who held the Akira license in the early to mid 1990s. Still, it's a long shot.

  2. Pretty interesting to get a glimpse into the development process. Especially a part that usually never gets mentioned, let alone considered by the general public. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Hi did you see any sega cd protoypes for Akira!!!

  4. As Mr Arnold mentioned, he didn't see any prototypes for Akira on any console.

    Updated the main akira page:

    There's an extra para explaining Ratatouille.