The real story of Ghostlop (by Billy Pitt)
  • As time passes, internet gaming communities seem to confuse or forget events in gaming history. This is partly due to the fact that members come and go from these communities and when questions are asked by new members about events from the past, they are often not answered correctly by veteran members, but rather by whoever happens to be around at the time and takes the time to respond. So every once in a while, it becomes necessary for those of us who were actually present when the events occurred to correct these mistakes and ensure that the historical record is accurate

  • It was back in 2003 when I first held in my own hands the original sample prototype Ghostlop cartridge. I had purchased it from a contact who had managed to locate the game for me. It was found just sitting on a shelf among other regular cartridges in the possession of an Ohio arcade game operator in the United States. The cartridge had been given to him by someone at SNK back in 1996 for a location test. Apparently the game did not perform well in testing, and so it was never released to market. However, the operator somehow managed to keep the cartridge there even after the test was over. This is not always the case, especially with SNK as they were very strict about returning loaner cartridges. It cost me about $3,000 USD to purchase & acquire the cartridge from the operator, and at the time that was allot of money to pay for a video game, but compared to the prices that rare games sell for today, it was actually a bargain! But the price was inconsequential. I would have paid double if I had to. Because even back then I knew in my heart the true value of these special games; priceless.

  • February 28th, 2003 was a rainy day in Orlando, Florida. FED EX was behind schedule. Thank God for next day shipping and tracking numbers! These things give you more peace of mind when things go wrong in shipping! I was on the phone with FED EX several times during the day trying to track and locate my package. I had the package shipped to my work so that I could be there to receive it, and I waited there all day long but it never arrived. The heavy rains caused all kinds of delays and cancellations with the delivery trucks. After 5pm, I started to worry that I might not get the game that day, or worse, that it was lost or damaged in transit. It was very important and significant for me to get the game on that day, February 28th, because it was 02.28 which was also coincidentally my theorized hypothesis for the games software product code number! This was of course only by chance, but it intrigued me.

    Well, I finally managed to locate the package; it was at the FED EX main station and had been "canceled" for delivery for that day. I was going to have to wait until the next day! So I begged and arranged with FED EX to pick up the package myself in person at the FED EX station before they closed for the day. I raced over to the station as fast as I could. When I arrived, they handed me the box and it was wet from the rains! What a concern! So I immediately ripped open the box to make sure that the game cartridge was still dry and safe inside. Thankfully, it survived the trip. But I promised myself that from that moment forward, I would never again have rare prototypes shipped to me. Rather from now on, I would buy airline tickets and pick them up myself in person. This is much safer for both the buyer and the seller. So I raced back to my home as quickly as I could and as soon as I ran through the door; my immediate focus was to check the product code number! I will never forget that moment. It was the most significant and important moment for me with that game. I finally had confirmation of yet another lost game and product number from the software list. It was 228, just as I had predicted, and the date would be forever recorded and sealed in the history timeline.

  • I played through the entire game that night. I had to see every level, try every option, and check the game to see how complete the proto was. It was indeed a 100% complete game, with an ending and all. I of course checked the other modes and country settings, the two player option, the memory card function, etc. A complete run down of the game was absolutely needed. And all of this recorded on video cassette of course because of what I was about to do next.

  • The next phase was the "safeguarding" of the games data. This was a very risky and dangerous, but necessary procedure. I needed to safely back up the games data. Not because it cost me so much money, but because it was the only one in the world! The game's data had to be protected and saved. And before I do this with any proto, I always record on video as much of the game as I can. Because those videos and screen shots will be all that is left should something go wrong during the procedure! A very scary thought, and thankfully something that has never happened to me personally with a proto, but nevertheless always a possibility that must be considered.

    So I then began. I removed all of the eproms from the cartridge, read the data from them with my eprom readers, and saved the data on multiple formats of data storage as well as in several different places. Diversification and imagination is the key to ensure data safety. After this process, I then proceeded to the next phase. That phase was to make myself a perfect copy or replica of the cartridge. The purpose of this was two things. First, I wanted to have a copy to play instead of the original whereas to preserve the integrity of the original and prolong its life. And second, so that I could now trade or sell a copy of this proto for a copy of another proto. Never before did I have in my possession such an amazingly rare and valuable piece of "trade bait".

  • Up until this point, Ghost Lop was a complete secret which absolutely nobody knew about except for my close friend, John Thacker. (Geddon_JT from the neogeo forums) I was reluctant to tell anyone about this amazing find until I had it backed up and copied. These matters took me several weeks to figure out because I was completely on my own and so I could not ask for help when I was stuck. Also, I had to ensure that it was all done as safely as possible. I did not want to rush and make a mistake or have an accident. Patience is the key as many things can go wrong when working with electronics. Bad rom reads, static electricity, and even dropping an eprom can cause irreversible damage. And when you’re handling a one of a kind proto, it can be very stressful and scary. So I took my time to be extra careful. I was in no rush. Finally, a couple of months later, I was done securing the game and I was ready to go public with the news. Even then I preferred trying to negotiate a trade instead of an outright sale, but I did not put enough effort into pursuing that and I was overly anxious to show off and tell the community about my great discovery. I would come to regret that.

  • I was younger and more naive back in 2003. I did not truly understand the ways of the high end collector's world. And as a result of this lack of knowledge, I made a serious regrettable mistake. Most likely, the worse mistake I have ever made and ever will make with a proto game. That mistake of course was that I sold the game. At the time, the money I had spent getting the game, safeguarding the data, and copying the game, was adding up. In addition, I was very nervous about the "ticking time bomb" angle that these proto games have. They can go from priceless to worthless on any given day if another copy is found and/or if the data suddenly appears on the internet. So I panicked. I made the first deal that seemed even the least bit reasonable to me. In this case, it was to sell the game to a French team who's intention was to make a small production run of about a dozen or so cartridges to sell to the high end collectors. The rest of this story is history.

    A well known member in the neogeo community named "Tonk" got together with some other individuals and managed to put together enough funds to buy one of those cartridges sold by the French team. They sent the game to community member Jeff Kurtz who immediately had the game dumped and it was then distributed by "Tonk" over the internet. The game was now "common" or "released" as they say and anyone could build their own cartridge or simply play it on an emulator. It lost its status and trade value. Ghostlop was basically now dead. It became "worthless".

  • And so that is it. That is the REAL story about the NEOGEO proto game "Ghostlop". The main thing that I learned from the experience was that I would NEVER again make the same mistake. I learned my lesson, and from that point on, I would NEVER handle any of my protos for any of my systems in the same way. To this day, I hold that policy and despite the fact that since then I have indeed acquired more protos, they remain locked away and ONLY available for a trade deal for another equally rare proto. I MAKE NO EXCEPTIONS! They are not for sale at ANY price. They are for TRADE only.

  • Now I would like to share with the readers some little known facts about the Ghostlop game itself:

  • The game’s intended name was actually "Ghost Rope" The Japanese phonetic sounds for the letters L and R are the same and so they often accidentally substitute one for the other in their translations. And the missing letter E was merely an oversight or a silent e that was missed. The idea of the name was that you are "roping in" the ghosts to “catch” them, much like a ghost buster or "exterminator" would do.

  • The cartridge also came with a title card. Yes! Almost nobody knows this fact, and it has never been revealed nor seen! I kept it and still have it to this day here with me! I never told the French team about it, and they never asked, and it was not part of our deal. It is unclear if the card was made by someone at SNK, or perhaps by the operator in Ohio who may have done so just to have something to place in the marquee of his cabinet at the arcade. However, if I had to guess, I would say it was done by someone at SNK, perhaps someone from the Data East design team of the game. The reason is because of what is actually on it. It has the name of the game, and what seems to be a picture or "likeness" of a programmer or member of the SNK or DATA EAST staff. Yes! So this would make more sense that it was made by them, because why would the operator have made a mock up card from scratch using a random mans picture rather than a ghost or game related art?

  • Lastly is the meg count. This has often been misreported over the years. The game is indeed 98 megs. Just two megs shy of the 100 mega shock mark. It is from 1996, and had it been released officially on home cartridge, it would have been in the second generation plastic clam shell case, or "lock box" as we used to call them.

  • The final boss ghost that you have to face in the game is a big marshmallow looking blob which you battle in New York City. This is a very similar plot and storyline to the original 1984 Ghost Busters movie.

    Also recently, elements from the game were featured in a special Data East compilation alongside the Magical Drop puzzle games, which are known as Chain Reaction in the USA.

    Billy Pitt webmaster

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