Email: email@example.comMemories of Near
The first emulator I tried out was zsnes back in 2000. At that point, it was good enough to run most games I could throw at it with reasonable playability. After a return home after my first year of university in the summer of 2001, I decided to spend my spare time working on a website documenting SNES games, and became involved in the emulator community, which at that time was the main place to go for hardcore enthusiasts of the SNES.
Near's start in this community began before I had regular access to the Internet. Specifically, they focused on making translation hacks. Their first hack was a big one - Dragon Quest V. Being a fan of Dragon Quest IV and curious about the unlocalized SNES sequel, I decided to give it a go sometime in late 2002 or early 2003. There were two translation hacks, one made by Near, and the other made by Dejap. Of course at that time, I was moderator of the zsnes forums (which also hosted the Dejap forums), so when asking about which to use, there was a certain bias against Near's version, and I very much remember it being derided as being "too literal". I was not privy to the drama behind these hacks (wherein Near discovered a method that made hacking the game possible), but there is no mention of this in the readme files. This was likely the first time I was made aware of Near.
When thinking about this article, I decided to give Near's translation hack a go. While by no means as polished as a hack that would come out now (especially when compared to the amazing feats in their Bahamut Lagoon hack), it is still very playable. While undoubtedly a different flavour to the Dejap hack, there is nothing wrong with this version, if you want to play it on the SNES. The fallout of the scene drama related to this hack continued to haunt Near two decades later.
My first real encounter with Near was when they decided to start making an emulator. In their translation hacks of Tekkaman Blade and Der Langrisser, they found some serious problems when trying to play on real hardware because they were only tested in emulators. At first Near merely pointed out the issues that their and many other translation hacks had due to the inaccuracies of emulators. Rather that continue complaining, they started work on an emulator that was focused on hardware accuracy, bsnes. A long thread arose in 2005 on the zsnes forums, and the other emulator authors were very supportive. I think over time, Near's criticisms of their work did wear on the other emulator authors, though, especially working on an emulator with such high system requirements. This conflict, along with the supporters of these other emulators, eventually led Near to leave the zsnes forum and start their own website and forum.
I think my association with the zsnes forum, along with being in a very tough moment in my personal life, undoubtedly biased my views on bsnes and Near. I think things really came to a head in mid-2010, when Near started to work on a massive scanning project of every US SNES game. They posted an article about the state of SNES emulation at that time. I ended up writing a response article about, which you can read here. Looking back, I was definitely upset about the fact that Near was doing this scanning project and basically declaring the work that myself and others had done was insufficient, and that they did not really want to trust others to help because of a desire for consistency.
A big change in my attitude happened soon afterwards. I was writing up an article for the 20th anniversary of Super Mario World. For this article, I decided to try out a bunch of Super Mario World hacks on this flash cart that I had purchased, so that I could try them on real hardware. I was disappointed to find out that most of the hacks I tried did not work. It was at that point that I began to realize the necessity of what Near was trying to accomplish. I made a post about it on SMWCentral about it to express my frustration.
Reading this now, I realize how arrogant and unfair I was to people at that time, especially to Near, and I am truly sorry. No one should be criticized so greatly for what is ultimately a hobby. People should be allowed to do what they want because it is fun and relaxing. I would like to think that over time, we both matured and found ways to express interests without being so harsh. The outpouring of grief after Near's passing really shows how beloved and appreciated their work has become. This had everything to do with how generous and kind Near was.
Building the reference site of SNES Central
Of course, I was very wrong, and Near was able to complete the scanning project of every US SNES game. Despite the way I had treated them, they let me use every scan they made for SNES Central. Without Near's efforts, SNES Central would not be the widely used reference site that it is now. The scanning project set the standard that video game preservation groups strive for now. Almost every game page on this site has a scan that was made by Near. I remember when this was going on, Near was working hours and hours, probably at the expense of their health, to get through the more than 700 games. They scanned every cart, box and PCB, and dumped the games with very specialized hardware to capture the exact mapping that allows the game to run accurately in an emulator. These scans are used by developers to ensure hardware compatibility. They are also used by collectors to ensure their games are legitimate amid a sea of bootlegs.
I am happy to say I played a small part of my own on this project. Near was able to get every commercially released game, but was missing the Donkey Kong Country Competition Cart and Super Starfox Weekend cart, two extremely rare games that were produced for tournaments. I lent these games to Near in order for them to complete their scanning project and ensure that every USA release was represented in bsnes. I still remember mailing them out on a cold February day when I was visiting my home in Canada.
I have to admit that it took many years for me to complete adding all of Near's scans to the site. When I first got them back in 2012, I was a student and did not dedicate a lot of time to SNES Central. Later on, I moved to Europe and my social life decreased a lot. I realized that I really needed to fulfill my promise to put the scans on my site, as Near had continually said that this would happen when people asked about this. I finally accomplished this on October 30, 2016:
In a project that took over half a year, I finally finished uploading all of byuu's US SNES scans. This means that every single game page should have at a minimum PCB and cartridge label scans, and most should have box scans as well. byuu went through all the effort of scanning these games for preservation purposes, and I thank him for allowing me to put everything up on SNES Central for documentation (though at much lower resolution). During the course of this effort, it allowed me to go through the scans I did myself (completed around May), and to come up with ideas on how far I want to go with documentation. In the end, I decided that I want to document every PCB with a ROM chip with a different manufacturing date, so that I can determine the timing of game releases and reprintings. Since I am done with byuu's scans, I will now accept submissions for additional scans. I have made up submission guidelines in order to minimize the amount of time I have to spend to add them to the site. Please read them if you intend to submit something! I am still not done with the site reorganization I promised nearly two years ago, as I still have to move some prototype pages, and general housekeeping tasks. I'm also not done with scans, as I have many SFC and box scans I did myself, plus many submissions. By the end of the year, I hope to have my backlog completed!
Near's scanning project inspired buffalojoe to do the same for the entire PAL collection, and all of his scans are also on SNES Central. I hope to honour Near's legacy by slowly doing the same for the Super Famicom. I will fully admit that I have never had the same drive as Near to work on these projects for various reasons, but I will slowly chip away at it.
The importance of emulator accuracy
One of the bread-and-butter things of SNES Central is my documentation of SNES prototypes. Back around 2006 and 2007, I worked on a bunch of prototypes given to me by Lost Levels. Back then, there was a prototype of Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems that was incredibly glitchy. In 2015, I revisited this and other prototypes with higan. What was a glitchy mess in zsnes when I originally looked at it turned into an interesting, playable prototype. This wasn't the only one. NES World sent me a prototype of The Flintstones: Treasure of Sierra Madrock that has massive slowdown in older emulators, as they triggered a copy protection regime. These are just two examples, but it shows the necessity of what Near accomplished when trying to preserve games.
Near's work has influenced many others. Without their work, would we have seen the amazing Analogue FPGA consoles? It might have happened, but it definitely would not have been as close to perfect accuracy without the standard that Near set. Near's work also inspires other emulator authors. Just today, I note that master SNES hacker Vitor Vilela is creating his own high accuracy emulator.
Near, the person
Despite how bad I treated Near back in times before 2011, Near and I eventually came to a peace. Some of this came from my experience moving abroad and meeting people from all parts of the world. Nothing is more eye-opening than this. I think Near also found that they were perhaps a bit too critical back in the late 00s. Regardless, I would like to think that we grew out of the stupid competitive nature of the early Internet.
I had the opportunity to meet Near in person twice in Tokyo. The first time was when they were effectively being courted by a company to help develop commercial emulators. I flew up to meet them, along with Marcan and Joseph Redon from the Game Preservation Society. We had a great time exploring the gaming shops in the real Otaku areas of Tokyo. Unfortunately, I had a severe anxiety attack. Near had noted how much I raved about the Japanese dish called shabu-shabu, and they treated me to that as a way to make me feel better.
This is how I think Near should be remembered, as the person who was exceedingly generous and always thought of others before themselves. Remember them as the person who helped to translate Mother 3. Remember them for the extreme efforts it took to emulate the Wonderswan. Remember them as the person who's quest for accurate emulation helped Stephen Hawking keep his voice. Remember them for their 20 year long goal to create the ultimate fan translation of Bahamut Lagoon.
Today, I am out of hotel quarantine after finally arriving in Japan after nearly a year away. It is really the beginning of a new life for me. Just a few weeks ago, I was hoping to meet up to Near before I flew out of Tokyo.
During the past year, the restrictions during the pandemic wore a lot of people down, including Near. Prior to the pandemic, people would regularly come to visit Near, and this was something they dearly missed. Unfortunately, they did not have enough connections in Japan to maintain an IRL social life, which we all needed during these hard times.
The first time I met Near in Tokyo, they asked me about living in Japan. I said I really enjoyed it, and would not hesitate to recommend it. I really do think that Near appreciated the opportunity to move to Japan, and it was a dream of theirs. It can be a very lonely place, though.
I would be remiss to not mention the circumstances of what happened. Near was under a constant barrage of abuse from the dark corners of the Internet. These vile people were going as far as to harass Near's closest friends, and this was something that Near felt deeply guilty about. Near really tried to find ways to stop them, going so far as to hire a lawyer. In June, they found out that it was pretty much impossible to stop the abuse through legal means.
Back in the mid to late 00s, most online communities were anchored through independently run forums and IRC channels. In these communities, it was possible to remove, or at the very least restrict the trolls. Near themselves created their own forum after the trolls started to become a problem on the zsnes forum. Now a days, the control of the Internet has become concentrated by a small number of indifferent corporations that use algorithms to boost the voices of controversy. The thing is, most people are not well equip to deal with attention if the algorithms deem something to be worthy of virality, and there is no recourse if you become a target. Until there are toothy laws by international treaty to force these corporations to deal with harassment, these kinds of tragedies will continue.
I will miss Near, and I will continue to work on SNES Central to try to complete some of the goals they dreamed of. In particular, they wanted a complete PCB database for every Super Famicom game. Now that I have started my new life in Japan, this is a possibility. I still am working on the framework for completing this task, but rest assured, this is a task that I will accomplish.
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