A few months ago I was busy preparing to move to a new house when I came across something from my past.
I was going through my belongings, trying to figure out what to keep and what to discard, when I found an old shoebox stuffed down the back of my closet. Curious, I opened it up and found that it was full of CD’s. I flipped through them and realized that these were backups of files from over ten years ago.
I remembered that this was how I used to back up stuff before external hard drives became affordable enough for me to just start backing up with them.
I stopped packing and started checking out the CD’s on my computer. They were mostly full of stuff I’d collected off of the net like mp3s, roms and animated GIF’s.
I then came across a CD that was labeled ‘Conversations with Pahn’. I stared at the CD with some reservation for a moment before loading it into my computer.
The CD contained a bunch of images, a couple of audio files and some text dumps from a message board.
Looking over these files made me recall an incident that had occurred many years ago. It was an incident that had slipped from my mind until I saw that CD again.
Honestly, I was glad to have forgotten about it. It was a pretty freaky experience and to this day I still don’t know what to make of it.
It was 2004, I was in my last year of high school and I spent most of my free time being an admin for an emulation message board.
It wasn’t a particularly taxing job, I was one of three guys who were admins and the board itself was pretty niche, so we usually didn’t get a great deal of traffic.
Back then there wasn’t the bot problems you find on boards these days. Most of the time I just had to log in, check my messages, then browse through the forums to see if anyone was breaking any rules or just being a dick.
It was a pretty fun gig, I got the most enjoyment out of messing with persistent trolls.
Being an admin allowed me to change their avatars(I had pics of crying babies for such occasions) or edit their posts.
Usually I’d have them say stuff like “I suck”, “I cry into my pillow at night” or my personal favorite “I left my brain in the womb”.
Basically I used to get a real kick out of administrating justice on the board.
So one night a new guy registered to the forum and created a thread called “Need help to pull apart my nes”.
The following is from that thread:
I was slightly mystified by his question and I had some time to kill so I thought I’d ask him.
I almost laughed at this. I explained to Pahn what roms were and he got really excited.
I got the gist that he really wasn’t very technically savvy. Which was fair enough, we all had to start from somewhere.
After explaining to him about roms and emulators I didn’t hear back from him for a few days.
He then came back to the board and became a bit of a regular. He would mostly start threads in which he was asking questions about emulation problems he was having.
A lot of people didn’t have any time for him. They felt that he was just an annoying person who asked dumb questions. I remember one night he started a thread about how he couldn’t get an emulator to read games he had downloaded. We then had to explain to him what a zip file was and how it worked.
One of the other admins was thinking of banning him. He didn’t like the fact that Pahn was starting up new threads about stuff that had been already answered in earlier threads.
I told him not to do that, I’d have a word with Pahn. I don’t know why I decided to step in, I sort of felt bad for the kid I guess. I also felt a bit of a connection to him because he was one of the few people I’d run across who was also a fan of the RPG Suikoden.
So I told Pahn to check through the board before posting any questions that might have already been asked and answered. I then told him if he got really stuck to just private message me.
It wasn’t long before he started messaging me. At first he would just ask me questions.
Lots of questions.
Fortunately he seemed to be a quick study, I didn’t find myself having to explain things to him over and over again. So I wouldn’t say he was stupid, just green.
Soon enough he asked me for some game recommendations and this lead to us talking about what games we were playing. It was from there that we started having a correspondence over the next few months.
We only really talked about games and movies though, the only personal stuff that I knew about him was that he was 16 and he lived in London.
One night we were having a conversation about Metroid games. I’d just clocked Super Metroid for the millionth time and was thinking about dusting off the original Metroid and giving that a go.
It was a pretty well known glitch. Basically how it works is, if you are falling down a long shaft in some places in the game and then press the select button repeatedly really fast, you can make wall tiles disappear. If you go through the tunnel that is created you’ll end up outside the map.
You can then find rooms that are tile swaps of regular rooms, rooms that scroll repeatedly forever and rooms that look like they have been randomly thrown together.
Apart from using it to sequence break, it’s pretty pointless. It’s more of a novelty then anything else.
Some people started up a website devoted to the ‘Secret Worlds’. They were obsessed with mapping the whole thing out. Like they were explorers braving uncharted territory or something.
I tried it out myself once on my gameboy. I quickly got frustrated though after I kept getting stuck in walls when I moved between rooms.
I didn’t hear from Pahn for a couple of days after that. Then one night he sent me a message.
I taught Pahn how to take snapshots and upload them so that he could show me the stuff he was finding.
A few days later I got a message.
After that I didn’t her from him for about a week. Then one night I was on the message board and got the following message:
Pahn sent me the links and I looked over the images he had uploaded.
I knew straight away that this wasn't a glitch.
I asked him where he had got the rom from and he gave me the address. When I checked it out, the page wasn’t there anymore. Which wasn’t really surprising. Back then rom websites were frequently popping up and being taken down almost immediately.
Just before I was about to go to bed I looked at the pictures again. It occurred to me that the words might form a sentence. I wrote the words down on a piece of paper and started trying out combinations. Eventually I came up with;
“HOW DARE YOU. STOP STEALING MY LEGACY.”
I thought it was a rather strange sentence. I couldn't figure out why anyone would even bother hacking that message into the game, I didn't even understand what it meant.
A few days later I got another message from Pahn.
I taught Pahn how to capture the audio and gave him my email address. I told him to attach the file there if he did manage to record any sounds from the game.
I thought about what Pahn had described to me and I had to admit that I was pretty impressed by the hack.
I also agreed with Pahn’s reasoning. If someone had bothered to put this much effort in, then it was likely that they had done more. It was just a matter of finding it.
Though I was surprised that I had never heard of the hack before. I started browsing through rom hack sites, trying to find the one that Pahn was playing. I didn’t have any luck so I asked around in a few IRC channels but no one had seen anything like what I was describing.
The following night I was browsing the message board when I noticed I had a new private message. I saw that it was from Pahn and opened it up.
I didn’t know what to make of it, I’d never heard a gameboy make that kind of sound before.
The audio file finished downloading and I listened to it while I waited for Pahn to come back.
At first it just sounded to me like a foghorn, but then another sound started to play over the top of the foghorn noise.
The other sound did seem familiar to me somehow, but I couldn’t quite place it. I found myself getting spooked so I quickly closed the file. I got up and made myself a cup of coffee and a snack. By the time I got back to my computer 15 minutes had passed.
I waited a few more minutes but I didn’t get a response from Pahn. I got worried for a moment but then just figured either a friend or family member had come by and he was busy.
I surfed the net for a bit, did some Admin duties then checked my messages again. Pahn still hadn’t come back. I was pretty tired by that point so I shut down my computer and went to bed.
I got up early the next day and checked to see if Pahn had left me a message.
He still hadn’t gotten back to me.
I headed off for school and didn’t get home till the evening. After I grabbed a bite to eat I sat in front of the computer and checked my email and private messages. There was still nothing from Pahn.
I left a few more messages and waited for his response. Over the next few days he still didn’t get to me and I really started to freak out.
I skipped school for a few days and stuck pretty close to my computer. One afternoon, after performing some minor admin duties, I re-listened to the sound that Pahn had sent me.
I still couldn't make out what it was so I started playing around with it in sound recorder. I sped it up a few times and realised that the foghorn sound might be the the music that plays right before you fight the Metroid Queen. As I continued to speed the sound file up I realized what the other sound was, someone was talking over the music.
I had to speed the sound up over ten times to get it to sound like it was playing at the right speed. Once I had done that I tried to make out what the voice was saying. I had to listen carefully a few times before I got it.The first part was an introduction. Someone was saying “I am...” and after that was presumably their name. I couldn’t catch what it was though, it wasn’t an english name.
The second part of the sentence was clear enough though.
“Knock Knock, I am here.”
Needless to say I was quite unnerved at that point.
I hit the internet again, trying to find out anything I could about the version of Metroid 2 that Pahn had been playing. I emailed people at the “Secret Worlds” website, I posted messages on numerous emulation websites and I spoke to people on various IRC channels.
Most people though I was joking, the rest thought I was crazy.
It seemed no one knew what the hell I was talking about.
Then one night I got a private message.
I was a bit startled. When I'd been going around asking questions about Metroid 2 I hadn't been using Pesmerga as my username. Nor had I mentioned what message board I was from.
I replied back to the message, wanting to know who was messaging me and how they had found me. But the user never got back to me. After that night I kept an eye on the logs of user activity to see if he came back to the site, but he never did.
I then took the message's advice and looked up the name Gunpei Yokoi.
It didn’t take me long to find out who he was.
It turns out that he was hugely influential at Nintendo. Some of the games he worked on included the original Donkey Kong, Mario Bros, Kid Icarus, Metroid and Metroid 2.
But what he is best known for is arguably his greatest creation, the Gameboy. It’s often described as his legacy.
I kept reading the article in fascination when I got to a section that was about his life after leaving Nintendo. Not long after he left Nintendo and started his own company, Gunpei Yokoi died in a car accident. I glanced at the date of his death and that gave me a shock. It was October the 4th, 1997. The same day that I got my last message from Pahn.
I listened to the sped up version of the audio Pahn had sent me and that's when I knew that the first part of the message was "I am Gunpei Yokoi."
It was after this realisation that I went through a period, which went on for about a year, in which I flat out refused to answer a door unless the person identified themselves.
Over the next few months I scoured the internet for any news stories concerning a missing teenager in London.
There were several stories that would pop up but the details were so vague that any one of them, or none of them, could have been Pahn.
There was one story that did catch my attention. It was about a missing teenager who had been last seen at home.
His mother had left for work and she said that he had been on the computer in the lounge room.
When she returned several hours later the lounge room was empty but the computer and various other electrical appliances were still turned on. At first she thought that he might be in another part of the house, but when she checked she found that it was empty.
She then tried to call his mobile phone and that was when she discovered that his phone and wallet were by the computer. It was at this point that she called the police. They investigated and found no sign of disturbance in the house and nothing was missing, well except for the teenager. He had vanished without a trace.
I looked for more information online but couldn’t find anything else.
I contemplated getting in touch with the police in London. But one thing stopped me, there was no way I could think to word my story without sounding like a crazy person.
Even if I could figure out how to word it properly, and if this missing teen did happen to be Pahn, there was no information that I could give them that they wouldn’t get off of his computer anyway. And if it wasn’t Pahn then I would just be wasting their time and possibly end up in some sort of legal trouble.
The words ‘hindering a police investigation’ popped into my mind.
I went back through my conversations with Pahn to see if there were any clues to his real identity that I hadn’t noticed before. But there was nothing there that revealed anything I didn't already know about him. It was then that I realized that I always just assumed that he was a ‘he’ in the first place.
But there was nothing in our conversations to dismiss the possibility that Pahn had been a female. The possibility of Pahn being female instantly made the task of finding Pahn twice as hard.
In the end I had to give up, I just didn’t know what I could possibly do. I took screenshots of all of my conversations with Pahn, copied the pics and sound files he had emailed me and burnt them onto a CD, just in case I ever needed them again.
Not long after that I finished high school and then started working.
Within a month I stopped being an admin. I still stuck around the board for a few more months, but by then I no longer had the free time to post with any regularity. Over the following years I got busy with life and everything that happened with Pahn drifted further and further from my mind.
I decided to write this all down and put it online in the hopes that after all these years someone might know something about what happened to Pahn, or know of the version of Metroid 2 that he found.
As I said at the beginning, I honestly don’t know what to make of this.
Is there a copy of Metroid 2 floating around the internet that’s haunted by the ghost of Gunpei Yokoi? And if you have the misfortune to stumble across it does he come to your door, angry that you have dared to defile his legacy?
I try not to think too much about it.
When it does cross my mind now I like to imagine that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax perpetuated by Pahn. That he set the whole thing up months in advance. He created the images and the audio files. He came onto the message board, pretending to be a technically inept teenager, when really he was brilliant with a pc.
He was user12345, he was the one who told me to look up Gunpei Yokoi.
I like to imagine that he is somewhere out there, still laughing about the wonderful joke he pulled all those years ago.
Sometimes I can almost convince myself that it was just a hoax.
I think that was how I was able to get to sleep at night in the months after I lost contact with Pahn.
And I think that telling myself that it was all a hoax now is going to come in real handy on those restless nights in the days to come.