Preservation — Lost Package2017-02-14

Update: please see the follow-up article:

Found Package

Background

On January 5th, 2017, a package containing 100 PAL games was sent to me from Germany via DHL. This was meant to be a loan that I was to return.

As of the time of writing, February 14th, 2017 — this package has yet to arrive. It has been stuck in the Jersey City, NJ 07097 bulk mail processing warehouse with absolutely no movement.

By comparison, the last package lent to me like this arrived in ten days. That covers the entirety of the trip from Germany to my doorstep.

Due to several highly valuable games included, this package has an estimated worth of roughly $7,500 to $10,000. I'm afraid I do not have an exact figure, as PAL game prices fluctuate rapidly, but we are working on this currently.

It is my belief that the package has either been lost or stolen, as the delay is beyond reason. Of course, I can never prove this, and I have heard stories of people receiving packages six months later. But I am not going to hold out false hope for something that is unlikely to occur. Nor do I want to sit around and wait — the longer nothing happens, the more likely it will end up lost forever.

What have I done to locate it?

I waited patiently until the end of January.

First, I tried contacting DHL, and received no response. After discussing this on Twitter, DHL's social media relations account reached out and was able to get me in touch with someone who called me back. This person explained that the package had already left DHL's hands and was stuck with the USPS.

Next, I went to my local post office and was told they could not help me. That my only recourse was to file a missing mail search. I did this on January 30th. To this day, I have not received any e-mails nor any phone calls, and the ticket is still in "accepted" status.

Next, I tried calling 1-800-ASK-USPS, and after waiting on hold for over an hour, was told there was nothing I could do but wait.

After that, I tried reaching out to anyone and everyone that I knew. I asked for help from everyone on Twitter, on Reddit (r/emulation,gamecollecting,usps), and on various gaming message boards that I was able to, including my own. I also asked those people to reach out to other boards.

Despite plenty of sympathy and awareness, this did not result in any viable leads. I've been unable to obtain contact information for the correct USPS postmaster, nor for any managers that work at the Jersey City bulk mail processing center that would be willing to help me.

What about insurance on the package?

The package was insured for 1000 Euros. Obviously, this does not cover the entire value of the package.

Obviously, it should have been insured for the full value. But please understand that hindsight is 20/20. The sender chose the insurance amount, and had no reason to suspect the package would be lost, and that we would be given no help on the matter. It's not unreasonable to believe a mail carrier would try to avoid the need to pay out 1000 Euros worth of insurance by not losing said package.

Please also understand that it's not simply a matter of asking for any dollar amount you want on shipping for insurance. I don't know the process in Germany, but when I went to return the first box of 100 games, I was surprised to learn that FedEx would only insure packages for up to $2499. Anything higher would require documented proof of value, and the faxing of many forms, which the retail employee I worked with had no interest in even contemplating.

Yes, we could and should have split the packages smaller. The shipping fees are extensive, however. It's costing around 100 Euros to send one box to me, and around $200 to send one package back to Germany. Larger lots were trying to conserve money. Again, yes, hindsight. You're right, but I can't do anything about the past now. The situation is what it is.

The sender has, as of yesterday, initiated an insurance claim. We are still waiting for that to complete, a process which may take several weeks.

Why do you want all of these expensive PAL games lent to you?

I've been developing an SNES emulator for the past 13 years now, and I am aiming for the highest accuracy possible. I am also interested in the proper preservation of all games for the SNES.

I have already purchased all 725 SNES games sold in the USA. This set me back well over $10,000. After preserving this set, I sold it and used the proceeds, plus an additional $10,000 of my own money, to purchase all 1450 games sold in Japan.

What do you mean by preservation? Aren't ROMs illegal?

I mean that I am scanning in the boxes, cartridges, and PCBs at lossless 600dpi. Where possible, I scan manuals as well. But these are far more difficult. Although I can't afford to host this content (it weighs in at hundreds of gigabytes), I do share them with snescentral.com, where Evan provides the scans to the public.

Further, I dump each and every game cartridge, generate a SHA256 hash of the game, map out the full address space of the cartridge, and finally document it in my database. This database ships with my emulator, and is available to the general public, and is used to provide perfect emulation of games.

At no point do I distribute ROM images. The hash is all that is necessary for others to confirm they have legitimate, bit-perfect copies of games. This is all perfectly legal.

Aren't there already ROM dumps out there of every SNES game?

Yes and no.

First, there are many revisions of games that are undiscovered. Upon dumping my USA collection, I found two new game revisions. One for "The Death and Return of Superman", and one for "Ken Griffey Jr Presents Major League Baseball."

What is a revision? Sometimes a game publisher will release a game, and then discover a serious bug in the game and will fix it. They then release new cartridges, but these are not labeled. You often can't tell which revision you have unless you take the game apart and read the serial numbers off of the ROM chips.

Second, there are bad dumps out there. There are many reasons for these. One is that games were often patched to remove anti-copier protections. These often do serious things like slow games down by up to 25% of their original speed (though usually it's not that drastic), because the oldest copiers did not have RAM with fast access speeds inside of them. Another is that due to the use of floppy disks, bits would get flipped occasionally. The third would be from older piracy groups adding "trainers" (advertisements upon booting the game, often with the ability to apply cheats to the game from an onscreen menu), and sometimes people would remove these trainers rather than redumping the games. The fourth would be header changes to make games run in emulators with poor heuristics. And the fifth and least likely would be malicious changes: people putting their names into the game images for bragging rights. Most notably here would be Diskdude and Vimm's Lair.

In the first batch of 100 PAL games I dumped, I found two games with bit corruption. The first was Spider-Man & Venom, where the main Spider-Man sprite was partially corrupted. The second was Fatal Fury 2, where one of the fighter sprite frames was partially corrupted. What's so damning about this is that both of these games were marked as "verified" in GoodSNES, which for many was considered a gold standard that the games were 100% bit-perfect copies.

A friend, KingMike, has found a half-dozen bad dumps of Japanese games from his own collection so far.

It's important to note that the USA set is easily the most dumped set there is. The PAL and Japan sets are not dumped nearly as often. Dumping the PAL set is thus of great importance.

Why didn't you send the dumping hardware to the PAL donor?

I have a one-of-a-kind setup in order to analyze and dump the entire memory maps of cartridges. All other methods to back up SNES cartridges cannot do this.

This is a critical step for properly emulating SNES games. Most emulators work by mirroring, or repeating, game data across the entire SNES address bus. But this is not accurate at all. There are actually hundreds of different PCBs with different memory layouts. This *can* be very important, some games even used this to detect copiers and would do various things when detected. Earthbound was probably the most infamous: it would vastly increase the enemy encounter rate, and even wipe your save game once you reached the final boss.

But the current emulators are pretty close to 100% compatibility with a few key memory mapping hacks for games like Wanderers from Ys and Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. However, my goal is to get things as perfect as possible, so the memory map layout is essential for me.

My unique dumping hardware was made for me by defparam, a talented electrical engineer. He is currently working on an easier to design version that we can hopefully distribute to other people in the future.

Further, my goal is not for me personally to dump every cartridge and have that be the end of it. I want as many people to dump every game as possible. The more people that dump games, the higher the degree of confidence that the dump is legitimate and correct. I want to do my part by dumping as many games as I can. I'm very happy for others to dump their games too of course, but that doesn't negate my own desire to dump cartridges as well.

Why didn't you fly out to Germany to dump the games?

First, because I don't speak any German, and feel very uncomfortable traveling to a foreign country on my own. I know most Germans speak English, but that doesn't ease my concerns all that much. It's scary to me to travel alone, sorry.

Second, because the plane ticket both ways would be exceptionally expensive.

Third, because it would take about 400-600 hours of labor to dump and scan all of his cartridges. I cannot afford to take 2-3 months off of work, let alone to pay to live in Germany for all of that time.

Fourth, because I don't want to lug my entire setup, computer tower, scanner, etc across the Atlantic.

And even if I were to try *two* roundtrip flights to Germany, there would still be a risk of the games being lost by the airports.

I had no reason to believe the games being sent via mail would be lost.

So what now?

Now, I want to reimburse the donor for his lost 100 games.

Why are you responsible for it?

Technically speaking, I could be a total asshole and do nothing. But that is not the kind of person I am. I am the one who asked him to send his games, on the promise that he would receive them back. Therefore, even though this is ultimately USPS' fault, I feel it is my responsibility to see that he receives all of his games back.

So you want $10,000? Is this some kind of scam?

No, I want the package that was sent to me!

I want someone from the USPS to escalate my case, find my package, and deliver it. That is my ideal resolution here. But I need your help! I need to spread the word about this, and get as much coverage as possible, until we can find someone who can get the USPS' attention. Preferably a manager or higher that works at the Jersey City location where my package supposedly resides.

But in the very likely case that the package does not arrive ... then I need to repay the donor.

To this aim, I will be doing all I can to pay for as much of the replacement games as I possibly can afford. But there's just no way I can afford all of this money right now. I've already maxed out my 401K loans on the Japanese game set, and it will probably be 2-3 years before I finish dumping and scanning all of those games to sell them for money.

All the same, I'm not really asking for money right now. I first want to try and absolutely exhaust all options at escalating this package, so that I don't have to refund money if it does ultimately arrive, however unlikely that may be.

Second, we need to compute an exact value for the games, and then see if the insurance claim is paid out by DHL or not. If it's not, then that's another 1000 Euros I will need to reimburse the donor for.

As far as the "is it a scam?" angle goes ... I've been known in the SNES developer community since 1998, and I've been an active emulator author since 2004. I've contributed to improving pretty much every SNES emulator active in that time window. I would not jeopardize all of that for a quick money scam. I have money, it's just tied up in my Japanese collection right now.

So does the donor want cash, or his games back?

Preferably I would like to get all of the games back. If I do open up donations, then I will provide the entire list of missing cartridges, and I will accept donations of said carts as well.

I'll ship the games back in lots of 20 cartridges each, with full insurance on each and every shipment.

So what does this mean for your preservation project as a whole?

It has effectively stopped it dead in the water.

This donor actually has over 400 games he was planning to lend me. But now I have serious concerns about having any more of his games shipped to me.

I declared the project dead yesterday, because I had assumed the donor would be furious about the lost games (I know I would be), and wouldn't want to donate any more cartridges. But it seems he is willing to continue, just with smaller lots and higher insurance — provided that DHL pays out the insurance claim on the current package.

So right now, the project is effectively in limbo. Although I now have a grave fear of packages being lost in transit, which is going to make me a lot more hesitant in accepting loans of any valuable cartridges. So there's no doubt that the productivity of the project will have been hampered by this.

What is the tracking# of this package?

I will provide my full name, address, the tracking#, and the missing mail search ID to anyone who can contact me from an @usps.com e-mail address.

I am sorry if I am acting paranoid, but I don't want to provide personally identifiable information to the general public for a whole host of reasons. I don't want a troll to call and harass USPS employees on my behalf, or they may feel less inclined to help locate the package. I don't want my real name and address publicized, as I prefer to keep my personal and professional lives separate. And I don't want to paint a target on myself by pointing out where a package worth potentially $10,000 is traveling to.

I don't know exactly what can be gleaned from a tracking# alone. But I know that there is no benefit in the whole world knowing the number. Both myself and the sender obviously know what it is. And anyone who can help will be given it as well.

What can I do?

What I need more than anything is to get the USPS' attention. Nothing I've tried has worked. Please, spread the word, ask other sites to cover this story, ask your friends and try to find any USPS employees. Especially higher up employees. Managers and postmasters especially.

How do I contact you?

You can message me on Twitter @byuu_san or you can contact me via e-mail at setsunakun0 at hotmail dot com. (That's a zero at the end, not an O.)

Closing

Many thanks for reading this, and for any help that anyone can provide!

If and when we've completely given up on ever getting the package, we have the DHL insurance claim issue settled, and a value computed ... then I will post another page listing the 100 missing games and start fundraising to try and replace them all. I'll be 100% transparent, listing all donations, along with all of the money I am pitching in from my own paychecks, and the purchase prices for each replacement game as we go along. I'll post pictures of all the games as well.