All prototypes should be backed up. There, this lesson is over. What, you want to know why a prototype should be backed up? Are you sure? Things can get a little frightening. If you really want to press the issue, read on. As a warning to people with heart conditions and women who are pregnant, you may wish to skip ahead to the next section. For everyone else, don't say I never warned you.

Picture, if you will, this scenario: After years of dedicated searching, you finally have a complete collection of NES games at your disposal to play. Well, that's not so scary, is it? It's an NES player's dream come true! Now imagine one day you decide to sit down to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You choose a favorite game and turn the system on.

Nothing. Nothing comes up on the screen.

You take the game out, blow on it a little, and then try again.

Still nothing but the vast darkness staring back at you (or the vast blueness if you're using a top loader).

You give up and go on to another game. This time, a screen does appear, but the graphics are so blocky and glitched that it's impossible to tell what's going on. You push a button and suddenly the game freezes.

You try a third game and a fourth and a fifth, and the sun is going down now, while the piles of unplayable carts are mounting up on the floor. As the night lurks on, the realization of having wasted thousands on games that no longer work drives you to madness and you begin tracing on the walls with your bottle of Nintendo game cleaner: ALL BLOW AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY. Lightening flashes from outside of the bedroom window, illuminating your twisted face.

You go out and kill a man that night. In the morning, the police are at the door knocking because your name and phone number are written in black marker on the murder weapon: a non-working Hydlide game pak.

Scary, is it not? Fortunately for you (and that man you would have killed), this scenario is implausible. With enough cleaning and care, your regular game collection will always be safe for you to play.

Prototypes, though! Prototypes are a different story. With a prototype collection, this nightmare could very well become a reality because of one thing. One terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing.

I joke by telling you this exploitative, fear mongering story, but bit rot is real and something to certainly be concerned about. In the first lesson you learned about EPROM windows that, when exposed to UV light, will gradually erase the data stored inside. Placing a sticker over these windows and keeping prototypes in a cool environment will help to keep the data safe, but no amount of care will prevent the inevitable: Even the most protected EPROM will experience bit rot.

Without getting into the highly technical explanations of memory cells and transistors and other things a guy with an English Master's degree will never understand, just know that data is transferred onto EPROMs via electrons where they are kept until, over time, they leak out, carrying the data with them. EPROMs are said to have a guaranteed minimum of ten years life. That's a given. The survival rate after that can range from another ten to fifteen years and even longer. The problem is you'll never know until bit rot occurs. There are no warning signs.

That's when backing up, or dumping, comes in and saves the day. You'll sleep well at night knowing that bit rot won't rot your prototypes after dumping them.

"But," you say, "I don't have to back up my prototype because I couldn't find any differences during my many playthroughs of the game. It's probably the same as the final retail, so it's not worth the trouble of dumping."

You shut your damn mouth right now! I mean, I'm sorry. I would have to politely disagree with you there. Even if you thoroughly play a prototype to death (pun intended), from beginning to end, and can't find any changes, there still might be differences that the naked eye can't see, like unused graphics or hidden game code.

For example, I played my Three Stooges prototype more than any human being should ever play that game, and I could not for the life of me find any single change from the released version. One dump later, and I find out that the prototype has a subtle tweak in gameplay that would have been near impossible to spot during a playthrough. This just goes to show to always consider the possibility of there being differences until proven otherwise. Don't wind up with banana cream pie all over your face like Curly! You won't know if there's something unique to your copy until you dump it.

"Yeah," you say, "but I think my prototype has already been dumped before. I downloaded this prototype ROM online, and it plays just like the prototype I own."

Don't ever take for granted that a ROM of your prototype has already been dumped because you've seen one floating around on the Internet. Don't go by available ROMs or misleading cartridge labels alone to determine if your prototype is dumped or not. Unless you know the entire history of your prototype by contacting the previous owners, or the person who dumped the game, you will never know for sure if your prototype is the same.

The best way of truly confirming if it is the same or not is by first dumping and then putting it through GoodNES (which will be demonstrated in the next lesson). Until you can do that, consider your prototype undumped, not backed up, and at risk.

Do not worry. There are many honest and knowledgeable people who would be more than willing to help you back up your prototype.

If you have more than a few prototypes and don't feel comfortable about sending them all through the mail, it might be best for you to purchase and install a CopyNES, a device that backs up NES and Famicom games onto a computer. Know that the CopyNES unit itself costs $70 plus shipping and the task of installation involves some intricate soldering and desoldering, but really only takes 30-40 minutes for the savvy tech guys out there to do.

If you're crazy enough to want to jump headfirst into serious prototype collecting, spending the $70 to invest in a CopyNES that creates back-ups of your precious, precious prototypes is the best thing you could ever do. See the final lesson to find out more about CopyNES and how to operate it.