Nintendo released a trio of F-Zero titles for the Game Boy Advance to diminishing returns internationally. The second of the three, 2004's F-Zero: GP Legend, was based on the anime of the same name and included support for the e-Reader accessory exclusively in the Japanese version of the game. These e-Reader cards were distributed through a combination of retail and Cardass card vending machines and added new tracks, racers, and course ghosts into the game. You can probably guess what happened next; the cards were hard to find, then they improperly preserved in the online community, and it wasn't long until the add-on tracks and other scannables fell into obscurity. Thankfully, F-Zero modder Guy Perfect has spent the past few years working on adding these e-Reader add-ons into all regions of the game (even those that did not originally support it such as the North American release) without the need for the e-Reader or the cards and eliminates the limit on how many courses can be saved to the game at once. The mod is finally complete and ready for the green light. Here's the breakdown of what's going on here from the mod's documentation:
This hack is a mod for all three versions of F-Zero: GP Legend (Japanese, North American, PAL) that incorporates all of the e-Reader content directly into the game. The modifications are as follows:
• Time Attack and Training are now permanently unlocked
• Card e+ is now permanently added to Time Attack and Training
• All 20 e-Reader courses are available in the Card e+ cup
• Challenge ghosts are available on select courses
• Existing save files will automatically be migrated on first boot
• e-Reader exclusive machines are now available if they were still locked
• The e-Reader+ option has been removed from the Link menu
• The Card e+ cup menu has been localized for each language
The courses are available in the "Card e" cup for time trials and training modes and, having played them, I can say there are some bizarre layouts here that I've never seen in a typical F-Zero game. There are courses shaped like a hand, a foot, and a bird. Want to race through a lightbulb? Here's your chance. Take a look at these layouts. The developers were having fun with these.
I love to see the fan community working to preserve this sort of content that would otherwise be lost to time. I asked Guy to explain a little more about the work that went into the project.
I worked on this mod back in 2017 when I first learned of the game's e-Reader support in Japan. However, at that time, the 20 Carddass cards were still out there somewhere, sneakily avoiding anyone who wanted to archive them. Since there are four courses and one challenge ghost exclusive to the Carddass cards, I wasn't able to complete the mod and consequently let it sit for a while. In early 2019, someone approached me announcing that they had those cards in their possession, but by the time I finally got around to checking my messages weeks later, they were long gone. Fortunately, it seems they went to someone else instead and got them archived, so that's another 20 items crossed off the list of missing e-Reader cards. About three weeks ago, a second person came to me offering the missing data from their own card collection, which prompted me to research the state of the online archive. I dropped everything I was doing, and after two weeks, I had produced a new mod from scratch that incorporated (at long last) all of the e-Reader content ever released for the game.
The courses and challenge ghosts are not in the game's data: they are encoded into the dot strips on the e-Reader cards. This is why it was so devastating that the Carddass set of cards for the game was missing. Without those cards, that data would remain forever lost. I was prepared to acquire them myself and scan them in with a Japanese e-Reader+ I was able to get ahold of, then dump my save data to extract the content for the mod. It didn't come to that, however, because e-Reader emulation is a thing and I was able to use the recent online card archive to produce the data instead.
I was able to achieve all of the features that I wanted to include in the mod. Beyond waiting in cautious optimism for someone to come along with the missing cards (which eventually did happen!), the most challenging part was navigating the version differences in the game's program code. It was imperative that all three versions were adjusted equally, but the code was not exactly the same for all of them. In particular, the Japanese version appears to have been compiled with less aggressive optimization settings, so the code overall was less compact and easier to work with. Ultimately, I was able to write new code only once for the mod and use that new code in all three versions. Curiously, I introduced a bug into the PAL version somewhere along the line that knocked the "Card e-Reader+ Cup" text off-center in only that version. I decided not to fix it, though, because it was easier to center the translated text within the actual graphics than it would have been to try and center it according to the selected language.
e-Reader Course #002 is officially known as Red Canyon ドラコン (dorakon). Translating this name was a challenge because it wasn't apparent what it was referring to. It's a contraction of the English words "driving contest", which isn't very helpful because ALL of F-Zero is one big driving contest. I reached down deep into my network of contacts and got in touch with three Japanese translators--one of whom is a bona-fide Japanese native--but no one was quite sure what it meant. Eventually, we were collectively able to piece it together... golf. Yes, golf: where you swing a weighted stick at a little ball covered in dimples. What we in the English-speaking world call a long drive competition is known in Japan as--you guessed it--a driving contest. The objective is to hit (drive) the ball for distance, which is reflected in the course design as jumps followed by numbered markers on the pavement. On the north edge of the course, there even appears to be a tee box, complete with a ladies tee at a forward position.
All-in-all, I consider it an honor to be the one to introduce GP Legend's e-Reader content to the rest of the world. Slowly but surely, my dream of collecting lost F-Zero content is coming to fruition. It doesn't seem like all that long ago I was patching Expansion Kit courses into F-Zero X, and since that time, some absolute genius was able to make a hack that bundles the Expansion Kit directly into the retail ROM. Now the e-Reader courses and ghosts have come home, leaving only one more hole in F-Zero's legacy. In Japan, the Super Famicom add-on Satellaview featured live events where players would download single-use software and participate in nation-wide races. One of them, called BS F-Zero Grand Prix 2, took place over the course of two weeks and featured five courses that have seemingly been lost to time: Forest I, II and III, and Metal Fort I and II. I don't know if these event ROMs were ever dumped... There was a "practice" game dumped called BS F-Zero 2 that had an "Ace League" in it (five of the ten BS FZ GP 2 courses), but that is not the lost content I seek. If anyone has any leads regarding dumps of the Week 1 and Week 2 events, please send them my way.