During the early '90s heyday of licensed games for systems like the NES, there were probably countless proposals made for titles that never saw the light of day, as some other project was completed in its stead. Some of those abandoned games probably got quite far along in development. Today, thanks to the work of the Video Game History Foundation, one of those projects will live on.
An NES game based on Days of Thunder, the 1990 NASCAR drama starring Tom Cruise, has been preserved thanks to the VGHF and veteran game programmer Rich Whitehouse. A Beam Software-developed Days of Thunder game was released in 1990 by Mindscape Group, but this newly-reconstructed version was the unreleased work of Chris Oberth, a programmer who worked on dozens of games throughout the '70s, '80s, '90s, and even into the year 2000 with a credit on NBA Live 2001.
Whitehouse and VGHF founder Frank Cifaldi (who we recently spoke to for a feature on game preservation) co-authored an article detailing the steps that went into piecing together Oberth's Days of Thunder from a collection of close to 40 floppy disk backups. Some had unreadable sectors, but Whitehouse and Cifaldi were able to recover the data off of many of them.
Finding Oberth's Days of Thunder took a lot of digging through the available source code and at one point, a VGHF volunteer built an era-appropriate system to backup some promising disks with data written in a now-defunct format. The coolest bit of the whole process has to be how Whitehouse, after getting the game to boot with a random mess of graphics in place, managed to find the rest of Days of Thunder's graphical information by extracting all the information from all the relevant disks in "every known format" and then running a search for small piece of tile data they did have.
That "nuclear option" search yielded a single file that turned out to be what they needed, and so Chris Oberth's Days of Thunder is saved. Soon, the VGHF will upload buildable source code to GitHub.
This effort was possible in the first place thanks to Oberth's family, which allowed the VGHF to evaluate his archives. Oberth himself passed away in 2012. To fundraise for Oberth's widow, a physical NES cartridge of Chris Oberth's Days of Thunder build is being made available for $70.
You can see what Oberth's Days of Thunder looks like in the VGHF's video included above. It is a game based on NASCAR racing, after all, so most of it just looks like you're driving in a big circle going to the left. Certainly, as far as Tom Cruise-related NES games go, it's got to be a whole lot better than trying to land the plane in Top Gun.