Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beta Mountains

In October 2008, Syd-tiger posted his discovery of what he called an 'invisible floor' over the ocean in H8 on the GameFAQs website. He discovered this strange anomaly by accident - 'I was actually just trying to see how far I could get to the east, trying to get to the cloudy area left. I got mad and jumped off Agro, and I use the cloth whenever I do anyway. Sheer luck!'. The next day Khfan1 was exploring this area and discovered a mountain at the north east corner of H8. This was the first glimpse of what fans later called the 'Beta Mountains'.

You can read Syd-tiger's (aka: Toxic_Trace/Willy) GameFAQ post here:

Legaiaflame made a video of the invisible lands here: (one of my favourites!)

This is as far as you can get legitimately in the game, just one tantalizing look at a mountain mysteriously floating out above the ocean. It wasn't until Pikol came onto the scene and showed us that this was just the tip of the iceberg (so to speak). Using his emulator glitch he discovered that the mountain Khfan1 found was just the first in a long chain of lands that the developers had left in the game but were completely inaccessible.

Map showing all the squares that contain beta mountains

G7 Cliffs above the invisible lands

Solitary mountain at the north east corner of H8

It's only possible to launch off the cliffs onto the H8 invisible lands in the US (NTSC) version. The PAL/Japanese versions have a tweaked cloth of desperation that doesn't allow you to float out far enough (this is also true for the HD PS3 version). I don't know about the Chinese version as I've never been able to get my hands on a copy.

So it was Pikol that first had the means to explore these vast, unused eastern lands and this led to his biggest discovery of all - the beta dam. Unfortunately, there were no more temples or ruins to be found even though the beta mountains occupy nearly 1/3rd of the world map. Most are just vast, empty plains punctuated by the occasional cliff or mountain range and have the same whitish/brown texture. It is my belief that these are the basic matrix upon which the developers would fashion the landscapes in the game, a skeleton if you will that was later textured with grass, plants and trees etc. There is evidence for this in an early intro trailer that shows the cliffs under the entrance made up of the same whitish/brown texture (before it was rendered into what we see today).

Early cliff texture (circa 2004)

So here I will be showing images of all the beta mountains starting from i8 (the one Khfan1 found) and heading north all the way up the J column, then west into row 0 and ending in the A column (as shown in the above map).

Complete i8 beta mountains viewed from the south

Top of the mountain looking west

Strange blue triangle next to the invisible lands (H8) as seen from i8

These mountains seem to be the southern most cliffs of a once larger area

The i7 quadrant was removed leaving i8 and J7 to the south and east

Update June 2017: My hacker friend Wisi was checking out the code and realised that there were two extra map squares in the data that were not available in the game. He noticed that the headers of these files were slightly different (and therefore appear to be older) than the other map squares in the game. So after some clever coding he managed to get these two map squares to appear in the game for the first time ever! The first one was the i7 map square that for so long I had wondered and speculated about. It turned out to be very different than what I had imagined.

Photoshop montage of how I imagined the i7 map square once was

i7 map square with never before seen plateau (rotated 90 degrees anti-clockwise)

You need a special version of the Preview version (modified by Wisi) in order to actually see the i7 plateau. Most of the map square is made up of a grey ocean like texture, with just a small piece of brown land at the Eastern most edge. Note: There is no collision detection at i7, however it's close enough to the shore to still retain its wind sound effects. When I first saw this map square I was amazed (of course) but also a little disappointed as I had expected there to be more to this quadrant. 

Wander & Agro at i7 (using hacks)

The i7 plateau - close up view

Heading east we come to the J8 blue lands with these distinctive triangles

A vast plain of blue nothingness!

We move north to the J7 beta mountains with this unique high wall

i7 was a testing area for the discarded Griffin colossus

It was this distinctive wall that first caught my attention as a possible location for the discarded Griffin colossus. From the early art book images you see the Griffin standing in a square enclosure with a similar Eastern wall (although the textures were different). From images in the art book and some other evidence, it seems clear that this area was once a testing ground for the Griffin colossus that was discarded. See video here:

Discarded Griffin colossus from the official Japanese art book

Complete J7-J6 beta mountains - you can see how it's been cut on the west side

Other side of wall

Lonely mountain top - I brought Agro along for company ; )

Mountains tower above a large flat plain

Heading north we move into J6 (same mountain range though)

Very top of J6-J7 mountains

Map of what we have seen so far H8, i7, i8, J8, J7 and J6

We move north to the sheer rock cliffs at J6

Top of J6 cliffs looking south

Towering cliffs at J6

Looking down at a lower ledge - very angular and jagged

On ledge looking down - a dizzying drop to the ground below!

Lower ledge - was this a path at one time?

Moving north into J5 we pass through a vast, flat empty plain

Finally arriving at some rounded hills

J5 & J4 viewed from a distance

Northern tip of J5

You can see the vast scale of the landscape here compared to Wander

We've moved into J4 - a thin band of brown mountains

You can see it's also been cut away from i4 (which was removed)

Map of i4 and J4

You can see what looks like a path leading east from Avion's lair (H4) into i4 which looks to have large table top type mountains and valleys. We can imagine the brown sand like floor extending west from J4 into i4 with the J4 mountains acting as a barrier to the east.

J4 mountains looking south

J4 mountains looking north into J3 (which are higher up)

Southern tip of J3 - clearly this area was unfinished

Undulating plains at J3

Miles and miles of the same patchwork landscapes

At the border of J3 and J2

There's something mysterious about these lands. They exist out at the edge of the map, unexplored and forgotten. Even in their unfinished state there's an eerie stillness about them. There's no sound out here, only the sound of Wander's footfalls or his parachute opening and closing breaks the absolute silence. But they were made for a reason, a much grander vision of the forbidden lands that sadly was never realized. But seeing them from Wander's perspective makes you appreciate how much work was put into making them and even in their bare boned state, there is still a grandeur about them.

Wander at Western edge of J2

We can only imagine what areas like these would have looked like complete

J2 depression - next to where the beta dam mountains begin

We are moving north into J1

Looking down a steep cliff face (shown in above image)

Most of J1 is flat except for the western edge which has mountainous features

Map showing black screen crash areas - the beta dam is at the bottom

The quadrant i1 was removed from the game and as there is no object within it, the game will crash if you try and enter. Normally they put a small white cube or triangle texture in the empty quadrants so that there is something to load, but here they seem to have overlooked this. But the crash area extends beyond i1 into the surrounding quadrants, so exploring these areas was impossible. They don't even load using the SotC Viewer (previously the Dormin editor), you just get an error message. But WWWArea worked out a way of freezing the quadrant so it was possible to enter and he used this to get a closer look at the brick like structures north of the dam (you can see from the map above that these are within the crash area).

So I used this technique to first explore the western edge of J1 (which had never been seen before). I was hoping that this last unseen area might hold some interesting leftover relic, some ruins or a broken column... but as I guessed, there were just more mountain features. Even so, it was still interesting to see this area for the first time.

Northern tip of J1 (west) - more angular structures

View from the south end

High walls tower above Wander

A lonely outpost at the edge of the world

Update June 2017: As mentioned above with the i7 map square, Wisi also managed to load another never before seen quadrant, this time it was i1, a much more interesting area in my opinion! I remember carefully studying i1 on the world map trying to glean any interesting features. There were definitely square shaped structures there which made me think that there may have once been temples or other man made structures here once? Perhaps some temples that were once linked to the Dam? But again, seeing the map square for the first time was another revelation! Of course, there were no man made temples, but what was there was very interesting and intriguing! 

View of the entire i1 quadrant from above

Above we can see the entire map square that was until recently unknown to anyone except myself, Wisi and SpaceOmega500 (formerly WWWArea). Thanks to Wisi's amazing coding skills we were lucky enough to see something that was just an empty quadrant since 2009 (until players like Pikol first made inroads into these out of bounds areas). You can see how I mistook the low quality world map at i1 as showing some kind of man made structures here, as there are clearly defined square shaped holes and promontories that are unlike any other map square in the game.

Weird path leads into i1

The first thing you will notice about this new enigmatic location is this strange path that seems to lead deeper into the quadrant. It stands out boldly against the rest of the surrounding whitish/yellow rocks, having a mix of grey and red. But where does this path lead you might ask? Well, it leads nowhere and just stops abruptly at a sheer cliff face. So if this path ever had a purpose, it is now lost to history, only the early Team Ico developers could answer this question. Note: to get these views I had to use my camera codes in order to show these locations from Wander's point of view ; )

Strange high rock promontories stretch up into the sky

This is a very strange map square! I mean look at these structures, they are unlike anything else seen in the forbidden lands. These tall, narrow stone structures seem like they were pulled up out of the mountains by some God like hand, much like taffy is pulled into long strands of candy xD.

 Right angled cliff faces

You can tell this is an early map quadrant just by looking at the design of the structures seen here. As Wisi discovered, the header files of this map square were made much earlier than the later additions and as such, we can perhaps see some of Team Ico's early attempts at designing a map square. Here they just stretched out the models into these strange right angled square holes and promontories. This might explain the geometric design of the structures seen here?

View of i1 with the Shrine of Worship in the distance

View of i1 from the orange brick structures of the Dam (at i2)

This was the first time I had ever seen any link to the beta Dam that Pikol had found back in 2009. For the first time since then, there was an actual mountain that was so close to the Dam that it might have once been one and the same! Look at how close the i1 mountains are to the edge of the green cliff ledge that supports the orange brick like structures! Just a small gap - surely at an even earlier stage, these two areas were once joined (?)

The orange brick structures at i2 and the i1 beta mountains are so close!

You can see above that there is not much space between the i2 and i1 map squares. Perhaps at one time, these two map squares were tightly linked together? The Southern edge of i1 (although a different colour) seems like it would join to i2. So we can imagine that the green grass of i2 would have extended North into i1 , that is when this map square was part of the world map.

i1 another deep hole - looking up

One of the deep holes seen at i1

I made a video about these two new, never before seen map squares, i.e. i7 and i1. All credit goes to Wisi, without his amazing hacking skills we would never have seen these map squares. See video here:

We head north into J0

We are at the northern most edge of the map here

We head west into H0 along the top edge of the map

Colossal wall of rock - the area has a greenish hue

What I have dubbed 'The Temple Mountains' as they almost look like a temple

Looking up at the Temple Mountains

Wander on first tier of the Temple Mountains

Panned out view of the area

Bottom of a valley

The H0 mountains have a deep valley far below ground level

Bottom of H0 deep valley - you can move a little way into I1 down here

There's a large cleft in the mountain face

Top of cleft looking down

The H0 valley winds around north into H1

Wander looking down into the H1 valley

Top level of H1 - mostly featureless

We now move west to the other side of the map - to the A0 beta mountains

Large flat plain with sheer walls

Looking south - these mountains are similar in style to the H0 beta mountains

Wander contemplating his next move further south

Looking north

A2 mountains - there is nothing in A1 except a large flat plain

Looking down into a wide valley

We move south into A3 - distinctive non textured mountains

 Again it was Pikol who first found these but could only view them from far above

Parts have a pinkish creamy hue

Clearly unfinished mountains

There's a lower level to these mountains - perhaps it was to be a cave of some sort?

Complete A3 beta mountains showing both levels

Extra Beta Mountains in the Preview version
When the Preview (or pre-release) version appeared a few years ago (around September 2009) it was soon discovered that there were more beta mountains than in the final version. Both Pikol, WWWArea and myself found these, but I believe Pikol was the first to see them. In any case there were extra mountains at B0, C0, D0 E0, G0, B1, B2 and I6, the latter being within corrupt quadrant. As this was an earlier version of the game we can see how much more work was done in the early stages of development. The forbidden lands were much larger and more extensive than previously thought, covering roughly 26% of the entire map.

Map showing beta lands from both NTSC/PAL and Preview versions

I'll start off at G0 and work my way west this time. G0 is just east of the bridge and exists at ground level, unlike the rest of the beta mountains which are around 300 metres above ground level. Why they were put up so high is a mystery, perhaps they put them up high to work on them and when finished they would have moved them back to ground level? Or perhaps these lands merely existed at higher elevations.

G0 appears to be a beach type area with dark cliffs at its northern edge. It definitely looks like sand where the cliffs meet the ground, as if they are wind blown dunes of some kind.

Dark cliffs with the bridge in the distance

The brown smear behind the cliffs is the low res 2D mountain texture

The H1 beta mountains can be seen high above from the eastern end of the beach

Top of cliffs with H1 beta mountains above

Top of cliffs looking west at the bridge

South east corner of the E0 beta mountains

You can see how close the northern beta mountains were to the forbidden lands we are familiar with. It seems clear they were planned to be joined at one time, perhaps being accessed via the entrance temple. There's an early image of the Entrance temple in the art book with Wander's HUD displayed, so we can speculate that at one time it may have been part of the game and could have allowed access to the northern beta mountains.

Art book image showing the Entrance temple with Wander's grip and health

A large expanse of flat land as far as the eye can see

Northern edge of the map - you can see we are outside the game game map here

We arrive at what looks like a large crater. There's an entrance at the south side but it's above ground level, so perhaps this was to be a lake at one time?

Looking down into the crater

At the bottom of the crater with Agro

Further west of crater - you can see the south entrance more clearly here

We've moved into D0 now

We arrive at another crater type structure, larger than the first

Edge of D0 crater

View of D0 crater from above - you can just make out Wander and Agro

West edge of D0 crater

Angular plateau - most of the features are on the south edge of the mountains

To the north it's mostly featureless and flat - we've moved into C0

More mountains jutting up out of the plain

Top of mountains from previous image

Heading west we see more mountains rising up on the horizon

We are at the very edge of C0 now, moving into B0

View to the western edge of the northern beta mountains

Northern edge of map at B0 - a trail leads up to higher elevations

View to the east from the edge of a cliff

Panned out view of B0

Wander surveying the mountains

 Extreme panned out view

Here A0 and B0 meet

View of A0 mountains from B0

Down below B0 we can see B1, a large flat, mottled brown plain

Northern beta mountains float above the B1 plain

To the west we see the A0 beta mountains floating up above

To the east we see the edge of the forbidden lands (around 14's area)

and to the south we see some more beach like cliffs at B2

Cliffs at B2 are the same type as G0

We now move back across the map to I6 where one last set of unfinished lands exist. The I6 quadrant freezes the game when you enter too far, so it's problematic mapping it. I can use certain codes to move around there but invariably the game still freezes. These lands extend a little way into 15 (to the north) and J5 and J6 to the east.

You can actually see these beta mountains from H6 in the Preview version

This is as far as you can go north in H6, but you can see from the map (inset) that a path led northeast to I5. So we can imagine the cliff winding around the cliffs leading to perhaps a beach like area with caves at I5. If you look closely at the I5 quadrant on the map you can see what look like caves. As with most of the other beta mountains, those at I6 are high above ground level.

Part of the missing I5 quadrant looking southeast

Further east in I5, closer to the mountains

Northeast edge of I column looking north - J column is to the right

Lands not yet joined - J column on the left, I column on the right

 Further south along the split line separating the two columns

 Southern tip of J5 looking down

Here we can see how the J6 mountains continued west

We have moved into I6 now with this strange stretched texture underfoot

Panned out view of the stretched texture

Sadly, according to Wisi, there are no more hidden map squares in the code to be discovered. So what I have shown here is the most extensive exploration into the beta mountains ever seen. I have covered every map square with diligence, so I doubt that anyone else will find any extra information that I have not included here in this post ; )

See my two beta mountains videos here: