The Quest To Document Tectoy's Zeebo Console 1
Image: @StuffZeebo

We've already covered how the History of Games 2024 conference brought to light the extortion and attempted kidnapping of Taito's chairman in Brazil. But there were plenty of other anecdotes too, via the three main talks focused on Brazil.

Doctor Bruno De Paula's talk on Tectoy Digital was especially fascinating, since while "Tec Toy" the company is broadly discussed outside of Brazil in relation to its Sega connections, this offshoot from around 2005 is less well known. (And yes, there is a variation in how you write Tec Toy / Tectoy, depending on context.) We covered Tectoy Digital's Zeebo console previously, with regards to its recent emulation breakthrough.

Anyone interested in the Zeebo will be especially pleased by Dr De Paula's research. In an amusing moment during the talk he made a disclaimer: "I am a former employee of Tectoy Digital." He'd held various positions, including QA and later game design, before moving into academia (outside Tectoy he's also worked as a programmer). So, as an insider, his research now involved interviewing former colleagues and documenting the company he was part of.

This is significant, because most of the English language coverage has been done by outsiders looking in; Sega-16 interviewed Tec Toy's chairman Stefano Arnhold, and so did your author for Retro Gamer issue #30. Which is fine, a good writer documents everything, but someone from that region, who knows the landscape intimately, can offer personal nuance.

The Quest To Document Tectoy's Zeebo Console 4
Image: John Szczepaniak

Dr De Paula provided so much information this summary barely covers it. He gave cultural insights, into how the Master System is still a viable platform Brazil, not sold on nostalgia like various mini consoles in America or Europe, but as an entry level machine for children from low income families wanting their first games experience. It speaks to the viability inherent in older games, if only children had access to them.

The core of the talk though was the detailed explanation of Tectoy Digital's plans to put, basically, a mobile phone in a console with the Zeebo. How it partnered with Qualcomm to do so. How distribution was 100% digital via a private 3G network, with free connection (which was also a neat solution to piracy). He detailed how Tectoy Digital later split into Tectoy Studios and Zeebo Interactive Studios, though the two offices were a couple minutes' walk from each other. There were descriptions and anecdotes from his time there and also from colleagues he'd spoken with. He also outlined his plans and goals for documenting it all. This was priceless first-hand research unavailable elsewhere.

We previously described the conference as akin to live theatre with audience participation, and this included not just questions at the end, but also the ability to chat with delegates over the three days. Dr De Paula, like all those attending, was super cool and approachable - he started his career wanting to make games, and this enthusiasm for the medium was evident. During lunch, we spoke about the Zeebo and the recent emulation breakthrough.

Were any games missing or lost? No, he confirmed; since there was one super fan of the system who basically had everything downloaded, jailbroke the hardware, and then dumped the data. It was all safe - the only "lost" titles were those which went unreleased. Installing these dumped games was difficult though, since it required owners to jailbreak their own system, which is why emulating it was so important.

The Quest To Document Tectoy's Zeebo Console 5
Image: John Szczepaniak

Dr Victor Navarro-Remesal, a professor of game studies, joined the conversation and the two doctors, who had worked together, engaged in a long discussion on the authenticity of Zeebo emulation and various challenges. It turns out there are Zeebo purists advocating for a more authentic or accurate experience.

Attending the talks and engaging with the speakers was a wonderful experience, and it's a shame that this outpouring of knowledge wasn't recorded (your author had a dictaphone, but it seemed rude to use it when everyone was eating). Some amusing anecdotes also cropped up, which we've paraphrased below:

John Szczepaniak: Thank you for researching Tec Toy's history - the company is fascinating, even to those of us outside Brazil! Did you meet Stefano Arnhold? I interviewed him in 2006.

Bruno: Yes, he was the company chairman when I joined Tec Toy. Did you know he's head of Brazil's Olympic snow sports?

John Szczepaniak: Yes! I've seen the photos of him skiing! That's so random and unexpected.

Bruno: I know, right? The head of this large toy company is also in charge of our country's winter sports!

John Szczepaniak: I didn't even know Brazil was into winter sports - amazing!

<everyone laughs>

Later on, I also passed on to Dr De Paula some photos Arnhold had sent me from Tec Toy's archives. These two images are priceless artefacts, showing him with Sega's founder David Rosen, executive director Daizaburou Sakurai, and president Hayao Nakayama.

Digital distribution of games presents a very real danger of software and history being lost, since there is no physical evidence. So the work being done to preserve Tectoy Digital's legacy, and the memories of those who worked on those games, is reassuring. It's also great to see people from the region, and even company employees, taking the initiative and working alongside amateur enthusiasts.

Would you like more in-depth Zeebo coverage? Post in the comments. Once this research reaches fruition and is published, we'll be sure to update you.