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Selecting Save On The Games We Make, Part 2

March 16, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[In his original three part series, John Andersen polled a variety of companies across the globe to find out about exactly how the history of the game industry and its efforts is being preserved. In this latest installment, he queries indies to find out exactly what they're doing to preserve their history. Where Games go to Sleep: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Selecting Save on the Games we Make: Part 1.]

Part one of Selecting Save On The Games We Make brought forth answers from major game developers and publishers that have been established in the industry since the early 1980s. The overall questions asked were: Does video game preservation matter? How are the games you've developed or published protected and maintained from obsolescence?

When it came to posing the same questions concerning game preservation to more recently established indie game developers, many of them were overall concerned about the industry issue of game preservation, but expressed confidence that the methods of storage they currently utilize are adequate.

Some developers feel that digital distribution is a form of preservation itself. Their stance brought up an entirely new question: Has digital distribution and new storage methods made game preservation easier for new developers?

The 12 indie developers that responded to the game preservation questions were: Bigpants, Dejobaan, Hemisphere Games, Kloonigames, Mommy's Best Games, Paradox Interactive, Playdead, Metanet Software, Ronimo, Semi Secret Games, Spooky Squid Games, and The Behemoth.

"In the cloud" came up numerous times as the preferred method of storage, as Dave Burke of Hemisphere Games (Osmos) points out.

"I'll be honest and say that a formal backup process isn't really on our minds. These days we do everything 'in the cloud', as an implicit part of our sharing process -- in other words, we cache copies of our source assets, code, docs, etc. on remote storage. There's enough redundancy happening, and our offsite storage partners are large enough, that we don't expect to lose track of those materials."

Mare Sheppard of Metanet Software also utilizes cloud storage, but recalls an occasion where a fellow indie developer helped to preserve each other's source code:

"For a while we traded backup DVDs with Jon Mak, while he was making Everyday Shooter and we were trying to make Robotology."

Some of those that responded felt that since they have recently established themselves as developers, that transferring and retrieving source code from earlier hardware and software was not applicable to them. None of these companies have had any issues transferring, backing up or retrieving source code from earlier hardware and software, due to the obvious fact that the majority work with modern operating systems and development software.

The Depths to Which I Sink

Jim McGinley points out the specific cloud storage service he'll be using (among many other methods) in preserving the games, such as The Depths to Which I Sink, that his company Bigpants develops:

"All of our digital stuff is backed up on USB drives, and we're migrating current work to Dropbox to protect from big disasters. Our production materials are not stored anywhere special, and likely won't be until we grow larger."

"Thanks to the internet (TCP/IP protocol), USB drives and cloud storage, I believe the greatest threat is not hardware failure or obsolescence. If a new format arrives, it will be connected to the internet, so data can be easily transferred from the old format to the new format. History shows that people are ready and willing to create emulators, so you'll likely be able to use that data.

"Preservation is no longer about the bits, the problem has changed. The three biggest preservation challenges today (unlike 1980/1990) are:

  1. Staying organized. It's easy to create a lot of stuff, but hard to remember where it was put.
  2. Games are increasingly part client, part server (FarmVille, World of Warcraft). Emulating this will be tricky.
  3. Proprietary hardware (Wii controller, Kinect, PS3 motion controller). I'm expecting an avalanche of homemade controllers."

McGinley believes video game preservation is of absolute importance, but pointed out the harsh realities of just what has already been lost in three decades. McGinley recalls his own personal experience of being an avid TRS-80 Model III computer user, an experience which began in 1979 when McGinley's father bought a TRS-80 Model III for their household.

Together, McGinley and his brother learned how to program for the computer and bought games using their allowance. Fast-forward to 2009: McGinley wanted to replay the games he and his brother grew up on, but the TRS-80 Model III had been thrown out long ago.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Eddy Boxerman
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Eddy here from Hemisphere Games. Regarding preservation of released games, the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) contacted us in 2009 to ask for permission to display Osmos at their "best of the IGF" exhibit, but also to:

"1) store one digital copy of the Game, in whole or in part, for preview, demonstration, archive and administrative purposes; and
2) do all things necessary to migrate or transfer the Game, in whole or in part, from one storage media to other storage media, or from one format to other formats, in the event that storage media or formats required for the use and exhibition of the Game lose currency, become defunct, inoperable or are superseded by new versions."

According to my wife (who studied and worked as an archivist), Australia has a very progressive approach to digital archives. Might be worth getting in touch with the ACMI to learn more.

John Andersen
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Thank you so much for bringing attention to this. I'll have to look further into what the ACMI is doing on the preservation side of things. I was unaware that they were working with developers on storage and migration efforts. Congrats on Osmos winning the D2D Vision Award for that year!

It's interesting to note that even though the IGF is wrapping up this month, the ACMI does have a Game Masters exhibition coming up in Melbourne between June 28th - October 28th, 2012, more info at the link:

Carlos Cabrera
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Hello John,

I just read through all of your content on game preservation, and I must say, "mind-blowing" seems to be an apt descriptor. I am an indie developer trying to open my own game studio, and in my personal journey I have come across a plethora of obstacles along my path, and I still have a very long way to go. I've been so focused on making it by day to day that I feel I've never had the chance to step back and look at the big picture.

That is to say, until I read your articles. Now preserving the game I am creating will be an important part of my development process. I keep multiple digital copies of my game design notes, so I'm already on the right track. The more I think about it though, the more I would love to see my work in a musuem one day for future generations.

I will be following up with nearly all of the links and resources that you have given us. Thank you for writing these articles, I thoroughly enjoyed them.

John Andersen
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Hi Carlos,
Thank you very much for the kind words about my articles, I really do appreciate it. The purpose of these articles is to get more people thinking about game preservation in general, (people including the developer, publisher and player). I hope that I've accomplished just that.

Good luck with your game studio and projects! There are obstacles in every path of creating something (so many also in game preservation as this article reveals), but don't let that stop you from creating the games you want to make. Thanks for preserving the designs you've already created, but also thinking about the importance of the games you create, they can inspire future generations of game players.

Take care and once again, thanks for the kind words regarding the articles I've written.

- John Andersen