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Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 1

January 27, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next
 

[In the first installment of his comprehensive look into the current state of classic game preservation, John Andersen delves into strange tales of what happened to Atari's source code, the surprising rescue of Sonic Spinball, and much more.]

Trash cans, landfills, and incinerators. Erasure, deletion, and obsolescence. These words could describe what has happened to the various building blocks of the video game industry in countries around the world. These building blocks consist of video game source code, the actual computer hardware used to create a particular video game, level layout diagrams, character designs, production documents, marketing material, and more.

These are just some elements of game creation that are gone -- never to be seen again. These elements make up the home console, handheld, PC and arcade games we've played. The only remnant of a particular game may be its name, or its final published version, since the possibility exists that no other physical copy of its creation remains.

The passage of time, and even the inevitable passing of a game development team, diminishes the possibility of further elements being placed in safekeeping. Some of these building blocks are still kept in filing cabinets, closets, storage units, attics, basements, and garages. They may soon face the same landfill fate if they are not rescued.

As a community of video game developers, publishers, and players, we must begin asking ourselves some difficult but inevitable questions. Some believe there is no point in preserving a video game, arguing that games are short-term entertainment, while others disagree with this statement entirely, believing the industry is in a preservation crisis.

Where do the various assets of a single video game go once production and publishing is finished? How are these development materials handled after the game is finally published, and what should inevitably happen to them?

In a sense, video games go to sleep when they are powered off, but are reawakened once again when powered on. The existence of decaying technology, disorganization, and poor storage could in theory put a video game to sleep permanently -- never to be played again.

Troubling admissions have surfaced over the years concerning video game preservation. When questions concerning re-releases of certain game titles are brought up during interviews with developers, for example, these developers would reveal issues of game production material being lost or destroyed. Certain game titles could not see a re-release due to various issues. One story began to circulate of source code being lost altogether for a well-known RPG, preventing its re-release on a new console.

Research for this article began in January of 2009. A questionnaire on the subject of video game preservation was also sent to video game developers and publishers worldwide. The 2009-2010 period of research and questionnaire replies received from the game industry revealed a tragic reality -- a reality with anecdotes that have never been publicly revealed until now.

While many in the industry were enthusiastic to speak about the subject of game preservation, there were others that declined to comment or respond entirely. It was apparent that this was a subject matter that needed to be researched thoroughly, but approached with sensitivity. It is not the intention of this article to put a negative light on those that have neglected video game artifacts. The intention of this article is to also shed light on the state of video game preservation, and the attempts being made to preserve all aspects of video gaming for the future.

Some of the answers received for this article revealed a troubling reality, but the questionnaire allowed some industry professionals to explain how they went into a "rescue mode" of sorts, tracking down boxes of old software and hardware in the most unlikely locations to bring an older game back to a new audience via a console, handheld or online service.

The overall question asked was: how important is it for game developers and publishers to preserve their video games for future audiences?

This question was posed to video game developers and publishers in Europe, Japan, and North America for this article. 61 developers and publishers were contacted, and 14 responded.

Microsoft Game Studios, Nintendo of America, and Sony Computer Entertainment of America were the video game console manufacturers that responded.

The video game developers and publishers that responded were: Capcom, Digital Leisure, Gearbox Software, Intellivision Productions, Irem Software Engineering, Jaleco, Mitchell Corporation, Namco Bandai Games, Sega, Taito, and Throwback Entertainment. Many of these companies also produced coin-op arcade games and some were previously involved in game console manufacturing.

Their complete answers and statements will be presented in their entirety at the end of this article's final installment. A summarization of their comments revealed how they are taking steps to preserve their video gaming legacies, while others told stories of both loss and rescue.

Irem Software Engineering revealed that it has no intact source code from the 1980s, but still maintain ROMs for almost all of their games. Irem expressed concern that the hardware that helps maintain these ROMs will soon break down, fearing the parts and human engineering used to maintain them will soon be obsolete.

Taito revealed that some of the promotional materials associated with its games have been lost. It did reveal that it protects its game media based on internal policies and ISO standards. In certain cases Taito has transferred old console game data to reliable and secure media, while preserving hardware, ROMs and printed circuit boards for its arcade games. Taito considers the release of many of its older games on mobile platforms and console compilations such as "Taito Legends" to be an important form of protection.

Digital Leisure revealed that the original source code for Dragon's Lair and Mad Dog McCree was either lost or could not be accessed due to the media it was stored on. Digital Leisure would end up working with outside personnel and fans to re-create an authentic arcade version of these games for new platform re-releases. Digital Leisure also expressed their frustrations of being unable to acquire the rights to re-release older laserdisc games to new platforms, due to the fact that the original source material for certain laserdisc games no longer exists.

Throwback Entertainment disclosed its "logistical nightmare" of managing the acquisition of 280 different game titles they acquired from an auction of Acclaim Entertainment properties. Throwback's plan is to build a data center utilizing computers, networking systems and external drives acquired through eBay auctions to rescue source code. This source code had accumulated over a 25-year period at the now defunct Acclaim Entertainment offices formerly based in Glen Cove, New York.


Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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Comments


Jacob Pederson
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The problem with preservation of video games is two-fold. You have the traditional problem of degrading storage media (all artistic work of all time has suffered from this problem); however, you have the additional problem of degrading hardware required to "play" that media.



As we are a very young medium, we are just touching the surface of this problem as the earliest games start to become unplayable (on their original hardware). Thankfully, an Atari game can be backed up in a file smaller than an animated GIF, and can be emulated on anything on down to a pocket calculator . . . so legal dilemma's aside, the danger of completely losing these games doesn't need to be faced yet, with the excepting of losing their source code and design docs, of course.



As newer games begin to decay, this problem will become more and more complex. Hobbyists will have great difficulty emulating modern systems due to their enormous complexity (even the PS2 still doesn't have a capable fast emulator yet, let alone building your own WIImote!), and the game hardware companies themselves have almost universally refused to create global emulation for their systems or release hardware specs. When the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube libraries start to decay, then we will really be losing some treasures.



Because many of us are so young, we really don't have a branch of our artist's breaking out to become museum curators yet. This process is just started now, with a few gaming museums sprouting up here and there. These museums will exist, and game developers and hardware manufacturers that don't cooperate with the preservationists (by providing source code and hardware specs for their abandoned wares), will quite simply be lost to the sands of time

Stephen Northcott
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As someone who maintains original William's arcade classics, I can attest to the fragility of hardware as it gets older, and the slow decay of ROMs. :(

Joe Wreschnig
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"When the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube libraries start to decay, then we will really be losing some treasures."



That's assuming technology doesn't continue apace. The size of DVDs discouraged backups when the PS2 came out, but today I can fit 3 PS2 games on the micro-SD cards on my keychain, and storage densities are still increasing. The PS2 is tricky to emulate, but the system is still being sold new today. We're still at least ten years away from a practical system shortage. (I'm not even sure there's a system shortage for 2600s. I see them at garage sales all the time.)



We're going to lose some games. That's just history - we don't have every sculpture, every painting, every musical score. But I don't think the situation is as dire as you paint it, especially not for the PS2/GC/Xbox, or even the PS3/Wii/Xbox 360.



The real risk, I think, is when we get to MMOs and other online games, where much of the game was never outside the walls of the developer/publisher, and so much of the experience is beyond what simply running the source code will give you. You can't meaningfully recreate the experience of playing it without thousands of others also playing - it's like trying to preserve a play or film by keeping only the script.

Jason Weesner
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This is a great article! I can't tell you how many times I've been at a company where they've thrown away and even destroyed old games, hardware, and production and marketing materials. Most of the time the decision to dump these items is left to people who don't understand their value or, worse yet, don't care.

Martin Goldberg
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John, how much research did you actually put in regarding Atari preservation? To focus on a collector with such a minor holding seems a little out of touch. The largest holder and archivers of Atari properties and original source code is Curt Vendel (atarimuseum.com), who is on retainer with the current Atari to provide them with these resources and advising. He literally has everything from source code to drawings to full engineering schematics to one of a kind protos, to the original mainframe tapes, etc.



The reason the Sotheby's auction didn't sell was because it was overpriced for what as in there, most of which was in poor shape, and materials that didn't vary much from what was already being archived. Curt was actually sent there to evaluate it just in case the current Atari or he would need something from it.



Second to Curt is Scott Evans (atarigames.com), who purchased a storage trailer full of materials from Atari Games/Midway Games West when it was being shut down. The material includes source code,

drawings, videos, etc. going back to the foundings of the original Atari in the early 70's.

John Andersen
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Martin, I put a lot of research into Atari preservation. I am aware of Curt Vendel and the enormous effort he's put into gathering Atari materials. That could be a whole feature article itself. Features and article including one from The Village Voice called "King Pong" in April of 1999 have already covered Vendel, going into detail about dumpster diving at Atari offices. I felt it's all really been covered before.



I wasn't trying to cover who holds the most Atari archival material. That's clearly been done before. The point that I am trying to make in this entire article is that, as an industry, we shouldn't be throwing this stuff out. This industry is so important, so valuable, so historical, that we shouldn't have to resort to dumpster diving. I was trying to capture and document that "moment" where an individual was witnessing archives being thrown out. That "moment" was Cort Allen right there in the middle of it all witnessing Atari Corporation throw stuff out into waiting garbage dumpsters in the mid-eighties. That was important for me to document. All of this material would be considered so historical, important, and part of our culture that it was at least accepted at a Sotheby's auction as such.



Part two of this article will cover just how all of this material is being preserved and what museums, and their archivists are doing to help. Part three will present the industry point-of-view on preservation.



In this article it's stated that I contacted many video game developers and publishers. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests, one of them did not respond for their own reasons. I'm sure you can guess who that is. My attempts to obtain official confirmation on who is on retainer as Atari archivist were unsuccessful. Any developer or publisher that wishes to discuss how they're preserving their legacy will be welcome to do so in an invitation that will be provided in the third and final part of this article coming soon here on Gamasutra.

Martin Goldberg
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John, I think you're mistaken if you had the impression that the sole method of acquisition and preservation attempt is "dumpster diving". Which simply illustrates the point that it doesn't appear you interviewed the people more actively involved in preservation and archiving of said material. Curt's been involved in the same type of Cort Allen moments, as has Scott. Likewise, the bulk of his professionally archived material is from purchases, donations from ex Atari employees, and working relationships with the aforementioned and the current Atari. As for official archiver, Atari Interactive (the actual holding company of all legacy Atari related IP) would be the one to contact regarding his status, likewise as for the many classic IP games he's credited on for them that he's consulted on in that capacity. Even Jeff Vavasour, a professional aquaintence you interviewed, would have been capable of answering the query.



Regarding one statement in the article and the context of the mid 80's cabinets - "..were done by the order of the Tramiel family, who had taken over Atari in 1984, laying off thousands of employees and selling off mountains of Atari office equipment to raise cash."



That's not quite right, Atari Inc. was not taken over. Jack had purchased Atari Consumer and it's related buildings and IP, folded it in to TTL (Tramel Technology Ltd., misspelled on purpose ) and turn formed Atari Corporation. Atari Inc. continued to exist after words for two years as it's assets were further split up, becoming simply a holding company for lawsuits and other legal matters at the very end. The people he hired were just that - interviewed for coming over to Atari Corporation vs. fired from Atari Inc. They were already all fired from Atari Inc. the day Warner decided to split it up and spin off or sell parts of it, they just didn't realize it. The confusion arose from the way it was poorly handled by Warner - even Morgan didn't know what was all going on until he was called into the board room to sign the papers selling off Consumer.



Regarding the selling of equipment, July of '84 was spent in a full freeze evaluation period so they could see what they had all inherited. This was lead by Leonard Tramiel and another employee, and yes included a complete tallying of all office equipment in the buildings they purchased - right down to the last desk and refrigerator. There was nothing sold with material that was deemed important to the company to continue with Atari Inc. related projects they were going to pursue, likewise material needed to maintain IP's they had purchased. That's why a lot of the Atari Inc. material wound up staying with the coin-op people as well and archived all those years up through Midway. Where the real archiving issue came in was the wholesale carting off of material by employees during the splitting, where some were pulling up u-hauls and vans right to buildings and hauling things off, as well as wiping out their work directories on the mainframes and more.



As a member of the IGDA Game Preservation SIG, I appreciate what you're doing with the article, and understand the message you were trying to get across as you state. I just don't feel the message was as clear as it could have been with some of the illustrations. The material in the Sotheby's auction, and a lot of the material not cared about in those cabinets was duplicate material. Material that already exists in the hands of other archivers because that's what an overinflated company like Atari Inc. was does. Especially in regards to art related papers like that which go through copies, multiple revisions, multiple input, etc.

John Andersen
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Thanks for the feedback and insight Martin - it's appreciated.

Dave Sierra
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John, both Martin Goldberg and Curt Vendel are nothing more than a pair of self-serving, biased collectors who recently -- and very publicly – defamed and insulted Nolan Bushnell with remarks bordering on libelous. Mr. Goldberg also purposely failed to mention another well-known collector and preserver of Atari material, that being John Hardie. A large bulk of Mr. Hardie’s collection is featured as part of the museum in his show, the Classic Gaming Expo. The show allows everyone to view and photograph a myriad of rare and valuable artifacts, and not locked away in some basement or garage. The show has been in existence for over 10 years, and neither of these preservation “experts” ever attended or supported it. It’s also a known fact that the bulk of Curt Vendel’s collection came from said dumpster diving, which is considered a rather illegal means by which to obtain something since it involves trespassing on company property. Please continue with your articles, and pay little attention to those only looking to promote themselves.

Martin Goldberg
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John, unfortunately it appears the well known trolling of a disturbed individual has spilled over to your article commentary and I apologize for that. Dave Sierra is simply a cover name for Scott "stonic" Stilphen from the Digital Press forum. Scott appears to be living in the past and propagating the usual myths while others involved in any misunderstandings have long since moved on.



Mr. Hardie has a wonderful collection, and CGE is a great show. That said, Scott's characterization of Mr. Vendel is completely inaccurate. Being on retainer to the current Atari to provide said materials is not something Scott can change, no matter how much he tries to twist the truth. Likewise, Mr. Vendel's sources are the very sources I previously mentioned. Finally, the implication that materials "are locked away" never to be seen while Mr. Hardie's are not is false - Curt's materials are regularly shown at east coast gaming shows, on loan to places like the American Classic Arcade Museum (www.classicarcademuseum.org/), national archives and museums, and available for researches. We are also currently involved with a large archiving of Mr. Ralph Baer's voluminous archive of patents and patent filings, documentation, and 20 years worth of court documentation defending said patents.



Finally, his characterization of me is completely inaccurate. Any issues with Mr. Bushnell had to do with historical inaccuracies he presented which were in turn proven and backed up by his ex-partner and co-founder of Atari, Mr. Ted Dabney. A full interview of Ted discussing those very inaccuracies is available here: http://www.retrogamingroundup.com/roundups/2010/RoundUp024_2010.1
0.07.mp3

Tim Carter
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In the film/tv industry, a long long time ago (cue chords of Don McLean's American Pie)...



... in North America the Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers (http://www.smpte.org/home/) devised standards that enabled all production to be standardized, anticipating this very problem.



In Europe and other parts of the world, PAL and SECAM did the same (not sure what those acronyms stand for).



The result is that it is still common to see films shot back in the 30s now, on late-night TV or via rental and so on.



Then there was the whole VHS-Beta battle over VCRs in the 80s. The film-tv industry realized that that kind of squabbling simply wasn't worth it - witness how quickly they settled the HD-BluRay dispute recently (instead of having a protracted war).



I think this plays to the culture of film-tv. The tech people have responded to a higher calling of art and culture - then provided classic "servant-leadership" to support this vocational element. So in the content-conduit debate, the tech people in film-tv clearly sided on *content*.



But look at games. Games have, like the internet, gone the route of *conduit*. The conduits are all the various platforms - the consoles and so forth. Content is dismissed as mere "stuff" to jam through the conduits. The game industry seems locked in a perpetual "console war" of sorts. Whether actual conduits, or gameplay devices, or development platforms (UDK vs Unity vs Ogre vs Source or whatever), or PC versus console, or console versus console, or what have you...



So this is the sad, inevitable end result. Churn. Anything you might call "universal art" is shoved to the side.

Wylie Garvin
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There's more to it than that, though. Games are complex pieces of software that interact with the hardware platform on which they run in myriad ways. Its possible, even easy, to standardize storage and transmission formats for a non-interactive piece of media such as a movie. With games it is almost impossible. Also, the hardware the games depends on has been evolving continuously for several decades, and the software developers are constantly finding new ways to exploit particular features of this hardware to get more out of it for their games. For developers, an even bigger issue is that we routinely scrap and re-write our development tools, and almost every development shop has their own homegrown, incompatible tools which are likely tied to certain platforms of their own (e.g. tools that only work on certain current versions of Windows, on PCs with at least 4GB of memory, etc). The movie industry is much better at re-using both their tools (cameras, lights, etc.) and content (props, set dressing, etc) than the game industry currently is.



I sort of believe that the rise of console platforms is a small step in the direction of better standardization, because many games then get made that target the exact same hardware, and are subject to the console maker's approval process, and middleware engines and tools can be re-used across many games with minimal changes. But until the hardware is so good that we can afford to waste a large percentage of its capabilities and still deliver a great game experience on it, full movie-industry-like standardization is going to elude us.

Tim Carter
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I'm not convinced. There have been some standards. TCP/IP for example.



But let's not get lost in the trees so we can't see the forest. I'm pointing out a culture difference more than a technical issue. It's the fact that a concerted effort was made to standardize in one industry whereas no such equivalent has been even attempted in another.



The sole exception - which is largely accidental - is the PC platform. Though even there you have backwards compatibility issues.



Imagine if Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft got together and made a single console platform. That would give so much power to game developers. But they wouldn't do it because, really, they don't care *that much* about games. They're just retail products to them, or software. They don't see them as cultural products.

Wylie Garvin
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New OpenGL extensions and new versions of DirectX come out every year or two. You could call those "standards" for the PC, except for the minor detail that there are always bugs in the major vendors' drivers and game developers end up finding them, working around them or asking the vendors to patch them. On one AAA game I worked on, the PC version shipped with pre-release builds of the major vendor drivers on our game disc, because there were game-breaking bugs in the released versions of the drivers. That game also had a database of exact versions of hardware and drivers that it used to detect and work around many issues with various faulty drivers.



I guess what I'm trying to say is, standardizing our target platform for games is a nice idea, but before we can do that, we have to stop changing it first. Right now (and for the past 20+ years), both our development platforms and our target platforms are constantly evolving and changing. And this has mostly been a good thing, because the competition between the graphics vendors, the CPU vendors, and the console companies has given us more and more capable and affordable platforms to make our games for. Every two or three years, we get a new batch of development PCs with double the RAM and beefier video cards. With every major advance in capability (e.g. console generation), developers have found new things to do with that power to improve the experience, and its not just the shiny graphics: current gen console games often do realtime 3D sound effects in 5.1 or 7.1, simultaneous multitrack streaming of music, ambience and voice, complex AI, background loading of levels and art assets while you play, on-demand streaming of high res textures, and many other things. I don't think we will ever see a stable, standardized "One True Platform" until our hardware is so ridiculously powerful that even highly ambitious games can afford to waste large quantities of that power, and we're not anywhere near that point yet.

Banksy One
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I cant wait for the next few articles John, but i hope that you address things from a consumer perspective as well, because it puzzles me greatly why there are services where people can play Nes/Atari/Snes/Genesis games legally, however there is so little access to the 4000-6000 mame Roms of games that formed the foundation of gaming (and Nintendos success).



As for Mr Hawkins and rescuing old source code for emulation purposes, i don't really see the point of this arduous recreation when the playable Mame ROMS (for games like Golden Axe) have been out for years already and from a technical standpoint can be distributed through a streaming game service like Gametap or Console Classix (legally). In that instance i think you should have stated the importance of preserving source code not for the consumer, but rather for the developer and his own hobbies. Pardon me if i speak out of ignorance, i'm just a bit puzzled by the fact that we have access to such a small number of arcade games (legally).

John Andersen
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It's briefly addressed in part two, but it's a separate topic that would cover how game players and the industry need to engage and have a more open dialogue about what titles should be made available for purchase. The obvious: The issue of arcade games being made available online to consumers is being handled on a title-to-title and regional basis. Many developers and publishers are testing the waters to see how well these titles perform. Some perform so well that new versions are developed and published on current-gen platforms. Sadly, due to distance and language differences, there are some publishers that simply may not be aware of what games are being discussed (and requested) on numerous message boards from game players.



You mentioned Nintendo - the fact that Nintendo has its own Virtual Console Arcade section on the Wii Shop Channel speaks volumes. D4 Enterprise is one such company that has been great in bringing Neo Geo and MSX games to the Virtual Console Arcade. Another is Hamster Corporation, which has brought arcade games including Nihon Bussan's "Crazy Climber" and Universal's "Mr. Do" to the VC arcade (at least on Japan's VC). Nihon Bussan and Universal are not official VC partners, but official VC partners like Hamster are doing their part in bringing their games to us. I can think of so many more titles that can be brought to market, and I'm proud to say I've played a small part in trying to emphasize the importance of some titles to other Japanese publishers.



I think it's simply a matter of communicating to these publishers that we'd like these arcade titles in our regions as well. To engage and have a more open dialogue about what titles should be made available for purchase is a challenge - but important.

Banksy One
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John, so you're saying that licensing issues are preventing things from moving forward? Just wondering, if there are independent services like Vnes.com and Console Classix which provide a wider selection of console games than the Virtual Console, PSN and XBLA combined at a fraction of the price, then why arent there independent companies that provide this same service for classic arcade games? Are Console Classix and Vnes facing licensing issues as well, or are they simply just a bit more serious about giving people access to older games?



Why these game companies are neglecting to provide access to the thousands of Mame games is surely not because of licensing issues, but rather because they are simply not interested in preserving gaming culture (Shock Horror!!!)



Under U.S Copyright Law it is constituted as fair use to rent a game which you have legally accquired to someone else, just like you can receive a video game as a gift and then resell it to someone else. Licensing is not the problem, its a reluctance to see people access old content free of charge.



You're right John, for the sake of preserving and growing a gaming culture, various source codes for older games should be released. As for the main reason though, we might differ?



My stance is that most source codes should be released under a non profit CC license, So that nearly EVERY game that has EVER been made needs to be modified to enable self play (where the computer plays in place of the player), with drop in drop out support for the human player/players. Its a feature that should have existed from the beginning.

John Andersen
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Banksy, just to make my stance clear on your fourth paragraph, older games in general should be released, but the source code for older games should NOT be released - but preserved by developers and publishers. That way, if a developer wants to re-release with some new selectable/optional changes you mention in your last paragrah. Source code should only be released if the copyright owner chooses to make it public.



It appears that licensing issues do become an obvious complication if its based on a previously licensed property, say Robocop, or any other movie, comic, or TV show, etc. It all depends on the popularity of that property, and up to each individual developer and publisher to re-negotiate those contracts and some have successfully done so for re-releases based on licensed properties seen on PSN, VC, and XBLA.



Paying royalties and residuals to former production staff becomes another complication. In the case of a re-release of "Rival Schools" on PSN, Capcom's Christian Svensson said in an article online that since Capcom doesn't hold some of the IP rights and clearances related to music soundtrack and voice actors it will not be re-released on PSN.



It's not that game companies don't care about releasing or preserving older games - it's because many don't know. Many of the original people that developed and published these arcade games you mention have since retired from the industry, left the company, or sadly passed away. Some copyright holders of these games have put thier focus on other industries, including casino gaming machines, IT or other software unrelated to games, etc,.



It's also because many of the business development staff of some developers and publishers aren't aware of the history of these games - because the history doesn't exist to a degree. More on that in part two of this article.



I'd like to see these games released legally. I want to give these developers and publishers my money to but them on retail complilations, XBLA, VC, and PSN. Simply put: Giving them my money is putting in my vote that I want to see more titles brought to market.



Most importantly, I'd like to know more about the development staff behind these games. The video interviews with production staff on retail compilations including Midway Arcade Treasures and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection were very well done. I'd like to see more of these and other extras available and I'm happy to pay for them.



Sorry, but I personally don't know much about Vnes or Console Classix. I'm too busy playing the backlog of compilations I purchased at retail.

Banksy One
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John, how can you expect me or anyone else to take your articles seriously when its entitled "the game preservation crisis", but then you don't pay homage to preservationists like Console Classix and Vnes? Come now :)



As far as price, accessibility and a retro catalog goes they exceed XBLA PSN and VC (especially in my region of the world). See, as a game enthusiast i find it difficult to justify spending nearly $500 just to try 89 preselected Nes games on my Wii. With Vnes however, I can play over 400 NES games with a cheap USB joypad on any PC, free of charge, legally. It would cost me over $2000 to do that on the Virtual Console, plus another few hundred bucks for the Wii itself. Then theres the other games id like to play, all 6000 of them. Averaging out at $5 a pop, thats $30.000. As things stand now, there wouldn't even be an option to try most of these games before buying them. As things stand now, my $30.000 worth of games would be worthless in terms of monetary value because of DRM.



Is this what game preservation is about, blanketing game prices, imposing DRM and giving people a limited selection? I urge you in lieu of this information to please give room in your articles to the preservationists like Jamie Sanders, Aaron Ethridge and James Rolfe. When will you be publishing your next articles?



Kind Regards,

Banksy.

Jamie Mann
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@Banksy:

"preservationists" such as Console Classix and VNes are on very shaky legal grounds: their defence rests on the basis that because they own a physical copy of the game, they can then lend out a virtual copy of the game (i.e. the ROM) to other people on a limited basis: the ROM cannot be downloaded and only 1 virtual copy is allowed to be active per physical cartridge.



In other words, they're relying on a space-shifting defence, which is something the courts have so far failed to rule consistently on (and even then: can they prove that the ROM you're playing has actually been taken from their physical cartridge?). And while vnes offers its services for free, Console Classix charges for access and doesn't pay royalties back to the copyright owner (unless they've explicitly gained authorisation from the copyright owners for every single ROM they possess, which seems unlikely). And much of that IP is still in active use, via compilation disks and services such as the VC and Microsoft's Arcade Room, so they don't even have the "abandonware" defence.



I suspect the main thing that's protecting them is that they're currently small-scale enterprises and the legal situation is grey enough to require a set of expensive copyright lawyers.



Beyond that: those 400 NES games clearly have some value, as you want to play them. And back in the eighties, they would have cost somewhere in the region of $16,000 (at an average of $40 per title) - or $31,000 in today's money, once you adjust for inflation. As such, being able to get them for $2000 on the Virtual Console is an bargain - and some of that money will be going back to the IP owner.



If you want access to free games, then play indie/flash games on the PC. Get an iPod Touch and plough through the App Store. Get a ZX Spectrum emulator and work through the thousands of *explicitly licenced* games on World of Spectrum. Grab MAME and try some of the games which have been released for free (as linked on the mame website). Get a flash cart and work through the titles on pdroms. Have a blast with Team 17's Amiga classics, Westwood's C&C titles, or work through Rockstar's GTA backcatalog.



There's quite literally tens of thousands of free games out there...

Banksy One
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Youre suggesting i play Spectrum games? Lol have you seen Bomb Jack, its in black and white for Gods sake, and thats not even a high spec game. No, i won't play the tens of thousands of free games, because many of those games are ports and clones of other game mechanics. Sure there are bound to be exceptions, but maybe you're just blind to the fact that Japan has basically given us the blueprint of good game design, and those games primarily come from 1979 onwards and were released in the arcades and on home consoles. The current services for these games are not good, they have a limited catalog, utilize DRM, and most of the time don't allow people to try games before buying them. You'd swear they were run by cons and thieves and not gaming enthusiasts.



As for the legality of Console Classix, it would be unconstitutional in many U.S states to shut them down, they operate under fair use laws. What is shaky legal ground to you is another persons bread and butter, and i hope you realize that. I don't oppose companies using DRM in their products, even though it is antithetical to free trade. If one company offers a better service than another though, we should at least be man enough to admit it.

Jamie Mann
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Banksy: I don't dispute that a lot of Spectrum games were visually primitive, but the point I was making is that there are lots of freely available games, many of which were once commercially sold. You can hardly dismiss C&C or GTA as being "ports and clones of other game mechanics".



(and if you believe that Japan is the sole definer of "good game design", then you've missed all of the work which came out of the US and the UK in the 1980s and 1990s, especially on the home computers - and all the development houses which sprung up on the back of machines such as the Spectrum, C64, Atari ST and Amiga)



Beyond that: Vnes at least offers the games for free, but Console Classix charges for access to its ROMs. The 1990 amendment to the US First Sale doctrine explicitly bars lending, leasing or renting of computer games for commercial purposes unless the program has been licenced from the copyright owner.

http://itlaw.wikia.com/wiki/First_sale_doctrine



Therefore, while Vnes has a slightly better defence (they don't appear to directly profit from offering their games), Console Classix will likely be shut down once someone in the games industry decides to spend the money on a lawyer. Unless they have somehow persuaded Sega, Nintendo, Atari, Activision, etc to grant them licences to the ROMs which they're making available *and* are paying royalties for their use. As it stands, unless I've missed something, CC are essentially commercial pirates.



Is that something worth defending?



Beyond that, the point remains the same. If you want something of worth, you have to pay what the copyright owner wants. Some people are happy to give away stuff for free, others charge. You can argue that the prices are too high, but that's the seller's choice and there are legal alternative ways to get the games cheaper: in most cases, you can buy the physical game from Ebay, you can often buy compilation disks (e.g. Capcom Classics, Sega's Ultimate collection) or you can just play another game on a similar theme.



Finally, have you considered what goes into making a game available on a legitimate platform? It's not just a case of dumping a ROM onto a bit of webspace: the company has to make sure the game is actually fit for purpose, both technically and legally. An emulator needs to be written or licenced - emulators like MAME are explicitly not licenced for commercial use). The game needs to be playtested to ensure it works correctly under emulation and needs to be submitted for ESRB rating - it may also need to be patched to deal with controller differences (no coinslots, no trackball, etc!), external hooks (e.g. XBLA awards, leaderboards, etc) and/or translation issues. Then there's the ongoing maintenance cost of the service itself. It all adds up...

Banksy One
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Perhaps i havent played enough computer games from the older times, but i dont think you can compare the games on home computers from the 80s and 90's versus the Japanese triad of gaming (Nes-Gameboy-Arcade) in that same time frame. I'm not saying there weren't significant gaming contributions through home computers like the C64, but they are nothing compared to the triad. If anyone has provided the blueprints for modern gaming it was the big three consoles, most of which came from Japan, hence the above comment. The hundreds of million Japanese made consoles and game franchises sold to date are just evidence to this fact (if you want to argue numbers that is).



As for the first sale doctrine, your statement from itlaw.wikia is not correct. The First sale doctrine, even with most software (not involving click through agreements) allows the consumer to resell or rent the products they purchased. Its a consumer protection act which things like DRM directly oppose.



Your suggestions are time consuming and unnecessary though, why would i spend so much time and money on ebay sourcing old consoles and games that i might not like, when i can get them on vnes or console classix for free? Sure i wont have a trackball or zapper to play the games , but i can always go to the local pub or arcade and play one of those golf games to get that feeling lol.



Kind Regards,

Banksy

Jamie Mann
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Banksy:



Here's a quote from the actual First Sale doctrine (edited for clarity - see http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000109---
-000-.html for the full version):



unless authorized by the owners of copyright in a computer program (including any tape, disk, or other medium embodying such program), a person in possession of a particular copy of a computer program (including any tape, disk, or other medium embodying such program), may not for the purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage, dispose of, or authorize the disposal of, the possession of that computer program (including any tape, disk, or other medium embodying such program) by rental, lease, or lending.



CC are lending out copies of the games they possess. They are charging for this. They have not licenced these games from the copyright owner.



Both Vnes and CC fall down when it comes to fair-use: what they're doing fails the third and fourth tests in section 107 of the US Copyright act: they're reproducing the entire game and they're impacting the commercial viability of the copyrighted work: as you've stated, people don't buy the version on the Virtual Console because they can play it for free on the vnes website.



What they are doing is illegal. It's piracy.



Yes, it's cheaper. Yes, it's more convenient. However, it's still piracy.

Banksy One
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Nice quote, check out the exception to the rule (on the same page you just linked).



"(B) This subsection does not apply to—a computer program embodied in or used in conjunction with a limited purpose computer that is designed for playing video games and may be designed for other purposes"



So i think that settles it then? Unless you want to carry on debating about the legal status of these services? :)

Jamie Mann
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Possibly - the fact that they're leasing a virtual emulated copy leaves that open to interpretation, as the ROM is no longer embodied in a limited purpose computer, nor is it used in conjunction with a limited purpose computer. What they're offering is effectively equivalent to a Flash game: a "player" application and some gamecode.



There's also still the fair use issue outstanding, as detailed above.



But hey: I'm not a lawyer. There is a good test for this scenario though: if it's legal, why aren't other companies doing this? It'd be relatively trivial for a larger company to do this (e.g. gog.com, gametap, etc), but to my knowledge, none have. After all, if you can stash a load of cartridges in a warehouse somewhere (with a suitable write-off for operating expenses) and thereby avoid having to licence the games from the IP owner - which also means no royalty payments - then it signficantly reduces overheads and removes the need to deal with any restrictions which might be enforced by the IP owner.



But noone has. And noone's done anything similar for music or videos, either. Instead, they all go back to the IP owner and get authorisation for individual items.



This suggests that this approach is not legally defensible: if there was even just a good chance that this approach would not be shot down in flames, there'd be a lot more companies trying it.

Kevin Patterson
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Great article!

As a musician, I think it's sad that so many pieces of game music are lost over time. Sure, it's common for a big title to have a soundtrack cd, or a well known composer to have it on his site, but many older and lesser known titles you can't find the music for. Thanks to the net, there are sites that help with this, but no central museum that i know of. Same for the art in games, as even the early games had some beautiful artwork on the cover, in the manuals, that are likely gone.

Joel S
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Great article, some really good research has gone on here.

Well done! I look forward to the next instalment!

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Leonardo Nanfara
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old games and systems really aren't that hard to find, there are plenty in circulation by private sellers. Check your local online classifieds for people selling old game systems with games and you will realize that retro gaming is in demand. I just recently purchased a complete boxed NES system (in spectacular condition) for $80. The retro market is alive and well and old games and systems can be found quite easily if your resourceful enough to find them. Retro collectors like myself are here to preserve gaming history :)

Sean Huxter
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I see several issues here that are bothering me.



1) The attitude that gaming is temporary entertainment is exactly the reason we do not currently have DVDs of the first two Doctor Who incarnations. Most of Patrick Troughton's episodes are lost to time because the BBC recycled the expensive tapes they were stored on. Once broadcast, the Beeb thought no one would want to see them again, so WIPE... But of course now we know differently.



2) One major issue with archiving source code (and the compilers and tools needed to convert that to an executable on a given machine) is not the loss of the compilers, not the loss of the tools, not the loss of the source code, not the loss of the equipment (though all of that happens), but the lack of any kind of desire by a company to expose its source code at any time for any reason.



Imagine a company openly posting its source code, even years after the game in question has shipped. I can't even imagine it's a simple, easy conversation in a board room when someone says "Hey, let's publish the source code to our old Atari VCS games."



Intellectual property is so rigidly protected in the computer games industry that you wouldn't have much luck archiving actual source code.





We may well have to be satisfied with the final product - the executable games.



I have a Commodore 64, a Commodore 128, and several emulators for the PC. I have hundreds of disks, most of which still read and write 25 or more years later. There exist programs and hardware that will allow people to connect Commodore drives to a PC and read and write to .d64 files (a digital representation of the contents of the disk) so emulators can run those programs. But as long as the hardware/software lasts on new platforms, and as long as the original units continue to function or be reparable, we can always go back to the original platform and play these things.



Emulation and parts replication for old machines is the best way to preserve this stuff. Emulation allows us to store whatever format media to whatever modern platform for preservation and re-deployment.

Dave Sodee
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Interesting article and preserving old code, unreleased games....Like that Star Trek Spock game for example would rock. So much stuff out there that people poured work into that we have never seen. Just a shame no way to see it or bring some of it to life...

Jamie Mann
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There is an argument for the case that we don't need all of the background information associated with individual games. After all, we have the game in perfect, digital format, allowing us to copy the data ad infinitum. Unlike movies and music, where there's often a need/desire to resample the media as home-technology improves. And it's a lot easier to retain the background information for games in digital form, unlike physical artefacts such as movie sets and rushes.



On the other hand, understanding the context in which the games were developed is something I personally find fascinating, especially when dealing with older games which ran on extremely limited hardware. For instance, there's the tale of how Mario got his hat (the display resolution was too low to render hair), or how Tempest came about because the developer had a nightmare about Space Invaders. Then there's the technical feats, such as how the developer of the Lords of Midnight game on the ZX Spectrum managed to cram 48,000 screens into a machine with just 48kb of ram (i.e. one location for every byte of ram in the machine), or how people managed to produce an amazing variety of games on the Atari 2600, a machine with 128 bytes (!) of RAM and 4kb of ROM on the cartridges.



Dealing with these limitations directly led to many of the conventions of today: understanding them isn't necessary to using them, but it may mean you'll be able to use them more effectively.



On the subject of emulation: running games under emulation is far from a perfect solution - there was an article on this subject on Gamasutra a few months back. You can't emulate the physical attributes of the hardware - the analog dial on the Atari 2600, for example, or the trackball on Marble Madness. And while it's relatively easy to emulate 90% of a system, getting that last 10% can be incredibly difficult, especially on older machines where people relied on undocumented features (e.g. opcodes on the CPU) and idiosyncrasies - the Atari 2600 is a prime example of this, as it was originally designed just to play Pong; an entire book (Racing the Beam) has been written on the tricks used to implement games such as Space Invaders and Adventure.



Even more modern hardware is subject to similar issues - 3DFX emulation is very patchy and while there's emulation of the PowerVR chipset used in the Dreamcast, I don't think anyone's tried to emulate the Series 1 chipset which went head to head against the Voodoo1 on the PC.



Then there's further issues, such as data encryption and copy-protection systems. The vast majority of preservation efforts revolve around third parties reverse-engineering the system (e.g. MAME): a lot of games are not emulated simply because the anti-piracy systems haven't been broken.



And then we have modern, online games, such as WoW: the game as it is now is very, very different to the game which launched, but as far as I'm aware, there isn't any way to get access to a "version 1.0" copy of the game, unlike something such as Starcraft, where you can get hold of patches from a certain timeframe.



Finally, you have the issue of maintaining the emulators themselves, especially for more obscure systems such as the Amstrad and Philips machines. Emulators for these do exist but are often written in C and hence only work on specific architectures (e.g. DOS, Windows 95) and the source code has often been lost, so it may well be necessary to run the emulator within an emulator!



On the other hand, this hasn't stopped people from trying. One website which deserves special praise is the World of Spectrum (www.worldofspectrum.org), which not only does it's best to preserve everything related to Sinclair's range of machines (books, magazines, tape images, instructions, adverts, boxart, posters, etc) but also actively seeks permission from individual developers and publishers rather than treating everything as abandonware. Though sadly they've had to limit what's available on the website, due to people trying to use the tape images and artwork to produce forgeries of high-value titles...

John Andersen
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Jamie, you bring up an interesting argument regarding preserving the context in which games were developed. My viewpoint is that i'm hoping that these tales and anecdotes can be used in educational settings, as to not only inspire future game designers but perhaps help prevent them in making the former mistakes that have been made in the industry (if it's in the technical or in the business aspect). Game preservation being utilized in an educational setting is presented in the second part of this article.



With all of these tales and anecdotes being published, it brings up another question: How do we preserve these published articles and books on video game history that were only available in printed hard copy? It's almost overwhelming to think about it. I'm hoping that previous books on video game history that are out-of-print and back-issues of video game magazines can be made digital. I'm also hoping that even foreign language publications and books can be made available in other languages, (translated books from French publisher Pix'n Love Publishing come to mind) hopefully that's where digitized versions can come in.



In the end, I hope with the preservation of such material being taken seriously, the industry as a whole can continue to be taken more seriously as an interactive artform.



By the way Jamie, thanks for providing some great comments and point-of-view all around.

Jamie Mann
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@John: cheers :)



I think the context matters hugely for all media - and in video games it matters both inside and outside the game. After all, at the core of a video game, all you're really doing is pressing buttons to some audio/visual cues: it's how these cues are presented that makes the game worthwhile. And beyond the technical context, it is worth understanding the human context - for instance, Monty Mole was inspired by the miner's strike in the UK and (as per the recent article linked by Slashdot), the Oregon Trail was originally a board game developed by a trainee teacher; his two housemates then transformed it into a text adventure played via terminals.



There is a question though: how much should we preserve? The video games industry is perhaps unique in the way it's expanded so rapidly, and while the collector in me loves the idea of preserving everything, that sort of "hording" approach tends to be counter-productive when it comes to actually understanding and appreciating individual titles. Put simply, you can't physically play all of the games in the world - I've barely been able to keep up with reviewing the games on XBLIG, which appear at a rate of roughly 3 per day: even if I spend less than half an hour on each title, that's still a minimum of an hour a day. Trying to do similar with the 40,000+ titles on the App Store is completely impossible.



It's therefore necessary to filter the games in some way, and to pick individual titles that highlight key attributes in either a positive or negative way. Donkey Kong Country vs Rise of the Robots. Elite vs Elite Frontier. SF2 vs Mortal Kombat. Etc.



Unfortunately, filtering is by nature more than a little subjective ;)



When it comes to preserving physical media: there's been a lot of good work done on this - the World Of Spectrum is again an excellent example, as they have scanned complete runs of physical media (books, magazines) from the 1980s. Many of these have been OCR'd and converted into websites (e.g. Your Sinclair: the Rock and Roll Years) and a database sits behind it all which charts all of the relationships for a given game: the developer, the publisher, magazine adverts and reviews, etc - even offsite links to wikipedia and KLOV. It's a truly stunning volunteer effort.



(and it's been fascinating to read some of the editorials from the early 1980s. Piracy, lack of innovation, buggy games: what goes around, comes around.)



However, the issue is that this type of work pretty much has to be done by volunteers - there's little commercial worth in preserving the past in so much detail. Also, much of the work is often based on piracy efforts from when the work was commercially viable. As a result, while a lot of the past has been captured, the results is often variable, both in terms of the data captured and the quality of said data...

John Andersen
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Jamie, good question with regards to how much we should preserve. Considering how much we've lost already, I think it's safe to say the industry should begin with the basics, from hardware engineering documents, source code and the names of each and every individual behind the initial creation of such gaming hardware and software.



Engineering documents and source code could at least be referred to in troubleshooting a re-release of a game or even hardware. I find it fascinating that Sega released its Game Gear initially in 1990/1991, but then Majesco Sales would produce a limited edition release of the Game Gear in 2001 (with a few scaled down technical aspects of the hardware all in association with Sega). Purchasing that re-release made me feel like I wasn't left behind on what I missed out on.



Imagine, if a hardware manufacturer, if prompted by support of the gaming community, could produce limited edition runs of hardware, handhelds, replacement parts for hardware, replacement controllers or arcade sticks with anniversary branding. All done in a pre-order method - this would require engineering documents. We can dream right?



I was at the Level X exhibition at the Tokyo Metrolpolitan Museum of Photography in late 2003, early 2004 - they had box art of Famicom cartridges lined up in cases. It was just amazing that the boxes were being displayed. In a corner of the exhibit, they played a video showing the very last Nintendo Famicom rolling off the assembly line at Nintendo that year, being packagaed up and loaded up into a truck. It was just so fascinating, sad and bittersweet watching that.



Fast-forward years later and I walk into a flea market and what's left of gaming is all piled together with other useless non-gaming junk of decaying VHS tapes and lamp shades. I thought "Is this what our industry has come down to? Sitting next to glass figurines and decorative plates ordered out of a catalogue? I want to know more about these games, and our games don't deserve this treatement". As sad as I'd feel at these flea markets, I knew they were still saving much of our history. If Nintendo could release four older Mario titles a few months ago to retail on the Wii, then so much else could be re-released.



It all comes down to authenticity. I want the authentic real thing in my hands. I hate piracy, after what I've witnessed, after seeing how much downfall some developers have had - I absolutely can't stand it. Anyone reading Gamasutra can see how much the gaming industry is competitive, and how many companies have shut down this past year. Piracy contributes to that in a major way. To me, our industry should also be about recognizing those who put in hours of hard work into their creations, sacrificed time away from their families, friends, loved ones, etc. This industry involves people who have these jobs, need to pay rent/mortgage, bills, put food on the table. I want to recognize all of these people before it's too late. Museums, archives and even gaming conventions like PAX and GDC could potentially host reunions with the people involved in the games created ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.



Many of us want the authentic branding, that seal of approval from the developer and publisher, and they'd gladly give it if they'd have the support of the gaming community. Add in some behind-the-scenes material, a booklet, DVD, website content and I'd be happy. The re-release of the 25th Anniversary Super Mario All Stars for the Wii from Nintendo is one such example. Nintendo did an amazing job on that one, and I hope other developers and publishers have taken note of that.



There is a limit to what should be collected, but then again, considering what we've lost and what I came across in my research (some of which I could not put into print), I say now we take everything into account, and allow the museums to decide what they'll accept. These museums and archives will be "deposit points" for everyone, and as part two of my article explains, they'll be many museum and archives to choose from. I even heard from one museum in Europe after this article was published that has some exciting plans that I'd like to put in a potential follow-up. I do hope that more developers and publishers will come forward to discuss how they're preserving thier legacy.

Tont Voles
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Awesome article.

Christopher Totten
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This is great! I think this shows a definite shift in thought about video games. At one time, it was just a bunch of people writing software toys for children and now suddenly people are looking up and saying, "wait...we have something somewhat artistic here that people will want to re-experience...we'd better preserve this!" This is something that many forms of media seem to go through, from early writing to film. I'm sure that a Sumerian recording their last commercial transaction with Cuneiform probably thought nothing of it, but today an early written tablet is a valuable find. Even though early developers didn't think to save their work, it may be worth ensuring this happens from now on.



Maybe companies could even create "digital archaeology, restoration, and archiving" jobs for recovering and saving old game data...

Dave Endresak
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Nice article and good effort, John. Maybe we should talk sometime as this is one (of many) of my own areas of concern.



Despite what some people here seem to think, the film and music industries have suffered the exact same problem, as has the print publishing industry. In fact, we are not even talking about minor companies or unknown titles. For example, listen to the special DVD recounting of the enormous (and expensive!) effort put forth by Disney when they wanted to release "Pollyanna" on DVD but discovered that their "master" copy was in horrible condition (amongst other things, they discovered the entire yellow track of the TechniColor original was gone). Disney was able to develop methods to restore the film, but many companies do not have their resources to make such an attempt, and many works are not of such popularity to warrant the attempt.



Another example is the efforts to preserve 78 RPMs and store them digitally. Fallout 3 has a popular mod that uses songs from such efforts, but the fact that such efforts exist at all indicates the problem.



When Nozomi Entertainment/Right Stuf wanted to rerelease Osamu Tezuka's "Tetsuwan Atom" (aka "Astro Boy") they had to seek assistance from the consumer market and fans to obtain the best copies they could.



The same thing happened with Judy Garland collections because the originals had been lost or were corrupted.



The original Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories were edited in rereleases due to the content containing numerous racist and socioeconomic classist statements/comments/viewpoints.



Etc.



Gaming is not unique with respect to other media products despite what some of us may like to believe. Every media product haas unique features - in fact, that's exactly why studying the original works as well as various rereleases is important research for technology studies, media studies, and fields such as art and anthropology.



I know one huge bishoujo game fan in Singapore (although I haven't heard from him for years now) who was attempting to recount the history of the genre, but could not find anyone who had a copy of one of the very first bishoujo games.



The same problem has occurred with various anime titles, even titles that are extremely important historically and/or were popular when they were released.



In addition, let's remember that rereleases often differ from the original with respect to extras, interviews, etc that may be included on one version but not another.



What's the bottom line to the issue? Well, it's the age-old issue of creative artistic and/or scholarly interest versus business, and unfortunately business almost always triumphs as long as we live in a capitalistic-driven system.

Jamie Mann
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@Dave: I fully agree, but it's worth differentiating between preservation, restoration and renewal.



Preservation means maintaining the media in a "time capsule", so people can experience it the way it was at the time. A lot of the time, this is complicated by the hardware becoming obsolete (e.g. 8-track tapes, 5.25 computer disks) and/or by physical degradation - magnetic media loses it's magnetism over time, CDs rot and movie stock is highly subject to wear and tear - as well as being highly flammable.



Hence, it's often necessary to restore the media, which is usually managed by copying it to another medium and then manually dealing with the issues - for instance, restoring colour to old Dr Who episodes, splicing together a "definitive" version of Metropolis or digitising a book and OCR'ing the text.



(I'd class emulation as a form of restoration, though it can also be used to "renew" a game via features such as quicksaves, visual filters and (when dealing with more modern consoles) the ability to smooth textures and run at a higher resolution.)



Once the media has been restored, people can then decide to renew it - and it's here where you generally need access to the assets used to produce the original media. Star Wars is probably the classic example of this in the movie world: George Lucas rebuilt the special effects with CGI, remixed the soundtrack and (controversially) changed several plot elements - remember, Hans shot first! Similarly, in the gaming world, the artwork will usually be reworked, the game rendered at a higher resolution and the gameplay tweaked, as per titles such as Rez, Conker's Bad Fur Day and Beyond Good and Evil.



In truth, we're at a fairly good point now when it comes to preserving stuff: game companies are now aware that older games can have value and with all the assets being digital, storage costs are minimal. This isn't to say there isn't a problem: DRM is likely to cause major problems when titles fall out of copyright and company buy-outs/collapses often result in data loss and/or confusion over who owns the IP for a given game, as happened with the System Shock franchise.



The situation is never going to be perfect - and the exponential growth in new releases (e.g. the 40,000+ games on the App Store) means that it's getting ever more difficult to actually identify and recognise titles of genuine worth. But this probably is as good as it's going to get!

John Andersen
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Dave, motion picture and TV program preservation is another one of my major interests. You brought up some great examples. I could listen or read stories of how old film negatives or kinescopes have been rediscovered in warehouses or closets. Did you hear about how a kinescope of Game 7 from the 1960 World Series was found in Bing Crosby's wine cellar of all places late last year? Great article by the NYT on it called "In Bing Crosby’s Wine Cellar, Vintage Baseball" online. The game was originally broadcast on NBC and Crosby personally hired a company to make a kinescope of the game for him at the time NBC was broadcasting it live.



That's where I'm coming from with video games - there is so much material out there just waiting to be rediscovered. If kinescopes, video tapes and film reels of old movies are still being rediscovered in the most odd places, just imagine what piece of gaming history is out there just waiting to be found?



Speaking of anime, animation historian Jerry Beck recalls how Streamline Pictures rescued the original animation cells from the epic "Akira". The production company in Japan was about to throw them away when Streamline (former Akira distributor), came to the rescue and paid to have them shipped over via the slow boat from Japan. When they opened up the boxes of the cells after their arrival in Los Angeles, they were shocked to discover the painted background art from Akira had been crumpled up and used as packing material for the cells.



I don't touch upon it in any of my articles, but I hope that lost source code doesn't become a legal issue at some point between video game companies. Some developers have had to spend big money to rebuild a game for a re-release because of lost source code.



As a comparison, there have been lawsuits concerning lost motion picture and TV show filed against TV networks. Shortly before his death, Milton Bearle filed a lawsuit against NBC accusing the network of losing old kinescopes of his TV shows and specials. All of that material was later found stored at a warehouse.



Video game developers and publishers are however establishing backup and preservation milestones depending on how contracts are setup, this obviously serves as a prevention against such disputes. Perhaps they've learned from the mistakes TV networks and movie studios have made.

curt vendel
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Its a shame you didn't contact the Atari Museum... (www.atarimuseum.com) as you would've had a field day going through the offices there, the original Atari mainframes, thousands of documents, magtapes with original emails, source code, etc... all of the artwork, original sales binders, the technical library, the original chip plots for the the proprietary chips Atari developed over the years, even the 1st Pong arcade to roll off the assembly line autographed by Nolan Bushnell...


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