[Part 2 of Where Games Go To Sleep examines how video games can be protected by natural disasters and elements. Video game museums and preservationists worldwide reveal their goals and ask for artifacts from those in the industry. Meanwhile, Japan struggles to open its own video game museum amidst political controversy. Part 1, which looks into the surprising fates of historical Atari and Sega material, and more, can be found here.]
In August of 1986 Konami opened the Konami Software Development building in the Minatojima area of Kobe, Japan. 1986 was the same year in which Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear Solid series, would join the company. The Kobe building would house development divisions that were responsible for the production of Konami's most popular series. Development Division 5 was one of those divisions housed in this very building. It consisted of ten people -- one of whom was Hideo Kojima himself.
On the morning of January 17th, 1995 the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck the city of Kobe. It was the worst earthquake ever to hit Japan. 6,434 lives were lost, and the earthquake caused approximately $102.5 billion dollars in damage.
The Konami Software Development building was among many structures in Kobe that suffered damage. Kojima discussed how the impact of the earthquake personally affected him and his Development Division 5 colleagues in a Kojima Productions Report blog entry.
A retrospective video that played in July of 2007 during a Metal Gear Anniversary party told of how Kojima and his team were experimenting with early Sony PlayStation technology during the winter 1995 time period in which the Kobe earthquake occurred.
The same video would also reveal that Konami's Development Division 5 team lost an enormous amount of data and hard work in the Kobe earthquake. The quake eventually led them to relocate their offices to the Ebisu area of Tokyo, starting over, using Lego pieces to lay out preliminary designs of levels for what would become Metal Gear Solid for the Sony PlayStation.
Happily, it seems that some of Kojima's early Metal Gear design documents have survived, according to recent tweets he made, compiled by blogs Kotaku and Hachimaki.
According to IGN, Konami also lost much of the original artwork from the Castlevania series created up to the time of the earthquake.
The Konami Software Development building damage is listed within Konami's official corporate history. Konami Digital Entertainment in Tokyo was contacted and asked to clarify the extent of what development materials it lost in the Kobe earthquake. Konami's public relations division politely declined to comment, citing company policy not to discuss any information regarding the development of its games.
In the video game preservation questionnaire sent out to industry developers and publishers for this article, Sony Computer Entertainment of America was one of the respondents that did express the need for development kits and hardware tools to be kept in secure disaster-proof locations along with game data.
Many different industries such as medical, legal, entertainment, and manufacturing utilize one unique method to prevent loss from harmful elements or natural disasters: underground storage in a salt mine. Underground Vaults & Storage is a specialized storage company that provides six different locations for international clients. One of their locations based in Hutchinson, Kansas, has been in use for over fifty years; it is buried 650 feet below the surface of the earth and accessible only by secured elevators.
It is reported that major Hollywood film studios store their film negatives in this facility, and the master negatives for such films as Star Wars, Ben Hur, Gone With The Wind, and Journey To The Center of The Earth are secured at the Hutchinson facility. 20th Century Fox reportedly shipped twenty-two truckloads of film masters within a two-month period to Underground Vaults & Storage.
"The natural environment underground is perfect for storage -- a constant 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 percent humidity," says Jeff Ollenburger, business development and sales manager of Underground Vaults & Storage.
"Many of our clients recognize that they can safely and, just as important, economically, store their archives with us for decades and not take up valuable space in their own facilities. In the event that in 20 years there might be a need for that piece of information, it would still be available," says Ollenburger.
Underground Vaults and Storage also offers consulting services and unique data transmission services to its clients. Such services include certified records management and business impact analysis. "Using today's communication technology paired with on-site visits when appropriate, our team of experts can help any company develop a comprehensive records and information management strategy. While the decisions on what to retain and for how long are decisions to be made by each company and their legal or financial advisers, UV&S can offer 'best practice' strategies applicable across broad industries," Ollenburger says.
Ollenburger could not reveal if any of their clients include video game developers and publishers, but the welcome mat has been laid out for them, "Any organization, including those in the video game industry, interested in storing their information and archival material in one of the most secure locations on the planet would be welcome at Underground Vaults & Storage."
One secure establishment that video game developers and publishers could check for old material thought lost is the U.S. Copyright Office. Over the past few decades many developers and publishers deposited source code printouts, while others deposited "Identifying material deposited in lieu of game", such as a videocassette or a written description of gameplay.
Even though Irem disclosed in this article's questionnaire that they maintain no source code for any of their games from the 1980s in Japan, a search of U.S. Copyright Office records did uncover what appears to be Irem game source code. "Printouts" of what is assumed to be source code could be found for several Irem games including 10-Yard Fight, Red Alert, and Super R-Type.
It's unclear however if this is complete source code, as the U.S. Copyright Office currently requires the first 25 and last 25 pages of source code in filing for copyright of a computer program, or the entire code if less than 50 pages long. Source code printouts containing trade secrets can also be blocked out in certain filing circumstances.
Regardless, it should be noted that these copyright deposits are secure, and can only accessed if a written authorization is received from the copyright claimant, an authorized agent of the claimant, or an owner of any of the exclusive rights in the copyright.
There has been one increasingly important area of video game preservation; one could call it a safe haven for video game artifacts. This particular safe haven has been rapidly expanding over the past several years. It became apparent when one company, Fairchild Semiconductor, mentioned a particular museum while research was conducted for this article.
Fairchild Semiconductor was once a former video game console manufacturer that developed the first ROM cartridge-based video game system, known as the Fairchild Channel F, in 1976. The company, founded in 1957, was acquired numerous times and disappeared completely in 1987. Ten years later, Fairchild Semiconductor began operations once again, but this time in Portland, Maine.
"Most of the historical information was not retained over the years. I do have a few pictures and company newsletters, but nothing on the video game," commented Patti Olson, of Fairchild Semiconductor Corporate Communications. Olson referred us to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. An online search of its catalogued archives uncovered photographed artifacts entries for both the Fairchild Channel F and the Channel F II game consoles.