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

January 27, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

Sega of America revealed in a corporate blog entry that it does maintain a storage room with game archive cabinets in its San Francisco headquarters. Blog readers were quick to point out that upon examination of the game archive images posted on the Sega blog, many unreleased Dreamcast titles were found including Dee Dee Planet, Far Nation, Propeller Arena, and Real Race.

Many development and publishing contracts have a milestone in which all materials are backed up. The Sonic Spinball story brings up one important but simple action that developers and publishers could act on to save source code that was once thought to be lost.

That simple action consists of developers and publishers re-establishing contact with one another to recover source code, and all project assets for video game titles that were published years ago. For example, does a publisher in the United States, Europe, or even Brazil have source code to a game that was lost by its original developers?

This has been a common occurrence within the motion picture industry when original film negatives and sound elements are remastered for DVD, Blu-ray, or TV broadcast. Film elements that were once thought to be lost have been rediscovered in overseas vaults once utilized for foreign distribution.

A present-day check-in between video game developer, publisher, and production team members could uncover material that could be returned to its copyright owner, thus ensuring its security for future use.

Hawkins and Vavasour also emphasized that the emulators used to bring older games to new consoles and online game subscription services is source code itself, and should also be backed up.

"We back up and preserve our source code and project elements -- as it makes it easier for us to bring out technology to other platforms. Depending on the target platform, we may re-write an emulator completely from scratch, but it is much easier to port our existing emulation technology instead of re-inventing the wheel.

"It can be helpful to take the lessons you have learned from a project and start from a new beginning -- but either way, it is important to save the source code and keep it safe for future opportunities," says Hawkins.

Vavasour mentions his own emulators adding, "The emulator is source code too, and is subject to the same digital obsolescence as the original game's source code. You have to keep copying to newer media and adapting the code to new target machines as they arise.

"My first emulators were designed to run in MS-DOS 4.x, written in the Tandy Deskmate editor, assembled using Microsoft's Macro Assembler 5.11, and stored on 5 1/4" floppies. Basically, it's useless dead code now that would either have to be ported, or the MS-DOS 4.x environment itself would have to be emulated just to get the emulator working."

Maintaining original coin-operated arcade games, console hardware and software is essential for some developers to pinpoint the speed and overall authenticity of a game when re-releasing it on a new console compilation or online game subscription service.

Terminal Reality is a developer responsible for re-releasing classic SNK games through such compilations as Metal Slug Anthology and SNK Arcade Classics for the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 2, and PSP. Although the company had access to source code for most of the SNK games, Mark Randel, CEO and lead technologist of Terminal Reality, explained that the developers tracked down the originals to authenticate what they were releasing for all three consoles.

"When we were searching for old SNK ROM cartridges, we would constantly monitor eBay for a game we were working on to pop up. We had some very good luck during the production of Metal Slug as most of the games popped up for auction before release -- although we couldn't actually afford an original copy of Metal Slug 1."

Terminal Reality found as many old ROM cartridges as possible and bought actual arcade cabinets to put them in.

"After many late-night play sessions, you'll just know when your version isn't close enough to the original. We broke many joysticks doing this. Because we're talking about classic and adored games, much of the QA staff were extremely hardcore, old school players. They know pixel glitch and slowdown that just has to be in there to accomplish authenticity!" Randel says.

Authenticity also means having access to materials that helped bring games to market, from print and TV advertisements, down to the logo of the game title. These materials not only can be utilized to help a developer acquaint themselves with what the original developer and publisher had intended for the game, but can help inspire updated concepts for a re-release. For players they have been an added incentive to playing a classic video game as Hawkins explains:

"Classic production assets are very valuable -- as they can be used for in-game rewards, marketing promotions, and other UI elements. When we did Data East Arcade Classics for Wii, we allowed gamers to unlock classic arcade artwork, flyers, bezels, and marquees. We felt this was a nice way to reward the players for completing certain goals and it also helped to add extra replay value."

The question that remains is where do all of the elements that make up a game be stored securely and kept safe?

Natural disasters and elements have played a role in destroying video game history. An examination of this history does reveal at least one major video game developer, Konami, did lose valuable development material in a major earthquake.

Part Two of Where Games Go To Sleep examines what happened to Konami and its game development divisions when it was caught in the midst of one of the world's worst natural disasters. Video game museums worldwide also reveal what steps they are taking in saving important video game artifacts from garbage landfills and the threat of data obsolescence.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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