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Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 3
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Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 3

March 10, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Keith Robinson, president and co-founder of Intellivision Productions recalls how he had to go into rescue mode when retrieving the source code of Intellivision games, having to track down old hardware that former corporate owner Mattel had sold at auction.

"When Mattel shut down game production in January 1984, two of the programmers, Mike Minkoff and Mike Breen, were kept on for a month or two to archive all of the finished games and games in progress. This wasn't for posterity; Mattel hoped to find a buyer for Intellivision. The source code was backed up onto 8-inch floppy disks.

"When INTV Corp purchased the rights, it got the disks. INTV contracted another of the programmers, Dave Warhol, to complete some of the unfinished games, so he needed the source code transferred from the 8-inch floppies to PC-readable 5 ¼-inch floppies. He hired me to do that job.

"The problem was that the Mattel Electronics disk drives used a non-standard discontinued format. A year after Mattel Electronics closed, no one could read the disks. I contacted Mattel Inc. and tracked down the original drives: they had been sold at auction to a company in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley.

"It turns out that they had replaced the controller cards in the drives to make them compatible with other 8-inch drives. But they still had the old circuit boards in their attic and were willing to put one back into one of the drives. It didn't work until I called the manufacturer and got the correct configuration for the jumpers on the board.

"So we successfully saved the Intellivision source code. When Intellivision Productions bought the rights in 1997, we got the 5 1/4-inch disks from Dave. We then transferred them to 3 1/2-inch PC disks and later to CDs."

Robert Maduri, CEO of Throwback Entertainment, faced the same technical challenges when Throwback acquired a vast majority of game titles from bankrupted Acclaim Entertainment. Countless Acclaim assets that accumulated at the company's former Glen Cove, New York office had to be sorted and organized.

"Upon the closure of the Acclaim acquisition, Throwback faced a pretty daunting task of assembling data that spanned over 280 product SKUs, dozens of hardware platforms and mass quantities of data stored on obsolete storage devices. For a library that generated over $3 billion in revenue, every piece of data was critical.

"Quite honestly, it was a logistical nightmare. We found that as long as sufficient backups were created, not a lot of thought was put in to the progression of technology and updating the files as the native environments changed. Prior to this past generation of consoles, what was the point of doing so for the bulk of the industry?

"When we acquired the library, it was eerily similar to acquiring a traditional library. We had differing native file formats, disk mediums, and file systems that required tending to. It literally spanned over 25 years of computer technology. After trying various applications and hardware systems with the intent to import the files, we quickly learned that the best way to tackle the problem was to create a data center that was also an accumulation of the past 25 years.

"eBay was a life saver in this regard. Everything that would be considered obsolete quickly proved its value ten times over. Computers, networking systems, development hardware and external drives being shipped from around the world became the norm. What was old quickly became new again.

"Once we were able to view, catalogue, and manipulate the data in their native environment, the rest of the process became that much easier."

Michael Athey, chief information officer of Gearbox Software, notes that all Gearbox employees contribute to day-to-day preservation efforts in saving everything in its corporate culture, from marketing and product support materials, to preliminary game designs and promotional print items. When it comes to actual game data preservation, Athey reveals how Gearbox utilizes multiple locations to accomplish this feat:

"Most everything is stored digitally on our local SAN and replicated to sites both internal and external to Gearbox. wWe even have multiple locations storing physical SKU items of our titles. All of this is done for both nostalgia purposes and business continuity.

"As of now, all of Gearbox's data is on redundant D2D solutions, both on and offsite utilizing D2D de-duplication technology, so that we don't have a heavy investment in offsite storage. We had a bit of a headache a few years ago getting our older titles, source, and support assets off legacy tape media that they had been stored on for years prior.

"We took the time to pull the data off, verify integrity, and then move them permanently to our current storage technology. We could have left the data on the tapes but felt it better to have a consistent plan for storage and retrieval of all data."

Many video game developers agreed that the industry should work together in researching preservation methods through events such as GDC and sharing information via game-related industry organizations. Meanwhile, companies are concerned about the expiring lifecycles of development software and hardware that poses a constant threat to preservation.

A few companies did reveal that copyright and trademark issues (locating game copyright owners and resolving ownership disputes) are among other obstacles that also need to be overcome. Some publishers did feel that the responsibility of video game preservation ultimately lies with each individual developer and publisher.

Michael Athey of Gearbox Software sums up a viewpoint that many questionnaire respondents expressed when asked if the industry as a whole should work towards researching game preservation solutions:

"It would be in the best interest of the industry and its service to the customers and fans if we worked together to at least have a framework on how to archive video game titles, both its raw assets and code, and final product. This is good for longevity of the titles, rebranding of intellectual property, and possible continuation of ROI through third party exploitation. Who knows what title from the past may show up on some piece of fancy new technology in the future?"

A Japanese coin-op cabinet for Xevious, designed by Masanobu Endo and one of the first original scrolling shooters, sits on display in the Tokyo office lobby of Namco Bandai Games.

Your Response is Requested

Video game industry developers, publishers and personnel that were initially unable to answer these questions are invited to answer these questions for a potential follow-up article to Where Games Go To Sleep.

The four questions posed to video game developers and publishers in the original questionnaire were:

1. Is it important for _____________ to preserve its video games for future audiences?

2. Movie studios preserve their film negatives by storing them in special vaults to protect them from natural disasters and other harmful elements such as humidity.

Does _____________ preserve their source code, hardware, and production materials* in special vaults or locations to protect them from natural disasters and harmful elements?

*These production materials can include: Instruction booklets, marketing assets (print advertisements, TV commercials), and any or all production/development materials (character designs, dialogue scripts, and level layout designs).

3. With regards to video games, the greatest threat to video game source code is data/bit loss, and overall hardware failure and/or obsolescence.

Could _____________ explain any specific challenges of maintaining, transferring or retrieving video game source code from the 1980's or early 1990's hardware/media? (An example is transferring data from floppy magnetic disks that are vulnerable to damage over to new and more reliable present-day storage media).

4. Should the video game industry and its related industry organizations work together to research solutions on how to properly preserve, archive and store video game source code and production materials?

Please forward your answers to these four questions via email with your name and contact information (for confirmation purposes) to the following email address: [email protected].

Any developer may choose to answer each question individually (which is preferred), or submit one whole statement that addresses its overall position on video game preservation.

The author of Where Games Go To Sleep would like to sincerely thank all of our video game industry participants and archivists who took the time to answer questions for this article.

You can download the full survey results for all publishers included in this article as a Word document here.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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