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Feature: Many Video Game Artifacts Mysteriously Lost

Feature: Many Video Game Artifacts Mysteriously Lost

January 27, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander

January 27, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander
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What's the game industry doing to preserve its historical works? Does it even matter? In the first of a multiple-part series, consultant John Andersen has begun to mine the issue, testing the waters of the industry's publishers and developers to find out their often surprising attitudes toward game preservation -- and that's just a start.

In today's Gamasutra feature, Andersen explores some of his findings, including strange tales of what happened to Atari's source code, the surprising rescue of Sonic Spinball, and much more.

But his info-gathering operation hasn't been easy: "Some companies that we approached for this article were understandably not willing to come forth to discuss the subject of video game preservation," Andersen writes. "Some cited company policy in discussing development matters, while some had no video game artifacts at all."

He contacted an electronics company that once made games and software in the past. That company searched for all its available video game artifacts in its overseas corporate article -- and the result was "stunning," says Andersen.

"No video game material such as hardware, software, or source code could be found in its official corporate archive," he adds. "The company would eventually decline to participate in this article entirely, but did promise to further investigate why its historic video game legacy could not be found in its own internal archive."

"Sadly, the tragic fact remains that a lot of video game artifacts were either dumped in trash bins, or abandoned altogether," he adds.

And what happens when a company goes bankrupt? Andersen suggests that the management may not understand that data and archives at closed studios are worth preserving. What happens to design material when an office is shut down or sold?

"There are unconfirmed reports of Japanese developers closing their North American divisions in the late nineties and leaving their old arcade games and office filing cabinets in storage units. Their corporate parent in Japan would eventually abandon these storage units," Andersen says.

"One such company that made headlines for dumping game development material in the trash was Atari Corporation (not to be confused with the present-day Atari Incorporated, Atari Interactive, or Atari Europe SASU)," he adds.

Andersen details incidents that "have nothing to do with old cartridges and hardware being buried in a desert landfill in 1983" and much, much more in today's fascinating feature.


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