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The Game Preservation Crisis
February 9, 2011 2:04 PM   Subscribe

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.

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 Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis

See also:

Keeping the Game Alive: Evaluating Strategies for the Preservation of Console Video Games [pdf]
The National Videogame Archive
Save the Videogame! - An essay on the National Videogame Archive & the state of preservation
Before It's Too Late: A Digital Game Preservation White Paper [pdf]
Pac Rat - The Atlantic, March 2010
Is That Just Some Game? No, It’s a Cultural Artifact - NY Times, March 2007
posted by timshel (44 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is an interesting first post. Thanks.
posted by killdevil at 2:19 PM on February 9, 2011


Interesting. The University in my home town is starting a collection of video games of various vintages as well. I was thrilled to have a place for the old Intellivision to go - I didn't have the heart to throw it out.
posted by never used baby shoes at 2:21 PM on February 9, 2011


I think someone forgot to put the quotation marks around "Crisis".
posted by nathancaswell at 2:31 PM on February 9, 2011


I think this is true of most software development, it's just particularly noticeable to the public in the case of games, because games are cultural artifacts in a way that most other pieces of software aren't perceived to be.

The problem could be easily solved if developers (and their corporate overlords) weren't so concerned about being ripped off if the source code to a product is distributed -- a fear that I think is pretty overblown in most cases, but leads to a tendency to treat source as an organization's crown jewels, taking them to the grave in some cases rather than possibly letting them benefit competitors.

You could mitigate against this fear (which prevents the archiving not only of source code, but of many other important documents) if you had an organization -- maybe the Copyright Office, or the LoC -- which would act as a trusted third party that developers could submit source code to, who would then sit on it for some predetermined period of time.

But there's a more general problem here, which is that it's rather difficult to lock something up for a certain period of time in a particularly secure fashion, that doesn't require trust of some outside party. (E.g., if you just write something that says "don't unlock until the date is 1/1/2100," it's difficult to not let someone just set the clock forward 90 years.) The only scheme I've ever thought of that seems remotely workable would be to encrypt something with a random key of a fixed length that is then thrown away; the library would then only get the ciphertext and would have to brute-force it open. The delay before opening would be a function not just of time, but also of increasing computer power, and interest in the contents of the document.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:37 PM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


but leads to a tendency to treat source as an organization's crown jewels

The other fear is that other people will see the horrible hack-job that your code is. Which is what everyone always thinks of their own deadline-inspired coding work.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:41 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm, there was a famous Ruby programmer who went by the name whytheluckystiff who tweeted:
if you program and want any longevity to your work, make a game. all else recycles, but people rewrite architectures to keep games alive.
It's very true. People love video games more than any other type of code. I mean, we're effectively archiving, adapting and mirroring games both old and new via bit torrent. If you think about it, striping the DRM off of modern games is a kind of preservation, because it means we won't need authentification servers in the future if the company goes under/decides to stop supporting old games.

Meanwhile, people don't really get nearly as nostalgic about old office or design software, because it's not as usable or robust as the newer stuff. The best you'll get is somebody bringing it up about how they liked it when they first got into computers, or how it doesn't have annoying or confusing new features (like the MS Office Ribbon). But games have a certain charm that allows people to forgive their shortcomings relative to the new stuff, probably because they have elements of art, while most other programs are just tools. In fact, this is probably a good argument they are art.

I guess my point is: a side effect of piracy is game preservation, so it's not entirely bad for the medium (maybe not so great for the industry). So if you feel like doing some guerrilla preservation, find a torrent of your favorite old games, and seed it. And there's also the effect of developers cashing in on people's nostalgia, via handheld and Virtual Console versions of their game.

PS: Interestingly enough, _why wrote that when he was feeling depressed and shortly before he decided to quit programming mysteriously. He's interesting enough to merit a post, IMHO, although I haven't checked if people have written about him.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:43 PM on February 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


When you think of what becomes collectible over time, it's always the least likely stuff (comics, baseball cards) because it has wide impact but short shelf life. Video games are a different beast, though. Stuff like original docs are kind of like finding an old palette used by Van Gogh - the paints he used, how they were mixed, etc. - it informs his work on a very technical level, and is greatly valuable to historians, but not so interesting to most people (though it might yield interesting nuggets that reach a wider audience). Until everyone realizes this, everyone needs to fwd the stuff to Jason Scott!
posted by lubujackson at 2:46 PM on February 9, 2011


It makes me wish there were some kind of copyright where they could make the game and its source code public domain, but still keep the IP protected, such that you couldn't repurpose the code or art or concept in your own work. Not as cool as open-source, but I'd think game publishers could go for this, especially if it's been like 10 years since anyone's even considered paying money for their game.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:52 PM on February 9, 2011


A good friend of mine is getting her pHD as an archivist, with a specific focus on digital archivism and preserving video games. She's given a bunch of talks, so I'll see if I can get her on here to contribute.
posted by X-Himy at 2:53 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This whole issue seems really bizarre and unreal to me. Video games are far, far better preserved and documented than any other form of art or media. Films, TV, books, radio programs -- none of those are remotely as well preserved and documented as video games.

Right now you can play over 90% of all video games ever made in an emulator (not counting the most recent generation of Xbox360 / PS3 console games). The library of video game roms available on the internet is astonishing in its comprehensive breadth and depth.

If you want to find an episode of a TV show from the early days of television, good luck searching on the net. On the other hand, if you want to try to name a game from the early days of video games that is not available on the net, good luck.
posted by straight at 2:54 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It makes me wish there were some kind of copyright where they could make the game and its source code public domain, but still keep the IP protected, such that you couldn't repurpose the code or art or concept in your own work.

Your wish, consider it granted.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:55 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


In regards to the source code, I think 90% of what should be available is the binaries. It'd be nice to get the source, but I get why businesses don't want to give it up. There's a slight chance a programmer may have used an algorithm or something that they still use in some form. Or, more realistically, they might hurt their reputation by showing badly written code or a bunch of hacks just to achieve what they wanted.

Also, a pdf of the manual would be nice. Some games, especially western RPGs, come with really big, awesome manuals.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:57 PM on February 9, 2011


Good lord.
posted by Sublimity at 3:02 PM on February 9, 2011


Just to jump in, I'll try to put forth the opinions of my friend (without actually saying that these are her opinions, because she likes to punch me). There is a big difference between preserving a book or a movie, which is generally a static object with a single form (Lucas-revising aside). Many videogames, especially those of the modern era, are multi-player affairs, and the code that makes the videogame is only a small part of the overall experience. Say you want to preserve World of Warcraft, which is a fairly monumental game to even an outsider like me. You can't just preserve the code, you need the servers for it to run on. But even then, what you might have set up is a shell, the game is made by all the interactions of the people, so at best maybe you get chat logs and interaction logs? What point of WoW do you preserve? The first generation, or after which expansion pack? How do you preserve all that? What about all the outside the game information, the clan chats, the message boards? These are all valuable pieces of information that not only shine a light onto the game and how it was played, but the culture that was created around it. Secondly, there are probably certain events you might want to cover, say that digital Plague. That's a special thing, how do you preserve that? Especially now that it's been made impossible to recreate.

Emulators are all well and good, I'm a fan. But they don't work for every kind of game, and game producers aren't always so fond of them.
posted by X-Himy at 3:02 PM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


if you program and want any longevity to your work, make a game. all else recycles, but people rewrite architectures to keep games alive.

Weird. I work in games, and one of my gripes is they have no longevity. Ten years from now, a masterpiece will be obsolete and merely to take a look at it would require arcane expertise and special equipment and dumb luck just to set it up on a machine and get it running. Whereas a movie masterpiece made a hundred years ago, I can buy on the shelves next to a movie made last year, and toss it into the DVD player as easily as a modern product.

But he's right - I guess we do have it a lot easier than people making, say, Lotus Notes.
But still.

It's disheartening to have made so much neat stuff, and have it all effectively disappear into an abyss. To have worked so long and yet have nothing to show for it.

Yeah, it's possible to get some old games running, but pretty much no-one does so unless they've already played them. Old games can't delight new generations of audiences the way that old movies and music so effortlessly do. Old games are limited to the aging dwindling number of people who were actually there back in the day and played it themselves, and have the resources to jump huge hurdles in the name of nostalgia.

I do like that for $20 you can buy a joystick that simply plugs into your TV and delivers Pac Man and Dig Dug, etc. That's the game version of buying Metropolis on DVD for $5. I hope that more companies can do that sort of thing with more advanced titles.
Unfortunately, you generally can't do that if the source code is lost, or the labyrinth of buyouts and bankruptcies over the years has left the rights ownership unclear. Many many classics fall into those situations, and others. Hence the issues the FPP brings up... :-/

I know someone who has a personal policy of when a game is finished, he discretely brings an external HDD to work, and secretly copies the entire game source tree onto it. He could be fired if caught doing this, but as a result, he has, in secret, the complete source and raw art assets of games that have a cult following to this day, but which are to the best of the knowledge of the rest of the world, lost in the murk of time and bankruptcy.

If you make video games, I suggest you think about doing this too. Your company is good about archiving these things, but when it goes out of business, this may be the only way that your work survives.

And if you can, include the concept art and other work that fall outside the tree.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:45 PM on February 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Coincidentally, I noticed an old Vectrex game console system for sale at the flea market last weekend. If it's still there this coming Sunday I'll buy it.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 4:03 PM on February 9, 2011


The very early console and arcade games are pretty well preserved because they were easy to reverse engineer, using normal IC packages and reasonably normal EEPROMs and CPUs. Around ten years ago I was active for a bit in the Atari 2600 retro community and the console was very completely documented if you knew where to look. There's not a lot to these games other than the code, and often that was written by one guy whose style becomes familiar to the reverse engineer.

Modern console games will probably be OK from a final version standpoint because CD's and DVD's are standard formats and the encryption is broken so future archivists will have a way in. The point about source and artwork is a good one but there is lots of art around that we appreciate for what it is without knowing exactly how or why it was created. We should at least be able to preserve the experience of playing the game, if not the provenance of how it came to exist.

The big problem is the middle generation console games, where manufacturing had gotten so tight they were using epoxy blobs instead of real IC's in cartridges and sometimes what's in those blobs has a lot of custom logic instead of just ROM. If special addresses have to be written (or worse read) to switch pages, it may be impossible to reverse engineer the entire game just by eavesdropping on the CPU bus. Without the original internal documentation the best that may ever exist is an incomplete reconstruction, and we will never even know if bits are missing because the reverse engineer who played it through to learn all the bus tricks didn't visit a certain room or level.
posted by localroger at 4:05 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Having the source isn't just about seeing how it was done, it's about making the game available to play. Having the source allows a company to compile the game for modern machines that anyone can use, rather rely on special hardware or roms or emulator environments. People today don't know how to install a DOS game, and without the source being used to make a windows version of the game, that's what they might have to do.

Having the source also allows you to update the game. For example, a 1st person shooter with a software rendering that maxes out at 320x200 resolution can be run at higher resolutions, displaying more detail, with 24bit color and anti-aliasing. Exactly the same game using exactly same art assets, but the graphics just got prettier and more modern, because that stuff is built into modern computers, and if all you have is a CD from the era and an emulator, the game can't use modern drivers.

Generally, I find that this kind of technological update to an old game is a more seamless fit with my memories of the game - running a classic game on 15 year-old technology is more jarring than you realize, you find your memory has retained the game but updated the tech to the new norms. It's pretty cool when you can actually do that with a game.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:23 PM on February 9, 2011


The purpose of technology is to do something better, faster, funner, etc...

So what's the use of storing Madden '94, when Madden NFL 2011 is an upgrade?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:57 PM on February 9, 2011


Madden is your norm? Are you trolling?
posted by -harlequin- at 5:03 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


so in large part, the Shakespeare first folios are rare because libraries and collectors would buy the later, new-and-improved versions, and then throw out their ratty old obsolete Shakespeares. </hal_c_on_inspired_tangent>
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:04 PM on February 9, 2011


nathancaswell : I think someone forgot to put the quotation marks around "Crisis".

I think you underestimate the impact video games have had on my generation, and more importantly, on subsequent (including future) generations.

250 years from now when we all live in a near-perfect VR environment, your church services will mention Miyamoto. You can either know the reality of what he did, or you can hear about how he turned bits into wine, gave Jesus a 1Up, and how the parable of the TriForce represents the great Nin-Ten Do's (Blessed Be Its Carts) love for mankind.
posted by pla at 5:11 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Harlequin, I'm not sure if you were implying that Dosbox is counterintuitive, but it pretty much runs anything you throw at it, no matter what the platform. And a frontend makes it pretty painless. Dos games actually age pretty well, because the "controller" hasn't changed (although a good number of them are too old to have used a mouse).

Now it is a pain with consoles, because the controllers change dramatically between generations. Nintendo may be cloning the NES controller in the sideways Wii controller, but it just doesn't work for the systems from other companies. And getting the controller for a PC emulator means getting a 3rd party knockoff, which just isn't the same, plus PC controller setup is a pain. 3rd party controllers always feel a little different, which just isn't good for such a sensory experience.

But the other possibilities with the source are great. I love when people take source code and build something new on top of it, or even just polish off the rough edges. I've been wanting to try Outcast, for example, but it's a pain to run on modern computers. It literally runs too fast because CPUs were much slower in 1999, so you need to use a CPU limiter and a variety of other tricks just to get it to run normally. If someone could take out the assets and rebuild the engine to pace the game around the real-time clock rather than the clock speed of the CPU, it'd be great.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:15 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


harlequin : Having the source isn't just about seeing how it was done, it's about making the game available to play. Having the source allows a company to compile the game for modern machines that anyone can use, rather rely on special hardware or roms or emulator environments.

I agree with you in spirit, but you have to understand that these older games consisted of 100% hardware-specific assembly language. The idea of compiling that to run on a modern machine just doesn't really make sense. Their programmers exploited hardware-specific errors in ways that would make a modern CS teacher blush (double-buffering? Feh! Ask a greybeard about "vertical retrace" for stories that will make you glad we no longer use electron guns pointed at our heads as computer displays).

Emulation will preserve the games themselves just fine. Troves like those described in TFA serve the more noble and glorious purpose of answering the many "whys" we might have about the games we fondly remember from our youth.
posted by pla at 5:20 PM on February 9, 2011


pla: Agreed - I'm really talking about things like computer games from the last 20 years, they're written in higher level languages like C, and often transitions fairly easily to new, modern, hardware, living on as giveaways, and even becoming newly salable products, such as discount games or classic anthology sets.

With the source code, they can live on in myriad ways. Without it, they're pretty much dead to everyone except OGs (Original Gamers).
posted by -harlequin- at 5:33 PM on February 9, 2011


This seems like a good place to mention that the designer of the 1993 SNES/Genesis title Aero the Acro-Bat gave me access to the game's original concept document not too long ago. With his permission, I've made it available online with some commentary and other scraps from his archive. Never heard of Aero? I can help with that, too.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:37 PM on February 9, 2011


Episode two of the podcast A Life Well Wasted by Robert Ashley has a lot of material about game preservation, and he has an extended interview with a guy at Stanford working on digital preservation. Well worth the listen, as are the other episodes of the podcast if you are into gaming.
posted by marble at 5:51 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, I can't find it on his website, but there is a one-hour "B-side" podcast of Robert Ashley's interview with Henry Lowood, the digital preservation guy at Stanford. If you subscribe via iTunes like I did, it's there among the other podcast episodes. I found it really interesting and he touches on a lot of the issues brought up here.
posted by marble at 5:56 PM on February 9, 2011


I once half-jokingly suggested that the guy who ran Home of the Underdogs should get a Nobel Prize. He definitely should have got grant funding.
Games are this generation's art form. Besides being fun to play, old games are important for historians. What was the first open-world game? What was the first FPS that let you reload? Etc
And there are amazing games that have never-duplicated mechanics or settings. Rocket Jockey. Cubivore. A Spanish platformer based on In The Name Of The Rose.
On a personal note my childhood social life was based on the N64, GoldenEye and Mario Kart especially
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:34 PM on February 9, 2011


My friend Charlie is one of the many people who's taken it upon himself to collect as many game systems and game content as possible - you can check out his collection at the Perry Game Preserve. He owns systems that I would never have even heard of otherwise, and he actually owns almost the entire catalog for a couple of them. Like the Sega Master System, for instance. Interesting, if nerdy, write ups for all of the systems and many games.
posted by pkingdesign at 9:40 PM on February 9, 2011


I think there is a distinction to be made between preserving games as a playable form and preserving the method of their creation. While the latter leads to the former, it doesn't work both ways. The article is covering the former and extends it to the 'feelies', as infocom put it - the instruction books and other scene setters included within the package.

Anyone who has ever dealt with a records institution knows this stuff is important, and that you never notice it until you don't have it whereupon it becomes invaluable.

My back of a postcard solution would be an archive where things can be submitted and stored, yet not released to public availability until a decade hence (extendable upon request). It's a no brainer really - a software bank deposit vault.
posted by Sparx at 9:52 PM on February 9, 2011


Now it is a pain with consoles, because the controllers change dramatically between generations.

Dramatically? Treating the SNES (1991) as the prototypical controller for modern console gaming, we've had a relatively standardized controller for about 20 years. The evolution is as follows:

Playstation: addition of L2 and R2
Dreamcast: addition of single analog thumbstick.
Playstation Dual Shock: addition of 2 thumbsticks. Since 1997, this has been THE controller for Sony gaming.

Xbox and Xbox 360 follow a similar layout, with the directional pad location swapped with the left analog stick.

Nintendo's been the only real outlier with major controller changes, but the Wii's the only really weird one. N64 looks weird, but its 3-pronged controller works like most others if the right hand is on the right-most prong, which is the control scheme for 99% of N64 games. Gamecube had funky right-side buttons, and is otherwise just like Xbox controllers.

Over all, though? If you had an SNES 20 years ago, and time-traveled to today, you could pick up a PS3 or XBox 360 controller and be playing without problems at all.
posted by explosion at 9:58 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where's Lord Paul. Isn't he running Home of the Underdogs these days?
posted by bystander at 12:02 AM on February 10, 2011


Er...Lord Pall (sorry)
posted by bystander at 12:55 AM on February 10, 2011


As the owner of a website devoted to the Sierra adventure games (King's Quest, Laura Bow, Police Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Phantasmagoria, etc) I face this issue all the time. Dedicated fans patch the games and patch them again so that games which only ever ran in DOS will run on Windows XP/Vista/7. People constantly come to my forums asking what to do to get the games to work on modern machines, which are millions of times faster than the computers the games were programmed for. And that's saying nothing of the (probably technically illegal) fan remakes of the games with all new graphics and voices.

We have hope, as Activision recently approved Sarien.net (a website where you could play the games on PC or iPad) in limited form - that is, Sarien could host any of the first games in a series, because it could entice people to buy the rest of the series at Good Old Games. They even said they could (not will or even probably) release them on the App Stores (Apple or Android.)

Though I played those games so many times that I probably have them memorized, there will be a day when I will want to play them again. I've already been thinking recently about hooking up my PS2 and playing Final Fantasy IX (a PS1 game) on it. I was heartbroken when the backwards-compatibility (for PS2s - you CAN play a PS1 game on a PS3, I've done it) was removed from the PS3s.

It's one of the many reasons I don't play MMOs. Some day, maybe in 5 years, maybe 10, the server will go offline and then what? If the game doesn't work without the online features, I'll never be able to play again.

Someone has to preserve these games.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:23 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


-harlequin-: "Yeah, it's possible to get some old games running, but pretty much no-one does so unless they've already played them. Old games can't delight new generations of audiences the way that old movies and music so effortlessly do. Old games are limited to the aging dwindling number of people who were actually there back in the day and played it themselves, and have the resources to jump huge hurdles in the name of nostalgia."

Emulation doesn't have to be a hassle. See, for instance, TheSmartass.info (previously), which requires only Java to access 5,000+ titles from Atari and DOS to Sega Genesis and Gameboy.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:04 AM on February 10, 2011


"Yeah, it's possible to get some old games running, but pretty much no-one does so unless they've already played them. Old games can't delight new generations of audiences the way that old movies and music so effortlessly do. Old games are limited to the aging dwindling number of people who were actually there back in the day and played it themselves, and have the resources to jump huge hurdles in the name of nostalgia."

I think you're overestimating the number of people who watch old movies and underestimating the appeal of old games.

Two million people bought Zelda: Link to the Past when it was re-released for the GBA, ten years after it was originally released for SNES. Twenty years later, it's still selling well on the Virtual Console. I seriously doubt all of those sales are people who'd played it once and are revisiting it for nostalgia.

I never had an SNES or a Sega Genesis as a kid, but I've gone back and played and enjoyed dozens of 10-20 year old games from that era. I've certainly seen anecdotal evidence on the net that I'm hardly the only one.
posted by straight at 8:55 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stuff like original docs are kind of like finding an old palette used by Van Gogh - the paints he used, how they were mixed, etc. - it informs his work on a very technical level, and is greatly valuable to historians, but not so interesting to most people (though it might yield interesting nuggets that reach a wider audience).

It depends though, doesn't it, especially in games where the setting is important. The background documents released by Chris Avellone for Fallout (FO bible) were received very well by the community. There are also mods that attempt to provide working versions of unimplemented or buggy quests, which can be of interest to the average player. I never ended up playing Aero the Acrobat (I remember the ads though), but I was glad to see the concept.

Now it is a pain with consoles, because the controllers change dramatically between generations.

Subtle differences may also be important. There was an old Treasure game for N64 that depended heavily on the yellow C-buttons and no emulated version achieves the same feel even if you use a Gamecube controller.

I once half-jokingly suggested that the guy who ran Home of the Underdogs should get a Nobel Prize.

Gal. Sarinee Achavanuntakul.

When you search for old B&W films and see how much has been lost because it wasn't considered important, it's sad to know that we might be walking along the same path with programs and video games. It's not just a matter of playing old games for enjoyment. If you cannot play old, stilted strategy games, you cannot understand why Warcraft 2 was so successful or compare the interface of the same to the interface of Supreme Commander. Not to mention that having the developers' documents would allow us to see the game from the creator's point of view. Storing data isn't expensive anyway.
posted by ersatz at 11:05 AM on February 10, 2011


The purpose of technology is to do something better, faster, funner, etc...

So what's the use of storing Madden '94, when Madden NFL 2011 is an upgrade?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:57 PM on February 9 [+] [!]


Madden is your norm? Are you trolling?
posted by -harlequin- at 5:03 PM on February 9 [2 favorites +] [!]


A more apt question would be "What's the use of storing 'Wasteland', when 'Fallout: New Vegas' is an upgrade?"

A more apt answer to that would be "STFU NUB."
posted by FatherDagon at 12:15 PM on February 10, 2011


FatherDagon : A more apt question would be "What's the use of storing 'Wasteland', when 'Fallout: New Vegas' is an upgrade?"

Shut your dirty heathen mouth! ;)

Wasteland has one and only one sequel, "Fountain of Dreams".

/ not very good, and unbelievably buggy, sadly
posted by pla at 6:17 PM on February 10, 2011


When you search for old B&W films and see how much has been lost because it wasn't considered important, it's sad to know that we might be walking along the same path with programs and video games.

Can you name a game that is just completely gone -- no copies of any kind available anywhere -- the way that lots of old films are completely gone forever?
posted by straight at 10:41 AM on February 11, 2011


Other than the paraphernalia mentioned in the post, I haven't seen Conquest (a strategy game for 286 or 386 computers) anywhere and I'd love to be proven wrong on that one! On the hardware side of things, while you can find the files of 7th Legion relatively easily online, getting it to run on a modern system is another matter.
posted by ersatz at 11:51 AM on February 11, 2011


straight : Can you name a game that is just completely gone -- no copies of any kind available anywhere -- the way that lots of old films are completely gone forever?

If we exclude preservation-via-piracy, virtually every PC game made more than a decade ago.

Kinda the whole point here - The law clearly calls "abandonware" a no-no in the interest of "promot[ing ] the Progress of Science and useful Arts", yet who exactly benefits by letting a once-loved game vanish forever? In many situations, you can't even defend copyright on purely financial grounds, as no clear chain of ownership remains (and people and companies have tried to establish them, make no mistake).

Or to put that another way - If you could go back in time to 1970, the start of the BBC's Great Purge, and offer to take all those pesky Doctor Who master tapes off their hands for them - Do you suppose they'd have shown you to the vault or to the door? Every single episode you've ever seen (well, if my age or younger) with William Hartnell (the first Doctor), you can thank pirates for preserving. By 1975, not a single master of the first Doctor remained.
posted by pla at 9:15 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If we exclude preservation-via-piracy, virtually every PC game made more than a decade ago.

Do you maybe mean 20 years ago? Steam and GOG have scores of PC games for sale made more than a decade ago.

And preservation-via-piracy is a really weird exclusion to make.

If the internet is still around 100 years from now, copies of those games will probably still be floating around somewhere and no one who is interested in exploring video game history will care that the copies were pirated. There's an enormous difference between "only pirated copies exist" and "no copies exist."

So again it's hard to call this a crisis compared with the losses we've suffered in film and TV and other media (Doctor Who being just one of thousands of examples).
posted by straight at 11:30 PM on February 11, 2011


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