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Raiders of the Lost Art

As a media junkie, I simply love the fact that I live in a time where any film and any song I want is at my fingertips. The usual suspects of YouTube, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon etc ensure all those films and songs that I cherish will be preserved till kingdom come, or till the internet goes kaput. When you think about it though, its quite a testament to these services that we have the ability to enjoy films and music that are decades sometimes centuries old. Preserving the history of these mediums hasn't been easy, many a film and song have been lost to time irrevocably so. Yet for the most part the vanguards of these art forms have done an adequate job of not only safeguarding these mediums, but making them readily available to the public. The same unfortunately cannot be said for the video game industry. Yes as the years go by many a game is being cast aside, sometimes a victim of exclusivity, antiquated software / hardware, or the dreaded reseller. Should we be up in arms over this? Does the industry need a reality check in preserving its legacy?

They made a game based on that? A sequel to this? When did that come out? Think about how many times have you've asked such questions when a little gem of gaming history is revealed to you. For me it was the discovery that Capcom back in 1989 made an arcade game for the sword and sorcery classic Willow. Within an instant I was hitting Google to see what platform if any had this game been ported to since its release more than twenty years ago. Perhaps I would find it on Steam, PSN, or maybe even some random app store. Low and behold I learned that Willow was and still is an arcade exclusive, for shame indeed. Outside of an emulator or buying the arcade board itself, there is no way for anyone out there to enjoy this game. Willow is just an example of hundreds if not thousands of titles that remain in this quasi limbo. The game can be played, the means however involve a cataclysmic hole in your wallet, or a trip into the back alleys of the internet. Either way you slice it, you don't come out clean.

Imagine this scenario, your favourite cult film from the 80's, critically and commercially panned (the public just didn't 'get' it) is forever relegated to the Betamax format. No VHS, no DVD, in short, no love. To enjoy this film you have to resort to a poorly rendered digital conversion that you got from a guy who knows a guy, or scour a thrift store for a Betamax player. While the consensus is that yes this film exists, you are going to have to jump through some hoops to experience it. This rarely happens to movies, to put things into perspective, even Ernest Goes to Jail received the Blu-ray treatment, twice. Yet as gamers we are supposed to be okay with the idea of saying bon voage to past titles as they board the ship to the Undying Lands never to be heard from again? Well, I don't know about you, but I'm not okay with this.

The emulation scene, and by proxy the pirate sites of the world ensure that all games have a home right? While I cant help but applaud these individuals for ensuring that the legacy of these games live on, even these avenues have their limitations. Take the case of Underground Gamer, a private tracker that dealt exclusively in retro games. Many of these games couldn't be found anywhere else online let alone the real world. Unfortunately for Underground Gamer, one simple cease and desist letter was all it took to bring the site offline, and with it all the content it was preserving. Instances like this will always prove to be the Achilles heel when it comes to unsanctioned distributive methods.

Going back to Willow though, like many of its contemporaries from the 80's and early 90's emulation and accessibility is easy as pie. Why I remember running ZSNES in my junior high's computer lab. I was subsequently banned from the computer lab for doing so, among other things, lets just chalk it up to kid mischief hmm? The point is graphical and technical know how need not apply to run these games.

Of course there are caveats to this, glaring ones in fact. In short, to emulate each successive generation of games, the PC prowess and accompanying price to run such titles increases, exponentially so. Along the way certain systems and arcade platforms receive far less support and for all intensive purposes they languish in development hell. It is in these instances where the option of emulation obviously fails. What are we left with then? Waiting for the good grace of developers?

The answer in my humble opinion is that the gaming industry needs an equivalent to the Criterion Collection. For those of you that do not know, Criterion is a video distribution company that in their own words is “a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, (that) has been dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements.” Is it not so far fetched to believe that the gaming industry has room for a company that does the same exact thing? Because at the end of the day countless titles are unavailable to us simply due to the fact of licensing and copyright laws. What better than a company which can foster relationships with all developers and intellectual property holders all in the name of video game preservation? There is no loser in such a scenario. Who wouldn't like to see Capcom's Aliens vs. Predator made available on the PSN? Or the classic Sega Star War Trilogy Arcade appear on Steam? Such a company could even engage in physical print runs on an order by order basis as many movie companies engage in similar practices for more avant-garde titles.

There is of course the possibility that the industry could suddenly up the ante in bringing back games from the past. Certainly the concept of the remaster this generation has been somewhat of a polarizing issue for gamers. Whereas the idea of backwards compatibility has usually been meet with the universal 'oh yes please.' Yet even the idea of implementing backwards compatibility is more of a band aid than anything else. At the end of the day we are dealing with finite supplies of games and any collector knows the pain of seeing that must have title essentially being held for ransom by resellers.

This of course begs the question do we even need Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to do what online communities have already done through emulation and piracy sites? For me the answer is a resounding yes, we do need them to step up. As I've already stated, while access to emulation sites is free, accessibility and utilization of them comes with its own set of issues. Do we preserve the history of gaming in a house of cards? As someone who loves this art form, I want these titles readily available to everyone with ease. I don't want you to have to tinker with plugin settings just to get a simple game to run. I don't want your computer to be infected with some virus, or you facing a DMCA notice. More importantly, I want those responsible for making these games to continue to be compensated for their hard work. Until that time, the preservation of games will continue to straddle the line between the right way and the ideal way. Finding the middle ground though, that is when we will be able to call it a day and truly give these works of art the respect they deserve.

elarcadia2893d ago

I would love to see something similar to the Criterion Collection come to gaming. I think it is possible, but I also think it would require a bit more work and money than your typical archive. With games, you not only have the quality and graphical aspects to deal with, you also have peripherals. So many games were made for so many different devices and controllers. King's Quest was originally made to play on a PC (using the keyboard, mouse, and all), but in this day and age if I were to play it again I would prefer to play it with a controller. Obviously this can be done (and has been done, multiple times), I am just pointing out that archiving games is quite bit more complex than archiving movies or music.

coolbeans2892d ago (Edited 2892d ago )

Oh boy...just as I'm between 1/3-1/2 through my blog on this same topic you show up to steal my thunder. >:(

Enjoyable read. I wanted to bring up a couple of things:

-"for all intensive purposes"

Nice eggcorn. Don't see that one used very often. ;)

-"...gaming industry needs an equivalent to the Criterion Collection."

As of now, I think it's more important to just have legit non-profit game libraries + improved pro-consumer laws for game historians altogether. You may think Criterion would fit in perfectly with that, but it's important to keep in mind their goal is two-fold: the collection and "remastering" of certain films but also a means of EDITORIALIZING by what they leave out of their collection. We're in a state where the simple collection and revitalizing of old game's now-defunct online servers is a huge hassle with certain IP owners.

stalepie2892d ago

I agree with this very much, but I think the pricing or profit incentive is a big problem for companies that look at re-releasing old games. In general people are not willing to spend much for old titles. And gamers in particular have a very short window for what they consider new or recent -- it's within the last two years, if not 12 months. They call encounters with games more than 4 years old "nostalgic" and often the opinion is that older titles aren't worth paying for. They seem to even take offense that companies try to sell them again. I've seen that opinion a lot on forums and comments where an old title gets re-released on PSN. For instance, there were complaints about the pricing of Mega Man Legacy and that it didn't offer the same number of games as the PS2/GC Anniversary collection.

So I don't know how companies can make a buck on it. I'd think they'd be all for re-releasing their old titles because it ought to be a fairly cheap thing to do with a lot of them. I mean, no Castlevania collection? No "greatest PC Engine games" collections or "Favorite Shmups of the 90s" or something?

And yet there are game collections and re-releases and have been for a long time. There were William Arcade Collections spread across PS1, Genesis, PC, Saturn, etc. And Activision, Atari and others did their collections in the late 90s, early 00s. SNK, Capcom and others did a few. There's the Arcade Archives on PS4, or the Capcom Arcade Cabinet on PS3/360. There's various old games on They're been a lot of collections actually, but the problem I guess is that they get left behind as soon as the next generation of hardware and software comes out -- the software matters too because operating systems can make it difficult to play older titles over time, even if Windows PCs are still the best by far in terms of a backwards compatible system.

There's also the Virtual Console on Nintendo systems, though I don't know why they wouldn't want to expand that to other systems, as well as unify the library (make a purchase on 3DS applicable to Wii and Wii U, and vice versa).

stalepie2892d ago (Edited 2892d ago )


The trouble is all the purchases and commerce is spread out over so many different services and platforms. To some extent that's true of movies, music and books as well now in the digital world. But with games especially they're tied to the hardware, even if they're running off an emulator. The emulator is programmed specifically for that hardware and OS, and when it's an official/legal purchase of an old game, the emulation software is usually hidden from view (to greater or lesser extent).

Except this raises another issue: the emulation often isn't as good as the ones supplied by the "pirates." The ones fans make are often better than whatever Nintendo, Sega and other companies use when re-releasing titles for new platforms. That isn't always the case. A stand out example in this field is M2, which has done the Sega 3D titles for 3DS and some stuff on PSN and Xbox Live. Some companies like that get very good at learning the hardware and making sure it's emulated pretty well. But there's been a lot of releases over the years where the ports or emulations were not that true to the original and people did notice. They'd write in their reviews something like, "Paper Boy does not control as well as it does in MAME..." and it'd leave the true enthusiasts preferring to stick with their illegally-acquired ROMs and using homebrew emulators and configurations while simultaneously buying some of these re-releases to show their support and assuage their conscience a bit, perhaps. Arguably though without the emulation scene in the 90s Nintendo would have never gotten on the ball with the Virtual Console. They saw the interest in it then. But again, the money question - how much do they (and the original publishers and developers) really make from these $5 re-purchases of old titles? Old titles which you don't really own, since they're digital and temporary?

Stringerbell2892d ago

Pricing is another debate in itself. I've seen the same sentiments 'why should I pay 9.99 for a N64 game when I can get them all for free.

I do think there is money to be made though in limited runs of physical re-releases, imagine if Nintendo did another run of Earthbound for SNES collectors. Or look at what IndieBox does with their unique releases.

I also think digital has a place but more long the lines of a service. I had Sega channel when I was a kid and making the equivalent of a Nintendo on demand could prove to be lucrative. 9.99 a month for access to all Nintendo NES, SNES,64 titles. Make another tier if you want GC / WII libraies added.

More on Nintendo though I really feel they dropped the ball with the virtual console. Unifying the library, I cant understand why they didn't do it. Also the selection really died down in the end.

"Except this raises another issue: the emulation often isn't as good as the ones supplied by the "pirates."

This reminds me when Sega released the 'Smashpack vol 1" on the Dreamcast. The emulation was horrible in particular the sound.

Encyclopedia Gamia: An interesting raw text document is included on the game's GD-ROM, apparently written by a Sega employee (it was signed "Gary"; the lead American coder on the project was listed as Gary Lake in the official credits on the disc) who elaborated on the internal workings of the emulator. The file was named ECHELON.TXT, surprisingly referencing one of the foremost Dreamcast piracy release groups of the day, and whose actions could be said to play a significant role in the downfall of the console (Dreamcast games were easily pirated without the need for a modchip).[2] However, at the end it states "Pay your respects to Uncle Sonic, Sony just doesn't get it", alluding to Sega's dropping out of the hardware business after the debut of the PlayStation 2. The disc was released in the last days of the Dreamcast's official lifetime.

Later on of course a full set of the Genesis did appear on the DC and the emulation was low and behold vastly superior to that of what the devs at Sega put out =p

stalepie2891d ago (Edited 2891d ago )

Well, so far people complain about the prices of PS Now and feel they should get free streaming of those games, free access to the servers that use them, if they've previously bought the game. And those are PS3 titles, some even came out last year, I think. So I don't really think there is much of a market for older titles. In general gamers just want the latest thing only. Games aren't really considered an art form or something to be preserved. Since there's not a market for it, there isn't any way to legally keep them "reprinted" (as that costs money) and hosting them on servers and renewing licenses and re-writing emulators and so forth costs money.

So I don't really see a solution to it. The true fans will stick to downloading the games illegally when it's unlikely that they'll ever be re-released and it's only them that care, a smaller number than the general audience that mostly has their eyes on this year's products.

It always seems like the fans have much more passion about the games than the companies or even the designers themselves ever did, in many cases. So I think it's up to them to preserve them as they have been doing anyway for many years


Maybe I'm wrong to suggest the "true fans" should steal the ROMs to preserve and enjoy them. That would be wrong, right? But that's how at least half of our retrogaming knowledge is had. People don't talk about it, but that's how the games are re-reviewed and "dug up" from the past much of the time. Whenever you see crystal clear .png screenshots of old games on the web, you know, it's probably not someone's extremely good digital photograph taken off their TV or they didn't buy a proper screengrabber or something to grab the screen from the real system. They were using emulators and probably stolen ROMs from various piracy/warez sites.

I think they're just games and people don't care enough to regard them as art worth protecting. I mean, on the one hand, a painting from centuries ago may go for millions of dollars in an auction, or a scrap from a famous author goes for thousands... but games can require more work, more imagination, but there's been little progress in them getting respected by the mainstream press. They're considered lower than comics.

Maybe they're right. I don't know. I don't enjoy games like I used to , but I used to regard at is a very interesting, creative medium, but it feels like most game experiences have been explored now -- all the creativity's been used up over the years, rather quickly. And most games don't really amount to more than just "shoot the bad guy," "escape from the situation," "dodge the obstacle," and "race" or "sort the objects" (puzzle). There's very few gameplay situations and so sometimes it's hard for me to regard it is that important of a creative medium, and therefore hard for me to care about whether they're ever preserved well or not.

stalepie2891d ago (Edited 2891d ago )

Sorry, I shouldn't write so negatively about the subject. I'm sure some solution will come eventually, or perhaps copyrights expire over time and then games are freed up for preservation, if it needs to work that way.

The bigger difficulty is with today's games that are digital only -- if people care a lot about mobile titles or various games on download networks (I know you mentioned IndieBox making physical copies). But some of those games will be lost once the servers are gone or they're delisted. So you just have to enjoy them while they last.

Licensed games are also a problem (ex.: Aliens vs Predator).

Picnic2890d ago (Edited 2890d ago )

It's seems ironic that you have a picture of Indiana Jones , after much battle trying to find a particular old treasure, to illustrate that you'd like to make it extremely easy for any lazy person to find and play them. The old consoles and codes for any future ports are often still available. Remasters of Superfrog and Another World came out.

Bass_fisherman2888d ago (Edited 2888d ago )

Some games get forgotten some get remakes like the upcoming Shadow of the Beast.

There´s some cool arcade games id like to see on consoles but the industry is looking for profit and less for these niche games that somehow might have more nostalgic value than anything else.

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