[PATV] Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - Extra Credits Season 5, Ep. 12: “My Name Is Ozymandias…”
[PATV] Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - Extra Credits Season 5, Ep. 12: “My Name Is Ozymandias…”
This week, we discuss the unfortunate lack of preservation for gaming's history.
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A game, because it requires an explicit amount of investment, "this is a 5 hour game" "this is a 20 hour game", has a minimum amount of time required to be able to say you have experienced it. You compared the archiving of a game to paintings, but it is actually more like theater in a lot of ways. Play the same game on different computers and the graphics will render differently. Play them in different periods of human history and you may find different points of view create different experiences, but different from a play is that you can't pull a peice of a game out and examine it in a classroom.
Nobody can stand up in class and take the d-pad for chapter 3 of final fantasy 6, as the situation stands now. To create an educationally useful version of a game would require the ability to tear it into bite sized chunks, to be able to play a cliffs notes version, an expigated version of a game. Where the hell this train of thought gets off I don't know...
As to the issue of bite sized chunks, save states work remarkably well for that. As long as your storage is, basically, larger than the amount of RAM a game uses (including stuff paged to disk, etc, and possibly all the RAM other hardware in the machine has) you can store the exact state of a game to recover and use later. Sometimes it's more complicated than others, but it should generally be possible to re-create it. So the "kid in class" scenario can *probably* be addressed for most cases you'd want to.
The other thing I addressed is that time isn't the only barrier of entry. In many cases *skill* also creates one. I talked about it a bit, and really hope that post shows up.
Consoles/Handhelds: These are completely covered.. don't worry about them at all. Every single console game ever released commerically is backed up and readily available on the internet. Since the only thing you need to have the authentic experience is the controller and there are usb adaptors readily available it is quite easy to access and relive the experince. Although not legal, anyone with the technical ability to do a google search for the rom and download a emulator can access these games. Also the solid-state nature of the older game carts means that it will still be decades before the original carts become unplayable. On teh other hand, box art, manuals and other paper goods are getting scarce now. Even less than 20 years after it's release, it's almost impossible to find a complete scan (all four sides) of the Super Mario Bros. 3 box, even though it was one of the best seling games on the NES.
Arcade Games: The software is easy... check out MAME, 90% of the software aspect is covered. As addressed in the video though, the software is only part of the equation. Afterburner is nothing without the simulator cockpit, wacko, loses it's charm when it isn't played in a crooked cabinet, ect.. On top of that the cabinets themselves, particularly the older ones, are a work of art all by theirself. There are museums in place ot try to preseve these cabinets, but in all likely hood, some will disapper into obscurity. Hobbyists keep spare parts readily available and you can build a generic control panel that will cover most of the games out there, but games with speciality controllers lose a lot without the original cabs. Emulated versions of these games available on modern consoles are worthless as well, because these games are crappy when played on a mere gamepad.
PC Games: First off, you need to understand that pc games are pc only and run either on dos or windows... everything else is NOT a pc game, it's a computer game (subtle but distinct difference). Pc games are mostly preserved, computer games might disappear into obscurity. In both cases, as callus as this might sound, I don't think it is necessary to preserve all of these games. You've got to understand that there are like 1000 times more pc games than there are console and arcade games and many of them are of a low quality only because of how easy it is to produce and distribute a pc game. While it would be nice to preserve them all it's asking the impossible. It would be like keeping every assignment and test you ever did through your entire 12+ years of education. Sure you can do it, but what are you really going to learn from the 4th grade spelling test you scored a 89 on? Thousands upon thousands of books have been lost to obscurity over the years not because of lack of preservation, but because some books are just crappy and nobody cares to remember them. Pc games shouldn't be any different.
Online Games: There actually ARE services in place that allow you to run online games on servers other than the official ones. They started introducing this around the time the original xbox was released as some gamers were too cheap to pay for xbl. I think you have to let MMORPGS go though, because they are more like an event instead of a game. Once the people are gone there isn't anything to play and the experience changes depending upon the players.
EM/Hybrid games: This is stuff like pinball, your old shooting gallery games ect.... These are very hard to preserve as they can't be emulated and they are slowly fading away. Because they rarely use computerized electronics and are poorly documented, once some of these older games are gone, they are gone for good. So before we worry about preserving duck hunt, maybe, just maybe, we should worry about preserving the 60 year old EM gallery game that lead to duck hunt. A massive museum needs to be built to physically house these relics of our gaming past. A facility on the scale of the Smithsonian would be needed and it would take just as much time and money to keep it running. The problem in this instance is getting the public on board with this as it would most likely need to be federally funded. Try getting funding for perserving games, which unfortuantely are still looked down upon, in this economy.
Speaking of which, I do still have a machine with a 3.5" floppy drive. 5.25", now that might be difficult. I still have Populous and Sim City on 5.25" floppies somewhere in the attic...
For a long time now people have been only thinking of games as toys, entertainment for the consuming masses. Art was something you stared at at a museum and was sold for incredibly huge amounts to collectors. It is only now that we actually think of games as art forms created by developers, model or sprite artists and designers. These people came together to create something that people would enjoy as an experience which is no that different from art except now you interact with it. It took a long time for paintings themselves to be considered art a long time ago, it took time for movies, action figures and comics to be considered art too. And due to the (comparatively) low amount of people gaming, this was not considered worthy of preservation.
Now the solutions I feel are pretty obvious. How are paintings, movies, figurines, comics or any other art form preserved in this day? The obvious answer would be museums where items of note would be put on display and because this is an interactive art, such places could offer a limited demo of how the experience could have been. Kids would obviously love such places and older gamers would visit these places with fondness for a time long past. But there is a far less obvious and far more difficult choice.
There are universities dedicated to the study of the history and progress of paintings where detailed studies of various painters, various paintings and various periods where certain styles flourished are conducted. Courses are propping up about studies in video game design and game development but few of these courses ever teach you the history and the styles of development by actually showing you a working demo of old hardware. They don't go into detailed histories and studios or production houses that revolutionised gaming as we knew it then.
It's imperative that entire schools be formed dedicated to detailed studies of he history of gaming and exercises where students might have to code for certain platforms to study the limitations of the platform and how older games moved around them to create fantastic pieces of entertainment.
Thankfully we have sites like GOG that are doing their part to preserve choice games of the past and every day more and more games of yore are being added to the portfolio, and X-COM is available on Steam for like 5 bucks. Obviously there's, like, a bazillian games, and even high profile ones like Grim Fandengo have yet to become widely accessible, but I think as more time goes on the ability and stock of games to preserve for future generations is only going to grow. Maybe we won't have centipede cabinets, but we don't have many ruins of ancient african kingdoms either. The unfortunate fact of history is that most of it is guess work and imagination.
Thankfully I still believe that we've never lived in a better time for preservation of old games, bad and good. And while it's tragic we've lost so much and what we have is so hard for most people to find, it's better then nothing and it can only get better as time goes on. At the moment it's no better the radio I guess: the standard "music was better back in the day" is only an argument people have because radio stations that play old music have had decades to shift through all the shit to find the best of the best, while modern music stations basically have to play whatever's out, which doesn't provide for a lot of quality control. So at the moment we're doing really good at preserving the old classic awesome games, and not so much with the old turds which we can learn just as much from, which deludes people into the mindset that the "golden age of gaming" is long past (still taking pot shots at the Game Overthinker, yes I am). But meh, I'm an optimist I guess who thinks we'll get better at this. I mean come on, in the age of the internet, at the very least old first hand accounts of exactly what it was like to pour twenty bucks worth of quarters into those old games are found far and wide, something most historians would kill to be able to say about their particular era of study.
It's pretty popular on the western web already with 3 to 4 seasons completely subtitled.
So if you want to check it out it's all on youtube.
Here is a partial link to a good episode: watch?v=SDXGMPbbsfQ
The only real caveat is it focuses on Australian works primarily, but anybody who's coming to PAX-AUS really should check it out.
Perhaps some form of retro exhibition is needed for owners of these old machines to pool together and show off these machines and let people play them.
Firstly, painting has been going on for centuries while games have been around for maybe 50 years. While the majority of us may love Chrono Trigger and the old XCOM, it's a bit much to suggest that those are already the 'Mona Lisa' of gaming... it's entirely possible that there simply hasn't been a game that good yet.
There's also the complexity issue; people can look at and enjoy a painting in a few minutes, to hours, to spending a lifetime studying it. Games aren't really like that, it's an interactive medium which uses a bunch of faculties that visual art doesn't need to access; it requires a considerably higher time investment to get the kind of joy out of most games that an art lover will get out of the first seconds of viewing the Night Watch. Even film, gaming's closest relative, requires just 2 hours for an initial viewing.
You might compare the tactical depth of XCOM with the intricately drawn smile on the Mona Lisa's lips, if you felt so inclined... but you can't compare XCOM to the Mona Lisa.
While I'd love for games to be a part of the common heritage and culture, games (especially older ones) are designed to be exclusive rather than inclusive. They are designed so that accomplishing everything is a reward for hard work. This isn't bad, but it means that as a medium they basically aren't welcoming the idea of becoming integrated in the way other things are. Adding on top of that the issues mentioned regarding interface and it just compounds the problem.
Games can be experienced passively. One could watch a playthrough of Grim Fandango and come to appreciate the humor, the clever puzzle design, the artistic direction, and many of the elements that are what make it great. And you'd even be spared a control scheme that I personally consider at a minimum awkward and at most punishingly unwelcoming to anyone used to modern controls in 3D games. But you wouldn't experience how well the puzzles are designed. How talking to people about various things tends to guide your thoughts in the right direction until that "oh!" moment where you realize that you know a guy with balloons, and you're really not supposed to put things in the sorter that mess it up, and there just happens to be that foam stuff...
I don't think there's really any reasonable solution the issue that games are best "experienced" rather than watched. But I do think that a curated path through a game, a walkthrough with optional commentary (so that one could perhaps watch a game, and then watch a game with someone pointing out areas of particular interest) and even a "Cliff's Notes" version of some games where a shorter video exists to highlight why the game is important would still provide maybe 80% of the value of getting people to actually experience it the way it was meant to be experienced.
Mario's a part of our culture, and yet most people have still never played it, and many who do probably have no idea why it's important to game design. But if someone's seen the game played, knows "what it looks like" in action they have the necessary frame of reference that when you talk about level design, or the particular way jump physics work in that game to make it feel so good to a player, they can relate to it much better.
I guess my point is, I think some sort of curated reserve of, well, basically streamable videos is a best stopgap solution. It's not the same as playing the games, and we definitely need to preserve the games in the most playable state possible, and we're never going to get have a mainstream cultural awareness of them at the level we have for, say, famous paintings. But it would dramatically lower the barrier of entry for an interested party to start experiencing and learning about classic gaming.
As it stands now, I can go to a museum and take a tour and learn about the pieces of art there. I can buy or rent editions of classic movies that have commentary tracks talking about how effects or done, or why the director chose to have a scene shot a certain way. There's no good museum or similar experience for seeing these things about games. Most exhibits I've been to mostly talk about the history of the technology and the medium, and very little about design itself (if they even acknowledge that it exists and that games don't just spontaneously erupt from games full of clever people). While playing a game is great, passively experiencing it as a video gives you the opportunity to focus on things you couldn't focus on before because you were too busy trying to kill/solve/avoid problems.
It feels like something that would need to be done collaboratively. There are so many games, and you'd need people good enough to play through most of them fairly flawlessly as well as people who understand and can highlight design elements of value. It seems you'd want the playthrough to happen first, then collaboration on a script for the commentary track once a community decided the playthrough was adequate. Some sort of large-scale wiki. Where applicable (open sourced, out of copyright, etc) either ROMs or ready-to-play DosBox images, or similar, would be made available for games. Possibly even with a selection of saved states that would allow a player to directly experience pivotal moments within the game that particularly demonstrate things that really make that game what it is.
Anyway, that's my pipe dream.
Making servers for a dead MMO is a bit of a problem, namely, the companies that own the rights to said dead and buried MMO not wanting a resurrection.
Case in point, Tabula Rasa. Didn't do so hot on the market, cost NCSoft a bundle, ended with a fantastic event that shaped how world events are delivered in today's MMOs.
Last year, someone came up with the idea of trying to make a server for the game, and started working on building one from scratch. It got to the point where people could actually log into the game using their old clients and sort of play around.
NCsoft shut it down quickly and decisively, which didn't hit me like a nice thing to do, unless they're thinking of bringing it back as a free MMO, like they should have done instead of shutting it down. Though to be fair, this was right before, a couple of months actually, before D&D Online hit it big as a free game.
Some games are dead, we just have to accept that. Like the library of Alexandria was destroyed, taking with it knowledge that could have sped the evolution of humanity by a millennium, and even in this day could offer glimpses into an accurate depiction of early human society that escapes us and will forever elude us; so gone is that expansion for Ultima 8 that was completed and was supposed to fill in a lot of gaps. EA put it on a shelf where it wasted away, because the game didn't sell enough for it to be released.
It's downright depressing when you think about it.
I hope you do a show about it sometime, because I fail to understand this. A lot of companies have an amazing back catalog of games, why don't they let us buy them? Why did it take GOG to convince them that was even an option?
And how can we make that work for dead MMOs? Can we kickstart for a licensing fee? 'Cause we would.
I'm not one for personal advertisement, I just saw the connection and thought to post this. Great video Extra Credits.
With other forms of art format shifting is trivial. If I wanted to copy a painting I could take a picture or have another artist sketch it. If I wanted to copy a song I could record it to tape or transcribe it to sheet music. Once the original art has been format shifted sharing it and preserving it becomes trivial.
With interactive media the format is often locked to the specific platform it was designed for. Future generations may be able to play the original X-Com via a dos emulator inside a windows XP emulator inside a Megalith 7 emulator, etc. Each link in that emulation chain is another point of failure where something can go wrong, audio problems, texture scaling, color shifting, lag, etc.
Unfortunetly the only way I can see preserving programs is if the creators are forced to share their source materials (source code, compiler specifications, textures, etc). What is the point of giving someone copyright protection if the material can't be copied? If we had creators apply for copyright and in doing so had to submit format shiftable assets then preserving our culture would become much simpler.
I fully expect id software's games to be playable for generations to come as they've open sourced the software for their older games.
The founders are Andrew and Michael. They're great guys, and they would be ecstatic to tell you about what they've been doing.
We don't deserve our cultural history as long as we are so eager to destroy creativity and the products of creative ventures.
Let the future generations look to their past and weep at the loss, maybe that might endear a greater sense of pride at human expression.
I doubt you can find a week in human history where in there wasn't an artist murdered for what they created or a piece of art destroyed for the imagined slight it implied.
Is it tragic ? only to the few who care to look past their own lifetimes.
The future doesn't miss what the past has already destroyed.
Here, check some of these out:
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: http://www.lib.umich.edu/computer-video-game-archive
University of Texas at Austin: http://www.cah.utexas.edu/projects/videogamearchive/index.php
The National Videogame Archive in the UK (National Media Museum/Nottingham Trent University): http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/Collection/NewMedia/NationalVideogameArchive.aspx
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: http://www.library.illinois.edu/gaming/gamearchives.html
The Tokyo International Manga Library/Meiji University (which also preserves videogames): http://www.meiji.ac.jp/cip/english/about/news/2009/1022.html
Videogame Website Archive Project by The British Library: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/british-library-starts-videogame-website-archive-project-6858507.html
European Federation of Game Archives, Museums and Preservation Projects (EFGAMP): http://www.efgamp.eu/?lang=en
The Italian Association of Interactive Media: http://www.aiomi.it/
The Computerspiele Museum in Germany: http://www.computerspielemuseum.de
The Digital Games Research Center in Germany (DIGAREC): http://www.digarec.org
The Software Preservation Society in the UK: http://www.softpres.org
Subotron in Austria: http://subotron.com/
The Bolo Museum, Fondation Mémoires Informatiques in Switzerland: http://www.bolo.ch
Espace Turing in France: http://www.espace-turing.fr
The Game Preservation Society of Japan: http://www.gamepres.org/
Silicum in France: http://www.silicium.org
The WDA in France: http://www.wda-fr.org/
The Game Archive Project in Ritsumeikan University, Japan: http://www.gamearchive.jp/
I could go on.
Also I do agree more students need to play the original x com it’s a perfect example of how not to make a interface how not to make fair and balanced game and how one mechanic(reaction fire) can ruin so much of a game.
Perhaps gaming is something you can't preserve knowledge. It's only preserved in the current evolution state.
Take art, the evolution of art is evident, but you can still see old pieces of work and appreciate them. With video games it is very hard to appreciate old games in the same way. Perhaps the best comparison is Video Games are interactive Art Installations.
The best thing you can do is use screenshots/reviews as a reference. Or by having someone painstakingly recreate the conditions.