For those of you that missed it, the annual Game Developers Conference(otherwise known as GDC) has been taking place over the last week. This is where developers of games big and small have been gathering to show off the games that they have been working on.
I did not go this year, but there was one talk that caught my eye that was hosted by Frank Cifaldi(head of restoration at Digital Eclipse). This talk was to do with the whole idea of the preservation of older video/computer games.
One of the best ways to do this in his opinion is through emulation. Basically, a computer program (known as an emulator) can enable a computer to pretend to be something else. In the case of older game consoles there are emulators out there that allow you to play games written for the Super Nintendo, Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation or other games on your computer.
So why does this even matter? Well, one of the best ways to explain this is with movies. There is an american non-profit called the Film Foundation. According to them over 50% of the films that were made before 1950 that are gone. This is because they have gathered so much dust and dirt that they are no longer restorable. If it’s a film from the 1920s or earlier Cifaldi said that rate increases to 80 percent.
Here’s another quote on that vein from Cifaldi “That terrified me. I wasn’t particularly a film buff, but the idea of these works just disappearing forever and never being recoverable scared the crap out of me.”
He then turned his attention to a similar thing happening with video games. He was worried that the likes of Nintendo are not taking action. He highlighted the fact that people have been taking matters into their own hands by using emulators on their PCs.
It’s emulation’s long association with piracy, Cifaldi said, that has given it a bad name.
In fact, Nintendo has been very strongly against people using emulators to play older games that they have obtained illegally. On their site, they basically say if you supporting emulators is supporting piracy.
There is action already being taken as far as some of the older PC games by a company called GOG.com (formerly known as Good Old Games). DOSBox is an emulator which allows you to play games written for Microsoft’s MS-DOS platform(an operating system where you had to type in commands in order to use the computer) Microsoft originally released MS-DOS in 1981.
Basically, GOG.com has taken older MS-DOS games (like Duke Nukem 3D, and Wolfenstein 3D), put them into a version of DOSBox so that we can play them again. I have actually bought some of these games from GOG.com and they work really well on a PC or Mac.
As far as console games go, Sega have made versions of games such as Streets of Rage(one of my favourite old-time classics), Golden Axe, Shinobi and many more available on Steam. All of these games are basically running inside of an emulator.
From the Humble Bundle Store you can buy and download Neo Geo games such as The Last Blade, The King of Fighters 2000 and Metal Slug. All of these games are also running inside of an emulator. Best of all they are DRM free meaning that you can put them on as many computers as you want. I have played with the aforementioned titles on my Mac and my Laptop and they play really nicely.
Arcade games are stored on circuit boards. One of the more popular emulators out there is MAME(AKA Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator). This basically allows people to play older arcade games (such as Alpine Racer or Outrun) on a computer. In his talk Cifaldi said that he could imagine “someone like an Amazon forking MAME, bringing it in house, bringing it up to snuff and bringing games back.”
This is also a possibility since MAME is now open source software. This basically means that anyone can take the source code for MAME, improve it and either release their own version or share their improvements with the developers of MAME.
I think that it’s really important for us to preserve our gaming history. We can only appreciate where we are by looking back in time at where things began. I have some evidence to support this point that I would like to share with you.
About a year ago I went to a festival called Web We Want. They had multiple stations set up where you can play games like the original Star Fox game(AKA Starwing) on the Super Nintendo and Street Fighter 2 on the Sega Mega Drive(AKA Sega Genesis). You could even play Goldeneye, a James Bond themed first person shooter for the Nintendo 64 that made first person shooters what they are today.
I saw kids as young as 7 years old who have never seen these games before playing and enjoying these older games. Most important of all they did not care about how old these games are or how dated the graphics on these games were. They appreciated that these were the games that got us to where we are today. Needless to say I was absolutely beaming and delighted when I saw these kids playing these older games and enjoying them.
What I am trying to say here is that we all have a lot of fun playing these older games. As we can see the likes of GOG.com, Sega and Humble Bundle are already doing a lot to ensure that older PC games are being preserved. Like Frank Cifaldi, we need to call on the games industry as a whole act now and save these older games so that future generations can enjoy them for many years to come.
For those of you that are interested I will post a link to the video of this talk as soon as becomes available.
What are your thoughts on emulation and the preservation of older games? Let me know in the comments.