When most people think of preserving video game history, they probably imagine a museum full of boxed consoles and cartridges, or perhaps a digital database of emulatable ROM files. taken from the original physical media. The Video Game History Foundation’s new project looking at the nature of those basic archive projects, though, and to collecting and preserving the source code behind many classic games.
“For a game video game historian, an artist digs through the source material of the next best thing to time travel,” VGHF’s Frank Cifaldi said. “A really good resource repo is the closest you will ever get to being a fly on the wall during game development.”
Digging through a game’s source code repository can help developers discover previously unknown content and information. Back in 2017, for example, a VGHF analysis see the rest of the Disney character art and animation in the source code for 1993’s Genesis Aladdin game (“Some of them are in a folder called trash,” Cifaldi told Ars). Recently, the VGHF team discovered the source code for Destruction Rush— A game prototype for the unreleased Sega Genesis virtual reality headset—and rebuilt to run on modern VR hardware.
But it’s not just about finding and restoring “missing” content. Looking at the source code can allow a skilled historian to “understand the creative process better than you would otherwise because it’s the purest form of gaming,” Cifaldi said. “It is the raw building block that is made up.”
By way of example, Cifaldi talks about his time looking at the source code for The Secret of Monkey Island and learning the language and background tools LucasArts famous engine SCUMM. “Now when I play a SCUMM game, I understand a little more. I speak the language a little better,” he said. “Knowing SCUMM, I just have this understanding of why creative decisions are or aren’t in your game, and I don’t think I could have that level of understanding without access to the SCUMM language.”
Before it’s too late…
Unfortunately, games like Monkey Island (where creator Ron Gilbert maintains and expands the source code) are exceptions. For games made before 2000, Cifaldi estimates that the source code is completely gone for over 90 percent of “respected games.”
“I’m sure a lot of sources were stored at one time, and then an office move happened, and someone said, ‘What’s this old DAT we have in a closet? It’s probably backed up somewhere, just say you,” Cifaldi said. “I think the situation is very bad, it will only get worse as the people who actually save this stuff grow up and leave the company, if not this death row.”
When the early game source code survives, Cifaldi says it’s usually through a pure phenomenon, “individuals who can bring their work home who happen to have that material.” Source code for previously unknown Days of Thunder The prototype on the NES, for example, was found by digging through “a pile of floppy disks in the basement of the deceased founder,” as Cifaldi recalls. He thinks there are “hundreds more (game source code repositories) like that, just rotting floppies in someone’s basement waiting for someone to recover.”
That is why the VGHF is putting out a call to developers who can have these important historical properties among their properties. While the project is in its early days, Cifaldi said the foundation currently has 100 titles with source code repositories “in several states,” including some involving publications on paperless books. endless
Who has the story?
Even when the source code is still available, custodians often run into problems with security agencies trying to protect their IP rights. “(The source code is) seen as a trade secret, and there is no statute of limitations when people are comfortable with trade secrets,” Cifaldi said.
Convincing companies to share those “secrets” for storytellers—and to spend the time and effort to find them first—can be an uphill battle, Cifaldi said. But that’s starting to change in some corners, in part because of an industry-wide trend toward remakes and remakes for well-remembered games.
In the case of game like Koro Fandango RemasteredFor example, “the only reason there is a market is because the workers have things in their homes and people know who to ask,” Cifaldi said. Without the source code, doing such a repair work is a huge step-when Cifaldi worked in Digital Eclipse, none of the games had source code available, meaning that the team had to create a completely new engine and engine- device games from Extant ROM files.
Companies are beginning to cotton on to the value of this type of treatment, though. Disney began to realize the value of preserving source code, for example, when it used that raw material 2019 summary of the reform Aladdin we had The Lion King games.
“In all cases, there is interest internally because many of the companies we have spoken to have known that it causes an air of interest if people are talking about these older products,” said Cifaldi. “A lot of commercial film preservation, remastering films for Blu-ray or whatever, a lot of that happens because the Library of Congress has master film in its archives… The concept of resource archives Video games are no exception to me. than that.”
Commercial releases aside, though, Cifaldi said the resource conservation project seeks to provide the raw materials necessary for continued scholarship on classic games. He compares it to documents and letters that serve as the basis for civil war histories or recorded production materials that shed light on the creation of Citizen Kane.
“We want to see more books on schools, more documents there, more in-depth research than we currently see,” Cifaldi said. “Repositories like this, this is where the history books come from.”