news friday night topic preserving our gaming heritage

Friday night topic: Preserving our gaming heritage

This afternoon as I try to avoid getting real work done, I'm listening to Digital Eclipse producer Frank Cifaldi's talk from GDC entitled It's Still Emulation: Saving Video Game History Before it's Too Late. This is a sequel to his 2016 talk to game developers about repackaging and re-selling old games. You can watch the older video if you want, but Cifaldi sums up that talk at the start of his March 2019 presentation. Since Cifalid runs the Video Game History Foundation charitable organization, emulation is obviously something near and dear to his heart. 

Cifaldi covers a range of topics in this discussion. There's a brief history of how the games industry has treated emulation, starting with Sony vs. Bleem and Sony vs Connectix all the way up to today with Nintendo's positively archaic stance on the topic. He calls the industry's stance "demonizing," and it's hard to disagree.

Cifaldi's talk is so self-deprecating and engaging, I can't help but watch

The developer thinks game makers could be doing more to entice hardcore retro game players, and uses some of Digital Eclipse's recent projects as examples. If you can reach that audience, he says, you've made something all audiences can enjoy. Digital Eclipse made the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection that Capcom published last year, and I think it does a nice job of adding more to a retro collection than just ROMs. 

He also rightly points out that ROM hackers today are making more meaningful experiences from old games for free than any developer is doing with IP that they own. According to Cifaldi, it's a game developer's job to create a fun and meaningful experience, but ROM hackers are running circles around them with lots of fun projects. The games industry has mostly neglected its old IPs, and once a platform dies, its games die unless they're preserved somehow. There are tons of great old games out there that could be enjoyed by the public at large, but for practical purposes, they're out of reach unless one goes about breaking the law.

I don't want to give away the whole talk, though, so I encourage everyone to check it out. Game preservation—or just playing old video games—is an interesting topic, and I invite you to discuss it. How do you connect to gaming history? How do you play games that have been out of print for years? Tell your retro story in the comments below.

0 responses to “Friday night topic: Preserving our gaming heritage

  1. Timely but not mentioned is that the City of Heroes/ Villains community has been very busy with trying to bring the game back in ways that NCSoft are going to have a really hard time taking down.

    My favorite MMO of all time and my favorite games of all time have been Syndicate and Koei’s Nobunaga’s Ambition [NES/Amiga/DOS] and Genghis Khan.

  2. Honestly, I can’t get into old games at all.
    Some of the titles I did love as a kiddo like Final Fantasy did NOT age well and make me just roll my eyes at the sheer amount of crap / uglyness I was willing to put up back then.

  3. For retro-graming I can thoroughly recommend this place for any UK visitors:
    [url<][/url<] It has a full history of computing (UK style) and pretty much everything is playable.

  4. Make sure they know to blow on the cartridge if it doesn’t work the first time!

  5. The dog sound effects were spectacular, which is a weird thing to say. There are a couple levels in EWJ 2 where Psycrow is chucking puppies out of a two-story building, and Jim has to run around with a hand-held trampoline and bounce them across the screen to save them. If you drop a couple of them, Peter Puppy (which is a different character, I know) gets super pissed and chews you up. The sound is realistic enough that my dog will start barking when it happens.

  6. The way the dog snarling and snapping turned to yelping when it was shot (without actually seeming to take much damage) still makes me laugh to remember it.

    I started during Wrath of the Lich King and went on through Mists of Panderia. I disliked the dumbing down of the game at every expansion. After Mists was over, I was fed up.

  7. BTW, I didn’t want to give it away until I knew it’d be published today, but we’ve got some resources for the FPGA-curious. The Mega Sg is the focus, but there are some good links to other FPGA resources. [url<][/url<]

  8. “Every medium has garbage not worth preserving.”

    I dunno. Maybe preserving some garbage with a flashing “DON’T DO THIS” sign could be useful, lol

  9. I’ve done it briefly back when I was playing SC1 frequently. It pales in comparison to what the elites/progamers can do. It is absolutely essential to master to it if you want to be viable with the Zerg at top 20%.

  10. Re: films, can you imagine a world where films can only show in one chain’s cinemas because they’re physically incompatible with another? AMC can’t show movies that Regal can show, because they’re made for Regal’s projectors. That’s what we have with games, because in my analogy, those movies only work in Regal’s cinemas because Regal also [i<]made[/i<] the movie. Or you can only watch The Office if you have Comcast because Comcast owns NBC. That's a monopolistic and protectionist practice in any industry other than video gaming. Also, yes on not nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. Every medium has garbage not worth preserving.

  11. A nice video related to the topic:

    [url<][/url<] Some nice links in the description as well.

  12. Wow. Those bring back some memories. Silent Service was one of favorites back in the early 90’s. Complete with keyboard overlay. A-10 came out and I had to get a joystick, which was great for Wing Commander 3. The slow pace of older games was quite enjoyable.

  13. I still play AoE2. My son and I enjoy it. I need to bust out the CD’s so we can plan LAN games as the Steam version doesn’t allow local multiplier and he’s not old enough for me to trust online multiplayer.

  14. I’m taking two things from the original prompt.

    1. Preservation is important to study the past.
    2. Some old stuff is good, but access to it is lacking in a modern age (with copyright law serving as an artificial barrier).

    So I do agree that “nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake” isn’t something we should want, but some of the games Funk mentions still hold up because they were well crafted, and I agree that we should try to preserve them (and access to them) for study and enjoyment. Even if some of these games don’t hold up, their influence on modern game developers can’t be denied, and that’s reason enough (for me) to preserve them.

    Heck, preserving classic films could be discussed in parallel. Many old films are still studied because they used the technology of the day so well. Many are studied because they influenced later filmmakers. Star Wars reshaped cinema, but it wouldn’t exist without pulp SciFi films.

  15. Your claims of mass-casting and deathballing being “impossible” under SC1 are simply not true. When it is quite possible and has been done for years among the elite-tier of player base.

  16. The interface and UI of StarCraft is so clunky compared to aoe2. They seem years apart. I understand some is due to balancing and perhaps other reasons. The three factions on the base game make the game a little too repetitive for me.

  17. Good satire is sufficiently exaggerated to not sound exactly like something someone would say sincerely.

    And there’s no shortage of folks who think anything older than 2 months is soooo 5 seconds ago.

  18. It is quite possible but difficult to do “death balls” and spam “mass-casting of abilities” under Starcraft I. (Mutalisk stacking is the original “deathball”) Being able to work effectively with the clunky 1990’s era UI was a massive filter between hardened veterans and the elite. That’s where the whole more APM = better! meme came from.

    Starcraft 2’s QOL and UI improvements removed this filter. The competition for the top 10% was extremely intensive to the point that former SC1 elitists that went on the SC2 bandwagon couldn’t take the pressure. They went back to familiar waters.

  19. The general problem extends to preservation of [i<]anything[/i<] from the modern age. Platforms eliminate alternatives via competition which favors features and cost-effectiveness, but this principally drives ever more technical solutions, understood by relatively fewer people, provided to an ever large slice of the world, and with ever more dependencies on other platforms with similar issues.

  20. [quote<]Sure, games may stay in your Steam library, but how many other digital services die? [/quote<]Steam is by far my biggest concern for preservation of modern games. Not only is it no less vulnerable to failure than any other online content distributor, but the current attitude of "if it's not on Steam it's not on PC!" is terrifying. Talk about all your eggs being in one capricious basket!

  21. I still enjoy Pharaoh/Cleopatra. Played the former back in the day and hated the DRM. If memory serves, it had a dark red and black card with the game codes, or it needed the CD in the drive at launch time. So it’s wonderful that the Steam version does away with all that.

    Bought it along with a bunch of other stuff at the end of last year when Steam was having some sale thing, and I still get good repeat value out of it, but I really wish somebody would remaster it for modern graphic cards and monitors. If it weren’t for the interesting game play mechanics, this game would be intolerable. Minecraft might even have better graphics. :O

    I also bought Homeworld Remastered, and that’s awesome. I have to wean myself off of Civ VI and Battletech before I can get back to Homeworld, though.

    And speaking of Battletech, holy crap, that runs amazingly well on my Alienware Area 51M, whoohoo!

  22. There are some things that SC2 does better, but if Blizzard backported some of that stuff, it would break balance. Selecting more than 12 units in a group is an obvious one, but also while you have a group selected, you can tab through and get to special abilities for each unit type. And when you cast certain abilities (Psi Storm, Plague, EMP, etc.) only one unit casts that ability at a time instead of all the selected ones. That makes it super easy in SC2 to cast a big blanket of storms but it’s not possible in SC1. Auto-mining is a pretty big deal. Same with multi-hatch selections. In the original you have to either hotkey each Hatchery individual or click around the minimap to get to each. And the pathfinding! Is there a dumber unit than the Dragoon? Probably not.

    Despite what I just said, I absolutely love playing both. I can be far more functional in the second game thanks to the lower emphasis on clicking.

  23. Maybe I’m weird but I always disliked how competitive RTS was so fast. It makes spectating too much of a chore. In the SC2 and RA2 that I’ve watched, the 3-7 minute matches just lead to more time in lobby than in a match. SC2 is so inflexible though, it makes sense mathematically to just quit as soon as the other player wins a single battle.

    That always made me sad. For some reason it feels weirdly anti RTS for the match to hinge on a single right or action.

    Cnc3 has longer and more complex matches, but no one watches or plays it. They did a much better job with pacing and unit depth, imo. Matches are usually 10-15 in a 1v1 and it’s really common to see extended fights or constant action instead of one fight followed by a gg/force quit. People also seem to quit after exhausting more options.

  24. Total Annihilation was way ahead of its time. The learning curve and time it took to complete matches made it unviable for the competitive RTS scene.

  25. Hardware simulation is a great application for FPGAs. One of these days I need to get around to picking up a dev board and playing around with it; trouble is I have a strong Xilinx bias due to learning their stuff at school and indirectly using them at work, and those tend to be much more spendy and niche than Altera and Lattice.

  26. I find Starcraft to be irritating to play in my old age, but good old Total Annihilation has aged well.

    I want to bring Quake 2 back to life to run around in some old maps once more.

  27. IMO, Starcraft has aged poorly overall. It was long surpassed by RTS titles in the 2000s. The remastered looks nice but the 1990s-era UI and game design choices are painfully annoying. Outside of South Korea, Starcraft 1 is in the same spot as UT99, Quake 3, Tribes 2 in terms of mindshare in the competitive scene.

  28. Same. I’ve picked up a Super Nt, Mega Sg, and AVS in recent months and the MiSTer project is also very interesting.

  29. For old consoles, I’ve been getting an interest in the various FPGA based hardware recreations. The well documented hardware tends to get cycle accurate reproduction but then adds things like HDMI output for modern displays. The result for modern displays is lower latency with that combination since the analog -> digital conversion is skipped: digital display out all the way. Ditto for audio.

    Many also add SD card slots for firmware updates but in reality those are used for bulk storage for ROMs after a simple patch. This is an easy way to see if various ROM hacks would actually work on “original” hardware.

  30. Try Black Mesa, a fairly faithful recreation of half life. Early Access being my primary issue and it’s been in development for quite a while.

  31. It can be done. Game studios that put out classic gems survived for a long time until two problems came up: some studios focused too much on perfection at the expense of reality and budgets, and bigger studios became meat grinders that chewed up IP and programmers and turned out trash. Maybe there’s a third thing that happened: game studios got bought up, and while you can’t blame studio owners for accepting, say, million dollar deals from Microsoft, the long term effect was delusion of IP.

    Imagine if companies like Bungie were OK not being millionaires, and if studios like BioWare had leadership focused a little more on the bottom line. Perhaps more great studios would have survived.

    The market will always consume watered down, mediocre games in great quantity which is where the money is, but there will always be the core of gamers who are here for games that deliver a deeper experience. Studios may not reach the Fortune 500 catering to us, but they can make a living.

    Maybe the time for that has passed, which makes the preservation of old games so important.

  32. Heck, Starcraft was released in 1998 and it’s STILL the gold standard for competitive RTS play. Though that one’s obviously received several updates to keep it playable.

  33. Reason #3 that I became a no-DRM zealot. Since 2012, every PC game I’ve bought and played lives on at least one external hard drive and I’ll be able to enjoy it for the rest of my life.

  34. I find it interesting that of all the forms of arts and culture, digital media has both the best tools for preservation and the worst habit of actually doing it. 200 years from now we’ll still be listening to classical symphonies and admiring the old masters’ artwork but most games, TV shows, etc. will virtually cease to exist–buried under an impenetrable pile of copy protection and rights disputes.

  35. If you liked Panzer General, you really need to try Panzer Corps. Pretty much the same, but bigger, longer and probably better (more info in the interface, the game is pretty much the same).

    And About Heart of Iron, I don’t like 3 at all (maybe they fixed it later), but HoI 2 Darkest Hour is simply amazing.

    I would love to be able to play all the WingCommander series updated to actual technologies… Including the Secret Ops

  36. I’ll never stop playing point-and-click adventures. I’ll be the guy running ScummVM at the nursing home, when you see me say hi.

    I’ll probably keep playing AoE2 the rest of my life, too. It’ll be 20 years soon, and it’s only gotten more interesting over time.

    Used a number of different console emulators over the years. OpenEmu is very cool. It seems a popular approach these days is to download big packs of ROMs (like all the ROMs for a particular system, since the file sizes aren’t unreasonable), and then keep a comprehensive library of old console games.

    Since the games market used to be quite different, developers had a slightly different kind of creative freedom (not necessarily “more”… just different), and it’s fun to see the evidence of this in the games themselves. Often I realize I never appreciated these old games enough at the time.

    No doubt I’ll feel the same way in 20 years about some more recent games — at least a few.

  37. I just buy CDs of stuff i actually want to keep permanently… but games are an issue. Even if you make backups of steam games, you’re dependent on the software being able to install the backups without verification from servers, etc.

  38. I managed to work around the bugs in Master of Magic mostly (crashes usually happened while in battle or when switching to/from battle). I always set up a party of six ranged heroes (Crovax FTW!!! And Aerie, Zaldron the Sage, the two archer guys and Aureus IIRC) and went for other ranged units (Warlocks were great) … fond memories. The game reminded me of Stronghold and Heroes of MIght and Magic series.

    I wanted to add Panzer General (the original), Master of Orion II (the sequel released few years ago is actually very decent), original Pirates! (the last remake is also OK), Railroad Tycoon and Transport Tycoon (OpenTTD is free as in free beer and great!!!), Colonization (streamlining cigar and cloth production was always so much fun because planets were difficult to come by and you could only get them by training in one or two indian villages), Sierra/General Dynamix simulators (Red Baron, Aces of Pacific, Aces over Europe, Aces of the Deep), Eye of the Beholder (only played parts 1 and 2 because I heard 3 was poop), Dune 2, the original C&C and Red Alert and UFO (Enemy Unknown, and to a lesser extent Terror From the Deep) to the list of great titles … they don’t make this kind of stuff any more.

    The only noteworthy games as of recent are Master of Orion 4 (modernized remake of MoOII), Hearts of Iron 3 and 4 (3 felt better though) and perhaps Skyrim and its TES predecessors.

    Edited to add: Jagged Alliance 2 and the early Total War titles before they went full retard. So. Much. Replay value.

  39. Your post inspired a tangentially related thought — if we are going to bother saving something, maybe we should first save ourselves.

    On the other hand, maybe these games are the best of us and we should save them in case some other intelligent species finds them while sifting through the rubble.

  40. I miss having game boxes to represent how nerdy I was. I liked having those physical boxes and Jewel cases/floppy sleeves.

  41. I might have guessed auxy would be the one know that reference, but like gaming metal is for everyone.

  42. I enjoyed the tinkering with old hardware for a while but then I started playing games I never owned as a kid and got hooked. I’ve completed the whole Shining Force tactical RPG series (1-3 and Sega CD version) in the last year along with several other games I missed in the 90s. That helped right the ship and use the hardware the way it was intended.

  43. Not me, man. 8-bit Zelda is obtuse for the sake of being obtuse. Mario 3 is inexcusably long for not having a save system. Streets of Rage 1 is a mediocre beat-em-up with an amazing soundtrack. Classic Sonic is a little shallow but still fun.

    But some games are masterpieces. Final Fantasy III, Super Mario World, Shining Force II, and Streets of Rage 2 are the best in their genres.


    *[i<]headbangs[/i<]* (ლ `Д ́)ლ

  45. Like usual I’m half serious. I don’t love nostalgia for nostalgias sake, many older games and franchises do suck but we pretend they don’t cause rose coloured glasses.

  46. Microprose simulations from the early 90s have a lot of nostalgia for me.

    I also remember a lot of share-ware stuff, where Commander Keen and Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure were actually great games.

    Plenty of fun with the Origin line including everything from the Wing Commander series to Ultima VI & the VII games before Ultima went off a cliff.

    There’s some ability to play all of these games today, but I agree that keeping ROMs available is important to keep older games alive.

  47. As usual, I can’t decide if you’re serious. Are you saying the absolute turds of today are better than <<insert preferred legendary old game here>>? Is [url=<]Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark[/url<] better than Super Mario World or Streets of Rage 2 just because it came out 25 years later? My daughter has no appreciation for 8- or 16-bit games except for when I kick her ass at Street Fighter II, but two of her all-time favorites Ocarina of Time on N64 and Pokemon Yellow on Game Boy Color, both played via the Virtual Console on her 2DS.

  48. I have no idea what it would cost, but there might be a market for game developers to blow the dust off their old successful games and do a “remastered” version.

    I’d love to play a remastered version of:
    Soldier of Fortune I and II
    Return to Castle Wolfenstein
    Half Life (any of them)
    Medal of Honor
    Call of Duty (original)
    or others, as long as they’re not over $30.

  49. Yes, this. Screwing over the other players was the point of those games, IMO. I hit peak Mario Kart douchery on the N64 when there were almost always four of us ready to play.

  50. Some really great games on that list. In particular, I love Earthworm Jim and I’ve been playing a lot of it lately. I have the Special Edition for Sega CD, which is basically the SNES/Genesis game with a CD audio soundtrack and a couple extra levels. I also loved Quake and WoW, but my cutoff for the latter was after Burning Crusade. After that and I was very “meh” on the game.

  51. Absolutely. At least with digital purchases on iTunes, I can copy those DRM-free .m4a files to my own backup location and access them later. And obviously with CDs, ripping them is a straightforward process. With digital subscriptions, when it’s gone, it’s gone. Or even if you quit paying the subscription, it’s gone.

    And with video streaming services like Netflix, they may just decide one day to remove it and you’re still paying. Between the price hikes, the continued focus on original content I don’t care about, and the monthly march to remove licensed content, I’ve canceled my Netflix sub. When it expires on May 2, that’s it.

  52. That’s a problem with digital distribution in general. What happens to all your music, and all your books if all of that exists only “in the cloud” also?

    I don’t expect Spotify and Amazon to disappear anytime soon, but it is a little unsettling when you consider how casually people accept these things without even thinking about it.

  53. rise of the robots, abuse (crack dot com), heroes of might and magic 1 thru 3, mechwarrior 2 thru 4 mercs freelancer, starlancer, pandoras box to name a few that i still play from time to time. games these days have zero replay value once the eye candy wears out.

  54. Nice video.

    I avoided most of these complications by almost exclusively playing PC games over the past 20 years.

    There’s almost always a way to get a game and make it work on a PC. Assuming the internet still exists 15 years from now, people will find ways around any of the DRM limitations that concern us now.

    I’d feel a lot less confident in consoles being as open to hacking\modding 15 years from now, even if they are very PC-like on the inside.

    The video mentions finding old consoles and piles of games several years from now, and sadly, that will pretty much be a thing of the past. “Retro Gaming” as we know it today will probably not be a thing that happens with today’s games.

    If I’m totally honest though, I don’t play that many modern games anyway. I build and collect retro PC hardware and play those games from time to time, but I enjoy tinkering with the hardware more than games anymore. 🙂

  55. isn’t the most important question to ask “why bother with this old stuff?” there are some games i make my kids play, but it’s mostly because i like making them suffer through old bad stuff that’s terrible. otherwise, why should we save these old things? new stuff is better. nobody likes the mona lisa when cgi looks so cool now. i’ve personally seen it first hand and yawn

  56. I spent many, many hours playing Super Mario Kart. I’m afraid I was that jackass who wouldn’t just pass, but also try to run you over if I was lucky enough to get a lightning bolt.

  57. Most companies maximize profit conditional on a mission constraint. Imagine if it were the other way around…

  58. I have fond memories of these old games…
    Ultima I
    Earthworm Jim
    Crusader: No Remorse
    Fantasy General
    Age of Empires
    Master of Orion
    Wing Commander
    Leisure Suit Larry
    World of Warcraft: Pre-2015

  59. It bothers me to buy a game again and get nothing but the game running on another platform. I was initially excited about GoG getting Diablo and War2BNE but I have the discs. For now those newer games run fine in windows tho.

    Either way GoG is a good example of preserving games for a modern age. Nothing wrong with that.

  60. Old games don’t have servers to go down, micro transactions, griefers, or loot boxes. I’ve been revisiting my Genesis and Master System games the last few weeks and it’s been refreshing how few game-breaking bugs I’ve found in an age where you had to get it right because you couldn’t really fix it after you shipped. The Amiga is the same way, I bet.

  61. Age of empires II came out in ’96 or ’97 and it’s still fun and played competitively. One of the first PC games I played was police quest I which came out in ’87 and I played it and the others in the series in the mid 90s. Now dosbox is the only way I can play those games again if I feel the itch. It feels like a loss when a good game is forgotten with time. Half life 1 is over 20 years oldb and it’s still enjoyable to play.

  62. Something that doesn’t get addressed in the video is preserving games in the age of digital distribution. Sure, games may stay in your Steam library, but how many other digital services die?

    What was the store that GameStop purchases and killed? All that stuff is gone. The Wii digital shop has been shuttered for good.

    There’s an interesting video from Displaced Gamers I didn’t link in the post that covers digital distribution and what happens when those platforms are “retro”. It may give you something else to chew on. [url<][/url<]

  63. I keep a super socket 7 system around for the games that don’t work on Win7. Never got comfortable with emulation . I must have had a forgotten trauma in my past. Also have a few consoles and I made sure to buy a 4k tv with the right inputs for systems that don’t do HDMI.

    A few months back I unboxed my Amiga after 20+ years. Not only did it fire up, but the floppies were/are still readable! It was about then I discovered there is still an active community of indie hardware and software developers for the machine. Having become disenchanted with Activision/WoW, I am looking for a new addiction and appear to have found it.

  64. I have hard copies of my old games, but a lot of them come out on so I can avoid the hassle of hacking them into a modern OS. I still have lots of fun playing these games. They’re still inspired even after so many years. There are some newer, smaller games that are very well polished, and I play those, too. The industry needs more passion and less commercialization.

  65. I think my retro gaming itch has also been catered to in recent years by modern indie devs who do a great job of blending rewarding gameplay loops with nostalgic graphics and modern sensibilities.

    I particularly like the aesthetics of Hi-fi/Low Res (Dungeon of the Endless, Pathway, Children of Morta, The Iron Oath), which combines chunky pixelart with modern lighting and shadows.

    At the other end of the spectrum, I also like the Low-fi/Hi Res look (Risk of Rain 2, Epistory, Book of Demons, Tunic, INSIDE) that combine clean character and environment designs with high resolution and modern AA.

    Then of course there’s the classic pixelart look, which developers take beyond the hardware sprite limitations of old consoles (Curious Expedition, Axiom Verge, Stardew Valley, Iconoclasts, Hyper Light Drifter), so they can still manage to look more impressive than classic games despite being more subtle about their technical advancements.

  66. I still have The Magic Candle, Ultima V, TFTD and Master of Magic in their respective DOSBox directories that I migrate with every build, but I haven’t gotten nostalgic about playing them for maybe 5 years now.

    I do think that archiving and preservation of content (not just gaming) is going to present a problem for future historians due to archaic copyright laws, licenses and DRM for anything from the 1980s till whenever we as a society sort this intellectual property ownership thing out, if ever.

Ben Funk

Sega nerd and guitar lover