Despite my fancy gaming blog name, I actually don’t pirate games.

Seriously! I’m too much of a collector. I want the box, and the (nearing extinction) manual, and a nice, clean looking disc or cartridge with good looking cover art. And having worked in the game industry, I know game sales can determine the longevity of a department’s, or even and individual’s continued employment. There’s no reason to pirate brand new games. Stop being so cheap. And if you can’t buy new, then buy used.

Now that I’m off my soapbox, I wanted to discuss an article that I found that actually hits the other side of the spectrum, and I totally agree with.

Some of you readers may be too young to know what one of these are:

But if you said “floppy disc”, you were correct.

These were the software of the computers through the 1980’s and in some instances, early 1990’s. True to their name, they were floppy in consistency, and were about the size of a CD jewel case.

They were also incredibly easy to break.

And my “break”, I mean it only took a minute or so to interrupt the program, load the file contents, and save to another disc. And so began one of the earliest days of software piracy.

But let’s think about the days of the Apple IIc and the Commodore 64. And the Atari 2600 and Intellivision. And going forward, the NES and Sega Master System. Then Super NES and Genesis, and so on and so forth. Those who grew up in any or all of those time periods know that many of the games we used to play just aren’t released under legal means anymore, and likely never will.

Think of the system incompatibilities. And dead formats. And medias that decay that render software unplayable. Think of the companies that have closed down and cease to exist, or the licensing contracts that have long since expired, and have never been renewed. Certainly, games like Pac-Man and Pong are still with us. But so are the companies. Midway closed down, but Warner Bros. bought the rights to the Mortal Kombat franchise, as well as most of Midway’s arcade list. But will we ever see titles like Tass Times in Tonetown from Activision again? Or what about this title?

(Look at the screen! ALF has nothing! You hear me? NOTHING!)

It was called ALF: The First Adventure, and I had it for my IIc. It was a Pac-Man style game where you controlled a disembodied ALF head as he made his way through the maze of suburbia. Yeah, you probably never heard of it. Why would you? It’s not part of any modern gaming compilation, nor is found on Steam or Good Old Games. Same for MECC’s Odell Lake. And do you really think Nintendo is ever going to release Gyromite again? We’re not getting a R.O.B. 2.0 anytime in the future.

And perhaps some of these games weren’t classics, but it doesn’t mean that they need to be lost to time. It’s the same as books and movies and music, though by and large, they are better archived.

And it’s not like the big companies are really doing much for preservation. Nintendo’s Virtual Console on the Wii was an overall failure. Perhaps not so bad if you cared only for Nintendo brand games, but “supported” formats like the Master System, Commodore 64, and Arcade were mere flashes in the pan. Even more popular systems like the NES, Genesis, and Super NES only had a fraction of their titles released.

Same goes for Microsoft’s Game Room. The service promised 1,000+ classic games. We got a smattering of titles from 4 companies that didn’t even cover what was found on other gaming compilations. This is how the companies have chosen to “preserve” history. It’s great if you like Cliff’s Notes… with a few pages torn out of the guide.

There are a lot of abandoned games out there. Ones that will never be picked up by any publisher for re-release, and some that have already been lost to time. And certainly, some of these games are downright primitive with their blocky graphics in an age of motion controls and touch screens. But what happens to all of our current downloadable games when the Xbox 360 is an “archive” system, or iPad and iPhone games are no longer compatible or our devices or even accessible from the app store? It’s not just 30 year old games. But the ones from back then tell a bigger story for now. It’s where this medium started, and how can we see how far we’ve come if we don’t know where we’ve been?

Honestly, there needs to be a more concentrated and condoned effort to preserve these games. Certainly, a lot of these titles are nearing “public domain” status. Arcade cabinets and floppy discs weren’t really designed to be still running 30+ years in the future. Granted, some do, but I doubt programmers in the 1970’s and 1980’s were thinking “I sure hope I’ve built something to last well into the 2010’s and beyond!” After the 20-30 mark, I wouldn’t mind some proper digital archivist obtain the rights for old software that isn’t being constantly renewed by their parent companies. Nintendo will keep Super Mario Bros. alive forever. But a game like say, Karateka, isn’t going to be protected and renewed by Broderbund…. Because that company doesn’t exist anymore, either.

We are well overdue for a historical archive on this medium, and at this point, somebody has to do it. I had hopes for Game Room and the Virtual Console being an “official” sponsored games archive, but leaving it in the hands of the big guys only led to massive and underwhelming disappointment. Steam and Good Old Games have done some good, but again, how many computer titles have been lost and have never been released again.

People will buy games if they are available. And if they are not, they’ll find other means. It’s a shame that the companies that helped to create modern gaming are quick to forget the ancestors of their past.

The article up top is interesting. Do check it out.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under: apple gamingclassic gaminggame roomgeneral gamingvirtual console