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Introducing game preservation, the movement conserving old video games for future generations

By Sam Wareing

May 15, 2022

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Remember the excitement of getting a new video game as a kid? You’d rush home from school, grab some snacks and immerse yourself for hoursthose were the days, and those truly special memories will stick with you forever. But what if the childhood games you were so fond of were at risk of being lost forever?

Unfortunately, the threat is all too real. As the years go by, more and more games are being lost to the passage of time and the big gaming companies aren’t doing much to prevent it. This is where game preservation comes in like a knight in shining armour here to save the day. So grab your go-to nostalgic snack, settle in, and join us as we embark on an epic journey to save your most treasured games.

What is game preservation?

Put simply, game preservation is a special way of storing a video game so that it will be available to play for many years to come. “But why?” you ask, “they’re just games, right?” Oh how wrong you are. Imagine paintings like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or Van Gogh’s The Starry Night being left to rot, forgotten or even discarded. There would be a public outcry. The same applies to video games. They are more than the silly thing you’re supposed to grow out of—they are art in their own right. So many experiences, so many stories, so many worlds lovingly crafted and slaved over for the masses to enjoy and immerse themselves in, slowly losing the game of time.

The problem with video games is that they aren’t really physical things. They’re not like paintings where restoration work and specially controlled environments can be used to preserve them. Sure they come on CDs and cartridges, but these are plentiful and easy to replace. The issue lies in the data that is on them—if the original data is lost, so is the game. To add insult to injury, as new games and consoles are released, old games stop being produced and then become increasingly hard to find, and their prices skyrocket.

Take Square Enix’s beloved Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) Chrono Trigger. Released in 1995 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the game was originally sold for $80. In 2022, to purchase a sealed copy, you’d have to shell out nearly $500. As if things couldn’t get worse, as technology advances, retro consoles become obsolete too since there is no way to connect them to current televisions. You’d have to go hunting for an old CRT TV which, once again, is hard to find, and will set you back a pretty penny to boot.

Can you see the problem here?

Quick history lesson

Unlike films, video game preservation has only really come into the limelight in the last few years. These days, you can find hundreds of films, 30, 40, 50 years old, all backed up and archived, ready to  be watched at a moment’s notice. There is hardly anything like that for games. In an interview with Axios, Xbox CEO Phil Spencer said, “I think we can learn from the history of how we got here through the creative […] I love it in music. I love it in movies and TV, and there are positive reasons for gaming to want to follow.” So it’s nice to see one of the big three—Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo—wanting to start looking after games. But perhaps it’s not fair to say they are the only ones making moves. 

In March 2021, Sony announced it would be closing the Playstation 3 (PS3), Playstation Portable (PSP) and Playstation Vita (PS Vita) online stores for good. Doing so would remove a whole host of online store exclusive games forever—especially since they are not available on other platforms. Following a huge backlash from fans, the company was forced to revise its decision. In a statement shared on Sony’s website by Jim Ryan, CEO of Playstation, he said, “We see now that many of you are incredibly passionate about being able to continue purchasing classic games on PS3 and PS Vita for the foreseeable future, so I’m glad we were able to find a solution to continue operations.”

Nintendo is also starting to do its bit by utilising its subscription-based service Nintendo Switch Online, which was first revealed in April 2021. First, the company announced that players would be able to gain access to Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games. SNES games soon followed and in October 2021, it divulged that Nintendo 64 (N64) games and Sega Megadrive games would be joining its already huge roster.

This library of software is ever-expanding, with new titles being added at regular intervals. With Nintendo’s old cartridge-based games and systems being increasingly hard to find, their prices being astronomical and ways to use the hardware becoming almost impossible, it’s a joy to see these retro games preserved in such a fantastic way.

Important then, important now

So why is it important? Why not just forsake the old games and look towards the future? Just like with art, music and film, video games are full of stories and messages that need to be told and passed on. They even have their own legends. Music has Frank Sinatra, video games have Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokémon. Losing these games also means losing their creators. Imagine not being able to listen to your favourite album from 30 years ago because it wasn’t protected. You wouldn’t know why David Bowie was such an icon. It doesn’t even bear thinking about. It’s about preserving a slice of history and culture for the future generations to experience and learn from. As Joseph Redon, president of the Game Preservation Society quite wonderfully put it “Let us work together to let the children of tomorrow know the charm of the games of the past.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, Joseph.

Legendary heroes

While Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft are finally getting their act together in pursuing game preservation, there are those out there who have said ‘enough is enough’, and begun the process themselves. The Game Preservation Society is one such institution. Based in Tokyo, Japan, it strives to protect Japan’s rich gaming history. From arcade games to PC games, this non-profit organisation of volunteers painstakingly documents, records and preserves games from Japanese history. The biggest issue it faces, as mentioned earlier, is with the degradation of data which Redon finds very concerning. “Some might know this, but there is a unique problem for game preservation that is unseen in other preservation efforts, known as ‘data degradation’. If nothing is done to preserve it now, the data will be lost forever.”

A similar organisation, the Video Game History Foundation is dedicated to preserving video games and the history behind them. Another non-profit organisation, it is aiming to conserve the history of video games and provide resources for study, education and broadcast the issue of game preservation to the world. It has built the world’s first dedicated video game history research library, has collected rare behind-the-scenes materials, built pop-up museum exhibits, and even recovered lost art for video game companies. This incredible mission is quite an undertaking, and along with The Game Preservation Society, both are saving the digital world one game at a time.

So when you’re rifling through your childhood memorabilia and stumble across your copy of  The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from 1998 remember—you’re holding history in your hands. Cherish it.

Introducing speedrunning, the fast-paced art of breezing through games

By Sam Wareing

May 7, 2022

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Have you ever done something so much that you know it like the back of your hand? Something so familiar that you could even do it blindfolded? Well, what about doing it fast? In the depths of the internet lives a community which thrives on doing things quickly—more specifically, video games. Welcome to the world of speedrunning. Simply put, it’s when you beat a game really, really fast. But there is so much more to it than what meets the eye. If you take the time to dive under the surface, that is. So join me as I peek under the hood of this internet phenomenon.

What is speedrunning?

Speedrunning is the art of beating a video game as fast as possible. Sounds pretty simple, right? At first glance, yes, but much like an iceberg, there’s more beneath the surface. Normally, beating a video game means you’ll have to complete the game’s story until the very end, following the rules set in place by the code that created it. In speedrunning, these rules get scrunched up and tossed out the window.

Over countless hours—years even—players have uncovered ways to bypass the normal rules of the game (a feat known as glitching) and skip entire sections of video games. A popular example of this is the Weathertenko—a glitch in the Nintendo 64 game Mario Kart 64 which, when performed on the Choco Mountain racecourse, will let you complete a lap in a matter of seconds. This trick was completed by speedrunner Beck Abney back in 2017. On his 26,461 attempt, Abney pulled it off not once, but three times, completing the race in a dizzying 16.38 seconds with 27,000 followers witnessing his feat on Twitch. It’s this type of effort and perseverance that makes speedrunning so popular with its participants and fans alike.

Back to the future: the origins of speedrunning

So where did it all begin? You’d be forgiven for thinking that speedrunning was a modern thing. Way back in the 1980s, speedruns could only really be done with an in-game timer, such as Metroid II: Return of Samus, Super Mario Kart and Dragster. Both Nintendo and Activision would ask players to take pictures of their quickest times and feature some of them in their respective magazines. Since these speedruns were recorded through photographs, there were no real means of community verification and often records would stand for months before they became widely known.

Let’s fast forward to the 90s, specifically to 1993 and the release of Doom. The action-horror game was a huge hit amongst PC players, but more importantly, the game included a feature which let you record and playback game-play using files called ‘Demos’. Naturally, players began using this feature to record speedruns of the game and, due to the lightweight nature of the Demo files, they would post them on internet bulletin board systems. A year later, a University of Waterloo student named Christina Norman went on to create a File Transfer Protocol server which was dedicated to compiling Demos and was affectionately named the LMP Hall of Fame (after the .lmp file extension used by the Doom Demos). In November of 1994, the Doom speedrunning community was born, with Simon Widlake creating COMPET-N, an online leaderboard ranking the completion times of Dooms single-player campaign.

And the rest, as they say, is history. From there, as the internet expanded and more and more games were released, people found new games to speedrun, new ways to speedrun them and document their success (and failures too)—with the most recent way being streaming their runs on Twitch and posting on speedrun.com.

A game of popularity

Speedrunning is one of those things that doesn’t really sound that appealing to do, but is insanely fun to watch—kind of like bingeing pimple popping videos. Speedrunners will take a game, usually one they love, and analyse it down to the very last pixel and line of code before even attempting a run. This can take months, even years of research and the patience and practice required here is astronomical.

But lucky for us viewers, all we have to do is sit down and tune into the run as it’s happening. It’s the range of categories that you can choose for a speedrun that entices a majority of viewers. From a simple ‘Any%run’, where a speedrunner completes a game as fast as they can, to the more bizarre, such as the ‘Nipple%’—a challenge in Super Mario Odyssey where the player must reveal the beloved italian plumber’s nipples as fast as possible by earning enough in-game currency to purchase a pair of swimming trunks. If that doesn’t convince you to start watching speedruns, then I don’t know what will.

Top 3 speedruns of all time

Now that you’re all caught up on what a speedrun is, their origins and why they are so beloved, let’s take a look at some of the most iconic speedruns of all time:

1. ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’ in 7 minutes and 48 seconds

Leveraging a whole host of insane glitches that essentially allow you to write and run the game’s code through your in-game actions, gamer Zudu blasts through Ocarina of Time in 7 minutes and 48 seconds. To the untrained eye, the entire run looks like a complete mishmash of random moves, but each one is perfectly executed and precisely calculated to achieve the desired result.

2. ‘Dark Souls’ in 1 hour

Dark Souls is known for being brutally punishing, but for speedrunner Catalyst it’s a walk in the park. By utilising some insane sequence breaks—glitches that let you skip areas and acquire key items way earlier than normal—and the move swap glitch which essentially doubles the attack power of weapons when used correctly, he blasts through the game in not only just over and hour, but defeats every single boss along the way too. Mind boggling, to say the least.

3. ‘Portal’ in 6 minutes and 53 seconds

With its sarcastic narrator and physics-bending puzzles, Portal is no stranger to ridiculous speed runs. But speedrunner Shizzal absolutely knocks it out of the park with their attempt. By using a series of edgeglitches which force the camera to detach from the player, Shizzal is able to shoot portals on the opposite side from where they are initially positioned. This funky little trick allows for some ridiculous Chamber skips, is insanely quick and also shows off Shizzal’s impeccable map knowledge.

So after watching all of these videos, what do you think? Fancy tackling a speedrun yourself? If you don’t have the patience or tenacity then don’t worry, I don’t either. There are countless speedrunners on Twitch and YouTube for you to live vicariously through. But if you really can’t choose, then Games Done Quick should satisfy all your speedrunning needs. So the next time you sit down to play a game just remember: some have definitely beaten it way faster than you ever could.

 

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