In an age of rapidly evolving technology, what are videogames’ major players doing to preserve the old and obsolete pieces of their past?
Videogame design is a funny thing sometime. Nobody knows if early scribbles or notes on a cocktail napkin could become the next Zelda or Halo. Every time someone throws out design documents or concept art, or deletes source code, they could be irrevocably destroying a part of gaming history that we would never be able to restore.
As part of a Gamasutra series on the preservation of videogame history, John Andersen asked the Big Three – Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft – how they kept their videogame past secure and safe.
Microsoft’s Ken Lobb said that for every game Microsoft Game Studios published, it stored multiple copies of the source code and production materials in “secure, temperature & humidity controlled locations” both onsite and offsite. Games published before 2000 were on older, less reliable hardware, admitted Lobb, but he said Microsoft had plans to transfer those materials to something safer and more modern.
Meanwhile, Sony Computer Entertainment of America said its IT and QA departments both had a hand in the preservation of production material, and were tasked with making sure everything was safely stored externally. However, SCEA also admitted that its storage methods varied between regions (Sony Japan and Sony Europe might be using completely different methodologies) and between third-party developers who worked for Sony under contract.
According to Sony, some of the more frustrating hurdles in videogame preservation have nothing to do with someone accidentally discarding potentially-valuable history, and everything to do with the inexorable march of technology. If you’re storing software, video and audio that were designed to be compatible with a specific type of hardware, and said hardware was discontinued 15 years ago, you need to store the hardware and any relevant devkits alongside the source.
Unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo regularly trots its gaming history out into the public eye as part of its popular Iwata Asks feature. “Nintendo keeps a wealth of materials related to its past games, up to and including even original design sketches and documents,” said Nintendo PR director Marc Franklin. “Preserving these games lets us reintroduce them to new players while giving older gamers a chance to relive their glory days.”
While Franklin didn’t go into detail about how Nintendo was preserving its history, we’ve seen the fruits of said preservation already – such as the original Legend of Zelda concept art. So clearly, the Big N is doing something right.
Videogame preservation is an incredibly important topic that is all too rarely discussed. It’s good that the Big Three have plans to preserve their history, but what about smaller studios, or studios that go out of business? This is gaming’s past and soul, and we need to think about what we’re doing with it.
Check out the full thing at Gamasutra.