You know, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with making old games available to new audiences. There might be something wrong with sprucing up the artwork and adding a ridiculous 3D gimmick and charging full price, mind. And there may be something equally wrong with completely remaking a game (or film) with current technology and a story more fitting of contemporary trends and morals. There’s definitely something wrong with re-releasing an old movie or TV series with new-fangled CG effects that cover up half the action, Lucasfilm.

The rather large problem with video games as opposed to films, books and music is that they’re immovably attached to the various technology one needs to experience them even on the most basic level. A book is timeless as long as at least one person in each generation makes a copy, and as long as human language doesn’t devolve back into a sequence of grunts and clicks. Music needs a player of some kind, but a tune can be recreated on any instrument, and if all else fails you can always hum it. Even films you could still get some idea of by holding the celluloid up to the light and scrolling it past your face really really quickly. Video games don’t have any of that. You can’t recreate the experience of a video game to a friend by telling them what happens or humming the theme tune, you need the disk, a TV and a console at the very least.

And this is a problem. It’s a cultural problem. Because technology is a thing that changes on an almost day to day basis, especially young technology. In the same span of time in which you could find any movie on VHS tape, video games went from cassette tapes to floppies to cartridges to CDs to DVDs to direct download (depending on how desperately out of touch your local video rental place is). You could put a video tape movie release from 1985 into a VCR from 2000 and still see the film on it. It might be a bit jumpy and a bit staticky by that point but the VCR would have a damn good try. You’d have considerably less success if you tried to jam Fantasy World Dizzy in the original cassette format into your PS3.

Not that I’m going to attempt to argue that cassette tapes were a superior format. That pursuit would most definitely not be worth the candle. My point is, what stands in the way of video games taking their place as another facet of the beautiful shining jewel that is human artistic accomplishment is the fact that they’re harder than any other format to archive in any meaningful way. Sure, some of you may still have a collection of Commodore 64 classics on tape in their original boxes, but while every C64 cassette player lies mouldering in a landfill somewhere they’re just so much rattley plastic. You just have to rely on publishers to port their old properties into a format new consoles can read, and that’s a selective process at best.

This is important because the history of any medium is important. He who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it, after all, and I can’t even begin to count the lessons modern games apparently need to learn from the past. Imagine how many historical literary classics might get lost over the generations if the English language was completely revised and recreated from the ground up every five or six years, and publishers had to pick and choose what to translate and reprint. That’s exactly what happens to gaming technology.


Some publishers can occasionally be relied upon to release old ports of their games on digital distribution networks, or a weighty compilation of 16-bit titles on a single disk. Elsewhere there are many sources on the internet for abandonware (free distribution of games that publishers no longer support) and emulation, but the legality on those are iffy. No iffier, mind, than publishers who clamp down on any attempt to abandonware release their games and then never re-publish them, or do republish them “remastered” Ocarina of Time style with modern trends and graphics.

My objection is that trying to keep your old games contemporary this way, papering over every slightest wrinkle of old age every few years, is hopeless. When you preserve a game for history it has to be preserved warts and all, because the warts are just as interesting as the good bits. They create a cultural context and an impression of the time and the attitudes of the people thereof. A re-release of Ocarina of Time with smoothed-out graphics and gimmicky 3D rubbish might be nice in some ways but culturally speaking it’s virtually worthless. It’s like a colorized version of Casablanca, or CGing Shia Laboeuf into Raiders of the Lost Ark.

You may remember me getting quite excited about the planned HD re-release of Silent Hill 2, to my mind the pinnacle of the survival horror genre, and of most game storytelling in general. But I have grown concerned at reports that the developers intend to re-do the voice acting. Yes, Silent Hill 2‘s voice acting is less than stellar. Guy Cihi, the voice of protagonist James Sunderland, was an American businessman living in Japan who was only at the auditions to escort his daughter. He’d never voice acted before and never would again. But you know what, that’s a much more interesting story than some jobbing voice actor coming in, doing the lines and pestering the producer for cab fare home. That gives Cihi’s role in the game’s production an almost legendary quality. Besides, the stilted awkwardness of Silent Hill 2‘s dialogue gives the game an even more off-kilter feel that adds a lot to the intended atmosphere.

This is only partially related, but it makes me even more cross that the current console generation has basically completely fudged backwards compatibility, and it makes me additionally baffled that I’m the only one who seems to care enough to get stroppy. The PS2 had perhaps the best library of games in the entire history of the medium, but now their availability is subject to the whims of publishers and their flighty HDifying ways.

Games should be remembered, not remastered. They need an equivalent of the British Library, some organized authority apart from the publishers who keep a copy of every game ever made, in an emulated digital format that can still be played fifty years from now on our face-mounted augmented reality visors, purely in the name of cultural preservation. It could be that such an archive already exists through the combined hard drives of every gamer nerd on the internet. We just need someone who, unlike me, is willing to actually collate it rather than nag everyone else to.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is

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