Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Keeping Old Games Intact

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 2 Aug 2011 12:00
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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.

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