Before we begin, I’m going to request that you watch this video. Extra Credits is an excellent publication and I can’t suggest it highly enough.
There are a lot of people devoted to making sure older games are still playable. Both out of the industry, such as the System Shock 2 Patch Prodject: http://pc.gamespy.com/articles/122/1226217p1.html and of course the gentlemen who did Black Mesa. As well as inside the industry, such as the Monkey Island 1 & 2 remakes that preserve the ability to go into the original game at any time.
That said, I noticed nobody has brought up another means of game preservation, and that is the ‘Lets Play’
A ‘Lets Play’ doesn’t preserve the physical feeling of playing the game, but rather of watching someone play it. This is a mixed bag. The downside is of course that you aren’t actually preserving the game itself, because you can’t play it for yourself. The upside is that you can preserve it easier in video format and you can record somebody’s reactions to playing game.
Of course the downside is tragic, and we should make every attempt to preserve the original games, but there are some times where that’s simply not feasible without recoding the game from scratch on modern hardware. We can preserve an old Tomy Tutor and its games, but that would also be fairly inaccessible to the average person, like they discussed about seeing Starry Night.
Lets Play is either a video or a text & picture format, which we have decades of experience of learning how to preserve, and can be accessible to anybody interested in it. You can see the core gameplay and, as a designer, you get the input of seeing somebody’s reaction to it. This gives you a different type of value.
You could argue that it’s not comparable, but it would be vastly superior than losing them altogether. It would be better to have found a script for the original ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang’ (1906) in addition to what we have of its remnants, than simply to have had the remnants.
One of my favourite Lets Plays right now is GameCenter CX, which is a well produced show that has a professional comedian who loves games [but is not very good at them] attempting to beat old classic titles. It’s entertaining and gives you a good view of the games, though it is not uninterrupted gameplay. It is subtitled from Japanese, but here’s some examples:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9fg6DJotb4 – Phoenix, an older Famicom title that has a lot of interesting designs, including finding secret warps as a core mechanic.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmyE3TpOglE – The classic Super Mario World, Note that this man is not good at games and your inner child will yell at him at the beginning. But Part 2 has an excellent ending that you have to see.
Most LP simply follow the format of a player playing the game and talking over their gameplay. The nice thing about this is that anybody can do it and, in fact, many people have. A simple youtube search of ‘lets play’ is very revealing. Here’s one example:
Not all Lets Plays are video though, This is a playthrough of Phantasy Star one.
The player took the original story in Phantasy star, and added his prose to it. The result is the original game’s story and world with the added layer of depth that this player felt was there while playing. The original games has very few lines of dialogue and while this is more interesting if you’ve played the original, it is still accessible to anybody who wants to read it.
If we can keep an archive of the original games, we should. If we can adjust them to work on modern hardware, we should do that in addition to keeping the original. And if we want to make sure they can get into every household that has an interest in them, this would be a valuable tool to add, not replace, to our current plans. Especially for niche or ‘bad’ games that nobody has any passion to update to modern hardware.