The VGHF has built up an archive of gaming history and makes it available online

Super Sushi Pinball Machine, a game that doesn’t feature sushi prominently, and never actually launched. It was intended as Sony’s second game in the US, intended for the NES at a time when such news wouldn’t have melted the brains of console diehards, and was marketed in video game magazines for over a year. “This is a game that was last seen by anyone at a trade show in 1990,” said Frank Cifaldi, founder of the Video Game History Foundation. “It just disappeared from the world.”

Until Cifaldi found it in the basement of Ed Semrad, the retired editor-in-chief of Monthly electronic gaming. “One day, when I was planning a trip to Chicago, I just took my chance and … he invited me to his basement,” Cifaldi said. In that basement, Cifaldi found boxes of video game history: cartridges containing preview prototypes, marketing materials, photos and more.

There are many more cellars like Semrad’s in the United States, filled with treasures from video game history that Cifaldi has dedicated his entire career to finding. And with its new digital library initiative, the VGHF hopes to share that treasure with the masses.

Founded in 2017 by Cifaldi, the Video Game History Foundation always intended to build a digital library. “Most of us who study and write about video game history grew up on the Internet,” Cifaldi said. “And I thought a good source for studying the history of video games should be online.”

When people think about video game preservation, they typically think about saving cartridges and discs. With a name like the Video Game History Foundation and a mission of “preserving, celebrating, and educating the history of video games,” you could be forgiven for assuming that its purpose is to save real games before cartridges break or a publisher closes a digital storefront. But for the VGHF, preserving physical media doesn’t always mean saving one Super Mario Bros. cartridge from 1985. In fact, this is not one of the foundation’s main concerns. “In my opinion, at least for old things, it’s a solved problem,” Cifaldi said.

Of course, Cifaldi doesn’t mean “problem solved” in the sense that there are no longer concerns that there will always be access to older games and hardware. The VGHF recently published a study showing that more than 80 percent of games from 2010 and before are ‘critically endangered’. Rather, he meant that there are other interest groups doing a much better job than what one would traditionally think of as “video game preservation.”

“We don’t have a complete snapshot of how people responded to games in their time”

“We are not going to do better than the groups that do that [preserve game software],” he said. “But what [those people] What we can’t do is gain the trust of the man who walked away Monthly electronic gaming and get invited into his cellar. That’s where we try to fill our niche.”

At the heart of this niche is the idea that a game’s software is merely part of a larger story, and the VGHF would focus its efforts on finding the materials to tell that broader story. “The big problem I had in my own research is that… we don’t have a complete snapshot of how people responded to games in their time,” he said.

Video game magazines help shape that snapshot. The VGHF has a collection of approximately 8,000 journals across 200 publications that it is trying to scan and upload as part of its new digital library tool. (And that is exactly what the foundation has managed to catalogue. The VGHF also houses a number of trade journals, specialist and foreign magazines that it has not yet searched.) “What we are building is a digital representation of a physical archive” , Cifaldi said. “We want you to read video game magazines, and we want all the text in them to be searchable. That sounds like something that can be solved very easily, but it is not.”

In addition to the technical difficulties associated with digitally parsing magazines with layouts that resemble “vomit” on a page, Cifaldi must thread a fine needle in copyright protection and fair use laws. “We’re pushing the boundaries a little bit, in the sense that we’re bringing things to market where there might not be as clear copyright rules,” Cifaldi said.

Sharing an issue of a long-out-of-print magazine on the Internet can sometimes feel like playing a game with the magazine’s publisher. “Every time someone writes a headline on a blog, ‘Hey, you can read every issue of it.’ Nintendo Power“Nintendo’s lawyers email the Internet Archive, and then they’re gone until someone re-uploads them three months later,” Cifaldi explains. “We want to build something more robust. Where we can say, ‘No, this is ours. We own this. This is our magazine where this is fair use.’”

Creating this archive of materials like a library – an institution that similarly lets people access copyrighted material for free – is no guarantee against a Digital Millennium Copyright Act request when a rights holder’s lawyers come knocking. But Cifaldi hopes it will show enough good faith for publishers to work with the VGHF to ensure that while materials may not be freely accessible to everyone, they are not completely inaccessible to those who don’t know where to go ‘to look’.

And by ‘look’ Cifaldi means piracy.

“That’s our only resource for a lot of video game history,” he said. “So a big part of this library concept is building something that hopefully makes us a little less reliant on whisper networks from gaming history. I just don’t think that’s sustainable.”

VGHF’s ​​digital library is not limited to magazines; it also contains the personal collections of developers and other industry professionals, providing insights not only into an individual’s career, but also into broader trends in the industry at the time. One of these collections is by Mark Flitman, a former producer who worked on licensed games such as WWF rawthe MLB brawl series and several anime games. The VGHF video announcing the digital library used Flitman’s work as an example.

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a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Images: The Video Game History Foundation’s Mark Flitman Collection

“I think what will get people excited about the Mark Flitman Collection is that this is a snapshot of what it took to work with licensees in the early ’90s and create a video game that meets their standards,” said Cifaldi . “Bringing in these special collections that are truly in-depth snapshots of a career will inspire the best stories.”

And while Cifaldi hopes he’ll forever have cellars to plunder, he realizes that as time goes on, such opportunities will diminish, if not disappear entirely. He cites technology as one of the threats to future conservation efforts. Increased security and the use of proprietary software tools make it more difficult and less likely for developers to take valuable documents with them once they leave a company or retire.

“Most of the things we have from the past came about more or less by accident,” he said. “People put things in a box and forget about it. We no longer have physical things that we put in boxes. We don’t even keep things offline anymore. We don’t put things on our hard drives. We just rely a little on the cloud.”

“Most of the things we have from the past are kind of accidental.”

However, some of the problems of the modern video game industry, such as increased consolidation and reduced access to out-of-print games, Cifaldi reluctantly sees as a potential “good side” of game preservation. “We’re now in a situation where it’s in every company’s best interest to preserve their own work, because remasters are now just a household name,” Cifaldi said. It’s a double-edged sword, however, because the material companies hold onto is typically not released to the public for research.

Entropy is another obstacle hindering the work of the VGHF. “People throw things away,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that when I meet someone and ask if he’s been holding onto something, nine times out of 10 he’ll tell me about the time he threw it all away.”

According to Cifaldi, the future of video game preservation, at least the kind that VGHF does, will depend on people making intentional choices about preserving things. “You almost have to realize in advance that someone will care about you someday,” he said. “It is very difficult to recognize that, but I think it has to be done. That should be your first step.”

However, the second step requires some courage.

“Everything is extremely corporate and proprietary now, so it’s very difficult to steal things, but you have to do it anyway.”

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