back to article Almost all classic US video games 'critically endangered'

Many of the games released in the USA that we grew up with and love are out of print, which is a bummer for those keen to preserve and chronicle the nation's computing past. Following some research, the Video Game History Foundation this week concluded 87 percent of classic games published in America are "critically endangered …

  1. DS999 Silver badge

    Even if the old software/ROMs were available

    Not having the original controls, and emulators that don't work properly or run too fast / too slow make them no fun to play. It seems to be impossible to get a good joystick these days. You definitely can't get one that's the equal of the ones the old arcade games had, but even getting one that's of the same quality as Atari 2600 joysticks is pretty difficult nowadays.

    And nevermind games that had controls other than a joystick.

    Not being able to get the original ROMs is a blessing in disguise, because when you try to actually play one of these games you'll get frustrated in minutes by how the shitty controls don't work like they should or how everything is moving in slow motion or at warp speed (and sometimes both depending on how much is happening on the screen)

    I've got a friend who has a few of the original arcade cabinet games that are still working, and he has played with just about every emulator there is. He gave up on them, and that's why he spend thousands on the original arcade versions because everything out there sucks. I think the people who don't think they suck aren't old enough to played the games when they were new so they don't know what they were missing. They just assume "well this kinda sucks but that's what I would expect for something that was running on a few KB of memory on a 1 MHz CPU, and my dad talking about how great it was is just because he had really low expectations". They don't know how good some of that old school stuff really was running on the original hardware.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: They don't know

      Yeah, wagon wheels used to be loads bigger too, right?

      1. cookieMonster Silver badge

        Re: They don't know

        And have you seen the size of a curleyworley these days? Its a bloody scandal !!

        Old man, cause I remember being able to buy a bag of “broken biscuits” for 2p

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          Mrs Brady

          You were lucky to have broken biscuits, I was 36 before I saw a banana, and got married in a wedding dress made from parachute silk. And the council makes me pay to have my grass cuttings taken away these days. It's not like it used to be under that nice Mr Eden.

    2. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

      Re: Joysticks and other controls

      You can get joysticks and other controls that are exactly the same as the ones fitted to arcade cabinets. For example:

      I have one here, and it makes MAME so close to the original experience. Well worth the money.

      I've not yet found a good rotary controller, but to be honest I've not tried that hard.


    3. msknight

      Re: Even if the old software/ROMs were available

      I gave up on things as well. The most recent example was American McGee's Alice whereas the protection system prevents me running it on the OS because the patches made the old CD protection fail. There is a command that can be run on Windows 7, I think, but even then it was a pain and I worry that the CD hasn't got much life left in it.

      I did write a physical letter to Andrew Wilson of EA games, to make patches available on their web site for people to play the older games without having to cope with the copy protection, but I didn't get a response.

      If the manufacturers/studios are not engaged then you have to resort to hacking anyway. Either that or the "no CD" hacks which, themselves, are a risk.

      I think we should just resign ourselves to the fact that many games are just going to die because even though the companies aren't making any money from these titles any more, they still don't want other people to continue to enjoy the legacy of games. They'd rather we continue to spend money on the new stuff.

  2. Dinanziame Silver badge

    Hardware is a problem too

    I remember playing those oldies from my youth. Very often you could not play them on a modern computer, or, frustratingly, you could play it until the single timed sequence in the game — e.g. crossing a labyrinth without being caught by enemies — which due to the increase in processor speed had to be done perfectly in the 0.1 seconds before you got caught. Yes, I mean you, Space Quest V.

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Internet Archive

    Once Nintendo works out how to get that closed, it'll be game over.

    Note to El Reg: Even though the study was for US games, the same goes for other countries, it's not just a US thing.

  4. heyrick Silver badge

    My gaming experience

    Download some ROMs of dubious legality to run in an emulator.

    Realise that I suck as much as an adult as I did as a child, and the incessant happy tunes are every bit as annoying as I remembered.

    Give up, do something else...

  5. Winkypop Silver badge

    If you live near Gloucestershire UK

    There’s always The Cave.

    Belvedere Mill, Chalford, Gloucestershire, GL6 8NS

    Great YouTube channel too.

    1. Peter-Waterman1

      Re: If you live near Gloucestershire UK

      Went to this over the Christmas holiday, £10 to get in and then all the machines are free to get in. I took my daughter along, she loves obbies, and I thought she would find it fun. We had to leave after 5 mins, and I didnt get a chance to get stuck in, shame as I think I could have spent hours there.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actually people are pretty good at archiving games

    If you don't like Copyright law, just lobby to get it changed to 50 years after publication.

    It's very difficult to legally preserve games, but a lot of people are doing so anyway... FPGA and emulation are amazingly high quality. There are reproduction third party controllers for many consoles. I don't think anything practical would change here (maybe someone wants to sell something commercially?)

    The problem is that a lot of games companies went bankrupt, so it's hard to say who owns what. I don't think TV and film are in a better state... I'm pretty sure you can't legally purchase and view more than 13% of films either. Though much of it is on YouTube anyway.

    In any case, modern games with server integration are mostly impossible to preserve, so don't worry about the classic games that already are "available".

    1. OhForF' Silver badge

      Re: Actually people are pretty good at archiving games

      just lobby to get it changed to 50 years after publication

      I'd go a step further and ask for copy right to expire once the right holder doesn't publish the protected content for more than 3 years (and using reasonable conditions like price can't be higher than 5 times the orignial price adjusted for inflation).

      If their own estimate is it is no longer commercially viable to publish the content they won't be loosing anything.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Agreed. And that should extend to all software that is no longer supported.

        Like Windows 95. Office 2000.

        Or hey, Windows 7.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          The problem with software is many and varied, from still using important parts of the code in later and current projects to some of the code in the old s/w being licenced from 3rd parties who may still be actively using it. Maybe copyright ought to be more like patents and the clock starts ticking from date of first publication.

      2. SonofRojBlake

        Not wishing to defend them but...

        I can see why they might want to hold on to the rights. Nobody predicted, in e.g. 1982, that within 30 years there'd be (a) widely available emulation (b) widely available reproduction controllers and (c) mobile as a platform for games, which would lend itself to the short, ephemeral experiences common in early 80s arcade games. So games that might have laid fallow for decades are suddenly marketable again. And who's to say when their time will come?

        1. ChrisC Silver badge

          Re: Not wishing to defend them but...

          Well yes, but the flipside to that argument is that, unless the rights holder is benevolent enough to pull back the copyright curtain and let people use their stuff for free, the more financially-motivated (some might say greedy) rights holders will *never* do that of their own free will because, at some undetermined point in the future, there might be a chance - so slender you need an electron microsope to see it - that it could be monetized again...

          1. J. Cook Silver badge

            Re: Not wishing to defend them but...

            Indeed; One needs to look at the once Titan of gaming Atari, which now only exists as just a bunch of IP under a name, held by people that are not good at using it...

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Not wishing to defend them but...

              Even better (or worse, depending on your point of view), as with Commodore, the IP was sold off in different ways to different companies over time and it's not even all owned by the same company. If you hunt around for the stories, there are multiple companies claiming to be "Atari" or "Commodore" and are fighting over IP and trademarks to this day,

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Actually people are pretty good at archiving games

      "The problem is that a lot of games companies went bankrupt, so it's hard to say who owns what. I don't think TV and film are in a better state... I'm pretty sure you can't legally purchase and view more than 13% of films either. Though much of it is on YouTube anyway."

      I think the first part is at least part of the answer to the last part. Rights, in some case, have transferred so many times through bankruptcies, mergers, take-evers etc that in many case, the "rights owners" don't actually know what they own.

      Here's a relevant BBC News story from last week: Forgotten Jack Hilton book to be republished after bartender's discovery. In this case it passed down via two wills to a person who had no idea she was now the rights holder.

  7. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

    With games there's also the loss of the source code. A lot of recorded music from the last sixty years still exists as multi-track masters, which is broadly analogous to source code from games. Most of that game code has been lost though.

    For example, the code to Strife - a brilliant first person shooter and adventure game - was lost by the studio. Thankfully it was based on the Doom engine, and with some of the original developers it was recreated. But for most games that's unlikely to happen.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      "which is broadly analogous to source code from games"

      That would be the notation, would it not? How much of the original sheet music for that stuff still exists?

      But, yes, so much source code has been lost that it's really rather depressing.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        6502, Z80, and 68K assembly language is self-documenting.

      2. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

        Although sheet music is a better analogy than multi-track masters, most recorded music never gets documented. Many musicians either don't know music notation or rarely use it even when they do know it.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          ...and the sheet music is only a rough guide to what was recorded and released anyway. In programming terms, the sheet music is probably more like a flow chart than code :-)

  8. Blackjack Silver badge

    Wait... you can borrow movies from libraries? Any REG reader has ever done that? Cause it sounds quite nice actually.

    Borrow a movie a week and watch it in a classroom or with a group of friends.

  9. deadlockvictim

    Macintosh Garden

    For those who used Macs in the 1980s & 1990s, there is the Macintosh Garden.

    Install a Macintosh emulator like mini vMac, Basilisk II or Sheepshaver and the old software there can be played.

    The Internet Archive also has a browser emulator for running old software.

  10. PRR Bronze badge

    > They can be found on eBay, in second-hand stores, or pirate download websites, or loaned from a pal, for instance. It's that nearly nine in ten, according to the history foundation, are not in release. Contrast that with the piles of movies, books, and other media you can still legally get hold of today, even if they are decades old.

    What are these "books"?

    More than 9 of 10 books from my lifetime are NOT "in release". Under US tax code, unsold books are a drag on profits, the old "back catalog" does not exist. Sure I can go in used-book stores, eBay and ABE, and stuff scanned to Russian and Indian download sites, or my pals. But is that "in release"?

    Movies: it is amazing what is turning up on YouTube, either as scratchy old transfers or spiffy ad-supported releases. It's A Mad Mad Mad World, at full length, with piss-breaks as needed, at my pleasure?? Who knew? And TMC and Library Of Congress have done good preservation. But the vast majority of movies in my lifetime exist maybe as flaky VHS on eBay, more likely rotting in deep vaults.

    I'm not even sure "copyright" is the reason, for books or software. Liberal Canada was life plus 50, is going to life plus 70. The early Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are just becoming available again as quasi-legal downloads. (Legal 200 miles north of here, but I have to send my dog over the border to smuggle The House On The Cliff ebook into the US.)

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