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Preserving Virtual Worlds 122

Posted by Soulskill
from the how-will-they-play-starcon-2-in-2150 dept.
The Opposable Thumbs blog has an interview with Jerome McDonough of the University of Illinois, who is involved with the Preserving Virtual Worlds project. The goal of the project is to recognize video games as cultural artifacts and to make sure they're accessible by future generations. Here McDonough talks about some of the technical difficulties in doing so: "Take, for example, Star Raiders on the Atari 2600. If you're going to preserve this, you've got a couple of problems. The first is that it is on a cartridge that is designed to work on a particular system that is no longer manufactured. And as long as you've got a hardware dependency there, you're really not going to be able to preserve this material very long. What we have been looking at is how feasible is it for things that fundamentally all have some level of hardware dependency there — even Doom has dependencies on DLLs with an operating system, and on particular chipsets and architectures for playing. How do you take that and turn it into something that isn't as dependent on a particular physical piece of hardware. And to do that, you need information about that platform. You need technical specifications that allow you to basically reproduce a virtualization that may enable you to run the software in its original form in the future. So what we're trying to do is preserve not only the games, but preserve the knowledge that you would need to create a virtualization platform to play the game."
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Preserving Virtual Worlds

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  • Oh, please.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:10AM (#32650412)

    even Doom has dependencies on DLLs with an operating system, and on particular chipsets and architectures for playing. How do you take that and turn it into something that isn't as dependent on a particular physical piece of hardware. And to do that, you need information about that platform. You need technical specifications that allow you to basically reproduce a virtualization that may enable you to run the software in its original form in the future

    If there are two things that any "computer" with enough power and memory has, it's a port of Doom and a port of vi. What you need is this magical thing that iD released on December 23, 1997.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:10AM (#32650414)

    While this is an interesting archival problem, there is no indication that a sentencing element of preservation has occurred. Not all data is _worth_ preserving in the sense of accurate indexation, availability, maintaining and medium cycling.

    I'm more interested in the sentencing criteria for preservation of electronic culture. My suspicion is that from an archival stand point most is ephemera which would best be preserved or not preserved by leaving it up to non-archivists.

  • by AffidavitDonda (1736752) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:32AM (#32650510)

    By now, a lot of these programs where kept alive by the fan base. Emulators are available for lots of old 8bit machines.
    For example I found several emulators for my old TI 99/4A, complete with cartridges of games and applications. Even single pieces of hardware where available, like the speech box and expansion box, which as a kid I wasn't able to afford at the time.

    So what I guess they should do, is to store source codes (often available, since abandoned by the producers), and all the information of the hardware, chipsets etc, that one would need to built an emulator on some new hardware. Maybe it would even be possible to build a kind of "general emulator", that needs only to be fed with hardware information.

  • by VennData (1217856) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:32AM (#32650512)
    ...except for the Library of Alexandria problem.
  • by tp_xyzzy (1575867) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:43AM (#32650546)

    Obviously anyone preserving those games will need permission from original authors. Good web sites just ask for the permission... Guess it's a small job tracking down people who actually wrote the games, but there are sites like that existing and they do ask for the permissions..

    The only problems will be finding all the persons needed. Many game authors have contracts with publishers that are exclusive, so the number of people that need to be found to do this is quite large. There often is not any single person that can give those needed permissions, but it need to be done together with author and the publisher.

  • by bencollier (1156337) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:46AM (#32650560) Homepage
    Preserving the software is one thing, but the experience of running one of these programs on the original hardware is considerably different.

    With Star Raiders, for instance, the joystick is necessary to enjoy the same experience as an original user. Arguably the boot up sequence too and the CRT monitor.

    Another example: "Daredevil Dennis" on the BBC Micro. The internal speaker on the system produces the sounds. Good luck reproducing that efficiently. And just the reality of sitting in front of the machine itself, loading the program from 5.25" disk and using the original keyboard to play the game completely alters the whole thing.

    - not to mention the fact that an emulation of the hardware is going to be imperfect.
  • by wildstoo (835450) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @05:24AM (#32650734)
    From TFA:

    "From there we want to start looking at how effectively we can preserve these things using emulation software. One of the basic tenets of digital preservation is you want to leave the original bitstream intact. For those cases where we've got a binary, executable form of the game like Mystery House, if I'm going to provide access I basically have to run an emulator of some kind."

    MAME is probably the most famous and widely used "game preservation" project in existence. The whole point of MAME is to re-implement obsolete arcade hardware and software as accurately as possible. Making the games playable is not the focus of the MAME project. It's been wildly successful, with lots of clever people reverse-engineering a lot of old hardware, and exceptionally rare games and hardware being documented and preserved.

    MAME does "leave the original bitstream intact" as they put it. Getting accurate ROM or hard drive dumps is the entire point. Sure, MAME only handles arcade hardware, but there are plenty of other emulators out there for old gaming/computer systems, and people have spent a long time archiving software sets for these systems (Aminet, etc).

    Basically, I'm finding it hard to see the difference between the emulation/preservation/source port culture we have now and what these guys are doing, with the exception that they are somehow more "credible" or "legitimate" because they're a university project. Their methodologies might be more formalized, and they're receiving government funding, but their goals are identical to those of the thousands of people already involved in emulation and archiving of obsolete hardware and software.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @05:41AM (#32650824) Journal

    Doom is the ultimate example of JUST how to preserve a virtual world. By releasing the source code iD has decoupled it from OS/Hardware and ensured its continued survival.

    So Doom is NOT an example of how hard it is to preserve a game but rather an example of just how to make sure a game survives.

    On the whole, don't use success stories as an example of how not to do something.

  • by roguegramma (982660) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:54AM (#32651154) Journal

    Digital Rights Management schemes will make it really hard soon to emulate the hardware and media.

    That is why I believe that unless a non-protected copy of the game/media is submitted to the Library of Congress, or a similar insitution in your country, the game/media should lose all protection by copyright law and DMCA.

    Just a thought.

  • Legality (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sodafox (1135849) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @07:11AM (#32651238)
    I'm not a laywer, but as long as corporations keep their software patents and copyrights enforced, this will be a difficult task. It may take hundreds of hours of research and hard work to develop a virtualisation or emulation platform, but if Nintendo or Sony don't like the idea, then they can legally stop you, regardless of your motives.
  • Even without source code, It's called FUCKING EMULATION

    Until the companies that control exclusive rights in these games start attacking emulator maintainers under theories of circumvention and/or contributory infringement. Besides, with Moore's Law shifting focus from speed to number of cores, I see it becoming likely that the Xbox 360 and PLAYSTATION 3 won't be emulated any time soon.

  • by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @08:08AM (#32651516) Homepage Journal

    I can't go out and buy a punchcard computer, but I can go and buy a 300 year old book.
    Commit it to paper, it's the only proven archive method.

    And here I thought punch cards were paper!?

  • Re:WoW? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BobMcD (601576) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @09:53AM (#32652460)

    Short of looking at screenshots and reading old guidebooks, there's no way of returning to those worlds as they just don't exist any more.

    Which parallels the real world perfectly, doesn't it?

    If one wanted to know what your hometown looked like in 1885, you'd need a photograph. If you'd rather view your birthday party five years ago, there hopefully exists video of that event. I'm not certain that video games actually deserve more preservation than reality does.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @10:12AM (#32652708) Journal

    Ephemera is actually highly valued by archivists. The stuff that is so common that people don't think it's worth preserving is what gives historians the greatest insight into daily life.

    It's the same problem you see with collectibles. The stuff that everyone had and threw away is what becomes a highly valuable collectible. Items that are marketed as collectibles end up having no value since everyone keeps them.

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