Eric Kaltman's blog

Current Game Preservation is Not Enough

(Portuguese translation, courtesy of Artur Weber)
This post is a distillation of some current thoughts on game preservation (extending to software preservation) that arose from a presentation I gave at Stanford two weeks ago. Video of that talk is here. The discussion in this post is a little more advanced and focuses mainly on the last 10-15 minutes of the talk.  I have also posted a link to another presentation I gave at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in February. This earlier one is exclusively about the issues with standard game preservation. If you are unfamiliar with this whole topic, definitely check it out.
TLDR; The current preservation practices we use for games and software need to be significantly reconsidered when taking into account the current conditions of modern computer games. Below I elaborate on the standard model of game preservation, and what I’m referring to as “network-contingent” experiences. These network-contingent games are now the predominant form of the medium and add significant complexity to the task of preserving the “playable” historical record. Unless there is a general awareness of this problem with the future of history, we might lose a lot more than anyone is expecting. Furthermore, we are already in the midst of this issue, and I think we need to stop pushing off a larger discussion of it.

An Abundance of Avalon-Hill

It's been a few months, but the collection spotlight is now back.  I'm starting off with a large scoop of photos and a mild sprinkling of historical...sprinkles.  Think of it as a scrumptious classic game sundae.  Today's focus is the cover art of Avalon-Hill's Microcomputer Games Division, though I promise the art and games are more intriguing than their publisher's bland name.

Box Art Aesthetics: Board Games

Early games suffered from an apparent disconnection between a title's intended narrative content and the reality of the played experience. I say "intended narrative" because many early works provided only a cursory, and predominantly overlooked, attempt at a narrative framing of gameplay. The box art and inserts (manuals, goodies and such) provided an introduction to the game world before a player dove into the digital realm.  From my memory, I rarely recall looking through all the ancillary dirt surrounding my soon-to-be nugget of computer entertainment. However, the tradition of providing packaged extensions of the game's narrative space continues to this day in limited editions and pre-order specials. As a cataloguer of this material I rarely interact with the games in a digital space. I am circumscribed to a physical and textual relationship with the material and the game packaging forces me to confront arguments relating to the "whole package"; judging a game by its box art and tantalizing screenshots alone. The post below explores the concept of "box art rhetoric" as it relates to the presentation of board-game-like computer games.

Hardware Delivery

 The warehouse-like nature of this cataloging project just increased dramatically.  We received the first four pallets of hardware last week, which represent a little less than a quarter of the total holdings in the Cabrinety Collection. The photos below just give a small taste of what we are dealing with here. Since the task ahead is rather daunting, a twitter feed will now be running and asking for some help in identifying certain confusing artifacts. 


Some Old Printed Material

Recent economic doldrums are affecting numerous sectors of the publishing industry. Many large newspapers are folding, and print media in general appears on the ropes.  The closing of Electronic Gaming Monthly the other week is probably the most prominent, but certainly not the first, video game publication to succumb to financial malaise.  Publishing is always a fickle business, especially in the current moment, and instead of focusing on modern problems, I'm going to steer back to the past. The collection here, aside from the thousands of games, is also graced with computer and game magazines stretching back to the early days of the PC.

Old Paradigms and a Podcast

This post is an extension of my previous entry on financial games, not because it deals wholly with that section of early gaming, but instead that it highlights a certain perspective that I feel modern games have not adequately addressed; the potential for the medium to inform and shape general perceptions of both complex real world systems, and historical events.  I'm aware there are many games that currently deal with both of these concepts, but I have been continually struck by the large range of subject matter present in software from the collection and the utter lack of similar focus in the modern game-scape.  The items presented below will hopefully highlight what may be considered a spurious claim, that certain uses of games as communicative devices (both as vessels for history and relevant social issues) have fallen by the wayside in popular game culture.

All Style: Early Psygnosis Games and Box Art

Looking through boxes and boxes of games all day, certain covers and companies begin to stick out and rise above the tide of their more "normal" and "artisticly void" contemporaries.  One such company, Psygnosis, is generally always a pleasure to behold with its colorful complex cover illustrations and equally compelling screenshots. Founded in Liverpool in 1984 by Ian Hetherington and Jonathan Ellis, Psygnosis was known for its intense graphical presentation and technical excellence.  The company's logo, a white and purple owl head, became a hallmark of the first generation Playstation and was attached to several seminal titles including the WipeOut series, Destruction Derby, and the less famous Colony Wars.

Financial Woes

In thinking about what to post, I was debating many different topics, most having to do with some company's history or maybe a specific box motif from the mid-80s. Then I opened a storage container that seemed to crystalize the post-to-be in my mind and tie in two very important trends from the modern newscape. The first being the impending collapse of the capitalist system, and the second, the rise in videogame sales.

More Nintendo Goodness

Although I have a good deal of posts in the pipe that are more edifying to the history of video games, it's going to be a little bit longer.  So in the mean time I figure I'd share with you one of my favorite Nintendo finds of late.  The 1990 Nintendo Power Game Calendar, rife with daring, intrigue, and terrible looking 3D monstrocities. Won't you take a look?

Errant Nintendo Licensing: Parties, Cereal, and School

Working through the collections provides some rather weird challenges to the discipline of library science.  An entire segment of the collection is devoted to items termed as realia, basically commercial products tied to video game concepts or characters.  They don't fit on shelves very well, and the exact means of how to preserve these detritus of commercial culture are fraught with an internal debate about their validity to humanity. I think everything should be remembered or recorded fastidiously, but then again I get a thrill out of looking at old Nintendo marketing crud, and I work in a library. That said, these items make my inner child awaken anew and crave some tasty morsels of the past.
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