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Preserving Virtual Worlds

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the how-will-they-play-starcon-2-in-2150 dept.

Software 122

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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WoW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650400)

Can I preserve my Night Elf Hunter Legolarz?

Re:WoW? (3, Interesting)

WarlockD (623872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650744)

Going to dismiss you but then I thought of Everquest. I got this old Beta 2 CD I got years ago when I played it and I just realized how much the game has changed over the years. Does anyone remember the old crappy interface it had? The horrible stat/level system?

Hell, how do you even preserve something like WoW? Even assuming you can get the server code for some kind of emulation you still run into the problem the poster stated about emulation.

Makes me worry its all futile. With all the massive architecture changes Evey 5 years or so, how do you get the money or the people dedicated to keep emulators up to date. I am very much looking at all the DOS years to be lost:P

Hell, in 50 years when I tell my grand children about this little game I played, World of Warcraft, I doubt they will ever know what I as talking about.

Re:WoW? (5, Funny)

lmcgeoch (1298209) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650808)

In my future in 50 years there will be a World of Warcraft Themepark. Where I can take my grandkids on a Zepplin ride and go on Molten Core roller coasters and get their face painted like a Tauren and go to Lady Jaina princess breakfasts.

(I like my future better)

Re:WoW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32651246)

Someone from Blizzard should read this.

Re:WoW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32652482)

In my future in 50 years there will be a World of Warcraft Themepark. Where I can take my grandkids on a Zepplin ride and go on Molten Core roller coasters and get their face painted like a Tauren and go to Lady Jaina princess breakfasts.

God. So, Disney, but with gamer geeks. *shudder*

There's just so many shades of wrong I don't know where to begin. You do realize you'd have to go outside, right? And, you know, interact with people and all.

Those rides sure look fun, but.... (2, Funny)

The Altruist (1448701) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652814)

I don't know if I could go AFK that long.

Re:WoW? (2, Informative)

QuantumLeaper (607189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650846)

WoW could be around in 50 years, you never know, they have been around 5 years already.
Losing DOS years? I doubt it, Dosbox does a good job at running old game DOS games, it may not play them all but it play a lot of them already. You also have project like MESS where you could install DOS on a virtual machine and play the game or program. I'm more interested in games like Star Wars Galaxies and others where they won't be around in the future, and will most like never get emulated.

Re:WoW? (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 4 years ago | (#32653836)

IIRC, there's a movement among SW Galaxies fans to have the game officially set up pre-NGE servers because they prefer it that way. It wasn't perfect, but it was a lot better than the more "action-oriented" crapboot.

Re:WoW? (1)

Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651206)

There's a private server called project1999 that aims to keep Everquest alive exactly as it first was :)

Re:WoW? (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652018)

And that's exactly the angle which is missing here. If by "Preserving Virtual Worlds" all you are trying to do is make sure that your old copies of 'Elite' and 'Telengard' still work, then that's one thing. How about all those online worlds which not only were never released to the public, but also were overwritten every few months by major expansions and rewrites? What if, ten years from now, someone wanted to fall off of the boats running from Freeport to Butcherblock, visit the unpurchasable Castle plot in southern Istaria, or just see the massive graveyards one pace outside of any town in Britannia? 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.

Re:WoW? (2, Insightful)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:WoW? (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652572)

Hell, how do you even preserve something like WoW?

How do you even preserve something like Woodstock? You can't. You can take all the recordings you like, but the experience of being there is ephemeral.

Re:WoW? (1)

Brumdail (1270932) | more than 4 years ago | (#32653024)

I have some friends who are working on preserving Everquest as it was in 1999... http://www.project1999.org/ [project1999.org] It takes a lot of work because without the server code and data, it will never be exactly as it was. It's amazing what people can reverse engineer out of it though.

Re:WoW? (1)

lwsimon (724555) | more than 4 years ago | (#32655658)

I had the same though. I quite EQ right after LDoN was released, and I miss it terribly. I've gone back a couple of times, but it feels cold and empty. If there were a way to preserve not just the game world, but also the community that went with it, I'd jump on that in a heartbeat.

A very nice idea (1)

GhigoRenzulli (1687590) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650404)

So when the real world is TFU, we'll have plenty of virtual worlds to play with.

Oh, please.. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Oh, please.. (4, Informative)

PatrickThomson (712694) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650492)

For the confused: This was when the source code was released, not the original game. That was way back in '93.

Re:Oh, please.. (1)

beowulfcluster (603942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650506)

He's just using Doom as an example. Granted, Doom might not be the best example since they released the source. This magical thing isn't available for all virtual worlds though.

It is the worsed example (5, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650824)

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.

Re:It is the worsed example (1, Informative)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650854)

The whole article is totally retarded... He's talking about, "hey, if only there was something that we could use to play these games so they can last." Even without source code, It's called FUCKING EMULATION...

This whole article is like "if only there were some way to put flour and water together to turn it into something edible".

IT'S FUCKING BREAD! IT HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A REALLY LONG TIME ALREADY, STOP BEING RETARDED!

Copyright; the end of Moore's law (2, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651268)

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.

Re:Copyright; the end of Moore's law (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651928)

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.

Both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 use multi-core CPUs/GPUs, which can be effectively emulated by another multi-core CPU. Furthermore, even most single-core CPUs have long been parallelized - that's where speed increase have come from since Pentium. In other words, it's possible to parallelize the execution of a single instruction stream, which implies that multicore CPUs could emulate single-core CPUs efficiently. Finally, there's always dynamic recompilation.

That said, to efficiently use an ever-increasing number of cores for any task, the PC is going to undergo a structural revolution eventually. Memory was already a bottleneck even for single-core machines, and is coming more so with multiple cores. Add the high cost of synchronization between cores and you have a problem.

I think we'll eventually switch to a dataflow-type programming paradigm, since that makes it much easier to write parallel programs, and also allows the underlaying hardware to switch away from the bottleneck-causing uniform memory space, which is pretty much mandated by C-derived languages.

Re:Copyright; the end of Moore's law (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652048)

it's possible to parallelize the execution of a single instruction stream, which implies that multicore CPUs could emulate single-core CPUs efficiently. Finally, there's always dynamic recompilation.

Is this just theoretical, or do you know of an example of where a CPU has emulated a guest CPU that executes 50 percent more instructions per second per core than the host CPU?

Re:Copyright; the end of Moore's law (2, Interesting)

Scoth (879800) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652342)

I don't think the fundamental problem is emulating the base architecture - that's pretty much a programming exercise. The problem is emulating it and having it be fast enough to be playable.

There's nothing keeping you from writing an emulation of a 64 bit Core 2 Duo for Atari 800 and booting Windows 7 on it. You'd just be there for months waiting on it to boot and swapping hundreds (thousands?) of disks for virtual memory. You can already run 64 bit guests on 32 bit hosts in some versions of qemu/VirtualBox and other emulators. It's slow, but it works if you really, really need a 64 bit architecture for something and don't have a real one.

Re:Copyright; the end of Moore's law (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652668)

The original Xbox hasn't even been emulated yet. You'd think it would be relatively easy, it being pretty much a P3 computer. Just no one seems to care.

Re:Copyright; the end of Moore's law (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32653004)

Couldn't you just virtualize the processor or use code from one of several x86 emulators? I too am surprised that nothing big has happened with Xbox emulation.

Re:Copyright; the end of Moore's law (1)

Magic5Ball (188725) | more than 4 years ago | (#32655082)

Cxbx and derivatives appear to be making progress, but are confounded by needing to re-implement and test around 400 poorly documented kernel APIs and Direct* calls. Many calls are sufficiently different from those found in their desktop Windows analogues to prevent borrowing from Wine or passing through directly to the host Windows OS. Given that the scope of the task is approximately as large as implementing Wine but with more difficult speed and multimedia requirements, I'd expect to see a generally playable Xbox emulator in another six years.

Re:Copyright; the end of Moore's law (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32655312)

The thing is: how many developers are working on this? On the Cxbx site, for instance, only 2 people are listed in the "Contact" section. For any serious work to be done, they need more developers.

Re:Copyright; the end of Moore's law (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#32655406)

>>>Until the companies that control exclusive rights in these games start attacking emulator maintainers under theories of circumvention and/or contributory infringement.

Yeah because it's really worked so far. They've really been successful in stopping me from copying everything under the sun. Oh wait. They haven't. (Holds up copies of X360 games.) ----- BTW this is why copyright was supposed to have a sunset. 14 years or 28 years and then it becomes public domain. That means tons of copies would be made, so even if the original company dies (Atari), there will still be clones in the wild. Emulators and ROMs. Maybe even hardware clones.

As for Star Raiders, I don't think there's any need to preserve it "forever". I have my doubts the next generation will want to play it. That particular product only has meaning to those of us who owned Atari 800s or Atari VCS/2600 consoles..... approximately ages 35 to 50. Once we pass away the game will have about as much relevance to the future culture as wagon wheels have in ours (i.e. virtually none).

Re:It is the worsed example (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651274)

Whoah, chill! :P He does know about emulators, which is why he says:

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.

You can't create an emulator if you don't know anything about the original hardware! So he's just trying to make an archive of info on how to create emulators for these systems. Though in future if you want to emulate these ancient systems you could just create an x86 PC emulator, then run the other emulators inside Linux or Windows on top of that, rather than create a fresh emulator for each new hardware generation, hehe.

Re:It is the worsed example (1)

valdis (160799) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651312)

You know, waving "It's called FUCKING EMULATION" around is one thing. Figuring out exactly how to actually *do* it os something else entirely. How do you emulate stuff you don't have full tech details for? What the hell is this totally undocumented code that scribbles 3 integers into a 15 year old NVidia card's control registers? Remember that there's a lot of stuff like device drivers from that era that we don't have source to emulate, and we never will. Make it kind of hard to emulate when you don't know what the emulated code actually does.

Re:It is the worsed example (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32651368)

Fucking emulation? Clearly you've had too much of Second Life.

Re:It is the worsed example (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651278)

Doom is the ultimate example of JUST how to preserve a virtual world.

Releasing source code is a very good way to keep the game accessible, but its not the best way to archive it for historical purpose, as for those you want to preserve it in a form that comes as close as possible to the original experience and a port with improved features doesn't accomplish that. Emulation is a much better choice, but still runs into issues when it comes to emulating hardware features. For example transparency in the old days was often accomplished by quickly turning a sprite on and off, thanks to a bit of delay in the display, that lead to something close to transparency, on modern LCD that stuff just looks like flickering. Input devices are also something that isn't easy to replicate, especially as they easily wear out.

Re:It is the worsed example (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652598)

Not every port has to be enhanced. Playing Chocolate Doom on Linux is much closer to the original experience than playing the DOS port on Dosbox.

Re:It is the worsed example (1)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652970)

But they haven't, quite.

Sure, the source code is open and free. But the game itself? Not so much. You won't be playing Doom to completion in 10 years without an illicit copy of the WADs.

Re:Oh, please.. (1)

freedumb2000 (966222) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650614)

Doom used DLLs? Was there even ever a Windows port?

Re:Oh, please.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650898)

Doom95, a "somewhat official" port to Windows done by Microsoft.

Re:Oh, please.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32654300)

There was Doom95 [wikia.com] , but it came out a few years after the original.

Re:Oh, please.. (1)

AdamWill (604569) | more than 4 years ago | (#32654614)

Yes. Doom 95. It was actually used in a small way by Microsoft to promote Windows 95. It was never particularly popular, though, so I had the same thought as you...the 'authentic' Doom doesn't have any DLL dependencies. Serious Doom players ran the original DOS .exe in Windows. Some still do, but many now run source ports for convenience (it's quite hard to make the original Doom run properly in current versions of Windows, most people who want to do it run it in an emulator).

Re:Oh, please.. (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652958)

This issue has been addressed already anyways. Any sort of preservation society (IE, museums) already handles items like this. The local Canadian Military Museum already has exhibits set up for the Afghanistan war, which is currently ongoing. Pretty much as soon as something happens, its making its way to an archive of some sort. I know of at least ONE museum that has a Nintendo Entertainment System and is in the process of buying a bunch of games for it. They've kept it in pristine condition.

This isn't limitted just to video games, but also TV Broadcasts, radio shows, movies, everything.

Then there is emulation, which works basically how you describe, grab the source code and make sure it runs on whatever we've got now-a-days, but anytime there is a shift in technology you have to update again. Some curators find that it's a lot less hassle having it emulated, as opposed to trying and maintain 10-20+ year old equipment, since an upgrade only comes every once in a while.

But for the most part, anything that can be preserved is being reserved. The stuff you learn dating a history major...

Archiving ephemera? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Archiving ephemera? (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651554)

What I think is worth preserving for eternity isn't the source code or emulateable binaries of a game, although that's nice too. What's worth keeping is the ambiance of a game.
Face it, how much do you really "preserve" if you get the source code to Ultima Online? Without all the players and their interaction, it's a barren world.

I believe it would be worth a lot more to posterity if someone videotaped playing these games. A documentary of a new player's rise from initial confusion to level cap, cyberfriendships and special events would be a valuable historical document, where just the game would be the archeological equivalent of an empty tomb.

Re:Archiving ephemera? (2, Interesting)

Snowmit (704081) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652310)

The point is that we don't know what's worth preserving. I mean, we probably have a few ideas here and there but we are also almost certainly wrong about what future historians will want us to have preserved.

Don't believe me?

Then why are people so bent out of shape by the burning of Sapho's works? Why do we get so excited when we discover an ancient manuscript hidden under a more recent one? Why are we so enthusiastic about the Dead Sea Scrolls? How come we keep digging through the old letters and notebooks of scientists and inventors? Why are we so sad about having lost all those early films?

History isn't just about keeping track of the stuff that the people at the time thought was important. It's often about digging through the ephemera and refuse of the past to find the stuff that gives us far more information than their disposers knew or intended. If you want to have any kind of archival program at all, then it's best to just box up the whole thing and let the archaeologists sort it out.

Re:Archiving ephemera? (1)

linebackn (131821) | more than 4 years ago | (#32653544)

>The point is that we don't know what's worth preserving.

And it is worth pointing out that games get all of the publicity. Utilities, operating systems, and boring old applications are also worth preserving because they can shed light on many aspects of computing history.

I can think of several computing platform that may never see usable emulators because there were no games to speak of for them. (Still wanting a 68k NeXT emulator)

And there were many ancient old versions of applications that were copy "protected" that have probably disappeared forever off of the face of the universe because nobody was motivated to crack the protection. (Microsoft Word for DOS version 1.x comes to mind)

Oh, and to me it seemed kind of funny they mentioned DOOM as I was playing a modern internet multi-player DOOM port just yesterday. There is a game that will live on forever, in part because it is open source.

Re:Archiving ephemera? (1)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 4 years ago | (#32653896)

"Look at this. It's worthless - ten dollars from a vendor in the street. But I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years, it becomes priceless." -- Belloq [imdb.com]

Re:Archiving ephemera? (2, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652708)

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.

Electronic media is a poor storage option (2, Interesting)

assemblerex (1275164) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650456)

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.

Re:Electronic media is a poor storage option (3, Insightful)

VennData (1217856) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650512)

...except for the Library of Alexandria problem.

Re:Electronic media is a poor storage option (1)

dhasenan (758719) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651300)

Real Men use clay tablets.

Re:Electronic media is a poor storage option (1)

Chowderbags (847952) | more than 4 years ago | (#32654156)

Or the sacking of Baghdad, destroying the greatest library of the Islamic world (which contributed a fair bit towards why the Middle East fell into technological and social stagnancy).

Re:Electronic media is a poor storage option (3, Informative)

chichilalescu (1647065) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650518)

funny. here we have a game, that works on a specific type of hardware, and a guy saying that we should wrap this game into a virtual machine and make everything readable by a generic computer (basically, pack the source of the virtual machine with the source of the game). and your best idea is to print on paper, and keep the paper.
i can see through your infinite wisdom :)

I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. But seriously now, you missed the point... they want to preserve the information in a medium independent way, not the medium.

Re:Electronic media is a poor storage option (1)

dintech (998802) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650528)

I'm confused. If I want to preserve Star Raiders, can't I just use some digital archive technology and an emulator?

Re:Electronic media is a poor storage option (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650700)

I can go and buy a 300 year old book.

But to read it as the original, you need to know the language. Which isn't just English/French/Urdu, it's the context. It's knowing what a reader 300 years ago did, and did not, know.

It's similar to the game hardware problem, just slower moving. A single volume without its infrastructure is just as unplayable.

Sometimes it isn't even that slow moving. A couple of decades ago some guys tried to do the first (second?) Mitsubishi Zero restoration. They went all over Japan interviewing surviving engineers, and copying sections of blueprints and notes the old guys had squirreled away. Then after compiling the haul, they found nobody could read 1940s technical japanese anymore. They had to do a second interview run, doing more extensive interviews with even fewer survivors.

Re:Electronic media is a poor storage option (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650724)

The problem is not the media used, the problem is to get access to all the proprietary informations needed to access and execute the game.

Re:Electronic media is a poor storage option (1)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651122)

To use Sinister Strike on Crag Boar, go to page 187225, or 314290 if the d100 rolls below your crit rate.

Re:Electronic media is a poor storage option (2, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651516)

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!?

Old games, already done. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32650488)

Not a new idea, in fact their is a whole community based on running and preserving old games.See, http://www.oldgames.nu/ [oldgames.nu] or search for abandon-ware. Their are many tools that can be used to make old games playable and even to run at the speed intended (a common problem games running too fast to be playable) The biggest problem I can see to this becoming a active/mainstream idea is the fact the copyright protection agency's will get involved and we know what kind of a mess that creates.

Re:Old games, already done. (2, Insightful)

tp_xyzzy (1575867) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Old games, already done. (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652490)

Why do we need permission from the original authors of games, but when it comes to movies or songs the ethic here is "copy it and screw the RIAA/MPAA"?

emulators by fanbase (3, Insightful)

AffidavitDonda (1736752) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:emulators by fanbase (2, Informative)

QuantumLeaper (607189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650672)

A 'general emulator' is called MESS (Multi Emulator Super System) http://www.mess.org/ [mess.org] you can play computers, consoles, and calculators, some work very well and other don't work right now. MESS supports 479 unique systems with 1,282 total system variations.

Re:emulators by fanbase (2, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652766)

I love emulators, but I've never found much use for MESS. In pretty much every case where there's a dedicated emulator for a system, it's better to use that than MESS. Jack of all trades, master of none syndrome I guess. What systems do you emulate with MESS that are not better emulated elsewhere?

Go on eBay (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650542)

There are always bunches of 2600's on eBay. That's how I got mine a few years ago (kinda curious who threw out the one I had as a kid, but, whatever)

Experience with hardware is different (2, Insightful)

bencollier (1156337) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650560)

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.

Re:Experience with hardware is different (1)

Novus (182265) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650748)

- not to mention the fact that an emulation of the hardware is going to be imperfect.

This may not be much of a problem in many cases. For example, a 90s DOS game such as Warcraft or Doom (to take two of their examples) has to be able to run on a wide array of different PCs; much of the time, you can get away by reproducing only the behaviour that hundreds of VGA cards or CPUs, for example, shared. That said, there is always the potential for trickery involving undocumented features. For example, DOSBox only recently gained support for the palette switching trick used by e.g. Lemmings [dosbox.com] .

The important part of a preservation project, in my opinion, is collecting and verifying information on the accuracy of different emulators. This can then be used to improve their accuracy.

Re:Experience with hardware is different (1)

wildstoo (835450) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651264)

You're right about the experience being different, but just because you're not sitting in your bedroom in front of your old CRT TV in the 80s (for example) doesn't mean you're not experiencing the game as the creators would have intended.

At least one emulator I have used (can't remember which) includes "system sounds", like the whirr and buzz of the disk drive, which are played while software loads. VICE, arguably the most popular C64 emulator, has "PAL mode" which makes the display more closely resemble the output on an old PAL TV.

These are nice features that can make the experience more "authentic", but how far do you go? Is MAME less valuable because it can't recreate the atmosphere of standing in a crowded arcade? Are NES emulators less accurate because they don't necessarily give you blisters on your hands?

I found a similar argument in TFA:

Some of the DOS emulators we couldn't get sound out of at all. Some of them we got something, but it wasn't the original music. We had something like six different emulators we were trying on four different platforms. And of those various combinations, I think only two of them allowed us to get the sound out of Doom perfectly.

What is "perfectly"? The music in Doom differed depending on the soundcard used. Which is the "right" sound? This goes for many old PC games that had MIDI music.

Basically, I think as long as the game is playable, using the original files, the video and audio glitch-free and the emulation as close to cycle-exact as possible, then you've done the preservation part. I think it's up to the user (the player) to recreate the ancillary aspects of the platform if they so wish.

Re:Experience with hardware is different (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651382)

These are nice features that can make the experience more "authentic", but how far do you go?

A nice intermediate step would be when emulators would include functional 3D models of the original hardware, so that you would at least get a decent impression of how that stuff looked in reality. Clicking around on a 3D model to insert a disk or module would of course still not give the same impression as the real thing, but it would at least be a hell of a lot closer then just loading a disk image.

There are of course also advertising, game manuals and gimmicks that might have shipped with a game that would need preservation.

Re:Experience with hardware is different (1)

Scoth (879800) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652506)

For me, *not* having to mess around with disks, cassettes, cables, blowing on carts, etc is one of the things I *like* about emulators. I wouldn't be pleased if I had to return to the days of waiting 5 or 10 minutes for a cassette boot error on my emulated Atari, or spend 5 minutes wiggling the virtual cartridge around in the virtual NES to get it to start up right. Would there be a "blow" button (har) or perhaps a microphone that picks up your actual blowing a la some of the DS games?

Although I suppose that's what options are for.

Re:Experience with hardware is different (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652670)

Which is the "right" sound? This goes for many old PC games that had MIDI music.

I would have thought those would be the easy ones. MIDI is device independent.

Re:Experience with hardware is different (1)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 4 years ago | (#32653984)

MIDI is probably supposed to be device independent, but for some reason it can be very different depending on the sound card used.

MESS and MAME (2, Informative)

Juju (1688) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650646)

I thought that's what MAME [www.mamedev.org] and MESS [www.mess.org] are for. Preserving old games on all kind of hardware...

Emulating, not porting, is the key. (2, Interesting)

ALoopingIcon (992589) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650648)

In the context of archiving games, accurate software emulation the whole HW underlying each game is the only solution.
Obviously it should be done in a open, portable, multiplatform way to ensure that it is a long term solution.

Mame and Mess ( mamedev.org [mamedev.org] ) has already shown that this approach is viable and practical.

How is this different from, say.. MAME? (2, Insightful)

wildstoo (835450) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:How is this different from, say.. MAME? (1)

Chelloveck (14643) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652796)

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.

The difference is, these kids have actually convinced their advisers that this is something worth college credit, or at least a couple of thesis papers. Come on, who wouldn't want a Masters degree in playing MAME? Um, excuse me, in "Preservation of Virtual Worlds". Brilliant! Wish I'd thought of it! Oh, that's right, I couldn't have; most of these games came out after I graduated... Besides, I was already majoring in pinball.

2600 Star Raiders? (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 4 years ago | (#32650840)

I know it did come out on the 2600 but sheesh, that was dire. The proper version was the 400/800 and THAT is worth preserving. Oh hang on, they already have via emulators. Next!

Will I wake up in my lvl70 dwarf in 3010? (1)

freddled (544384) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651024)

Oh my. I played WOW for a couple of years and barely got out of MC with my sanity intact. I now face the prospect of waking up in the future as my dwarf. Much as I love her, she's damned ugly and she has a big pet gorilla who smells! She's not even all-epic yet!

Preservation vs DRM (2, Insightful)

roguegramma (982660) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651154)

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 (2, Insightful)

sodafox (1135849) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Legality (1)

walshy007 (906710) | more than 4 years ago | (#32653522)

patents end in fifteen years, so emulating the hardware is legal, it's the copyright on the individual game roms that you have to worry about. Which most people seem happy to pirate anyway, just like they do music.

Emulator / Private server (1)

Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651256)

This is exactly why emulation exists. There exists software that is still fun, or at least nostalgic, but nobody hangs around to the dedicated hardware for more than a couple years. So people write an emulator for that platform for a common instruction set and as long as you've got enough excess performance power, whala! Works like a dream.

I've actually got a SNES sitting right here, but I'm too lazy to plug the thing in (don't even have a tv anymore actually) so I have an emulator for SNES on my pc, with all the games I have on hardcopy cartridge saved as roms. This way, they won't physically degrade, I don't have to use the SNES video hookup, and so I'll have my favorite games perserved, PERFECTLY, forever.

I've been thinking about MMORPGs, and games on systems like Xbox LIVE. I can understand only allowing me to play the game through their online service while its still operational, but I really think once the support is dead and the company is clearly not selling the game any more, they should put out the source code so that those who purchased it can make their own servers and keep playing if they want. All Xbox Live games are now impossible to play multiplayer modes, no matter what. How many games is that? And how long was that window where you actually could play them, a few years? It seems very shortsighted.

Re:Emulator / Private server (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | more than 4 years ago | (#32653036)

That's why you should stick with PC gaming. Look at World of Warcraft. The official servers are still there, but there are also hundreds of 3rd party servers as well. And AFAIK, Blizz hasn't made any attempt to stop them. And all you have to do is edit one little text file.

Re:Emulator / Private server (1)

walshy007 (906710) | more than 4 years ago | (#32653552)

lookup the bnetd case, they hate private servers even when it isn't costing them any money, let alone when it does.

*yawn* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32651372)

Someday maybe we will put the same efforts into preserving our world.

Virtual Worlds (1)

CFBMoo1 (157453) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651416)

It's not just games like Doom and such. There are/were programs out there that let people build things in other worlds.

* Active Worlds (Since the 1990's)
* Neverwinter Nights (All the custom modules and content)
* Second Life
* Etc.

That is just to name a few. Heck in Activeworlds I used some nice sized chunks of virtual land to build things like a full campus university, mountain hideaway, large gardens made from other materials like boulders and roof pieces, giant boulder trees, etc

Granted a lot of custom content looks like crap in these places but it's still peoples attempts to create things and use their imaginations. It's a lot of history really, granted dull every day stuff but still history.

Re:Virtual Worlds (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652102)

Second life is the interesting one to me.

If the linden should crash and users exodus the second life servers, what is the world then? Surely there are things, there are names of people who owned things (before they left, for whatever reason) but... its a wasteland, a virtual ruin.

Without the people, its simply not "second life".

You can't really say that for most of the things people are talking about. Doom is doom. The maps are what they are, unless you change them. A cyberdemon is still a cyberdemon.

Whats interesting about the virtual worlds is, that unless projects like this come along, they wont even leave ruins. Their very availability has a cost associated with it, and once that upkeep stops, the entire world vanishes.

-Steve

already done? (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 4 years ago | (#32651580)

Isn't this the exact same thing the MAME project is trying to achieve? http://mamedev.org/about.html [mamedev.org]

you FaiL It? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32651746)

We'll be able to in eternity...Romeo don't want to feel continues in a at my freelance and the Bazaar any Wdou3t: FreeBSD Become like they

A higher layer of abstraction (1)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652032)

Just incrementally back up the entire Matrix. You can roll it back a decade or two to play your Atari game.

Re:A higher layer of abstraction (1)

fortapocalypse (1231686) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652124)

Just incrementally back up the entire Matrix. You can roll it back a decade or two to play your Atari game.

I know this is a joke, but I think the general sentiment is good. In addition to just emulating the games, you really need to experience them as they were meant to be played. For example, even the effect available in Stella (a 2600 emulator) to simulate phosphorescence in old T.V. screens is awesome, but it still isn't quite the same as playing it on a real Atari with various older television models. However, emulation is at least a huge step in the right direction!

If I ever get rich (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 4 years ago | (#32652452)

I'm opening up a video game museum and will try to get every video game ever made. I'll charge admission and people can play the video games and learn about video game history.

Final Fantasy XI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32652548)

The number of servers for FF XI keep getting smaller every month. And once Square-Enix decides to close the last server I'm quite sure they won't be releasing their server source code.

All FF XI server emulation solutions so far require an active account and also require to log in POL before logging into the pirate servers. That's not good enough.

They live now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32653292)

only in my memories.

Platform independance (1)

JasonAW3 (1692670) | more than 4 years ago | (#32653576)

I don't know if anyone has considered the full implications here. If this could be applied to other types of programs, it would end having to upgrade all of your old software any time you upgraded the OS or PC itself beyond a certian point. You'd still need to get functionality upgrades and patches, as no software is absolutely perfect, but this could become an incremental cost to the consumer and a constant revenue stream for companies making the programs in the first place. They would have to only develope one set of code to be used on Mac boxes, MS Windows, Linux boxes, etc. Older programs, whose companies were bought out by other companies, could be dusted off, upgraded for the new compatibility, and sold again, adding whatever upgrades that the user would like to purchase from the company. The issue here would be corporate responsiveness to user requests for upgrades and the amount of time rquired to write the new code. People writing the code would be paid on the basis of how many users buy the new upgrades, as well as how many buy the core product in the first place. The core software would have to be pretty solid to begin with, as any upgrades would have to allow it to perform without issues on a variety of platforms. Programs sold to new users would come with all the previous upgrades built in, (up to a set yearly 'drop dead' date, being the lead date between the load up onto the media that it is being sold on, packaging and shipping, and setup at the stores. (Obviously, advertising time would be added in as well) The core program would be sold with upgrades, and a yearly update package would also be available those who already own the core package, sold on the media of their choice.

I've thought about this too (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32654312)

...and while IMO the game was craptastic, I always was impressed with the beauty of the environments in Age of Conan.

What happens when this meticulously-detailed world dies? It would be a damn shame that all the artwork and effort that went into producing it were to end up as some 1's and 0's on a couple of DVDs in Funcom's basement archive.

It's really too bad that there isn't some sort of ur-format that worlds like this can be exported to, to allow them to be re-used somehow for other settings. I'm sure it's pure fantasy for me to hope that this world would ever be simply open-sourced for someone else to use, long after the AoC game is defunct and forgotten. :(

Real need (1)

VGR (467274) | more than 4 years ago | (#32654384)

As everyone's pointed out, emulators have already covered the preservation of things like Star Raiders.

What really needs preservation are (relatively) newer games buried by copyright holders. Games like "System Shock 2," "KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child," and the PC version of "Turok 2: Seeds of Evil," all of which are no longer published and cannot be bought brand new anymore, leaving only eBay and warez as viable sources.

I can't play Mech 3 or Pirates Moon on Vista (1)

PDX (412820) | more than 4 years ago | (#32655368)

I upgraded to a new computer to find that the software that I bought it for won't work in Win95 compatible mode. The net needs a Richter scale for technology progress that has disastrous results.

Hardware Dependency? (1)

coerciblegerm (1829798) | more than 4 years ago | (#32655468)

I feel compelled to inform the author of TFA that we overcame this problem years ago with something called EMULATION. Stella (http://stella.sourceforge.net/) has been around since 1996, and that's just one of many excellent Atari 2600 emulators that remove the hardware dependency he spoke of.
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