Frank and Kelsey close out the year 2020 by answering your burning questions. We touch on topics of policy, found oddities, white whales, what we’ve accomplished this year, and what we’re looking forward to in the year to come. Thank you to everyone for all your support of the podcast, for sending in your questions, and for the amazing love and support shown during our winter fundraiser. Happy New Year!
Kelsey Lewin 00:00
Welcome to episode number 12 of the Video Game History Hour presented by the Video Game History Foundation. We’ve got a little bit of a different episode for you guys today. We haven’t really taken the time throughout this entire podcast to talk about the Video Game History Foundation! So we’re doing our very first mailbag episode. It’s the end of the year, last podcast of the year, and we thought we’d take some questions. My name is Kelsey Lewin and I am the co-director of the Video Game History Foundation, and I’m here as always with Frank Cifaldi, the founder and co-director of the Video Game History Foundation.
Frank Cifaldi 00:30
That’s right! So we both thought that rather than have a guest at the end of the year we would just talk about the foundation in general, and sort of update all of you on what we’ve been up to this year, and also take the time to give thanks to people who’ve helped us and, like Kelsey said, answer some questions that you lovely people sent in. I think the biggest thing for us right now to talk about would be our winter fundraiser.
Kelsey Lewin 01:05
Yeah. Which is, I guess at the time of hearing this podcast, just about wrapped up, but we kind of smashed through our goals there at the very beginning, so that works out anyways.
Frank Cifaldi 01:17
Yeah, we’ve never really done a traditional just “asking people for money” fundraiser. And I don’t know why, really, it’s taken three years for us to get to this point. I think it just took really kind of growing the team, getting you and Robin on board. But this is really the first time that we’ve just gone out and just asked for money for with nothing in return. And we kind of got our heads together and set a goal. And that goal is related, actually, to our physical expansion. So we do have an office. It’s in Emeryville, California. And it’s, I don’t know, about 450 square feet? I’m in it right now. Not very big. And it houses most of our paper material as well as a few special collections, stuff like that. And when we got into this space, we kind of had in mind that we would be able to entertain people; that people could come in and actually start using the Foundation’s archive, because we have a lot of stuff that would be really invaluable to historians.
Kelsey Lewin 02:30
Right, and by entertain you mean, like having researchers in–
Frank Cifaldi 02:33
I would put on a one person play.
Kelsey Lewin 02:36
Frank Cifaldi 02:38
No, yeah, exactly! Like, we would be able to accommodate, maybe is the better word, people who are researching video game history who would like to access – I don’t know I’m just looking at a bookshelf right now – the first 100 issues of Edge magazine.
Kelsey Lewin 02:53
We have 10,000-plus individual magazines; I mean, non-duplicate magazines, in that archive, so there’s a lot of really incredible history that we want people to be able to get their hands on.
Frank Cifaldi 03:06
You know, it’s funny. I just did a rough count of our duplicates, it’s making me think that that number is even higher, probably like 12 or 13,000. Yeah, and so we had that in mind when we opened this space. But the reality is just having this one sort of shoe box room, even in a non-pandemic situation, it’s just not great for having people over. There’s just not a lot of room for someone else. And something I didn’t really consider is that if it’s a space that others can occupy and use, I have to keep it sort of orderly and maintained, which… You know, not a problem really, but given that it’s also my personal workspace, it did kind of end up becoming a problem I need to –
Kelsey Lewin 04:02
Well, and we have things coming in all the time, too. So it’s not just that Frank’s a mess, it’s that we have shipments that have to be sorted into the archive, we have… There has to be room for us to sort things and get things on the shelves where they belong and take things out and, you know… It’s got to be a little bit of room for moving stuff around. It doesn’t always just live in a spot on the shelf.
Frank Cifaldi 04:29
Right. Like, this morning for example, I had a stack of maybe 100 issues of Tips & Tricks magazine from the aughts that I had to spread out all over the floor and, like, stack by year and start putting them in order and stuff like that, and… It’s not that I’m embarrassed to be on a floor in front of people or whatever, but we don’t have a lot of room. So we are expanding next year. We’ve gotten a space that’s a little over twice what we have here, it’s about 1000 square feet, that we should be moving into in the near future, hopefully the first quarter of next year. And what we identified for this winter fundraiser was, well, what is every cost that might be associated with not only moving, and not only expanding, but maybe treating the collection with a little more integrity? So things like archival acid free boxes. Proper storage for, you know, more sensitive material. Things like that. And we identified somewhere around $28,000.
Kelsey Lewin 05:52
Yeah, and you’re selling it a little short, too, because the other thing that this includes is a real digitization lab for us. Equipment where we don’t have to try to cram it all onto one desk and pull things out as we need them, but that things can actually be set up so that when things come in and need to be digitized – especially when they are kind of time sensitive or at risk of disc rot or any other kind of data corruption – that we can get right on it.
Frank Cifaldi 06:25
Kelsey Lewin 06:25
And it’s not a whole project. It’s just a, “Go into the digitization lab and do it.”
Frank Cifaldi 06:31
Yeah, I mean, right now I have an ancient IBM ThinkPad running Windows XP, just kind of, like next to my mouse right now. Because not too long ago, I had to set up a development environment for the original Xbox in order to retrieve some data from a disk that just wasn’t reading anywhere else. And that’s a lot of setup time and it’s a lot of room in my workspace that has to get disrupted and stuff like that. And so yeah, we’re building a digitization lab. It’s a small one, it’s like a starter lab, but we have a little dedicated room for it. We also have a small dedicated room that’s my office. So I can sort of spread out and not necessarily be orderly and still have a main space for people that they can use that that isn’t also just… I don’t know, it’s not that it looks terrible or anything, but just I didn’t want people to work in an environment where there’s just stacks of stuff everywhere because I’m working, you know?
Kelsey Lewin 07:44
Frank Cifaldi 07:46
So we identified that goal, like, October or something like that. And we launched our winter fundraiser at the beginning of December. And as of, I don’t know, two or three days ago, we’ve actually hit the entire amount, even though we didn’t really advertise with the full amount was. We kind of had a strategy where we found a few sponsors who would double donations up to a certain amount. You know, we still had an amount over that, that we wanted but we managed to hit it, which… And like, just hit it, which means that we actually planned it correctly, I think.
Kelsey Lewin 08:27
Yeah, I think so too. And, you know, obviously, the move and all of this stuff was going to happen regardless of… There were there were milestones, right? So like, even if we had only raised half of this, we still would have been able to implement some of the things that we wanted to do. But we’re really thankful that we’re going be able to turn this space into a lot closer to what the final vision is, right? I mean, we want people to be able to come in here and actually use it and study it and we want to be able to get things digitized as they come in and be a little bit more quick with that kind of stuff. So we’re really excited that we hit that $28,000 goal, so thank you guys so, so much! Huge part, huge thanks to all of our sponsors who helped us out with that: Digital Eclipse, FanGamer, GameDiscoverCo, Iam8bit, Nightdive Studios, Nighthawk, Panic, Portland Retro Gaming Expo, and Limited Run Games for running an auction for us. And then of course, everyone who donated: thank you so much! That was, uh… We’re kind of shocked! I mean, like Frank said, we’ve never done a proper fundraiser before. So this is… it was really great to see all these people come out in support of video game history.
Frank Cifaldi 09:43
Yeah, so thank you, everyone. So, anything else we want to talk about before we get to the Q&A?
Kelsey Lewin 09:51
Frank Cifaldi 09:52
I’m kind of a weird year!
Kelsey Lewin 09:54
Yeah, it is a weird year. I mean, it didn’t go exactly the way we planned. You know, this year started out with us planning what we would be doing for GDC, and then GDC didn’t happen. And just slowly all of our all of our event plans kind of fell away. We still managed to get a lot done this year, I think you can see a lot of that on our blog, for sure. But… you know, here’s to a better 2021, right?
Frank Cifaldi 10:22
But yeah, that said, I’m really excited to just see the momentum continue from this, because it’s really hard running a nonprofit that doesn’t have, you know, sort of a large donation as a base, right? Like, you think of a lot of museums and they tend to have a small amount of really big donors to sort of set that foundation and get it going. And for us, it’s always just been working our butts off to slowly and smartly grow into what a Video Game History Foundation needs to be. And, you know, when things don’t grow as fast as I’d like them to, sometimes it can be a little disheartening. (It’s no one’s fault, things are just expensive.) But to see this real progress… I mean, this last year – I don’t know, really all three years have shown substantial progress. I mean, I think we’ve doubled our donation intake every year.
Kelsey Lewin 11:30
Yeah, it’s been a very steep curve upwards. It’s just… I mean… Frank and I are… It’s a completely volunteer-run organization, right now. We’re not paid at the moment. So I think maybe that’s part of where that comes from. We just we have to be scrappy and we have to do what we can, and we’ve been growing a lot since then.
Frank Cifaldi 11:53
Yeah. So we’re really happy and relieved and thankful. So thank you, again. Should we go on to the mailbag?
Kelsey Lewin 12:01
Yeah, we should answer some questions now instead of just being sappy and thanking people! No one wants to listen to that! All right. So yeah, let’s just start at the top here. We just kind of gathered all of – well, actually, Robin gathered all of these questions for us, because she’s an awesome producer – and we’ll just start at the top here, right?
Frank Cifaldi 12:23
Sure! You want to read it?
Kelsey Lewin 12:25
Sure. So, @brygrad asked (I’m going to mispronounce all of these, so sorry about that in advance): “With lawsuits from major media companies and legislation restricting streaming of content, most recently, a piece published by Thom Tillis and a partisan group, access to old games – even videos of old games – seems tenuous. Do you have hope, broadly, for gray market preservation?”
Frank Cifaldi 12:53
Kelsey Lewin 12:54
This is a doozy to start with! [laughter]
Frank Cifaldi 12:57
[laughter] I can’t say I’m familiar with the legislation specifically…
Kelsey Lewin 13:01
I think this is the one that will have a felony consequences for illegal streaming of games.
Frank Cifaldi 13:10
Are you thinking of the thing that was built into the senate relief bill?
Kelsey Lewin 13:14
I believe that’s the same one.
Frank Cifaldi 13:16
I think is something else, isn’t it? Maybe it’s not, I don’t know. I don’t know. The Man’s just taking everything away from us, you know? They all blur together. But I’m more laser focused, I think, on the end of this question, which is that “Do you have hope broadly for gray market preservation?” And something that I’ve said since the beginning of my career is that the pirates saved us! And I think that’s going to continue to be the case. I don’t like that word, necessarily. But most of video game history preservation has been done through means that are not necessarily blessed by their copyright holders. And that’s just how things get done. So, do I have hope? I do. I think it’s going to be a rocky start, but I think that organizations like the Internet Archive have always been able to sort of assemble archive team to jump on endangered things like websites shutting down. Like, look at the geocities project, stuff like that. I think it’s going to be rocky start just, for one thing, because videos are expensive, bandwidth-wise. But another being that it might not be as easy to archive live streams as it is to, for example, download a YouTube video or whatever. But in general, yeah, I do have hope that we will be able to sort of archive the way people play games right now through basically copying those videos without permission, I think that’s going to be the future of that.
Kelsey Lewin 15:06
Well, and I think to address the other part of the question, which is access not just the videos of old games but to old games and all of that stuff in general. I think all of this stuff is a work-in-progress in a more not-gray market area. Like, it’s something that people are working on. I think nobody thinks that it should be the domain of the pirates forever, right?
Frank Cifaldi 15:31
Kelsey Lewin 15:31
Like, in a perfect world, it should be completely on the level and everyone should agree that we should be making all of this stuff as accessible as possible. But yeah, in the meantime and for the foreseeable future, I’m thankful that we have people who are – especially like you said – archive team, who are going to at least put a really big dent in saving a lot of this stuff and not make it nearly as painful.
Frank Cifaldi 16:06
Yeah, we just don’t have official means. We’re not caught up yet with the world. And our traditional means of adding material to an archive so that it’s accessible to people is, it’s still basically like a library in the ’20s, right?
Kelsey Lewin 16:26
Frank Cifaldi 16:26
It’s still the model where the library is able to purchase a copy of the work and keep it on a shelf. And that’s still all that we have for video games. And yeah, I know a lot of people are sort of “physical or die” when it comes to games. But even people like that must realize that that’s not really what video games are anymore.
Kelsey Lewin 16:55
Right, that works for the ’90s and the ’80s but not for the entire history of video games.
Frank Cifaldi 17:03
So you know, it’s something where these rules need to catch up with the times and until they do, I don’t see an alternative, but the sort of gray market preservation as Bry puts it.
Kelsey Lewin 17:15
Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good assessment.
Frank Cifaldi 17:18
All right, should we take turns reading?
Kelsey Lewin 17:19
Yeah, your turn!
Frank Cifaldi 17:21
OK. SartreanM on Twitter, Satrean Musings asks: “Are CD-based games more difficult to preserve versus being a ROM in a cartridge or an arcade board?” And then actually, there was another question that came up from another user, whose name I’m not going to attempt to read, which asks: “Are there any concerns over disc rot with older disc-based games?” So that actually sort of answers part of the first question, because it’s not that CD… OK. It’s really complicated! So, the question was specifically about CD-based games. For the most part, those read on a computer drive. I mean, I’m very much simplifying it, but a CD tends to read OK on a computer CD drive or even a modern Blu-ray drive. Does it get complicated? Yes, it absolutely can. We have encountered discs that just can’t be read by any drives. But those tend to be not things that were manufactured in a factory that were pressed to disc, right tend to be things that were burned on a CD-R, DVD-R or whatever.
Kelsey Lewin 18:40
So retail games tend to… I mean, disc rot exists. It’s not a myth, disc rot exists even in retail games. But retail games on these pressed discs are fairly hardy, all things considered. And yeah, like Frank was saying, the real concern is when you have something that was burned, which tends to be pre-retail or not-retail thing.
Frank Cifaldi 19:07
Yeah. And that’s, you know, that’s the stuff that we tend to deal with. We, as a rule at the Foundation, just don’t generally bother with games that could have been purchased in a store because we tend to believe that, well, I mean the pirates, sure, going back to the previous question, but more than that, the collectors –
Kelsey Lewin 19:28
And the museums, too, and libraries. Like, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, they have a crazy amount of retail games that a researcher can access.
Frank Cifaldi 19:40
Right, and so we are not worried about that stuff. We feel like we’d just be wasting our limited resources if we, if we bothered trying to archive retail video games. So what we tend to deal with are things like pre-release games, and we’ve dealt with literally 1000s of those on CDs. The problem tends to be not that they’re unreadable so much as that they need specialized and hacked hardware in order to be read.
Kelsey Lewin 20:15
To force it.
Frank Cifaldi 20:16
Kelsey Lewin 20:18
Like, you know, try a hundred times to read it and splice all of those hundred tries together to create the complete picture.
Frank Cifaldi 20:27
So mild tangent, but we recently got a new TV. It’s the first time I’ve gotten a 4k TV. I thought it would be cool to watch 4K Blu-rays on it. We have a PC hooked up to the TV, so my thinking was, “Great, we just get a 4K Blu-ray drive for the PC and then we can rent 4K Blu-rays, that’ll be cool.” That’s not how it works. There’s a lot of weird DRM and stuff on 4K Blu-rays. And it turns out that certain models of Blu-ray drives can have their firmware replaced so that you have that access needed to actually digitize a 4K Blu-ray. And those drives are the exact same ones, and probably with this exact same firmware hack, needed to read some of these more difficult PlayStation builds the ’90s.
Kelsey Lewin 21:21
Is that right?
Frank Cifaldi 21:22
Yeah! So I mean, that thing that I set up in the office to rip difficult prototype games? I basically did that again in my house to watch movies legally. So yeah, those are the concerns with CD-based media, it’s the burned stuff. In terms of like their hardiness and disc rot and stuff like that. The stuff from the ’90s, for the most part, is OK. I’m actually worried more about things from the 2000s.
Kelsey Lewin 21:55
Frank Cifaldi 21:57
Yeah, I mean, you kind of understand why, maybe you can explain.
Kelsey Lewin 22:00
Yeah, basically, once CDs became so widespread and so cheap to produce, and you could get 100 CD-ROM spindles at CVS or whatever for a couple bucks? That’s when the the quality of those CDs went way down. And that’s where those CDs start to not last so long. Sometimes less than ten years in some cases, which is really not enough time for trying to gather them all and figure out what’s important and save them. Am I sort of on the right track here?
Frank Cifaldi 22:37
That’s absolutely correct. And I tend to use the word disc rot, even though I think technically it’s not rot when it comes to CDs. It’s that the data layer – which is actually on the top side. I always thought it was the bottom side, the bottom side is just clear.
Kelsey Lewin 22:53
No, as I always say at the game store I run when employees are taking in discs. I’m like, “You should be way more concerned about scratches on the top of the disc than on the bottom of the disc.”
Frank Cifaldi 23:02
Yeah, totally. So, the the top layer tends to delaminate, is the word, it starts separating from the plastic. And that tends to be what happens with these cheaper discs. We’ve had a few… Actually, I mean, like I said, we’ve gone through a lot. We’ve gone through thousands. I can only think of one real tragedy, which was a copy of Prize Fighter for the Sega Saturn, which is a game that never shipped for the Saturn. There’s only one copy I’ve ever seen. A collector who unfortunately passed away, his name was Don James, had a copy and loaned it to us. And it literally had holes in the data. Like, little flakes of that layer had come off. And so that data was just gone. We were able to rip around it; we were able to rip anything that wasn’t in those holes through a very specialized process (it had to run for, like, 14 hours). But that data’s gone and the game crashes randomly and stuff like that. So that’s the only tragedy, the rest… We’ve seen a lot of other delaminated discs, but they they tend to be just things that you look at them and you’re like, “Eh, whatever.” Or at least I do, I don’t know! [laughter]
Kelsey Lewin 24:27
[Laughter] I don’t know if that’s quite the right attitude for it! But, you know, it’s things like basically final builds of games that aren’t all that historically important, or at least as of right now aren’t considered all that historically important.
Frank Cifaldi 24:41
I have a stack right here.
Kelsey Lewin 24:42
Tripple Play Baseball ’99, or whatever, you know…
Frank Cifaldi 24:46
I have a stack right here… Infernal for the PC, evaluation version. OK. Whatever. Let’s see what this one is…
Kelsey Lewin 24:55
You can’t say “whatever!” [Laughter] But I mean, yeah, there’s certainly… there’s absolutely levels of…
Frank Cifaldi 25:02
A marketing beta for a Rise of Nations expansion pack…
Kelsey Lewin 25:07
Sure. I mean, there’s absolutely levels to this thing, right?
Frank Cifaldi 25:11
Kelsey Lewin 25:11
That some things are absolutely tragic and other things that are still upsetting. But in a lot of these cases, these might not even be the only… You know, a marketing beta or whatever was probably said to pretty much every outlet, every magazine and stuff. So there might be another one out there.
Frank Cifaldi 25:29
But again, to your point, there’s probably someone listening going, “Gasp!”
Kelsey Lewin 25:33
Frank Cifaldi 25:33
“That’s the Holy Grail because they cut content from that at the last minute that was–”
Kelsey Lewin 25:40
Yeah, you don’t know!
Frank Cifaldi 25:41
Yeah, I don’t know! I really don’t know. OK, next one’s yours?
Kelsey Lewin 25:46
Cool. So @SmugPork, or Sam!, with an exclamation point, asks: “Anything weird or unexpected you had to preserve?” And this is a fun question. Yeah. I don’t know… I can answer if you don’t know…
Frank Cifaldi 26:03
If you got an answer right away, go for it.
Kelsey Lewin 26:05
Yeah. So there are things – especially when we have developer archives – there will be things in there that you might be like, “Wait, what, how does that… what does that have to do with anything?” So for instance, in one of our developer archives, there is a parking pass in there for Disney World.
Frank Cifaldi 26:25
Disney World, yeah.
Kelsey Lewin 26:26
Something like that. So maybe something as you’re going through these documents and studying something, you could be like, “Um, why do I care about a parking pass in here? Or a flyer for a takeout place or something like that?”
Frank Cifaldi 26:43
But in this specific instance, though, this was an archive of material related to the animation specifically in Disney’s Aladdin for the Genesis from Mike Dietz, who was I believe the art director on the game. He very kindly donated all of that material to us. And like Kelsey said, there’s a parking pass for Disney World in there. And it’s not directly related to the making of the game, maybe. But it’s dated; it’s dated during production of the game.
Kelsey Lewin 27:19
Right, it tells us something.
Frank Cifaldi 27:21
Right. And it looks like a parking pass that’s not for a general audience? It might have been some kind of, like, special company parking lot or something like that. So at bare minimum it suggests to me that there was a company outing, probably paid for by Disney, with the Aladdin development team.
Kelsey Lewin 27:42
Right… something happened. I mean, you don’t necessarily get the whole story from weird things like this. But, especially if you ever get access to developers or even the children of developers or something, it’s another clue you can use to ask about things, right? It’s just another small piece of the puzzle, even if it’s not the most important piece.
Frank Cifaldi 28:04
Right, or you might have faxes around it that help you understand where this Disney World trip happened in the game’s development. And you might come to find out that it was like, they flew the whole team out for a meeting with Disney execs or something like that. I don’t know – I’m just spitballing.
Kelsey Lewin 28:24
Frank Cifaldi 28:26
Really, in terms of weird or unexpected stuff, I mean, it’s also when people ask me, “What’s the most important stuff?” And it’s like, there’s no answer for that because, you know, this is archaeology, right?
Kelsey Lewin 28:39
Yeah, well It depends on the story you’re trying to tell, you know?
Frank Cifaldi 28:41
Kelsey Lewin 28:42
I mean, if you’re trying to tell the story of the making of a game versus the reaction of the community around a game, those are going to… The important things to those two different projects are going to be extremely different.
Frank Cifaldi 28:56
Yeah, indeed. Should we move on? Sure. OK, Andrew E (@ColdPie1) asks: “How is the source code preservation project going? Any takers or progress on the hairy legal issues?” For context, we launched in October what we call our Video Game Source Project. And it’s kind of a lot of things in one. But essentially what it comes down to is that at the Foundation, we’ve identified that the source material that went into the game – source code, for example, original artwork, corresponence – that raw material that was used to generate a video game, we believe is probably the most crucial thing to studying how a game was made. And we also think it’s just about the most volatile thing there is in the world of video games, in the sense that that stuff tends to get very easily lost because it was never public. It was just internal work. So we launched this project to call out to the world that we think this is important, to demonstrate what a historian can do with this material in their hands, and to start a conversation with shareholders throughout the industry and academia and stuff like that to try to figure out, “How do we reach a future where it’s not uncommon to be able to access source material in an archive for study?”
Kelsey Lewin 30:37
Right, how do we make everyone comfortable along the way? And that includes, as this question mentions, some legal issues. Because the people who are least likely to be on board with this are lawyers.
Frank Cifaldi 30:52
Yeah, it’s the old Jason Scott story of like, “Well, you didn’t have to ask me, but since you did: no.” And so the question is, how is it going? Um, we’re still in the really early days of it. We’ve produced and published some content, the content part of it being the demonstrating the “what can be done?” part. We did a giant Monkey Island event with its source code and art with Ron Gilbert, which was awesome. It’s on YouTube, if you haven’t seen it. We published an article following up on that that just dove almost too deep into all of the bits and pieces that were – Laid it all out! – Thank you! And we followed that up with another really interesting piece, which is that using only source code for one of its games, we were able – I should say, by we I mean, Rich Whitehouse, who’s on our team, who’s sort of… I can’t recall the title we made up but he’s – “Head of Digital Conservation,” it’s pretty good! He’s basically in charge of source code, among other things, and he was able to reconstruct SEGA’s unreleased VR helmet for the Genesis using only clues found in the game source code, as well as talking to the programmer just about what what he remembered about how the thing worked. So content wise, we’re on a roll. We’ve got a couple other cool things coming up. I think starting in January, probably. Depends on how much I rest during the holidays I think. So that part’s going.
Kelsey Lewin 32:15
“Head of Digital Conservation,” I think. But there’s another big piece, too, which is that we’ve begun to establish an actual committee of comprised of all of these different stakeholders throughout the industry, both academia and actual developers (both current and former) and historians. Really anyone who would want to have a say in how, you know, what their comfort level with source materials and how we can, as Frank said, get this to a future where it’s very normal to be able to study source code and other source materials. So we started a committee for that and gotten a lot of people in the industry together. And are going to start trying to hash out some of these questions with them. And start trying to kind of see where everyone stands on this and figure out how we can get to a spot where everyone is comfortable.
Frank Cifaldi 33:43
Yeah, and we alluded to this committee very briefly in the announcement. I didn’t want to start naming names because I don’t think it’s done yet. But we’ve got people in the industry who work with old source code as a business. We have people in the industry who archive at major companies. We have people in the world of academia, in the world of museums and libraries. You know, people who are engineers who’ve been in the industry a long time who understand the needs of documenting source and – in at least in one case – was doing it early on assuming that something like this would happen eventually. So we’re still in the early conversational days of moving that stuff forward. But something that may or may not be clear from the way we’ve talked about this project is that I just see this as a forever project. It’s not something with an end goal. It’s just slowly eroding away at the walls that are preventing this from happening. And getting to a place where… I mean, it’s like anything else with the Foundation: just getting to a place where people can publish better history because they have better access.
Kelsey Lewin 35:09
Yeah. The more access that people are able to have, the better history we get out there. And that’s not just academic papers or articles or stuff. That’s books and documentaries and…
Frank Cifaldi 35:22
Well, like YouTube videos, you know what I mean? It’s something that maybe people don’t quite understand is that when we say researchers, or historians, or whatever, we don’t… Like, I had someone once tell me, “I’m not an official researcher.” And it’s just like, “What the hell’s that?” What’s an official researcher? If you’ve got a YouTube channel that has a hundred subscribers, I don’t care. You’re a researcher! I want more public history like that and I want it to be better.
Kelsey Lewin 35:54
Well, I want everyone to be able to do video game research, and that’s the problem right now. It is difficult to access good video game history and if you don’t have the means to fly out to Rochester and go research at the Strong Museum of Play or something equivalent like that…
Frank Cifaldi 36:12
Well, even if you do, that’s one archive!
Kelsey Lewin 36:14
Right, exactly! So one of the major goals is just making it so that everybody feels like they can be a researcher. Because I truly believe that anyone can be if that’s something they have an interest in.
Frank Cifaldi 36:28
Well said. I think you’ve got the next question.
Kelsey Lewin 36:31
OK. The Scout History Project asks: “How do you get people around you to become interested or excited about history and preservation?”
Frank Cifaldi 36:41
I’ve never had a problem with that. I don’t think I’ve ever had to, like…
Kelsey Lewin 36:46
What, your mom, your…?
Frank Cifaldi 36:47
I don’t care if my mom was into this stuff, I don’t know! [laughter]
Kelsey Lewin 36:51
If you already have a base… If you already care about video games, I feel like it’s pretty easy to to show people… You just kind of have to find the right fit, right? So if you have a friend who’s really into Pokemon, you can find some cool Pokemon history, some early Pokemon stuff. There was a bunch of beta Pokemon stuff that’s been shared around and researched. I mean, that’s the sort of thing that can get someone who maybe doesn’t think… Like, if you just say “video game history,” or “video game preservation,” they’re like, “Ehh.” But you show them something they’re actually interested in, then they’re like, “Oh, I see! OK!” Then you say, “Yes, see, that applies to everything.”
Frank Cifaldi 37:34
It’s not a hard sell to like video games. And it’s not a hard sell that history in general is important to preserve. So it’s not hard to get people engaged. I think what might be harder is industry participation, as opposed to individuals being excited.
Kelsey Lewin 37:55
I mean, this is part of the reason why we do some of the research on our blogs that we do because the more exciting stuff you put out there, the easier it is to point to that and be, like, “See? This is the cool stuff that we can do when we have access!”
Frank Cifaldi 38:13
Yeah. And it’s… I don’t know, I often think about Nintendo, when it comes to stuff like this. We talk about this pretty often where it’s like, Nintendo is a very forward looking company. They, of course, look back in terms of reference. So you know, there’s Super Nintendo World, and it’s of course looking back at older games as reference and celebrating them and stuff like that. But they’re not quite like Disney, where Disney properly restores its vintage material and has a giant back catalogue that you can subscribe to that has even the crappy stuff they did in the ’60s, right? Nintendo is the new Disney, right? So when I talk about industry participation and stuff like that, it’s hard to make history makes sense for any company’s bottom line, but particularly a financially conservative one like Nintendo’s. Yeah, absolutely. Having anyone even think about preserving their history? That’s costing money, right? Like they pay people to work on stuff. And if they are spending that time looking backwards, that’s costing them money. It’s hard for a lot of companies to look back like that. I think SEGA is doing a pretty interesting job lately, at least social media wise, with Sega forever and stuff like that. But we’ve got a long way to go.
Kelsey Lewin 39:53
Yeah. And I think part of it too, it’s a lot easier to motivate companies with money than with just, “But you should care!” So we are now starting to see a lot of companies start to look back and release their old games and bundle them together. And, you know, not every company does the most stellar job presenting it or whatever. But I mean, at least we are trending in that direction where companies are like, “Yeah, you know, people might want to hear about our origins and see where we came from and check out these old games again!” So we’re moving in that direction, I think.
Frank Cifaldi 40:32
Totally. I think next one’s me. Ashley Harp asks: “What preservation are you the proudest of so far?” Oh, we have a good answer for that.
Kelsey Lewin 40:44
Yeah. We spent five weeks last year in Minneapolis and we were helping Game Informer – you know, giant magazine that’s been around since 1991. We’re helping them with all of the stuff that they had just sort of thrown into a closet over the last thirty years.
Frank Cifaldi 41:07
Twenty-eight, twenty-nine something like that, yeah.
Kelsey Lewin 41:11
So… Gosh, I mean, that’s… ten thousands discs? And I don’t even remember how many feet of paperwork, and MiniDiscs and some VHS tapes and floppy disks… There’s all kinds, I think we identified, like, seventeen different types of media that we worked with on that trip?
Frank Cifaldi 41:37
Right. Yeah, just you know, things like digital press kits going back to the ’90s. And a lot of different formats of film that we digitized. And, like Kelsey said, we were there for five weeks. And we had volunteers coming in and out. But on average, we were working forty-plus hours a week with a team of six for five weeks straight. Just digitizing non-stop on a very efficient assembly line way. That’s how long it takes to do stuff like this! And we did not, even after five weeks, manage to digitize literally everything.
Kelsey Lewin 42:24
Close, I think.
Frank Cifaldi 42:26
No, we got close! We were at least eighty percent, I think…
Kelsey Lewin 42:30
Two thirds of it?
Frank Cifaldi 42:31
Oh, did we identify a smaller number? I don’t remember it’s been…
Kelsey Lewin 42:33
I thought it was like 60-70%. I mean, it’s a lot, but…
Frank Cifaldi 42:38
It was a good chunk of it. Yeah but, again… Going back to the second question, some discs are just troublemakers. So we had to slow down sometimes to try to like solve that. But in the end, we helped them to digitize a little over 25 terabytes of interesting data that is no longer on discs that could (like we talked about) delaminate, rot, whatever; the building catch on fire! I don’t know, there’s a lot of things that could happen that even if they happen, we’ve managed to image most of it. What ends up happening with that data? I mean, this is a magazine still working with the industry, so we can’t just like–
Kelsey Lewin 43:31
Frank Cifaldi 43:32
Right! Yeah! We can’t just blast it all on the internet or whatever. But it’s safe, it’s preserved. And in the future we should be able to let people access – I would think – most of it.
Kelsey Lewin 43:47
Yeah. I mean, I know that the GameInformer staff at least wants this stuff to… They don’t want to keep it in a vault, it’s not the intention. But there’s details that have to be hashed out, of course, and it’s also 25 terabytes of data that even if they were like, “All right, go ahead! Blast it all on the Internet!” that’s a little easier said than done.
Frank Cifaldi 44:13
Well, I know Jason Scott’s listening to this, so he’s just gonna tell us to mail him a NAS or something like that.
Kelsey Lewin 44:20
Frank Cifaldi 44:20
All right, next one’s you, I think.
Kelsey Lewin 44:22
OK. @questionmarkj, Or ?James says: “What can folks not working in the industry do to meaningfully contribute to game preservation?”
Frank Cifaldi 44:33
Our biggest weakness is being able to answer this question. Yes. I think there’s a lot of theoretical answers. I think, you know, for example, going back to our very first question, right? Like, gray market preservation of video streams and things like that. You know, there is a theoretical, probably not led by us organization or team or just discord or something you could join to just hammer at stuff like that. But that’s not us, that’s not necessarily what we do. So I don’t have a good answer for that.
Kelsey Lewin 45:13
I mean, I think there’s a couple, just sort of general things that I wish I had a bunch of really impactful answers that are super easy to mobilize on. But I mean, A: just kind of consuming and talking about game preservation will keep the interest in it alive and around and will help kind of legitimize the cause. So I know that doesn’t sound like it’s very… You know, one person can’t change the world on that, but lots of people can for sure. And there’s a lot of other things too that I think people don’t really think about when it comes to what’s going to be historically important in the future that really needs a team effort. Things like taking photos, whether you’re going to a convention like PAX or you’re even just at a Target and you take a photo of their game section. These are things that could be super important in the future that we will have absolutely no photos of because why would you take a photo of the game section at Target, right?
Frank Cifaldi 46:18
Kelsey Lewin 46:19
But I mean, isn’t it interesting now to go back and look at the photos of the Atari section at toy stores back in the day, right? Like, that will eventually be where we’re at with this stuff. And gathering things like flyers and newspapers that advertise things. I mean, there’s all kinds of little things that are floating around there that there’s no centralized effort because it’s so widespread. I mean, GameStop puts out a weekly flyer and there’s probably flyers and Target’s, and there’s all kinds of just random ads and things floating around that are absolutely going to disappear forever. Because it’s not something like a game magazine, where it’s really easy to see why that would be interesting later on. So I know I’m sort of kind of scattershot talking right now. But there’s a lot of things that might be important later that people not in the industry can do to help out and just kind of gather that stuff. And maybe even put it on the Internet Archive, if you want to just push it somewhere right now.
Frank Cifaldi 47:32
So my long term vision of this is that we use human volunteers, who don’t have to necessarily have any particular skills or anything like that, to slowly catalog things so that they’re accessible. Because gathering is one thing, right? Like, gathering all this material, that’s one thing. And that’s what we’re kind of good at right now. But making it parsable and accessible to people is a whole other story. It’s something that… I mean, I don’t… I think I’m comfortable sharing this number, we’ve identified that we need, like, a million dollars just to catalogue what we’ve got right now, probably. Yeah, that’s assuming some level of volunteer!
Kelsey Lewin 48:20
And that’s assuming volunteer labor, too, because this is a team with volunteer labor.
Frank Cifaldi 48:28
And so, my long term vision of this, like I said, is just: there might be some way of building out a system maybe where people can log in and just start doing some busy work. One of the experimental ways we did that was actually on the GameInformer project. Because when we were imaging all of these discs, we were essentially doing them with robots – where a robot disk drive would take a disk and read it, and then pop it out. And then we would have a photo taken when it popped out. And that was, we didn’t we didn’t do any level of cataloguing in real time except taking that photo and the data and tying them together. And so, you know, in an early vision of this was, well, what if we built a system where we just show the user an image of the disk, and they could type in what they think the title of the disk is, and that’s an early version, right? But when I start sort of thinking about where you could go with this, it’s things like: maybe we can start tagging, historical photographs that are in magazines, right? So that if someone’s doing a YouTube video, and they want to illustrate – I don’t know – the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, right? Maybe maybe we hit a future where things are tagged in that macro-level of detail because there’s so many people who are interested in helping. This is not something that we are remotely prepared to do anything like right now! I don’t mean to say that, but I think the interest is there. And if people are able to do that sort of busy work, I think this systems could be built for work like that. But I mean, for now… the most helpful thing for us would be, like, coming to the office and folding Mylar bags for the magazines.
Kelsey Lewin 50:33
Yeah, and we have some we have some in-library cataloging to do, as well. But, uh, it’s not really the year for that right now, unfortunately! [laughter]
Frank Cifaldi 50:45
I gotta read this next name… Chef Mike Haracz Hamburger Bacon Cut of Meat Slice of Pizza Taco. That’s really what…? Yeah!
Kelsey Lewin 50:45
OK. All right. [Laughter]
Frank Cifaldi 50:46
Anyway, Chef Mike Haracz Hamburger Bacon Cut of Meat Slice of Pizza Taco asks: “Does only popularity help support reservation or is every game a potential?” I think the popularity tends to drive what people talk about, right? What tends to drive what people remember, obviously.
Kelsey Lewin 51:26
And what people want to hear and seek content of.
Frank Cifaldi 51:30
Right. And I mean – I don’t make any secret of this – I do use that as a gateway to our cause. We’ve got a lot of source code and source material for games that aren’t popular, but we’re creating content around the things that will drive people to us. Those being the more popular things. So in that sense alone? Yeah, we are prioritizing and focusing on popular games because we need eyeballs on us right now.
Kelsey Lewin 52:07
Yeah, at least content-wise.
Frank Cifaldi 52:09
Kelsey Lewin 52:10
There’s always going to be a level of having to prioritize things no matter what we’re doing. I mean, whether it’s just digitizing something or making content out of it or whatever. Analyzing it, there’s… you can’t do everything at once, no matter what. So there is always going to be some level of prioritization and popularity can go into that equation. Other things that go into that equation can be things like, “Is it at risk of dying soon? Is it on magnetic media or something like that?” But yeah, that can go into the equation on our end. But I don’t think that we… I don’t think it’s up to us or to anyone else to decide what’s going to be important in the future.
Frank Cifaldi 52:59
Kelsey Lewin 53:00
So we can’t… there’s never anything that we’re just like, “Screw that, that’s not important.” I mean, it all goes into the pipeline eventually, right? Is that pretty clear what I mean by that?
Frank Cifaldi 53:13
Right, and that’s at least partially why we went with focusing – not primarily – but focusing at least partially on there being a physical archive of materials. Because it’s not that difficult to accept a box of things from a game developer and let the future figure it out later. And that’s a way of rescuing and saving things immediately. And I think that’s how these things get discovered, these things that fell between the cracks, is that they exist somewhere for someone to eventually find. So, yeah, I think that at least for us, like you’re saying, there’s some level of prioritization based on what our needs might be in that moment or, like you alluded to, what the item’s needs might be. But if it’s something that maybe is lower priority but higher volatility, we might prioritize that. But in general, I don’t think it’s possible to avoid popularity prioritizing things. I mean, hell, we’ve talked about there’s some moments where I’m just sitting here thinking like, “Should we just be focusing on Nintendo? Because we know people are going to care about Nintendo.”
Kelsey Lewin 54:53
Frank Cifaldi 54:54
Right? Like it’s, should we be scratching at every possible little surface of Nintendo and getting the most obscure Nintendo stuff because we know for a fact that people are going to be writing about Nintendo in twenty years? Or should we be spending those same resources getting the entire archive of an indie developer that maybe no one will ever write about? And it’s a hard question. It’s a hard thing to balance.
Kelsey Lewin 55:24
Yeah. To go back to the first part of the question, “Does popularity help support preservation?” I think in the sense that popularity is what makes people read this stuff and interact with it? Yes, absolutely. I mean, we’re going to have more eyes on a Nintendo thing than on anything else. So in that sense, getting more eyeballs on the concept of video game preservation, then… yes. The answer is “yes.”
Frank Cifaldi 55:58
Next one’s yours. It’s a much simpler name than Chef Mike Haracz Hamburger Bacon Cut of Meat Slice of Pizza Taco.
Kelsey Lewin 56:01
Yeah, you’re getting the hard ones!
Frank Cifaldi 56:04
Yours is from Chris.
Kelsey Lewin 56:05
Yeah, Chris, @dimwell_ asks: “Obvious question: Now that SimCity for NES has been found and rescued, what is your white whale in game preservation?”
Frank Cifaldi 56:15
Oh, yeah. For those who aren’t familiar, we did manage to preserve and document – thanks to a couple collector friends, primarily – a copy of SimCity for the original Nintendo, which was actually Nintendo’s first attempt at bringing that extremely popular computer game to consoles. Ended up being a really interesting story, I suggest you go check it out on gamehistory.org. Buried in there somewhere, I think it might be gamehistory.org/SimCity.
Kelsey Lewin 56:53
It’s on the blog.
Frank Cifaldi 56:54
Yeah, for sure it’s on the blog. But what’s the white whale now? I feel like a broken record repeating the same one over and over, and it goes back to this last question because it’s more Nintendo again. As is your answer, actually! [Laughter]
Kelsey Lewin 57:11
Frank Cifaldi 57:13
But I think the thing I’d like to see available to people the most that isn’t yet is the material that was originally generated for Mother 3 on the Nintendo 64. So that was the sequel to EarthBound that was worked on, on the 64, for I believe four years or something like that before it was canceled. And then they remade the game for the Game Boy Advance. And now, sure, the Game Boy Advance version of the game represents probably a more refined version of that. But that series is really important – culturally – to the video game playing community. I mean, the EarthBound fandom is Legion. It’s powerful! And it’s a series that… It’s one of the rare – I think – game series that truly has an auteur’s touch and is good? Yeah, I’d argue Metal Gear being one of the few other ones, right? Where it’s like, “This couldn’t have existed without the specific person at the helm.” In this in this case, being [Shigesato] Itoi. And so I think that this game trilogy – and it’s another rarity in that it’s really a trilogy; that works as a trilogy. I think it’s another one that’s going to be studied for a long time, that’s going to be reflected on for a long time that is going to influence people. I mean, Undertale, right? Undertale doesn’t happen without this series of games, and look how popular that…
Kelsey Lewin 59:12
Right. Quite literally started as an EarthBound hack, right?
Frank Cifaldi 59:16
Totally. I mean, maybe not the game itself, but that’s how Toby started. Toby Fox learned game development by hacking the EarthBound ROM. That’s how he learned how to make an RPG. So that original 64 version that got canceled? It represents the original vision of the game, which we know changed in probably significant ways when it was remade for the GBA. I’m not saying it would have been a better game, it probably wouldn’t have been; it probably would have been a worse game. But it was not only that original vision: that game was worked on for a long time and we know – we know! – from interviews that it was extremely playable. The artifact that was left behind was a game that was polished and very playable. But as far as we know, from from reading between the lines, was developed kind of chronologically. So it kind of reads to me, reading these interviews, the first half of the game is basically done, just in need of some polish and stuff like that. So it’s not like this thing that was abandoned when it was still in a janky prototype phase. It’s a game that was real and playable, and–
Kelsey Lewin 1:00:36
Well it’s still playable that… I mean, haven’t they said multiple times that they wanted people to just see it and play it because they were still pretty proud of what they had done?
Frank Cifaldi 1:00:48
I know of one instance of that, which is the same interview I’m talking about. It’s a roundtable that is remarkable, I suggest looking it up. It’s a roundtable when they canceled the game between Itoi, the the mother series creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Satoru Iwata. And the three of them are roundtable talking about why this game was canceled because all three of them were working on it. Iwata was, much like with EarthBound – with Mother 2 – he rolled up his sleeves and got dirty with this game to try to rescue it. And what it came down to was just… The game was good. There was nothing wrong with the game. It just kind of came down to like, “If we are to finish this, it’s not that there’s unknowns left. It’s just going to be a LOT of work.” And a lot of it just came down to animating these 3D models for things like cutscenes and stuff like that. Like, it’s just a lot of modeling work and scripting and things like that. They just had to cancel it because there was just too much of that ahead of them for it to make sense. But in that interview, Miyamoto specifically – and we don’t know from context, how much of this was joking, if any of it, but he says specifically – that he wants to put it out at Space World, which is their annual exhibition of upcoming projects. He was saying he wants to put out the game as a demo even though it’s canceled, just so that people can play it! And, like, that suggests to me–
Kelsey Lewin 1:02:29
That doesn’t sound smart… [laughter]
Frank Cifaldi 1:02:31
Right? I mean, someone probably stopped him, right? But that’s a that’s a polished project! That’s a game that’s ready to play. I would like to just see what that game was like. We barely have any footage of it and what we have is a really early demo for a game that ended up being, essentially, in a state where – at least for parts of it – you could see and experience what it would have been like for real.
Kelsey Lewin 1:03:01
Frank Cifaldi 1:03:02
You have another answer?
Kelsey Lewin 1:03:04
I do. You can rant about Mother 3. I don’t think you should… I mean, I think that’s still a really good answer. Sometimes people are like, “Oh, it’s the cliche answer.” But I mean, honestly, that’s… Just because something’s cliche doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That is that is absolutely, like, maybe the most important white whale out there right now. My answer is actually very similar in that Itoi worked on it. But a much, much, much less far along, as far as we know, which is a game/project called Cabbage. In development around the same time, the 64DD era. And the thing about Cabbage – and we never got any screenshots. We never got really anything about it, other than just some interviews and some little bullet points and stuff. But it was a project that explored a lot of the same things that popped up just a little bit later in things like Animal Crossing and Nintendogs. It’s sort of were these primordial ideas behind some of these later games were sort of being hashed out. And for that reason, I think it would be really interesting to see just kind of the origins of some of these things. Things like communication, raising animals, and friendship and you know. The kind of things that these later games explored. I won’t rant too long about it. I don’t think there’s really much to find out there about Cabbage actually. A design doc, probably?
Frank Cifaldi 1:04:41
I suspect that it’s something like a like a written document from Itoi.
Kelsey Lewin 1:04:45
Right, exactly! Just whatever the pitch is and stuff for it would really be the most interesting part of it, because there’s probably not much playable ever made? Although I would be interested to see just what the art direction was going to be on this. (If they had thought that far into it, but…) Yeah, really just how they were thinking about some of these concepts that later became major points in some of their really big games.
Frank Cifaldi 1:05:12
Yeah, I mean, the thread between these two answers is that both of them are missing links in a story that we already know is historically important and interesting.
Kelsey Lewin 1:05:21
Exactly. It’s like the, the human evolution thing, we’re just missing. We’re missing one of those pieces in there.
Frank Cifaldi 1:05:28
And that’s what history is all about right is, is gaining a more fundamental understanding of something that was impactful. I do think that the sort of Holy Grails of video game preservation are going to be that sort of thing and not, like, an unreleased game that just stands on its own or something like that.
Kelsey Lewin 1:05:53
Yeah, I think that’s a good way of thinking about it.
Frank Cifaldi 1:05:57
Let’s see, ZeroNoun, @noun… wow, they’re really @noun on Twitter? That’s great.
Kelsey Lewin 1:06:02
Frank Cifaldi 1:06:03
Asks: “What will Kelsey Lewin catalog once the WonderSwan collection is finished?”
Kelsey Lewin 1:06:09
[Laughter] So I am going for a complete set of WonderSwan games. It’s my one video game collecting goal. I got bored of normal game collecting a while ago so I started doing something weird. And it’s been surprisingly difficult. As far as I know, I will be the first American to have ever done it, if I can ever do it. And I might be the first person to complete it in the sense that I’m also trying to get all the weird outside-of-retail stuff. I’ve talked about some of these on Twitter before but things like the Mama Mitte, which is a pregnancy tracker for the WonderSwan, that you could not just go into a game store and buy… as you can probably imagine! And I am about 25 games away, now, from my full set. I’m very stuck. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get those last 25. But I don’t know! I don’t know what happens after this. I think my plan is to send all of these to a good friend of ours at the Foundation who goes by Hubz to scan all of the boxes for these, because he’s just kind of like the master scanner and wants to scan all of my WonderSwan boxes. So when it’s all done, I’m packing it up and sending it somewhere else actually! I don’t know, what what should I do next? What comes after this? Will I have life… like, what motivation will I have after this?
Frank Cifaldi 1:07:46
Yeah, I don’t think you can know yet.
Kelsey Lewin 1:07:50
Frank Cifaldi 1:07:51
I mean, you’re not going to be lifted of the curse of desire, you know what I mean? Like, you’re going to find a next thing.
Kelsey Lewin 1:08:01
Yeah, I’m sure I will.
Frank Cifaldi 1:08:01
You’re not satisfied. And I don’t know, like… I have a few that I juggle around. I basically turned the magazine thing into, like, a job. [Laughter] Like, I can spend a company’s money now!
Kelsey Lewin 1:08:20
You have another really neat collection, too!
Frank Cifaldi 1:08:23
The plug-and-play one?
Kelsey Lewin 1:08:25
It’s not just plug-and-play systems.
Frank Cifaldi 1:08:27
Yeah. So I collect self-contained… There’s a lot of qualifiers to this! [laughter]
Kelsey Lewin 1:08:35
That’s what makes it so interesting!
Frank Cifaldi 1:08:36
Self-contained systems, meaning the system and the controller and everything (it’s just some plug-and-play system) that at the core are based on a clone of the original NES and that contain original software on them. And also that software is not the, like, 301 garbage you can buy at Walgreens right now.
Kelsey Lewin 1:09:04
So basically these are NES games but they’re obviously not running on a NES cartridge. They were not developed for the NES but they are developed for hardware that basically is the NES, maybe the NES with a couple bells and whistles added?
Frank Cifaldi 1:09:21
Yeah. Some of them are literally just an NES. A good example of that would be the Intellivision plug-and-play that was sold in 2005. That’s just an NES in there. And there are Intellivision games ported to the NES – which by the way, that should just sell this whole concept right now, right?
Kelsey Lewin 1:09:40
Yeah! That’s fascinating.
Frank Cifaldi 1:09:42
Like, that’s weird! The Atari Flashback – the original Atari Flashback – also from 2005 or so? Also an NES. So these are Atari 2600 and 7800 games that I believe a team in China, called Nice Code (possibly), ported on commission from what was then Atari. Other interesting ones? I mean, there’s one that is its own – it’s just a fishing rod with a NES built inside. And it’s got an original fishing game that’s actually done by a developer I really like, called Hummer Team. They did – if you’re familiar with on official NES stuff – they did like Somari and they did that Super Mario World port. And they did all the fighting games, like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. They did this original weird fishing game. But this controller: it’s got a fishing reel that when you reel it, it’s just rapidly pressing one of the buttons. It’s really smart design. It recognizes ‘flicked’; flick your line as, like, up or something, I don’t know. That’s an interesting one. There’s a Sesame Street one. There’s a Golden Nugget Casino. There’s all these weird licensed ones. I just discovered that there’s a Win, Lose or Draw drawing tablet one – I just discovered this last night – that inside is running a system that’s basically built on the NES. And I’m just fascinated by this idea that the system continued and survived. And there are these secret NES games hidden on throw-away products that no one else that I know of is collecting. I don’t think anyone else is collecting this stuff, let alone documenting! Yeah, that’s true. There’s no one even documenting which ones there are!
Kelsey Lewin 1:11:33
I mean, I think you’re the only person who’s been selling that, “Hey, these aren’t just games on here. They are NES games; they’re Famicom games! Which, by the way, that means Famicom game development – like, retail Famicom game development – is 37 years old now.
Frank Cifaldi 1:11:52
Yeah, it’s never stopped.
Kelsey Lewin 1:11:53
Frank Cifaldi 1:11:55
Yeah, we did a museum display at Portland to demonstrate this. But there has not been a year that has gone by without a commercial Famicom game developed, if you count these things, since 1983. It just never stopped.
Kelsey Lewin 1:12:10
I think at very least people would count the ones that are for sale at, like, a CVS, right? I mean, even if you don’t think that ROM hacks that people put out on cartridges and sell at game conventions and stuff – even if you don’t think that counts – surely the NES games that you can go buy at Bed, Bath & Beyond or Target count, right?
Frank Cifaldi 1:12:32
At Bed, Bath & Beyond you can get a joystick that has a WWF game on it that was an Acclaim game at the time. But they updated the wrestling roster as a ROM hack and are selling it to you now. Like, that’s a thing. You can just go buy, right now. (Well, maybe not right now. It’s been a couple years.) Yeah! Well, I mean, they I keep coming out, right? So… But actually, I mean… You mentioned CVS. There are those really terrible little portable retro things that you can get behind the counter. And they’re not strictly NES but they are, at the core, still an NES with other bells and whistles (like you described it) tacked on to it with new games. And some of them, like… There’s a Frozen system! As in Disney’s Frozen! That’s essentially the NES deep inside with just higher resolution and more colors and sound, but the architecture is a clone of the Nintendo. And that’s really interesting! So, that’s my weird collection. And the good thing about that one is that there’s no such thing as a complete set. That is not a thing with… I don’t know, Well, sort of, but it’s more that since there’s no documented master list you can’t refer to a database somewhere of all of them. Like, it’s something where it’s just infinite discovery!
Kelsey Lewin 1:13:56
Yeah, I thought I had it difficult in that the Wikipedia WonderSwan list is incomplete and actually has two unreleased games on it for some reason. There’s a couple little complicated things with collecting for the WonderSwan, but it’s nothing like that! There are at least lists I can reference and bounce off of and learn from. There’s none of that for you!
Frank Cifaldi 1:14:21
No. So that’s a fun one. I don’t know how historically important it is but it’s really interesting to me. A lot of this stuff is now in MAME because I’ve sent off things to be destroyed and dumped for that purpose. All right, next one’s yours.
Kelsey Lewin 1:14:38
All right. Rob Schmuck, @RJ_Star, asks: “What is important for collectors to consider about preservation? Are they unknowingly harming the effort to save information for the future? What role do collectors play in the current state of game preservation or should play and has enough Bubsy history been saved already?” [Laughter]
Frank Cifaldi 1:14:58
[Laughter] Good question. We have a pretty nice collection of Bugsy material here in the office. We’ve got an original Bubsy promotional coffee mug, we’ve got a stand-up display…
Kelsey Lewin 1:15:08
Well, according tweet the other day, you actually record in a full Bubsy suit. Right?
Frank Cifaldi 1:15:13
That’s true – I cosplay as Bubsy in order to get into character for this show. That’s true. I think there’s, like, five questions here! Four questions. So I think there is a really interesting discussion here, I’m just trying to make sure I have the right one. I do think that collectors play a role in the video game preservation ecosystem. This is something that we… This is how we started describing things essentially when we relaunched the site in October (I think it was). In that at the Foundation, we do think there is an ecosystem of people are interested in video game history and they all have a part to play. And we absolutely think collectors are a part of that.
Kelsey Lewin 1:16:01
Yeah, they’re a stakeholder in this, absolutely. And they, in fact, are the reason that many things have been saved. When you’re beginning to think about game preservation, I think there are lots of people who come at it from what their own interests are. And sometimes that interest is the only reason we can even know about anything. I mean, someone who is really interested in a certain Atari game or something, finding the programmer and reaching out, and then all of a sudden we know about a new, unreleased game or something like that! Collectors have done a lot of – what I think people would consider – traditional preservation work just in that way.
Frank Cifaldi 1:16:52
Yeah. I mean, even things as simple as, “What’s the list of Atari games?”
Kelsey Lewin 1:16:57
Sure, yeah. They’re still working on it, by the way.
Frank Cifaldi 1:17:01
Right! Much like the NES plug-and-plays, there’s no ending to collecting Atari 2600 cartridges; there’s just there’s not a way to do that. I mean… I think a game was discovered, like, two years ago, even? Like, a commercial game from the early ’80s was discovered, like, two years ago. So that’s sort of the easiest base level. I also think that a lot of collectors are eventual donors to the preservation cause, is another really easy answer to that. But there’s also some nuanced stuff here. Something that comes to mind for me is that, sometimes it takes the idea of money for material to surface at all.
Kelsey Lewin 1:17:58
Frank Cifaldi 1:17:59
It takes the idea of, “Maybe this is worth something,” for a former Nintendo employee to go looking through their garage for stuff. SimCity NES would not have happened if the owner of that cartridge had not gone to a game store, talked to the owner, said he was a former Nintendo guy, and the owner said, “Well, your stuff might be worth money, bring it in.” Like, that’s how we saved that game, ultimately!
Kelsey Lewin 1:18:29
Yeah! Until there is a… I mean, everyone listening to this podcast is probably like, “Yeah, of course, prototypes are important. Of course, all of that stuff!” But for a lot of these people, especially people who have maybe been out of the industry for fifteen, twenty years, that was just a job for them! That was just their job. If you are, like, an accountant or something and someone all of a sudden was like, “Oh, my God, everything you did was so important!” I mean, that might surprise you to! Sometimes people just had jobs in the game industry and didn’t necessarily realize that what they were working on – something like SimCity – was actually super historically important, or at least of extreme interest to people. So collectors play a really huge role in getting the word out to people in general that their stuff might be of importance. And even if they don’t necessarily think it’s of monetary importance, just that there’s interest in it? Just that this job, this “whatever” job they had fifteen years ago, might have been important.
Frank Cifaldi 1:19:34
Yeah. And some people can be inspired by just people reaching out who are interested, right? I mean, we’ve certainly had our share – both of us – have had our share of people we’ve contacted being like, “What? Why are you talking to me?” [Laughter] And then sometimes they’re like, “Oh, yeah, of course, I’ll talk to you all about GlucoBoy,” right?
Kelsey Lewin 1:20:01
He was still surprised! He was just also excited.
Frank Cifaldi 1:20:05
Right, but I think other times people are just like, “Ah, it’s not worth… I just – it’s not, I don’t care. I don’t want to talk about it. I might even have stuff but I don’t wanna talk about it.” But sometimes those people, again, might be inspired by the promise of money. And I think a lot of people in the preservation community don’t like that. I think they would prefer an ideal world where this stuff just happens organically. But I think that the promise of potential money… I’ve used it as a tactic! So one of my early specialties was surfacing – I guess there’s a trend with the NES – was surfacing unreleased NES games. That’s kind of where I practically got my start with all this. And years ago, I just felt like I hit a wall with anything more surfacing naturally. And so in order to sort of stoke that into happening more, maybe into getting people to maybe dig more, I did a stunt that… I had a (I guess we still have it’s on loan, though) we have a prototype of Final Fantasy II for the NES. Meaning the game that came out in Japan but not here. But we have it on an actual cartridge and it’s the official English translation. It’s the only copy known to exist of Final Fantasy II on the NES. (ROMs been out online since, like, 2005. It’s around, don’t worry.) But we have the physical item. And what I did was, I put it on eBay with a $50,000 “buy it now,” which actually now doesn’t sound that crazy! [Laughter]
Kelsey Lewin 1:22:04
No, I think it would reach that now in auction, actually! [Laughter]
Frank Cifaldi 1:22:08
Back in like 2012, or whenever I did this, was actually crazy! But I did that not because I thought people would actually buy it. (But if they did, great!) But because I assumed it would get some headlines, which it did. We were on like Yahoo! Games and the USA Today blog and stuff like that. And I would hope that the headlines would start surfacing more unreleased games because people would go like, “Oh, I worked on a game that never came out, I should find that!” And yeah, it might end up being expensive. But sometimes you got to do things like that just to crowdsource more material to save. Anyway, I think the the collector’s market existing is playing that role, if nothing else.
Kelsey Lewin 1:22:59
Yeah and the other thing, I think collectors can be really good allies for this stuff in a way that I think that the greater preservation community sometimes doesn’t like to admit because, you know, there is money involved when you’re talking about collecting things. But yeah, as we’ve been talking about, the only reason we know about a lot of this stuff is because of collectors. And as far as what’s important for collectors to consider, it’s just: make sure you have a plan. Make sure you have an end game for your collection; that you have a plan for what’s going to happen with it when you’re gone. And plan that early. I have a good friend of mine who is in his 30s. He’s too young to be thinking about this by all normal means –
Frank Cifaldi 1:23:50
No, he’s not… you know?
Kelsey Lewin 1:23:51
Right, exactly. But you know, while he really likes having all the stuff that he’s collected over the years right now, he’s identified places it should go in the future. (And you know, I don’t want to reveal what exactly his plans are!) But make sure you have a plan for that sort of thing. You can always talk to us about it. We can help you figure out where the best home for some of this stuff is going to be once you’re gone. Sometimes people for retail games and that sort of thing… A lot of it, of course, can just be passed down through generations. But especially if you have things that might be historically important, just make sure you know where that stuff’s gonna go when you’re gone so it doesn’t accidentally get donated to a Goodwill or thrown in the trash or something along those lines.
Frank Cifaldi 1:24:50
And… a lot of times, what I’ve run into is, “This is for my kids, they’ll figure it out.” Which is great. But even in that situation, make sure they understand what’s important.
Kelsey Lewin 1:25:10
Right, yeah. Your kids, for all good intentions, might not have the same understanding if your collection.
Frank Cifaldi 1:25:19
They might just have a yard sale and end up throwing things away at the end of the day or something, you know? Just make sure that it’s understood what it is that’s important to people if you’re thinking of leaving things to your kids. I don’t know of anything bad happening yet. But I’m assuming that it has, because of stuff like that. Because, I mean, if if it’s like, “Well, let’s just sell dad’s old stuff,” they’re just gonna sell – and they don’t know the material – at best, maybe they look games up on eBay and know how to price the games. But then they come to the important, interesting, weird stuff, and they look it up and can’t find anything. So they maybe even trash it, right?
Kelsey Lewin 1:26:09
Rob, I know you specifically have stuff in your collection that might not be obvious to your son.
Frank Cifaldi 1:26:19
Ahh… It’s a little bit morbid. And I think people in general are uncomfortable with this topic. But it’s something that before you and I even met, when I STARTED started the Foundation, mostly talking to Steve Lin on our board, it’s something that we identified early on as a service, that someone needs to be providing is consultancy and stuff like that.
Kelsey Lewin 1:26:42
Frank Cifaldi 1:26:44
We never quite followed through on that. But it’s something to think about for sure. All right, DiscoCola asks: “Will materials be made for viewing for the proximity challenged, or can the archives only be able to be viewed in person?” The short answer for this is that it’s not on purpose that it’s not. It’s just very challenging to have a digital archive of video game material for a variety of reasons. All of which come down to a lack of resources for building this thing out. And, there’s legal… Sure. There’s that too. Yeah. And, um…
Kelsey Lewin 1:27:34
But I think, before we go any further, I think we should say that this is one of our top priorities in general at the Foundation is that, we want people to be able to access this stuff. We want more people to be able to be historians and we want more video game history out there. So it is absolutely a huge priority that everything we have – as much of it as possible – can be viewed not in person and can be viewed in some sort of digital archive.
Frank Cifaldi 1:28:08
I would prefer not to have to have the real estate and resources and stuff. I’m not joking! Like, I would prefer that we didn’t have to have a physical archive that people access. I would prefer that that would be unnecessary. That’s just not reality. We can’t scan 10,000 magazines and put them on the internet. Like, the pipeline for that’s a nightmare. So like Kelsey said, it is absolutely a company priority. So much so that I actually suspect that the beginnings of that happen maybe before they should, even?
Kelsey Lewin 1:28:54
We’ve done a lot of work on this in terms of identifying the services that we can use and the costs and all of that stuff. We’ve done a lot of work on figuring out what this is going to look like. It’s just, you know, there’s just not a button we press to launch. It’s something we have to ramp up to.
Frank Cifaldi 1:29:14
Right, and it’s it’s a cataloguing cost. It’s a digitizing cost. It’s a… I mean, paying for the service is really expensive, hosting the files, things like that.
Kelsey Lewin 1:29:25
Salaries worth of costs.
Frank Cifaldi 1:29:27
Yeah. And Kelsey alluded to there being a legal challenge, as well. The source project ties into that as well, where it’s like, “How do we let people access this material?” Even if it’s not necessarily… You know, with signed-off permission from the copyright holder, is there a way to do that? We have a lot of exploration to do. And it’s the thing where established libraries have not solved this yet. There’s a notion called controlled digital lending that libraries use. If you’ve ever used a service called hoopla or if you’ve ever borrowed a book from the Internet Archive, that’s called controlled digital lending. And the way that works is that if a library has a book on a shelf somewhere, they can loan out a digital copy of that book as long as the physical ones not somewhere else, also. They can they can loan out a digital version in lieu of someone borrowing the physical one. And that’s something that’s as far as my research – and again, this is so new that I’m just having to do this research myself. As far as I know, no one’s ever tried to apply that to anything but books. I’ve talked to the Internet Archive, they’re not even interested in exploring that for software. And we just… I don’t know if that’s something that we can find a legal argument for, etc. But I would love to have a future where we can offer things that we can’t get legal clearance for and stuff like that, without having to risk the Foundation essentially.
Kelsey Lewin 1:31:23
Frank Cifaldi 1:31:24
All right. Last one’s yours!
Kelsey Lewin 1:31:26
All right, Man Whom Posts, @john_michonski, asks: “Do you think for releases such as Digital Eclipse’s can be more common as time goes on and what are the hurdles to releases such as theirs? Can there be more game releases similar to how Discotek releases classic anime with complete bonus features?” Oh, my gosh, can’t talk today… [laughter] that’s a problem on a podcast.
Frank Cifaldi 1:31:52
I mean, obviously this is mostly aimed at me, this question, because I’m former Digital Eclipse. I’ve worked on quite a few projects with them. I’ve done a couple GDC talks that if you’re interested in you haven’t watched, you should look up. They’re both on YouTube. The first one is called “It’s Just Emulation!” Second one’s called “It’s Still Emulation.” And the short answer is that… I don’t know if they get more common, but I think they could be more common. And what I tend to argue when I talk about this stuff is that this is a new type of product that I am extremely confident there’s a market for – we just have to establish that market. So I think what we’re seeing right now, even though they’ve been going on for years, I think these are just early attempts at building that kind of market. I believe – because I’m one of them – I believe that there’s a market of people who essentially purchase an older title for a new console not because they want to play it. I think people often buy these products because they want to remember, they want to feel happy and nostalgic or whatever.
Kelsey Lewin 1:33:30
Well, and they kind of believe in it too, right?
Frank Cifaldi 1:33:32
Right. They believe in the idea. Right. Exactly.
Kelsey Lewin 1:33:36
It’s almost like the same way that sometimes people will buy big coffee table books and that sort of thing. It’s not that you spend a lot of time looking through a coffee table book.
Frank Cifaldi 1:33:45
No one reads a coffee table book! [laughter]
Kelsey Lewin 1:33:47
You have this thing that’s like, “This is my interest. This is important. This is important enough to throw $40-$50 at for really just believing in the idea of it, right?”
Frank Cifaldi 1:34:01
And I think that… That’s such a good analogy, and in fact that’s that’s how I tend to think of these products: they’re digital coffee table books. And in my experience, and I don’t think many people would deny this, I buy a coffee table book, I flip through it once, it goes on the shelf. And I’m never dissatisfied with that. It’s fine. That’s what I bought into. And
Kelsey Lewin 1:34:25
You’re not mad that I haven’t played every game on the SNK Collection.
Frank Cifaldi 1:34:29
Right! No, I don’t… you shouldn’t play every game on SNK 40th Anniversary, no! [laughter] A lot of this came from… it’s kind of funny, a lot of this came from me buying Mega Man Anniversary Collection on the GameCube and being disappointed that all I could do is play games. I thought that an “anniversary collection” should… I thought it should be Sonic Jam but Mega Man, was my thought at the time. And then it’s kind of cool that I got to like, practically redo Anniversary Collection as Legacy Collection in the way that I had in mind! (At least on the budget that we had.) So anyway, the point being that I think this is a new type of product that we’ve only seen some prototypes of, essentially. Anything I’ve ever worked on to me is just like, “We’re still trying to figure out what a digital coffee table book on a video game console is.” So I think if more people start doing what we do, the way we do, then I do think we create that market. But I think, you know, it almost needs another name?
Kelsey Lewin 1:35:46
Rather than a video game, it needs to be called something else?
Frank Cifaldi 1:35:49
Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe something like that. But the thing I point to really often that I think is the best example of what I have in mind for this type of product is a PS2 disc called The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2. This is something that doesn’t even have a game on it! Maybe has some VR missions as a bonus thing, I don’t remember. You know, they probably did that just to be able to submit to Sony or something. But there’s a separate product called the document of Metal Gear Solid 2, and all it is is a an interactive bonus DVD about the making of Metal Gear Solid 2. So you have things like FMV viewer where you can move the camera around, you can view the in game models and rotate them around and like that includes some some unused art direction, and stuff like that. And it’s it’s a disc that is just that it’s not the game. And so I want to see more of that I want to I want to be able to establish that market. So I think, again, I I very much believe that the the video game fan is maybe the most ravenous entertainment fan. Like these are people who pour dozens if not hundreds of hours into one game, right. And like, that’s not like a movie that you watch and you have a nice time with. It’s like that’s a part of your life. It’s a part of your personal story. And I think that that market is being underserved in a way that is baffling. And I think that they are hungry for this kind of product. But it’s one that generally video game developers video game publishers and video game. Market operators, you know, Xbox, PlayStation steam, don’t really understand yet, because it’s a new idea. So I would like to see it thrive. I think it could work it just more people got to try.
Kelsey Lewin 1:36:08
Frank Cifaldi 1:38:06
I think that’s it.
Kelsey Lewin 1:38:09
“The Video Game History Hours” almost, with this podcast today. So [laughter] appreciate everyone who’s stuck around for this long and, uh…
Frank Cifaldi 1:38:22
The listeners love this kind of thing, you know.
Kelsey Lewin 1:38:24
OK, all right. You don’t speak for them, you don’t know!
Frank Cifaldi 1:38:28
I speak for [Chef microcracks. Hamburger bacon cut of meat slicer pizza taco] When I say that he is very happy that this one went long.
Kelsey Lewin 1:38:39
All right, well, thank you so much to everyone who submitted a question. I’m sorry, we couldn’t get to quite all of them. But we talk a lot when we answer questions! So thank you for listening. Happy New Year! Happy End of 2020.
Frank Cifaldi 1:38:51
Happy Holidays, even! I mean, I guess we’re past that, technically, when you’re hearing this. But you know what? For us? For me and Kelsey? It’s not Christmas yet. So we get to experience Christmas even though you already have.
Kelsey Lewin 1:39:06
Frank Cifaldi 1:39:06
Yeah. Okay, so much everyone for all your support and for listening and for. I mean, it was a weird year, but it was a really successful one for us. And we’re very happy. So thank you so much.
Kelsey Lewin 1:39:22
Thank you for continuing to believe in us. And we hope to do this for many, many, many more years and past our lifetimes, too.
Frank Cifaldi 1:39:29
Yeah, I’m gonna I’m gonna die doing this.
Kelsey Lewin 1:39:31
Me too. Cool. All right.
Frank Cifaldi 1:39:33
Yeah. Thanks, everyone.
Kelsey Lewin 1:39:36
Happy New Year. Thanks for listening to the video game history hour brought to you by the Video Game History Foundation. If you have questions or comments for the show, you can find us on Twitter @gamehistoryhour or email us at podcast at game history.org. Did you know that Video Game History Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and that all of your contributions are tax deductible? You can support this podcast and all of our other work on Patreon or at gamehistory.org/donate. This episode of the Video Game History Hour was produced by Robin Kunimune and edited by Michael Carrell. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.