Damian Rogers from Japan’s Game Preservation Society joins us this week to talk about their new documentary series: Geimu. Born out of necessity during the pandemic to replace their annual in-person summer event, Geimu episodes highlight well-deserving Japanese game developers who might not normally get as much media attention. Episode one, 芸夢 [gei·mɯ] File #1 – Yūichi TOYAMA〈外山雄一〉～Pioneer of Modern Real-Time Strategy Games～, puts a spotlight on Mr. Toyama, a pioneer in the RTS genre.
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The Video Game History Hour music is Blippy Trance by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Kelsey Lewin 00:09
Welcome to episode number 19 of the Video Game History Hour presented by the Video Game History Foundation. Every episode we’ll be bringing in an expert guest, someone who’s done the research and has an interesting story from video game history to tell. Although, as with the last like 4 episodes, that’s really kind of true this time, I really need a new intro. Anyways, my name is Kelsey Lewin. I’m 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 00:37
And the person who keeps trying to change the format of the show, too.
Kelsey Lewin 00:42
You write my new intro!
Frank Cifaldi 00:44
Fine. Our guest today is Damian Rogers, a member of the Japanese non-profit Game Preservation Society, Damien’s here today to talk with us about the Society’s new documentary series Geimu, as well as the functions of the Society itself, which I’m really excited to talk about. Damien, welcome to the Video Game History Hour.
Damian Rogers 01:05
Thank you very much. I’m thrilled to be here.
Frank Cifaldi 01:08
I’m thrilled to hear that you’re thrilled. So I’d like to start this conversation about the Society’s new documentary series Geimu. Can you tell us what Geimu is?
Damian Rogers 01:20
Sure. Well, a Geimu is, you know, in a couple words, it’s a documentary series that we are producing, the first episode has been released. And, you know, really, this is an offshoot of what we do every year, which is a summer time event, where we feature a certain game company, and we invite someone related to that company, like a developer or a game designer, and we invite them to come and speak. And we’ll have them you know, talk about their history, their time with the company, their time with the industry, in general, their memories of, you know, the work they’ve done on games and so on, you know, we’ll hold a Q&A session with them. So we do that, you know, every summer, it’s our annual summer event. But of course, last year was the year that it was, and we weren’t able to do that, due to the pandemic. So we were planning, you know, and thinking, what can we do instead of the event, and, you know, we were thinking about making a video, and from there, it kind of evolved into what it did, we were originally going to do the event about Technosoft. And so, you know, we, we decided, you know, instead to make that a documentary instead of doing a summer event about it. So really, that’s what that’s what this is, this was supposed to take the place of the event. And talk about, you know, in this case, it’s Yuichi Toyama we invited on, and he talks about his time in the industry, his memories, and some of the games he’s worked on. And, yeah, that’s how that came about.
Frank Cifaldi 02:48
So kinda, I’d like to go a little bit deeper than into that, that function of the Society then. So it sounds like this is an annual event, you said, Where were you sort of find a Japanese game developer who speaks publicly and, and answers questions. That’s something that the Society typically does?
Damian Rogers 03:08
Yeah. So like, for example, when not last year, but two years ago, we had a, we did a special presentation on Game Arts. And, yeah, what we’ll do is we’ll have like a special exhibition we’ll bring in the actual hardware and have the games kind of playing on the computers we’ll do. You know, the the box art itself we’ll have set up, you know, with a little bit of information below it set up like, you know, like a museum, exhibition hall. And also during the day, like I said, we will have one of the game creators come in and tell us their memories of the games and their time in the industry, and then we’ll have a Q&A session with them. And it’s something we’ve done for a few years now. But of course, last year, it just wasn’t possible. So that was, that was the spark that created Geimu. Basically,
Kelsey Lewin 03:54
And can you talk a little bit about what sort of the the purpose is behind that? I mean, is, is this for the other developers to kind of remind them that their own history is important is this for the general public to get a greater interest in learning about video game history? What do you see as the the intention of that?
Damian Rogers 04:18
Well, the intention is, it’s definitely intended for our members, all of our members are free to join. It’s also open to the public, I believe, who pay a certain fee to join, but for our members, it’s free. So really, it’s it’s kind of a public outreach. It’s a way of, you know, letting people know, who are interested in these games, you know, to hear more of the backstory behind it. And so in that regard, also, it’s a way of preserving the stories of these developers who may not be as I don’t want to say not as important enough but maybe you know, they’re not your Miyamoto’s out there. They’re not your Hideo Kojima’s they don’t have the ton of interviews, their their story may not be as well preserved. So this event is one way to to single out a person or a couple people and get their story out there, both for the fans and from a preservation perspective, story wise.
Kelsey Lewin 05:08
Yeah. So that leads me into one of the questions that we had which is, is Yuichi Toyama? Is he a well known developer in Japan? I mean, certainly, here. We’ve probably heard of a few of his games, maybe if you’re kind of a if you’re kind of hardcore, but in general, I mean, these aren’t games that really struck the American audience as much, as you all know, in Japan.
Damian Rogers 05:32
Yeah, well, in Japan, he’s, again, he’s not one of those huge major developers. He doesn’t have the recognizability of, you know, Yuzo Koshiro, or Yusuke or anything. But
Kelsey Lewin 05:43
Damian Rogers 05:43
His games are relatively well known here. Probably in the West, you know, there’s Musha Alesta, that’s probably the most well known. But his arcade shooting games are the are pretty well known the Raizing shooting games like Dimahoo and Kingdom Grandprix, and Sorcerer Striker. And Sokyugurentai [Terra Diver]. Those are pretty well known over here, just because the shooting scene is so strong. And of course, his PC Engine games like Spriggan, the two Spriggan games, those are pretty well known among the NEC TurboGrapfx, you know, PC Engine fans. So I wouldn’t say he’s extremely popular. But you know, his catalogue of games is relatively well known. Because they were, you know, pretty well made, I would say.
Frank Cifaldi 06:25
And you actually describe Toyama as a pioneer of modern real-time strategy games.
Damian Rogers 06:33
Frank Cifaldi 06:34
And you go into this in the video, but just to, you know, kind of kind of give our listeners maybe a hint of what that means. Can you can you explain that?
Sure. Well, that probably stems from his creation of the game Herzog. But, you know, even in the video, he’s quick to point out that that game was inspired by an earlier game, and you know, he kind of shies away from taking undue credit for it. So he’s kind of humble in that regard. But that game definitely had a lot of RTS elements to it, with both sides kind of setting up their different units to kind of face off. So I think that’s where, you know, is associated with his association with being a pioneer of RTS comes from.
Frank Cifaldi 07:19
And is that sort of why the focus was on Mr. Toyama this summer?
Damian Rogers 07:28
Well, that was exactly why, again, originally, our summer event was going to be about Technosoft in general. And there were I think 4 people scheduled originally, but only Toyama-san was available during the pandemic. So we kind of shifted focus to his career rather than Technosoft in general.
Frank Cifaldi 07:48
I don’t know, I, I think you’ve, you know, that I think the events that you put on are probably great, but I feel fortunate that I can watch this. Know, I don’t I don’t get to see, you know, GPS’s events normally, and and I thought this, this little documentary was, was substantial. I thought it was a really interesting piece.
Damian Rogers 08:15
Definitely, I feel like it was a case of turning lemons into lemonade. Definitely. When I heard that we were making the documentary, I thought that’s actually a really great idea. Because, you know, we’re in the process of trying to, to reach out internationally and with a video like this, you know, a well made documentary that’s both enjoyable to watch and informative. That’s, that’s a great platform for us. I think. So I’m glad it happened this way, to be honest, yes.
Kelsey Lewin 08:40
So is this something is this sort of what the project is evolving to moving forward? I mean, in a in a non-COVID. world, are these two separate tracks now? Or? Is it going to be folded back into the summer event to be or have you not thought that far?
Damian Rogers 08:57
So well, super far along. I’m not too sure what the plan is, I do know that we would like to go back to the summer events at some point. That may not be this year. And we would like I think at this point, it’s going to become two tracks. Yes, we will continue to have our summer events, if possible. But we would also like to continue the documentary series.
Kelsey Lewin 09:16
Damian Rogers 09:17
The first one we produced was redirecting our budget for the summer event into creating this. And you know, if people really like it, um, we would like to possibly start some kind of fundraiser, or even if we just get a huge amount of supporting members, we can look into creating more episodes. So I think going forward, yeah, it will be, we will go back to doing summer events as much as we can, because those are, as much as the video is great. And I love it. It’s also really stimulating to have the actual person in the room and hear them talk and have that conversation. So I think there’s value in that too. And so going forward, we definitely create more Geimu episodes. That’s the goal, but we’re going to be looking to fundraising To do that in the future, I think.
Frank Cifaldi 10:03
So we talked about this before the show, but it’s not a secret like, like really, Geimu for us was just an excuse to get to get someone from the Society on the show because, you know, we don’t really have a lot of insight into what the Game Preservation Society’s functions are, other than some conversations I’ve had with Joseph Redon, the founder. So, I mean, let’s just switch gears here. So can you tell us about the Society in a general sense?
Damian Rogers 10:41
Sure. Well, it’s a nonprofit organization based here in Japan, with the headquarters being in Tokyo. The organization is a nonprofit was founded about 10 years ago, but the project has its roots with Joseph going all the way back to 1997. You know, we’re relatively small, we’re only 29 members. And we have about 350 supporting members from all around the world. And, of course, our goal is to preserve video games, I think that goes without saying. But a little more detailed, we are looking to develop technical solutions to help with, you know, migrating media from its original magnetic and fragile format to you know, modern, modern digital formats that can be easily preserved. We’re also looking to build a database of all known games in Japan. And we’re also looking to build an archive for research, both digital and analog. And, you know, we work as a network of people all around the country, people who have various skills and you know, collections of games, with physical archives around the country. You know, we have the main one in Tokyo, we have a book archive in Saitama, I know there’s an office in Kyoto. So, you know, we have all these people, all these skills, and we’re all working together to preserve games at a technical and a physical level.
Kelsey Lewin 12:00
And can you speak to what some of the challenges are with that? I mean, a lot of people I think, have different definitions of what game preservation means. So what are the what are the preservation challenges that GPS tries to tackle?
Damian Rogers 12:16
Right? Well, one of the unique problems here in Japan is copyright issues. You know, the Fair Use laws are not as strong as they are in other countries, you know, especially America, where I came from originally. So we don’t have as much freedom to share content, screenshots, and videos and things like that. That’s probably our biggest issue. We also have a bit of a relationship with some of these companies that are still in operation, you know, some of these video game developers are still around, and we want to stay on good terms with them. So we have to balance things like not having these Fair Use laws not being able to share certain content, and also trying to maintain a good relationship with some of these companies so that we can, you know, get access to some of their information, or, for example, Falcom, one of the Japanese developers recently gave us, I shouldn’t say, they gave us they donated a bunch of boxes of their old, just video games and some documents and things like that, that, you know, they didn’t really need anymore, and they didn’t have an interest in holding on to it, because they have a good relationship with them, we were top of mind when they decided to get rid of it. So, again, that’s probably the biggest challenge we have is trying to maintain this good relationship, but also trying to share with people the the interestingness the the why we like these games so much through screenshots and videos and gameplay recordings and things like that.
Frank Cifaldi 13:49
It’s kind of interesting to hear that perspective, because I think I can credit a lot of the Foundation’s success to the opposite to, to essentially, you know, publishing interesting things that that we didn’t ask permission to publish, which is what gets eyeballs on us, which is also what gets the industry talking to us. And it’s, you know, it’s a challenge. I’m thankful not to have here. It’s a strict Fair Use stuff.
Damian Rogers 14:27
Yeah. Yeah, that’s, that’s something that we kind of struggle with. Because we know that other organizations like yours, who are doing great work, but they have a lot more. What’s the word? I’m looking for? A lot more availability, with
Frank Cifaldi 14:41
Damian Rogers 14:42
Autonomy. That’s that’s a good word for it. Yeah.
Frank Cifaldi 14:44
Damian Rogers 14:45
Yeah. With what they can share and with what’s like you said, what, what gets eyeballs and we don’t necessarily have that as much. So we’re kind of stuck within that framework.
Kelsey Lewin 14:55
Yeah, I think that’s probably both an important thing to try to express to an international audience as you guys are, as you guys are growing and trying to reach out to an international as you’re reaching out to an international audience, I mean, I think here in America, that’s not something we really understand. As much, obviously, we have plenty of copyright problems and I.P. problems here in the States as well. But in terms of, you know, just sharing some context and some screenshots and that sort of thing. I mean, that’s not something we have to worry about, and might be confusing, I think, to some of the people here like, you know, well, why don’t you just blank? Is that something that, that you feel like you’ve had to have tough conversations about with the, with international audiences?
Damian Rogers 15:45
I think it’s it’s hindered us getting new supporters? Because I think people have this sort of idea of, well, what do I get out of it? You know, if I, if I, if I donate this money every year, what what do I get out of it? Unfortunately, what you get out of it, a lot of it was only here in Japan. I mean, there was the things like the summer events, which were open to members for free, the the use of the archive, all of that is in Japan. But we can’t do things like, frankly, we’ve had some people say, you know, Hey, can I get a copy of this game? Well, no, it’s copyrighted. Sorry. You know, we do have a little bit of leeway in making copies for ourselves and storing them. But obviously, it’s not something we can freely distribute. And, and that sort of limitation. I mean, that that sort of, yeah, limitation that we’re stuck with kind of prevents some people I think, from being interested in supporting us, I feel.
Frank Cifaldi 16:42
So I wanna backtrack. Just the word Society, right, like you have members, it’s a collaborative effort. Can you explain kind of what you mean, by that? I mean, I do seem to recall just from a documentary that came out a few years ago that, you know, you sort of have people who specialize in different fields who who can collaborate on preservation needs? Is that kind of what the Society part of this means?
Damian Rogers 17:13
I think so. Honestly, we would need to get Joseph to tell us where he got the idea for the name Society in particular. But I feel that represents Well, the meaning behind it. Because yes, it’s at its core, a group of people who are passionate about this. And Society kind of has that, that air of a group of the word, I’m looking for a group of really knowledgeable, very passionate people, you know, and then that really describes the core members, because we’re all around the country, and we’re all have our one specialization and trying to help out with that. So yeah, I feel that that’s a good representation of, of the group.
Frank Cifaldi 17:50
Yeah. And I mean, you know, I named this thing a Foundation. And we’re, we’re not a Foundation by the traditional definition at all. A, the traditionally a Foundation in the nonprofit world is a nonprofit that seeds grant money to, to things to needs right to help them and, you know, I kind of fudged it a little bit, but like, in the same reason that Society implies, you know, like a movement of people who are committed to a cause and working together for for us. Foundation meant, like, we need to build the foundation of the house. You know what I mean?
Damian Rogers 18:36
Well that makes sense.
Frank Cifaldi 18:37
Yeah, so. Yeah, it’s a lot of power in a name like that. And the game, the Game Preservation Society, for me, just always, you know, it brings to mind like, a unified nation of video game preservationists.
Damian Rogers 18:58
Right? I think we definitely feel that way. We are definitely all committed to this cause pretty strongly, which is a bit of a minority here in Japan, people who are interested in this sort of old thing. So I think we definitely feel pretty unified and close knit in that regard.
Frank Cifaldi 19:16
You mentioned this, Joseph would be all over this question. But I’m asking you because you’re here. You met, you mentioned creating tech solutions for data migration, right.
Damian Rogers 19:30
Frank Cifaldi 19:31
Can you kind of talk about why there need to be tech solutions, because I think a lot of people are just kind of assumed, like, Oh, you put the floppy disk in the computer. Bada bing, bada boom, done, right. But it’s more complicated than that. Right.
Damian Rogers 19:46
Right. I mean, in a perfect world where there’s no entropy, yes, you put the disc in the drive and everything’s perfect. Um, but that’s not how things work. You’re right. The fact of the matter is this old media the discs The physical media itself is fragile, you know, floppy disk can be bent, there, they’re sensitive to temperature and mold, the magnetic media data itself can be easily erased entirely by accident.
Kelsey Lewin 20:13
Or just rot.
Damian Rogers 20:13
And as time goes on, that’s only going to become more of an issue. So we need to develop the solutions to preserve this data as explicitly, you know, as close to the original format as possible with, you know, we don’t want to just copy all the files and say, Hey, here’s a copy of the disk, we want to get down to the very magnetic, you know, wavelengths and record that all into data as much as we can. So we can create a one-to-one copy of the data itself. You know, and some of that some of the existing tools that are out there don’t quite match what we’re looking for, you know, one of the requirements we have is that we want to be able to do this in as few reads as possible, you know, put the disc in and have it read once and it’s done. Again, due to the fragility of the disk, some of the, some of these discs may be, you know, on death’s door, so we want to have it in there and read it once and be done with it not having to reread it over and over. So we feel it’s necessary to develop these tools ourselves, so that we can create as pristine of a copy as we as we can. So we can preserve these games, you know, make them playable, not only for us right now, but for people in the future. You know, we’re lucky that the hard drives and discs are still working now. But, you know, 10 years from now, maybe even 5 years from now, some of these, some of this hardware, some of this media may be completely dead. So we need to act as fast as we can to get that backed up.
Frank Cifaldi 21:35
And I think the the doing it, right part is something that maybe a lot of people don’t understand. I mean, for example, Travis, who is on our team here at the Foundation, recently got into the X68000, computer bless his soul. And he wanted to play the the Castlevania spin off available on that computer. And he went to the internet to get disk images. And I believe I believe he had five different images for this game that were all incorrect, in some way, like one of them might have infinite lives, one of them just straight up broken, etc. And I think that I think a lot of people don’t understand that, especially with floppy disk games, which is, I would say, from what I know, one of the main functions of the Society is preserving floppy specifically, I think people don’t tend to understand that what’s sort of out on the internet, it’s probably wrong in a lot of cases.
Damian Rogers 22:49
That’s, that’s entirely correct. You know, we have some of these groups, you know, there’s Tosik, the, the old school emulation community, or whatever they’re called. And we have some of these, these various checkers to say, Oh, this, this game was 100%. Correct. But really, they’re not basing that on anything they’re basing that maybe on, you know, we have x copies of this game, and 99% of them are correct, you know, I’m sorry, 99% of the match. So clearly, that’s the correct version. But there’s really no standard for that. And that’s what we are trying to do when we make a copy of a game we are looking for as much as possible new-in- box, you know, completely unopened. So we can make sure that that data is 100%, as it came out of the factory. We want to make sure that we have that exact copy and not something that was you know, modified in some way or maybe has a save file on it or is damaged. Obviously, we don’t want that. And something else you said that it seems like the primary work we do is backing up discs. That’s not really true. Really what we do is we want to preserve any game that was made in Japan. You know, we’ve already done some preservation work on arcade games, you know, we’ve repaired DECO Cassette drives, we we did that for one of the arcades in America, we fix their their DECO cassette drives actually, we’ve also worked to do preservation of some consumer consoles, for example, the Famicom Disk System, we’ve worked to preserve those discs as well. But it is true that there is a focus on PC discs on retro PC games. You know, there’s a couple reasons for that. First of all, we’ve talked about, you know, the fragile media, you know, that they’re decaying quickly as time goes on. But another reason is that there are far more PC games than there are on other platforms. You know, Joseph has said that there’s about 3 times as many PC games as there are home console games and about 10 times as many as there are arcade games. So just due to the sheer volume of PC games that were produced, we need to put some attention on that because otherwise we’ll never be done with it.
Kelsey Lewin 24:51
Yeah, I think sometimes people might not understand that prioritization is a really big part of you know, You have to decide what to do first, because there’s always an infinite amount of things to do.
Damian Rogers 25:04
Kelsey Lewin 25:05
But as a you know, as an organization, you can probably kind of see where things are already. Probably going to be okay. I mean, I’m sure, just like we’ve, you know, we’re not really worried about retail cartridge games over here, you guys are probably not so worried that Famicom games haven’t been dumped and preserved, right? So it’s, it’s really about trying to find the things that people haven’t done yet, or people haven’t done correctly. Right?
Damian Rogers 25:34
Exactly. Um, we feel that not only due to their, their age, and their the depths, I’m sorry, the depth of the project for PC games, we feel is something that’s been relatively neglected. You know, if you look at the history of video games for the last like 40-50 years, just like it was with with movies, and other kinds of new media early on, people didn’t really think anything of it, it was something they thought might kind of fizzle out and disappear pretty early. And some of those really early PC games, people didn’t think much of, of course, you know, a lot of the a lot of the original disc might have just been thrown away, hell, the whole computer might have been thrown away. Because that was their culture at the time, especially in the 1980s, the consumer culture was, there’s no need to preserve it, just go out and buy a new one. So despite the number of games that were produced, they’ve actually become quite rare. Over the years, just because people felt no read no reason to preserve them. So that’s yet another reason that we need to tackle the disk preservation in particular.
Frank Cifaldi 26:44
And I would actually think that the preservation of disc media probably also ties into this notion of building a database of all Japanese games, because I suspect you tell me if I’m wrong, but I suspect that, you know, a site like MobyGames is probably fantastic at Western titles, and slightly lacking in Japanese titles. And and I would further suspect that that’s because the knowledge of what games existed in Japan is mostly based on what’s been read and put on the internet.
Damian Rogers 27:25
I would totally agree with that. Yes. Even here in Japan, we don’t have such a database to refer to, we’ve actually started to receive a subsidy from the Japanese government, from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs to help them create such a database. And, you know, even even recently, we discovered the existence. So let me take a step back. There’s a company called SoftBank here in Japan. Now, they’re mostly known for cell phones. But in the 1980s, they got their start by distributing software. And that was where the name came from software bank, right SoftBank. And so it was discovered relatively recently that they had actually put out catalogs in the 1980s of their entire software, inventory, you know, business software. And of course, games that were and these magazines were actually available not just to retailers, but to they were just sold on shelves, like, Hey, this is our entire list of games you can order from us. And so when we find out about this, this is an incredible source of information for us. We were able to track those down at the National Library, and one of our recent projects is getting that entire list of games out and putting it in our database filling in holes, games that we didn’t even know existed to begin with. And you know, it has almost doubled our list of available games. Well, games that we knew existed, I should say.
Frank Cifaldi 28:48
Damian Rogers 28:49
Yeah. It’s crazy
Kelsey Lewin 28:49
Cool, with stuff like that. Do you do you run into this is something we run into at least here where you’ll have a catalog, but just because it was in a catalog doesn’t mean that the retailer actually had it in their hands. And in fact, the game may still even be, you know, unreleased, but they were just kind of advertising it early, because they figured they’d have it in their hands. You know, by the time they could ship it out? Do you guys run into stuff like that with these catalogs to?
Damian Rogers 29:14
Well, this this catalog was kind of a one off thing, I think, um, and I’m not sure as since SoftBank was a distributor, I would imagine this is things they actually had. But for us, it’s a matter of what we didn’t even know this game existed to begin with, because there are a lot of smaller games that didn’t get that coverage in, you know, like IO or or Micon BASIC or other, you know, PC magazines at the time, it didn’t feel like covering it. So we never knew it existed to begin with. So just even have it listed, you know, whether or not it actually made it out, or was just kind of a pipe dream. We know that it existed in some form at one point and that alone is valuable information.
Frank Cifaldi 29:53
Yeah, and, you know, I have a personal anecdote to sort of illustrate the lack of A reasonable catalogue of Japanese games, which is that I worked with the Japanese game company SNK, to produce a collection of their older titles, yes, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. And a big part of my job as, as the sort of creative lead on this project was trying to figure out what these games were. And I discovered very quickly that they’re, even for a company like SNK. There is not a definitive list, even in Japanese of the entire catalog of everything that they shipped. And, you know, there’s no records inside of the company for every title, like, I’m still not sure how many Micom Kits, they shipped in the late 70s. It’s somewhere between 2 and 6. And, you know, and there was a game that appeared on a lot of lists, but I confirmed with an employee, you know, never left, the office was just, you know, this was cancelled. So, you know, I guess my point is, like, it’s not just these obscure, maybe like, you know, made in someone’s home, tiny Japanese games, for computers that that tend to fall through the cracks, like, even even a large company that’s still around like SNK, we don’t entirely know their back catalogue or even know where to find a copy of these games. Should they have existed,
Damian Rogers 31:39
right? Because it was kind of a wild west, when it began, you know, no one thought of video games as anything more than a way to get 100 yen coins into machines as quickly as possible. They weren’t considered a form of culture. And to this day, I would say a lot of Japanese people don’t consider games to have much value at all. You know, anecdotally, when I go out, you know, to bars, drinking, whatever, for fun with friends. And I’ll talk to some random person like, Oh, yeah, I work for a Society here in Japan, and we’re trying to preserve old video games. And I invariably get this look of like, what, why? Why are you doing that? What’s the point? You know,
Kelsey Lewin 32:15
I’m so glad that we’re, we’re mostly past that here in the United States.
Frank Cifaldi 32:20
I don’t know, maybe, maybe you have. I mean, I wear my Foundation bomber jacket out all the time. And, you know, the typical reaction is like, Huh. You know? Just disinterest.
Kelsey Lewin 32:34
I guess I work, I own a video game store. So maybe my clientele is a bit more–
Frank Cifaldi 32:36
yeah, the people that you say you talk to on a day to day basis? Yeah, but, but the guy who made our foil stickers for our magazine boxes, you don’t get it?
Damian Rogers 32:49
Yeah, the feeling I get for a lot of Japanese people is that old games like, they don’t see much, much use in preserving them until I really sit down and try to explain to make that comparison to old movies and how we’ve lost some old silent movies. You know that that classic comparison to Ukiyo-e, that’s been lost out of Japan and how it’s now considered a high art form, they start to get it after that. But I think–
Kelsey Lewin 33:10
Yeah can you expand on on on that a little bit, because I do think that’s actually a really interesting comparison to draw.
Damian Rogers 33:18
Kelsey Lewin 33:19
So, first of all, what is Ukiyo-e,
So ukiyo-e is commonly called just woodblock prints in English. At the time, they were produced in the Edo era, which is the late Edo era would have been like the 8 up to the middle 1800s or so. For the most part, they were honestly just advertisements, they showed, hey, this is this Kabuki actor is going to be playing here at this time. You know, this famous person, this beautiful woman, they were magazines, they were advertisements, you know, they had a lot of skill in producing them. But that was just because that was the only way to produce them at the time was to you know, carve the picture in wood and put it in ink and do a several layers for different colors. And that was your ukiyo-e? So as Japan open to the world, around the Meiji era, they would wrap things that they exported it in old ukiyo-e prints, you know, they would wrap the ceramic wares, or whatever fragile things and these old prints, and they got sent out of the country, or people would visit and see it and Oh, can I have this? Can I buy this? Yeah, sure, whatever. And Japanese people at the time, of course, didn’t think anything of it. It’s a magazine. It’s a it’s a, it’s an advertisement. But people in other countries saw this as an artwork, they saw it as something culturally important. And so over the years, as Japan has kind of looked back and said, oh, wow, yeah, I guess we should have saved some of those. They’ve had to pay some inordinate amounts of money to private collectors and to museums around the world to get some of this back to Japan. And we’re kind of seeing the same thing with video games, you know, that some of this, this early stuff, they didn’t see any, any value in it. It was just, it’s just a game. It’s something to do to kill time to have some fun. And so a lot of that is either just falling by the wayside with time. Or has, you know, left the country. And so now we’re kind of working to to get that properly preserved, you know, at least we have the the functionality here of it being digital that we can make a copy of it, we don’t have to worry about being lost forever if it hasn’t been lost already. So that that’s a good thing. But yeah, there’s definitely that sort of history repeating itself here.
Frank Cifaldi 35:25
One of the things that the Society and the VGHF have in common is a physical book and magazine library, can you can you tell us about the Societies?
Damian Rogers 35:37
The magazine library? Yes, there’s a couple different book locations. As I recall, we have the magazine library in Tokyo, which is mostly PC magazines like IO and BASIC Micom and a few others. We also have like, the arcade magazines like Gamest. I had actually used that archive a couple times for some of my own projects. And it was extremely helpful. We have another book collection up in Saitama around like 20,000, I think items in it, which is mostly strategy guides and novels. And that’s sort of like, you know, not magazines, but extra kind of books. But yeah, I mean, having that, that that physical library is is really helpful for researchers.
Frank Cifaldi 36:19
Yeah, and is this something where there’s been a focus on just kind of trying to fill up all of the back issues of all of the game related stuff for? You know, I guess, actually, you know, you do have the, is it just pronounced Diet? The Diet Library?
Damian Rogers 36:37
Yeah, the National Diet Library.
Frank Cifaldi 36:38
Right. So you actually have a National Library that kept all the game stuff. So you’re not, you’re not in the the unfortunate situation we’re in where there’s literally no libraries that have full runs of video game magazines in the country, including the Library of Congress, folks don’t believe the lies.
Kelsey Lewin 36:55
Yeah, didn’t we send the Library of Congress a lot of what they–
Frank Cifaldi 36:58
We indeed, fundraised to buy on eBay, several full runs of magazines that we donated to the Library of Congress and said, Don’t lose them again. Yes, we did.
Damian Rogers 37:09
Oh, wow. That’s crazy. Yeah, we were actually quite fortunate. I don’t know how many full runs the National Diet Library has. That’s some of the work that that Joseph has done is made the runs over there to get information. But I do know that, going back to what we were talking about the SoftBank catalog, we found out it existed, we couldn’t find it privately. But we did happen to find a couple copies in the National Diet Library, which was extremely beneficial, because otherwise, you know, who knows where you would have ever found those? You know, that’s just a catalog. That’s something people never would have found valuable or kept. So we were definitely grateful to have the the library, the National Library had a copy of it.
Frank Cifaldi 37:48
So you mentioned that you’ve taken advantage of the archive. But is this something that generally people have used to, to do research for maybe some published work?
Damian Rogers 37:59
Oh, yeah, definitely. Well, that is before the pandemic.
Frank Cifaldi 38:02
Damian Rogers 38:03
Yeah, no. I know, Joseph has told me there was a journalist who is writing a few articles on Yuji Horii, who is the creator of Dragon Quest. And, you know, he used the collection there extensively for his research. We’ve had, you know, other game journalist visits, we’ve had personal researchers like myself, people writing doujinshi have visited for reference material. So it’s definitely something that’s been used. And definitely something that’s valuable for researchers, I think it should be noted to the game archive itself is actually available to researchers. Under the same rule, basically that if you have a project, you’re free to use it, you’re free to play the game within the, you know, the Society itself and, and do the research that way.
Frank Cifaldi 38:46
Actually, that brings up a logistical question that just suddenly interested me. Are you allowed to have researchers play with the copy of the game? Or do they have to use the original media?
Damian Rogers 39:04
Hmm, you know, that’s a good question. As far as I know, since we have the ability to make the copies, and then we have things like the floppy disk emulators, there’s no reason not to play the copy, there’s no reason to pull out the physical media. If it can play fine. As far as I know. Again, we have a little bit of leeway with making copies as an archive. And I think in that regard, you know, as long as we’re not renting them out, as long as we’re not lending them out, yeah, I think we’re allowed to play them, you know, copies of them within the confines of the Society itself, the headquarters.
Kelsey Lewin 39:38
And how do you guys how do you obtain most of the items in your collection? Is it primarily donations? Is it soliciting companies? Is it I assume purchasing is at least part of it as you’re filling in holes and stuff, but how does that work for you guys?
Damian Rogers 39:54
Purchasing is definitely a part of it. I know that we have at least a little bit of a relationship with a few of the PC stores in Tokyo. Like BEEP in Akihabara is one of the big ones. And I’m pretty sure that, you know, if we’re looking for a specific title, I’m sure that BEEP probably has a list of, you know, hey, GPS is looking for these games, if one comes through, they’ll contact us and arrange a price. So yes, purchasing this one, I mentioned a little bit ago that we got a donation from Nihon Falcom. And so occasionally, we get, you know, donations from the game companies themselves of old games and old documents that they no longer want to keep in their storage closet. I can’t say, certainly, which happens the most whether it’s game donations or purchasing, I’m going to say it’s more purchasing. Because the Well, let me take a step back, actually, you know, again, we are a network of people all around the country. So we have the primary archive in Tokyo, but we do have a number of collectors around the country. So I think when you start taking in private collections, you know, people who have sort of lent it to us to make a copy. You know, that that sort of counts as well, even though it’s not quite a donation, it’s still a copy that we’ve been able to secure, you know,
Frank Cifaldi 41:10
And I would think if you’ve got a society that includes private collections, that that kind of takes some of the pressure off of your archive, if you have someone who could theoretically, loan a game for a researcher or provide something for display or something like that.
Damian Rogers 41:27
Yeah, exactly. We we are a bit limited in space. at the Tokyo location, um, every time I go there, I I see more and more boxes just sitting around like, oh, wow, these, where did this come from? So yeah, that definitely takes the pressure off a little bit.
Frank Cifaldi 41:43
Yeah, our location is made of boxes. our physical space.
Damian Rogers 41:49
Yeah. The first time I visited, I was just blown away by like, Well, yeah, this is this is our box of Gamest magazines. We haven’t cataloged yet. And you know, this is some some more PC-88 games we got recently, like, wow, just everywhere.
Frank Cifaldi 42:00
Yeah. So on the GPS website, Director Fukuda raises a question. If all we do is preserve digital data, is that enough? Is what he asks. Can you kind of elaborate on what he means by that? And in terms of the Society?
Damian Rogers 42:20
Sure, well, Fukuda is the technical director. So for him, it’s kind of a technical challenge, you know, how do we remaster these discs? Or make copies of them? And how do we read them on the original machine? So I think for him, you know, it’s, it’s not just about making a copy of the data, but then how do we use that data going forward, you know, if the disc dies, you need a perfect environment, to recreate it and do the research on it. So it’s not just about making a copy of the data. It’s about, you know, making sure that we have a way of running that data on hardware, or as close to hardware as we can get it. It’s also about one of the other things we do is record gameplay. Like controls, like, we will have a player replay the game on the actual hardware, and we have a device inside that’s recording the inputs. And this helps preserve not just the game itself, but how it was played, which is another kind of important cultural niche that kind of gets overlooked. How was the game played by people at the time? You know, how do we pass that on as well? So I think that’s another thing we need to look at. When we’re talking about preservation is the time in which it came out. How was it played? How was it enjoyed by people? So it’s not just about data? It’s about, you know, the the gameplay it’s about how do people actually used it, it’s about making sure that we can actually play it going forward into the future. You know, having having a blob of data is useless if you can’t do anything with it to research it, you know? So I think that’s what he’s getting at by saying that,
Frank Cifaldi 43:48
yeah, or if you don’t know what that blob is, it’s just a blob.
Damian Rogers 43:51
Right? Exactly. The metadata as well as another good point.
Frank Cifaldi 43:54
So this may be a loaded question. This may not I don’t know. But what are the ambitions of the Society? Beyond the things we’ve talked about today?
Damian Rogers 44:09
That’s, I wouldn’t say we have our ambition is definitely to preserve all the games. That that is, that is our ambition that hasn’t changed all the games. So I think that’s not going to change going forward. That’s always going to be our goal. But we have the course the secondary goals of informing the public, of raising awareness of making sure the new generation, you know, can play the games. I don’t think any of those goals are going to change necessarily get any bigger because the goal itself is already quite big.
Frank Cifaldi 44:41
Damian Rogers 44:42
Yeah, I think we’re just gonna keep going on as much as we can keep developing the technologies to do the preservation. You know, next week, we’ve already kind of mastered disk preservation with Pauline, which is one of the devices we’ve developed. And I think our next goal is going to be Developing that same sort of level of preservation for cassette tapes going forward. So the goal is the same, but maybe the technologies are going to grow with us.
Frank Cifaldi 45:13
And actually, Pauline, I’m familiar with just from knowing Joseph, essentially, but
Damian Rogers 45:18
Yeah he’s pretty proud of it.
Frank Cifaldi 45:19
Yeah, can? Can you can you describe Pauline and, more importantly, why it’s necessary?
Damian Rogers 45:26
Sure, we actually just finished our last newsletter, which is open to the public actually, in which we take a closer look at Pauline and Ludo, which is the software aspect of it. So I’d recommend anyone who wants a lot of details and images, definitely go check out our latest newsletter. But Pauline is a magnetic sampler, it reads the data coming from the disk at a very, very, very low level, and sends that directly to the host PC to be copied to disk. I mean, at a high level, that’s what it does. at a low level, I couldn’t say it’s a little bit too technical for me. But you know, it’s what we’re using now to create these perfect one-to-one copies of discs. In an efficient way, the software side of things Ludo is very good at, if we identify maybe just one sector is bad, instead of having to reread the whole disk, it can read just that sector, and then you know, planted into the image file. So we’re really happy with this, with the system that we have now we feel it’s, it’s very thorough, but also very efficient.
Frank Cifaldi 46:33
Yeah, and and that’s actually a really important thing that people might not recognize about reading. Magnetic media, like a disc is that a disc is comprised of sectors, and individual sectors can go bad. And so if you have a solution, like Pauline, or Ludo, specifically, I should say with Pauline. And you might have two discs of the same game that don’t work, but you might actually be able to recover, you know, a sector from one that’s bad on another and vice versa.
Damian Rogers 47:08
Frank Cifaldi 47:09
And, and if you’ve got a, you know, a game that’s rare enough that it needs that level of treatment, you can, you know, do the forensic work to reconstruct that disc. It’s kind of magic.
Damian Rogers 47:20
Yeah, no, it’s definitely great for that. And that’s a great example, you can have one disc that has maybe all but one sector bad and the other just has, thankfully, one of one of those two sectors still good, you know, then you’re good to go.
Frank Cifaldi 47:32
I’ve really got to replace our KryoFlux over here. This is not a podcast about the pitfalls of KryoFlux. Anyway, moving on,
Damian Rogers 47:41
And it has some pitfalls, yes, definitely.
Kelsey Lewin 47:44
Do you have a hope for or an ambition for your involvement with the actual game companies in Japan? I mean, there’s it sounds like there’s definitely progressing as they’re willing to, you know, speak to your members. And in Falcom’s case, donate some items, is there sort of like an ultimate unification goal between your between GPS and the Japanese companies?
Damian Rogers 48:11
it would be nice. I don’t foresee that happening really, anytime soon. Japanese companies are generally very protective of their information. They generally don’t collaborate. They generally keep to themselves, you know, we are good, good relationship with Falcom, you know, is kind of an outlier. We try to get along well, with all the companies, of course, but a lot of them just aren’t really willing to work with an outside company to, you know, take their precious I.P.s and their precious data. So we would we our goal is always to maintain that good relationship, but I don’t see, especially some of the bigger companies, the Segas the Nintendos the Taitos really partnering with us too much. Unfortunately, it would be great. But like I said, Japanese companies are very proud. They’re very independent. And as much as I would like it as much as all of us would like it, I don’t think they’d be. I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon. But we’d certainly be courting them definitely
Kelsey Lewin 49:16
Chipping away at it. That’s kind of I think that’s kind of the strategy–
Damian Rogers 49:18
Yeah. I mean if we had to show them that we’re responsible with what we do that we’re not just, you know, making copies of discs and sending them out and breaking copyright and all that if we can, if we can show that we’re being responsible. And I think that that goes a long way to showing them that we’re trustworthy and that hopefully, in the long run, they will consider us as a partner for helping to preserve, you know, their own history, their own legacy.
Frank Cifaldi 49:42
And if I could get on the soapbox for a second here, I suspect that a lot of well intentioned video game fans might not understand that level of, of politics. I guess might be a good word where, you know, we exist in a no pun intended in a society. Right. And and you know that there does have to be some push and pull and you know, things like, you know, expecting that an organization like the Society can, you know, maybe put a really rare game just on the internet, you know, and accomplish the larger goals, you know, those those two things don’t always work together. And I think that’s hard to explain sometimes.
Damian Rogers 50:37
Yeah, definitely. I mean, if you look at it like this, you have people who donate to a museum, they’re not necessarily getting something directly back, they are, they are giving money to the museum to pay the conservationists who clean up and you know, keep things well preserved, they are paying people, I’m sorry, they’re paying the organization to you know, keep the lights on. So people can come and see the works. And that’s kind of where we were trying to do with the summer events was to kind of have that, that sort of giving back to the community to, you know, come and see where your money is going. But yeah, we can’t just give you a copy of a game. You know, that’s just illegal unfortunately.
Frank Cifaldi 51:15
Damien, thank you so much for joining us on the Video Game History Hour. Where can people learn more about the Society and maybe watch Geimu on the internet?
Damian Rogers 51:27
Yeah, well, we have our English Twitter feed that’s a good place to start. We have all the links to the videos there. Or you can go directly to our YouTube channel. If you search for Game Preservation Society will come up. It’s only a couple videos up right now. But Geimu is on there. And you can see it there. And we will retweet the link to Geimu here pretty soon as well.
Frank Cifaldi 51:48
Great. Thank you so much, Damian.
Damian Rogers 51:50
Oh, thank you for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.
Kelsey Lewin 51:52
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@GameHistory.org Did you know that Video Game History Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit 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.