Dead Games and Eternal Emulation

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Matt Barton's picture

Blade of Blackpool: Nice tavern. You won't find it in Redmond.Blade of Blackpool: Nice tavern. You won't find it in Redmond.Every now and then I read an article that makes me stop and wonder about the Big Picture. What will history students a hundred years from now read, if anything, about my lifetime? Will they "read" at all? An article that did that for me today was The Dead Formats Society by someone named Momus. How is the brief half-life of most digital formats affecting our culture and its future? This is probably a question that all of us here at Armchair Arcade have asked at one time or another, since we're constantly faced with the problem of getting old games for "obsolete" systems to run on our modern hardware.

For instance, Mat Tschirgi and I have been working on a book about graphical adventure games, and have had a terrible time finding and getting historically-important games to run at all, much less in an authentic fashion. Sure, mega-popular games like "The Secret of Monkey Island" are easy to run via the wonderful ScummVM, but try getting an ancient Apple II game like "Mystery House" (the first GAG) or "The Wizard and the Princess" (the first color GAG) to run on a modern machine. It's possible (Mat and I have done it), but it's a royal pain and well beyond the technical means of most people. We had to become virtual digital archaeologists to find these games and get them to run.

Usually, though, it's not the very old games that give the most problems. It's fairly easy to get a C-64 emulator up and running and find pretty much whatever games you're looking for. The most problematic games to run (in my experience, anyway) are late DOS and early Windows games--particularly flash-in-the-pan CD-ROM games like The 7th Guest and The Last Express. First, finding the games means either going the legal route and ordering a used and possibly scratched up disc from eBay, or going the illegal route and downloading the game on an abandonware website or P2P file sharing network. Still, just having the discs or ROMs is in no way a guarantee that the program will run properly. Even using a program like DOSBOX isn't a panacea here. The game will probably either run too fast or too slow, and getting the sound and graphics right is a pain. To top it off, the game might crash frequently and at the worst possible moments.

I won't even get into the difficulties posed by "copy protection" schemes that still do a pretty good job of preventing people from playing "unauthorized copies," even long after the game has moved from the bargain to the garbage bin.

What's my point? Well, it's simply that all of the problems gamers have running old games is bad news for game developers who want to create something for all-time. What ends up happening all-too-commonly is that a great game is enjoyed only for a year, possibly two, before it is cast to the wayside. Within a decade, the game is difficult to find and even more difficult to play.

Compare this impermanence to books in print. Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719. If you could find an original copy, you could still read it. Sure, the English is different and you wouldn't catch every nuance, but you could still enjoy it enough to recognize it as a great work. On the other hand, The Blade of Blackpoole was published in 1983 and is virtually unheard of today. No doubt, one of the main reasons this is so is that even if you found this game at a yard sale, unless you're Bill Loguidice, you're not going to be able to do much with a 5 1/4" disk for the Apple II. So, if you want to play this game, you'll need to download it from some site like this one, but again, you're faced with the problem of how to get the file to run.

What's sad here is that, no doubt, Tim Wilson put a lot of love and creative energy to work to create Blade of Blackpoole. It's a shame that all that effort is now pretty much wasted. What's also alarming is that a great artist like Daniel Defoe probably wouldn't choose the expressive medium of a videogame for precisely this reason. What could be worse for an artist trying to achieve immortality than to work in a medium that, at best, might stick around for a decade?

It's for this reason that I think emulation is important. It would no doubt comfort serious game developers to know that even if the hardware their programs run on is no longer available a hundred years from now, people will still be able to enjoy their work via emulation.

Of course, if the current trend towards online-only games continues, all of this will be for naught. When a game's publisher decides it's time for a game to die, he'll simply yank the plug, and no one will ever play that game again. We really seem to be evolving into a "disposable culture," where nothing, including art, is built to last.


Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Great article and one I

Great article and one I happen to agree with very much. It's both a blessing and a detriment that computer and videogame technology and formats are moving targets. As a blessing we get exposed to new hardware and improvements all the time, as a detriment there is little permanence in what is no longer compatible.

By the way, for Apple II screen captures for my book, I used my favorite emulator-in-a-browser, , which I'll also be using for the Apple IIGS entry. The great news that if one does own original Apple II series hardware or compatibles, there are a great number of options to get ROMs played on, either directly or transferred on to disks, including Compact Flash Cards and direct PC link. At some point I'll definitely be covering those options for that and many other systems right here on Armchair Arcade. If one doesn't keep up with this stuff (even I find it hard), it's absolutely stunning what's available for nearly every original hardware platform, be it videogame or computer, and even many terribly obscure ones.

Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[My collection -]

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
For your reference, here's a

For your reference, here's a partial listing of my BOXED games (mostly computer, I didn't list videogame stuff), that I'll be happy to provide any scans/photos from:

Title System Publisher Box
50 Mission Crush Apple II SSI Small
A Mind Forever Voyaging Apple II Infocom Regular
Adventure 3 - Mission Impossible Tandy Adventure International Regular
Adventure Construction Set C-64 Electronic Arts Album
Adventure Creator C-64 Regular
Adventures in Narnia - Narnia C-64/Apple II Special
Age of Adventure Apple II Electronic Arts Album
Airborne Ranger C-64 Microprose Regular
Airheart Apple II Broderbund Regular
Alcazar The Forgotten Fortress C-64 Activision Album
Amazon C-64 Trillium Album
Amnesia Apple II Electronic Arts Album
Aquaventura Amiga Psygnosis Regular
Arkanoid C-64 Taito Album
Astro-Grover C-64 CBS Software Special
Autoduel Atari ST Origin Regular
Autoduel C-64 Origin Regular
B-1 Nuclear Bomber Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Balance of Power Atari ST Regular
Ballyhoo Apple II Infocom Regular
Battle Cruiser Atari 8-bit SSI Bookshelf
Battle for Normandy SSI Bookshelf
Battle of Antietam SSI Bookshelf
Battlefront C-64 SSG Special
Battlegroup SSI Bookshelf
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein C-64 Muse Regular
Big Bird's Funhouse C-64 CBS Software Special
Bomber Attack Mixed Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Breakers Apple II Broderbund Regular
Brimstone Apple II Broderbund Special
Buck Rogers Countdown to Doomsday Amiga SSI Regular
Bureaucracy Apple II Infocom Regular
Castle of Dr. Brain Amiga Sierra Regular
Code-Name Iceman Amiga Sierra Regular
Colonial Conquest Apple II SSI Bookshelf
Computer Acquire Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Computer Ambush SSI Bookshelf
Computer Baseball Amiga SSI Small
Computer Football Strategy Mixed Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Computer Major League TRS-80 Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Computer Quarterback C-64 SSI Small
Computer Stocks and Bonds Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Conan the Cimmerian DOS Virgin Games Regular
Conversational German Atari 8-bit Atari Bookshelf
Cosmic Relief Atari ST Datasoft Regular
Countdown to Shutdown C-64 Activision Album
Cutthroats C-64 Infocom Regular
Dave Winfield's Batter Up Apple II Regular
Deadline TI Infocom Special
Death Bringer Amiga Cinemaware Regular
Deathlord Apple II Electronic Arts Album
Demon Stalkers C-64 Electronic Arts Album
Demon's Winter C-64 SSI Small
Dnieper River Line Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Dragon Wars Apple II Interplay Regular
Dragon's Lair C-64 Album
Dragonworld C-64 Telarium Album
Drakkhen Atari ST Regular
Dunjonquest - Hellfire Warrior Apple/Tandy Epyx Regular
Echelon C-64 Access Regular
Elite C-64 Firebird Regular
Empire Atari ST Interstel Regular
Enchanter C-64 Infocom Regular
Essex C-64 Broderbund Special
F/A-18 Interceptor Amiga Electronic Arts Album
Felony! C-64 CBS Software Special
Foreign Exchange Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Galaxy Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Gemstone Warrior C-64 SSI Small
GEOS 128 C-128 Regular
GEOS 2.0 C-64 Regular
Gettysburg The Turning Point SSI Bookshelf
Gold Rush Atari ST Sierra Regular
Grand Slam Baseball C-64 Cosmi Regular
Gryphon C-64 Avalon Hill Regular
Hardball C-64 Accolade Album
Heimdall Amiga Regular
Hollywood Hijinx DOS Infocom Regular
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis Mac LucasArts Regular
Indiana Jones in the Lost Kingdom C-64 Mindscape Special
Infidel Amiga Infocom Regular
Jumpman C-64 Epyx Regular
Kampfruppe SSI Bookshelf
Leather Goddesses of Phobos Apple II Infocom Regular
Leather Goddesses of Phobos C-64 Infocom Album
Legacy of the Ancients C-64 Album
Legend of Kyrandia - Book One - Fables and Friends Amiga Regular
Legionnaire Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Mail Order Monsters C-64 Electronic Arts Album
Maniac Mansion Amiga Regular
Maxwell Manor C-64 Avalon Hill Regular
Mech Brigade SSI Bookshelf
Megatraveller 2 Quest for the Ancients Amiga Paragon Software Regular
Megatraveller I The Zhodani Conspiracy DOS Paragon Software Large
MicroLeague Baseball Apple II Regular
MicroLeague Wrestling Game/Match Disk C-64 Regular
Midway Campaign Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Might and Magic C-64 Regular
Might and Magic Clouds of Xeen DOS New World Computing Large
Might and Magic Darkside of Xeen DOS New World Computing Large
Might and Magic III DOS New World Computing Regular
Millionaire C-64 Blue Chip Software Special
Mind Mirror, Timothy Leary's C-64 Electronic Arts Album
Moebius The Ord of Celestial Harmony Amiga Origin Regular
Murder on the Mississipi C-64 Regular
Music Construction Set Apple II Electronic Arts Album
Nam Atari 8-bit SSI Small
North Atlantic Convoy Raider Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Ogre Atari ST Origin Regular
Panzer Strike! C-64 SSI Small
Panzer-Jagd C-64 Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Paperback Writer 128 C-128 Special
Phantasie Apple II SSI Regular
Phantasie III C-64 SSI Regular
Planet Miners Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Planetfall TI Infocom Regular
Plundered Hearts C-64 Infocom Regular
Police Quest 3 - The Kindred Amiga Sierra Regular
PQ The Party Quiz Game C-64/Atari 8-bit Suncom Large
Programmer's BASIC Toolkit C-64 Epyx Regular
Psi 5 Trading Co C-64 Accolade Album
Questron II Amiga SSI Small
Quick Brown Fox C-64 Bookshelf
Racing Destruction Set C-64 Electronic Arts Album
Rebel Charge at Chickamauga SSI Bookshelf
Rendevous with Rama C-64 Telarium Regular
Rings of Zilfin Atari ST SSI Small
Rings of Zilfin C-64 SSI Regular
Roadwar 2000 Apple II SSI Small
Roadwar Europa Amiga SSI Small
Robot Rascals C-64 Electronic Arts Special
Robot War Apple II Muse Zip Loc
Robots of Dawn C-64 Epyx Regular
Rocky's Boots Apple II The Learning Company Regular
Seastalker C-64 Infocom Regular
Shadowgate Atari ST Regular
Shard of Spring C-64 SSI Small
Snooper Troops C-64 Spinnaker Special
Sons of Liberty C-64 SSI Small
Sorcerer C-64 Infocom Special
Space Quest I Amiga Sierra Regular
Space Rogue C-64 Origin Regular
Spellbreaker C-64 Infocom Regular
Spirit of Excalibur Amiga Regular
Spy vs Spy C-64 First Star Special
Star Command Atari ST SSI Small
Star Fleet I C-64 Cygnus Regular
Star Saga: One Apple II Large
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Enhanced CD-ROM Mac Macplay Regular
Star Trek Judgment Rites DOS Interplay Collector's
Star Trek The Kobayashi Alternative C-64 Simon & Schuster, Inc. Special
Star Trek The Promethean Prophecy Apple II Simon & Schuster, Inc. Special
Star Trek: The Rebel Universe C-64 Simon & Schuster, Inc. Special
Starcross TI Infocom Regular
Starflight Amiga Electronic Arts Regular
Start Programming with Gortek and the Microchips Vic-20 Commodore Bookshelf
Stationfall C-64 Infocom Regular
Super Sunday Avalon Hill Regular
Suspect Atari ST Infocom Regular
Suspended C-64 Infocom Regular
Swords of Twilight Amiga Electronic Arts Regular
TAC Tactical Armor Command Atari 8-bit Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Telengard Avalon Hill Bookshelf
Temple of Apshai Trilogy C-64/Atari 8-bit Epyx Regular
The Ancient Art of War DOS Broderbund Regular
The Ancient Art of War at Sea DOS Broderbund Regular
The Bard's Tale II Apple II Electronic Arts Regular
The Bard's Tale III: The Thief of Fate Apple II Electronic Arts Album
The Bard's Tale Tales of the Unknown Volume I Apple II/GS Electronic Arts Album
The Bard's Tale Vol 1 C-64 Electronic Arts Cassette
The Dark Heart of Uurkul Apple II Broderbund Regular
The Eternal Dagger C-64 SSI Small
The Faery Tale Adventure C-64 Album
The Graphics Magician Apple II Penguine Software Regular
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy C-64 Infocom Regular
The Kristal Amiga Cinemaware Regular
The Legend of Blacksilver C-64 Epyx Regular
The Living Daylights (James Bond 007) C-64 Melbourne House Album
The Lost Treasures of Infocom Amiga Infocom Large
The Magic Candle C-64 Mindcraft Regular
The Print Shop C-64 Broderbund Bookshelf
The Witness TI Infocom Regular
Touchdown Football C-64 Electronic Arts Album
Trains C-64 Spinnaker Special
Trinity C-128 Infocom Regular
Trinity Infocom Regular
Trust & Betrayal - The Legacy of Siboot Mac Mindscape Special
Twilight's Ransom Atari ST Regular
Tycoon Apple II Blue Chip Software Special
U.S.A.A.F. SSI Bookshelf
Ultima IV Quest of the Avatar Apple II Origin Regular
Ultima Trilogy I - II - III C-64 Origin Regular
Ultima V Warriors of Destiny Apple II Origin Regular
Ultima VI DOS Origin Regular
War in Russia SSI Bookshelf
Wargame Construction Set C-64 SSI Small
Wasteland Apple II Electronic Arts Regular
Where in the U.S.A. is Carmen San Diego? (Educator Edition) Apple Iigs Broderbund Large
Wilderness Apple II Sir-Tech Regular
Windwalker Atari ST Origin Regular
Wishbringer C-64 Infocom Regular
Wizardry (multiple) Apple II Sir-Tech Regular
Wizard's Crown C-64 SSI Small
World Series Baseball Apple II Zip Loc
Zork I Atari ST Infocom Regular
Zork III C-64 Infocom Regular
Zork III Apple II Infocom Regular

Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[My collection -]

davyK's picture
Joined: 05/21/2006
Probably the ultimate

Probably the ultimate project of this type...

20 years ago (Nov 1986), the BBC completed the Domesday project to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday book (comissioned by William the Conquerer who took over England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 - basically a record of everything in Britain). This was to create a record of everything in modern Britain and make it available as an audio-video based reference

This used state-of-the art technology at the time (2 video discs - which clocked in at £4000 including a player!) and there is now work ongoing to reproduce this in a more accessible format.

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Rosetta's stone

Have we become a throw-away disposable culture where nothing is to last? I sure hope not. What a contrast this is from the last couple of days I spent in Egypt admiring some of the most ancient cultures in the world. I just came back from Egypt, where fiancée Elise was assisting Prof Otto Schaden* in his work in the valley of the Kings in tomb KV63. And Matt's comment about both he and the other Mat having to become 'digital archaeologists' in order to get some games running, struck a chord.
Walking around those tombs in the valley of the King, looking at the cartouches and hieroglyphs and observing very closely the work done by archaeologists trying to make sense of what they find with help of their current knowledge about ancient Egypt made me think about Rosetta’s stone.

Rosetta's Stone: In 1799 this stone was found by one of Napoleon’s armymen, it was named after the place were it had been found. The stone shows the same text in three different writings: Old Greek, Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Egyptian DemotianRosetta's Stone: In 1799 this stone was found by one of Napoleon’s armymen, it was named after the place were it had been found. The stone shows the same text in three different writings: Old Greek, Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Egyptian Demotian

If it weren't for Rosetta's stone** we still would be very much in the dark trying to decipher hieroglyphs and our knowledge of this ancient rich culture would be very limited. Copy protection and product activation is in a way our current Rosetta’s stone, so our systems can understand and run the games. But unlike the old Stone, this modern day version of Rosetta’s stone can only exist by the grace of people investing money (maintaining product activation services, technical support and so on) into the modern day Rosetta slate. With the stone gone, because the company has dropped support or has gone out of business, the code becomes meaningless and cannot be used.

On the short term copyright and product-activation is nice and makes sure the money keeps coming in but on the long run it’s just a hindrance. In order to make our current culture available and even enjoyable for future generations just let go of ‘money hoarding intellectual property rights’-schemes after a period of time and make the content freely available or accessible. And if the companies aren't willing, emulation could be our Rosetta's stone!

My 2 cents.

* Otto Schaden

meizitang slimming capsule (not verified)
That may come with a history.

That may come with a history.

Joined: 01/21/2009
I love video games (old and

I love video games (old and new) the excitment of playing them back when i was 12-14. I rember loving Txt adventures, Infocom was the stuff back then. Nowdays I have no interest whatsoever in them, that is me, and I know other do have interest in them. I guess what I'm saying is I'm not anti old games. But the fact is, anything that is recorded or kept for the future is either done by the goverment (librarys, records) museums (look but dont touch, I know there are others, such as the arcade museums where you can play) and groups of people (normally called societies) that presrve the items/knowledge/customes. Games like we are talking are going to fall in the last catogory. The goverment wont be doing it. Only dedicted people are going to make this happens. And sadly (opinion only) there isnt enough interest to get this done. While I would support it , I doubt I would have any active role, and would not be willing to donate even as I just dont have the interest. Now if others (and I am sure there are some, enough, that is the question) where willing, it might happen.

I guess my point is, only dedicated people are goign to get this done, but I'm thinking that there just simply might not be enough of them for the job that this would require.

The sad fact is many things are not preserved. There are certian makes of cars from the early 1900-30's that there are no known cars left to view/drive/examine. There are animals that are extinct. Preservation of "old stuff" that is viewed as "unimportant" by the majority is simply left to the minority, and many times its far to small to get the job done.

-edit- dang spammers I read the whole thing but didnt look at the date... old old resurected thread. my bad for enableing hte spammer (err, it looked like a spammer, maybe not?)

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
It was a spammer, but the

It was a spammer, but the post has been edited.


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