Japanese Video Game History Is Disappearing

It really is. We better do something about it, because bits of Japanese video game history have already vanished forever. This weekend at BitSummit, game preservation was in my mind as I sat down to talk with Grasshopper Manufacture's Goichi Suda. [Image: Grasshopper Manufacture]

He, perhaps, is as good as anyone to discuss Japanese game history with as the game creator readies an HD version of his 1999 PlayStation 1 title The Silver Case. That doesn't seem that long ago, but in internet years, it might as well be 1899.

[Image: Grasshopper Manufacture]

"This is my debut title," Suda told Kotaku. "I've always wanted to re-release it. But doing that was complicated." The Silver Case wasn't originally released outside of Japan, and there are intrinsic issues with the game, such as the way it was written and the story, that Suda wasn't entirely convinced could be translated into English. So far, he's been happy with the results.

But there was a more difficult task: Getting the game into HD. "Some of the data, we had," Suda said. "Some of it we didn't and had to remake it." Even if old, original data still does exist, it might be difficult to easily read on modern tech. Because studios and game creators haven't always future-proofed their work, some of it is being lost. Some companies, however, are more aware than others of the need to preserve games.

Preserving good clothing is also important. [Photo by Brian Ashcraft | Kotaku]

"Capcom seems to be very good about keeping its original games and then updating them and remaking them like it has done with the Resident Evil series," Suda said.

As mentioned, not every Japanese game company has been like that. While at BitSummit, I talked to another dev who worked at a famed Japanese arcade game maker, and according to him, that company was known to chuck old cabinets, games and docs that it didn't think were worth storing.

[Image: Grasshopper Manufacture]

That's the problem, though. Some companies might look at such items as a waste of storage space, but game historians and fans would see them differently. These artefacts are moments in time. They're history.

"It reminds me of how the movie industry lost so many silent films," I told Suda. "People then didn't think they were important enough to save or they were shot on film that was difficult to preserve.

"It's exactly like that," Suda said. "We have to save these old games, because if we don't, they will disappear."

[Image: Grasshopper Manufacture]

The Silver Case HD Remastered Version will be released on PC worldwide this fall.


Comments

    Team Andromeda lost all the source code for Panzer Dragoon Saga. Which makes me incredibly sad as it would be such a great game for an HD upgrade.

      Seems to be a theme with that game. One of the staff also died in motor cycle accident around the times of the game's release.

      That aside, given it's age I actually think it better the code has been lost.

      [Reels back as Crayman and Zastava draw weapons at me while Azel revs up a chainsaw]

      Hear me out!

      The was made milking the most out of the ageing Saturn. So even if the existing assests survived the test of time, there is no way they would easy translate to HD without significant blurring.

      Effectively, they would have to be recreated anyway. Like what was done with Star Trek: TNG where most assets were recreated due to due inaccessibility (or have since been lost) and even then TNG got lucky away being filmed on analog negatives thus making hi-res scans possible.

      If anything could be reused it would be the voice tracks and even then that implies said material is on well preserved analog media that can be digitised.

      Which brings me to my point: with the original materials lost the motivation to create new assests with tools that increase the chance of future proofing is increased. It also means HD resolutions are better used rather than being a gimick for upscaling.

      But there is one other pressing factor: the target demographic is lacking in numbers.

      [Reels back as Lagi growls at me]

      It's a fact and firing plasma at me won't change a thing!

      Despite being one of the most well crafted games in terms of lore, story and even visual (it's rare I compliment visuals) it suffers from the same problem as Myst. Not enough people will be there to justify any effort to restore it.

      Seriously, that is how publishers are today. They want everything to be like CoD: mega profits with little to no effort. And that simply does not exists for the Panzer Dragoon series in general, let alone Saga.

      Sorry in advance if I'm oversteping my bounds here, @dr_neeson, but if you happen to like the series, then you have effectively doubled the population here.

      I think you and I are the only ones who know of, played and even like the games in the series. And I'd be very surprised if there were others given how niche the Panzer Dragoon series is.

      Last edited 14/07/16 10:37 am

        That's just assets though, what of the rest of the game that you don't actually see? I would wager that would be harder to accurately recreate than the visuals, without having the source code or other documentation around.

          Game engines are a dime a dozen these days so replicating the event logic, etc, is the least of anyone's worries.

          The art and sound though that is the real kicker.

    The problem is we're all very cynical about remasters or really any efforts to preserve a game in a way that involves us putting down money. It's seen as a cash grab. We're so used to publishers trying to wring every last cent out of us that the idea of a game like Resident Evil 5 being re-released on the XBOX One/PS4 is almost offensive. We see it as lazily attempting to sell us the same product over and over.
    Games are either too new (Tomb Raider, Sleeping Dogs, Resident Evil 6) or so old that we feel like they should be totally rebuilt from scratch while still maintaining a low price point (System Shock isn't reusing anything, it's going to take as much work as an original concept, but it still feels weird for them to ask for money for an abandonware game).

    I'm really hoping Microsoft's attempts to future-proof the XBOX line pushes Sony to follow, allowing most games to be playable for a generation or two after release similar to how PC games don't automatically become obsolete every time a new version of Windows comes out. With any luck Capcom won't have to spend anything to make their Resident Evil remasters available on the next generation of consoles and we won't have to buy new copies of the games we already own.

    I'd love it if it became a case of 'release a quality game, keep it on the shelves bringing in a slow stream of money for 10-15 years then remaster it and bring in a slow stream of money for the next 10-15 years'. I think it'd really push publishers into ensuring quality standards were met. Hopefully push us out of this 'make a game, market a game and then abandon it because most of the money comes from the first two months' rut. Right now Capcom are proving that without the need to print physical copies the good Resident Evil games can keep earning them money long after their consoles of choice have died.

      You're right that time is the crux of this issue. I'm one of those guys who hated the idea of HD remasters and thought of them as cash-grabs because a) it was really recent and I more than likely bought the original only a few years prior and b) it let everyone abandon the idea of backwards compatibility and emulation as a way to keep peoples current libraries functional (it was pretty sketchy seeing the release of the God of War HD collection shortly after the BC PS3 was discontinued).

      So I'm happy to pay for a re-release that either a) represents the value that the game would now have as an older title (no $60 re-launch) or b) actual work put into it like HD remasters with shiny extras (MGS HD collection is fantastic). Of course there are games that I think are old enough to be 'abandonware' and so really should be free from there on out.

      People are buying HD remasters/rereleases due to laziness or for the spit and polish and shiny new graphics. Publishers are putting it out there because there seems to be a market for it. At times it may be worthwhile (i.e. a pack of games vs just one).

      Nothing is stopping anyone buying the previous gen (which is currently stupidly cheap second hand) software and/or hardware. I understand some people have space constraints but still....

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