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Gazing into the Future of the Past

posted by TelltaleGames Telltale Staff on - last edited - Viewed by 266 users
I do not represent the sharp business minds of Telltale Inc. I am, by trade, a game designer. I also consider myself, by personal inclination, a game researcher.

Now, all game designers are game researchers to different degrees. Ideas are not simply pulled out of thin air as you might suspect. It is often useful to turn to what we in academia refer to as "prior art"� for inspiration. My academic bent confers to me a thirst for understanding all games in all their myriad and complex forms. This means a great deal of time spent with "prior art"�.

I once briefly had a stint working in a Warner Bros. Studio Store Gallery. We sold original animation cels as well as limited edition art based on the Warner Bros. properties. What fascinated and appalled me was that at certain times in the animation studio's history, these beautiful cels were simply washed off and re-used. No one conceived of the fact that some day far in the future anyone would actually want the things!

Astounding parallels can be found in the history of digital entertainment. Who at Atari all those twenty-some-odd years ago would have imagined that anyone today would be purchasing plug-and-play joysticks containing 15 of their titles for $20 each at Urban Outfitters? Digital games have long been considered a temporal medium -- when the newest technology comes out, why would anyone still care about last week's entertainment? Especially now that the new offering is flashier, prettier, longer?

It doesn't take much web-based excavation to discover that people do still care. And BOY do they care! Take the vast number of "Abandonware"� sites, where one can download a vast number of previously released games, on the premise that if no one is selling these games, people should be able to play them. Following in this "if no one is looking then it's legal"� line of thinking are the online repositories of games for MAME, an emulator that allows one to play classic (and not so classic) games that were originally released for now ancient platforms. In fact, emulators for every digital platform known to humankind are available if one knows where to look. No matter how old or obscure the game, if the effort to track it down is made, it can be found.

However, very little of this is legal. For righteous and law-abiding folks like myself, this causes a certain amount of frustration. The quandary being this: I have heard about X neat feature in Y old game. This game is no longer available through any commercial means, so now what? Many companies choose to sit on their old assets instead of releasing them to the public and allowing new generations of gamers to enjoy these pinnacles of game creation. Why this is, I still cannot imagine. If there is no intention to make a profit off these titles, then why in blistering blue blazes shouldn't players be allowed to play them? If my intention is to stay "legit"�, my only available option is to scour E-Bay for someone's copy of the original game (hoping all the while that it isn't a rare title) then try to get this archaic museum piece to run on my modern technology (or else continue to scour E-Bay in order to find the original equipment).

In this light, it is easy to see one reason why the digital distribution model makes some gamers/collectors/researchers a bit queasy. If the game only ever existed digitally, scouring future E-Bay for present titles in order to relive one's past will not be a viable option. What is to guarantee the game's availability once the game is no longer a revenue source for its parent company, not only to future players but to those who bought the game in the first place and now want to play it on their new machines?

Until I get this dratted window-to-the-future-machine finished (I am dealing with a few minor set-backs) I will not be able to know how well Telltale Texas Hold Em or Bone: Out From Boneville will play when I am old and decrepit and only have my gaming nostalgia to distract me from my creaking bones. Telltale intends to ensure that this will be possible and I can only support those efforts. As a game researcher, I understand the importance of making these games available into the future. As a game designer, I want always for people to be able to play the games I have labored over. And as a gamer without the patience to try and make E-Bay purchases work on my modern technology I hope that those companies who choose to hoard their defunct titles rather than making them available to the public eventually come to see the light.
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