Galactic Wars 1

Preserving Nihon Falcom’s First Game

As our name shows, we are a group working to preserve games. Our target includes a wide variety of games including arcade games, home video games, PC games etc. This time, we will be showing how we preserve our games using a game from the dawn of PC gaming – “Galactic wars 1”.

■ The History of Nihon Falcom

Nihon Falcom has its base in Tachikawa, Tokyo. It was founded in 1981 as “Computer Land Tachikawa”, a computer shop selling mainly Apple products.  The following year, they produced and sold their first PC game. 1984’s “Dragon Slayer”, 1985’s “Xanadu” and 1987’s “Ys” and “Sorcerian” being big hits of the time established Falcom’s status as a powerful competitor in the world of PC gaming. They are a time-tested company still making popular games such as the “Trails of Cold Steel” titles under “The Legend of Heroes” series.

■ What is “Galactic Wars”?

One of Falcom’s memorable works is “Galactic Wars 1”, a Sci-fi simulation game.

The creator of “Galactic Wars”, Yoshio KIYA, was a regular customer at Computer Land Tachikawa. He was famous later for making the “Dragon Slayer” series. The PC gaming magazines of the time called him the Star Programmer.

“Galactic Wars 1” was a product of Kiya’s hobby, programming. Falcom, a computer shop at the time, decided to publish it. And that was how it debuted. “Galactic Wars” was not the only one, Falcom’s early games were almost exclusively made by their regulars. They only started making their own games when business picked up around 1984.

“Galactic Wars” was written in BASIC. Kiya developed it on an FP-1100 by Casio which was rented to him by Falcom, and so it was sold as a game on FP-1100.  Even though it was later sold on NEC’s PC-8801 and PC-9801, it was ultimately published by a small, obscure shop. Which meant that there was only a limited supply. Because of that, it is almost unseen on second-hand shops and internet auctions, making it very, very rare.

■ Stumbling Upon an Actual Copy

We at the Game Preservation Society had the luck to stumble upon this very, very rare piece. It all started because this author had a chance to come in contact with Mr. Kiya.

Unbelievably, he had a copy of almost every game he made at Falcom, all of them unopened. It seems he only had it for sentimental purposes, but these games are very valuable in terms of preservation

After numerous conversations with Mr. Kiya, we had the opportunity to explain and convince him about the importance of preservation. When we explained how important his collection was, he generously placed an unopened copy of “Galactic Wars 1″(PC-8801 version) in our care, for preservation.

■ Saving Floppy Disk Data

This is the package we received from Mr. Kiya.

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Summer in Japan is hot and humid, which means the first problem we face is “mold”. If there is moisture, the magnetic disk of a floppy disk is a healthy environment for mold. Not only are we unable to read a floppy disk with mold, the disk is also at risk of being damaged.

Opening the package. A nervous moment.

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The floppy disk sleeve and manual that came out looked mold-free and clean at first glance. But under further inspection, we found that there were wrinkles that were a result of water drying off, evidence that they were exposed to moisture.

The floppy disk. This looked to be in good condition at first glance, but look at it from the side we found that it was slightly bent. There was uncertainty that we would be able to read the data. We spun the magnetic disk to check for mold and sure enough, there were some, not large patches, but they were there.

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Before we start preservation, we need to clean off the mold. We dab a special cloth in 100% isopropyl alcohol and wipe off gently the mold.

Once we have wiped the mold off, we check the condition of the disk. For this disk, there are only 40 tracks used, so we read the 41st track and see what happens with the disk, physically.

Fortunately, the magnetic disk was not damaged and did not peel off because of the bend. Since it was perfectly readable, we move on to the preservation phase.

We use KryoFlux for preservation. KryoFlux is a device that can read the source data on floppy disks. It was co-developed by our current president, Joseph REDON, for the preservation of Japan made games.
The floppy disk of “Galactic Wars 1” is already 30 years old, so we could not expect to be able to read it as many times as we needed. It would be ideal if we could save all the data in one reading. But as we proceeded with the process, we found 1 spot that was unreadable and 1 spot which possibly was not read properly.

Galactic Wars Gamepres

The image above shows the surface of the floppy disk, the formatted sectors looks light green and the parts that look a darker green is where the game data is written. Parts of the section that should be dark green appeared to be bluish and could be the cause of problems in the process.

We removed the disk and cleaned it of mold, again, and repeat the process. The section that was unstable the last time showed the same result so we concluded that it had been read properly.

However, the part that could not be read the last time also showed the same error. It could be that mold wasn’t the reason after all and the disk is just damaged. We remained hopeful and cleaned it for the third time and repeated the process.

And the result of our third try is…….

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Success!

The part that was bluish in the previous image had been turned dark green. All of us at the scene were filled with excitement and relief.

With that, the preservation of “Galactic Wars 1” had been a success. Once the data has been preserved, it is available as a disc image to play on emulators.

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This game is set around the planet “M23” of the Galactic Alliance which is under attack by the Third Empire. Players are in control of the alpha fleet which is charged to protect the planet. The difficulty can be set from 1 to 3. The player commands scout ships from the planet (PLANET-M23) and 2 ships (FALCON and UNICON), a total of 3 scout ships, to search for enemy ships. The command phase has a time limit. A clock with just one hand measures this. Once the hand has made one round around the clock time is up. Commands have to be completed within this time so there is a certain element of real-time strategy in it.  This is something in common with “Dragon Slayer” which came after. The fleet and scout ships can be controlled by direction (24 directions on a 360-degree surface) and speed (1~50). If any of them encounter enemy ships, battle will commence using predetermined attacking and defending ships’ stats. The player clears the game by destroying 3 ships. The game required strategic decisions in a semi-realtime environment, and by standards of the time, it was considered “playable”.

By the way, “Galactic Wars 1” deletes part of its booting sequence upon starting the game and rewrites it when you start gameplay. What this means is that if you don’t follow proper procedures after booting the game, the data will be lost forever. This is thought to be an anti-piracy trap and a pretty “evil” one at that. Because of this, even if we had a used copy of “Galactic Wars 1”, we have no guarantee that the data is intact. So it is vitally important that we found an unopened package.

■ Preserving the Jacket and Manual

We don’t only preserve the data on the floppy disk. The jacket and the manual are also subjects of preservation. So the next step is to digitally scan the jacket and manual.

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While doing this, if the paper is not completely flat, there will be space between the surface of the scanner and the paper, making the quality of the scan less than ideal. To prevent this, we remove the jacket from the box and file it while stretching it out flat.

The actual scanning process only starts after over 6 months. Compared to 6 months before, the bent paper will be almost completely flat.
We then prepare to do the scanning. Firstly, to prevent any dust from getting onto the scanning surface, we use a special cleaning kit to clean the surrounding area, as well as the scanning surface. If we use auto-correcting functions of the scanner, we might get unexpected distortions in the resulting data, so all these functions are disabled to get a completely raw image of the jacket.  To ease the process of repairing the image after digitization, the resolution is set to 800dpi.

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We place a ruler beside the scanning surface where the jacket is positioned for scanning. By doing this we can get a measurement of the scanned image. We also use a grey-colored board for the background of the image. Grey because it has minimal interference on the colors The board also has a dedicated calibrated color palette which tells us if the color on the original image has faded.

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We use Photoshop to mend the image, Any damage or dust on the image is removed. We were lucky this time because the jacket had minimal damage so large-scale mending was needed. In cases where that is needed, such as when the jacket is torn or severely faded, we need to prepare several copies.

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The result is this.

The original paper that it was printed on was orange, so the image itself is black and white.
Back in the days, Falcom used different kinds of paper (in color or otherwise) for different computer models. So the FP-1100 version and PC-9801 versions might have different packaging colors.
What this means is if we print the image on the same paper, we can recreate the jacket.

■ Ending Comments

With this, we are very lucky to be able to preserve a piece of very rare software.

Members the Game Preservation Society have contributed a lot to our collection of games, but even so, there are many valuable games that we do not possess. As they all require a lot of work to successfully preserve, and we only have limited manpower, our progress is very slow.  If anyone out there is interested in preserving this part of Japanese culture, please do consider working with us. Every little help is appreciated.

Our organization will always be working towards preserving all games.

Game Preservation Society, Takeshi KANAZAWA
Translated by Ming TEE

*Package and game images belong to the original copyright holder.

Falcom Donation

A Donation of Documents About the Golden Age of Falcom

The company that has continuously produced high-quality games since the age of microcomputer – Nihon Falcom Corporation has made a donation of a dead stock of floppy disks used for user support to us.

Opening the treasure box

Digging the carefully packed artifacts

The disks we received included Ys, which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. The total number of disks we received is 262.  These disks were backups that were distributed to users who could not play the games they bought because their copy was defective or bugged. Which means that all the titles in the collection are completely bug-free copies. Also, they are all unused and clean copies without user saves.

Replacement floppy disks (early “Ys”)

Precious materials in fine condition

The Nihon Falcom Corporation style meant not only producing quality games but also a high regard for the company’s history. The condition of the collection we received reflects this philosophy. The 262 floppy disks we received will be preserved in our archive room as an important part of Falcom’s history livening up Japanese gaming.

Checking the surface of the disk for mold

Dedicated container for 5.25″ disks

Our archive room is specially designed to maintain temperature and humidity and to reject any source of damage from sunlight and magnetism. To prevent the degradation of the documents, we use a specially designed container, jointly designed with Archival Conservation & Enclosures Co., Ltd., so that the documents are confidently passed down to the next generation in good condition. Furthermore, to prevent the complete loss of data due to degradation, we will use specialized equipment to digitize the data in the floppy disks. These 2 steps are made to prevent the loss of documents in our care.

Registration of every disk with a QR code

Climate controlled archive room (Tokyo)

This donation is a very meaningful one to us. Nihon Falcom Corporation, one of the creators of what we aim to preserve, has placed their trust in us by giving us their documents. We will work even harder to increase the documents in our care, whether it is for one more, or for a day longer.

We are preparing our archive room for public viewing. We are constantly working hard to build an archive that can contribute to students of gaming history and creators alike, but we still lack the people and resources. To open our archive room to the public, which houses over 10,000 80s~90s PC games, we need your help and support. Please do help us if you like our work.

* Those interested in pledging contributions may do so here. *

Game Preservation Society, Joseph REDON
Translated by Ming TEE

Photos, Nicolas DATICHE (http://nicolasdatiche.com/)

Sadao YAMANAKA (山中貞雄)

The purpose of our society

The purpose of our organization, the Game Preservation Society, as the name implies, is to preserve video games.  When we talk about this, we are often asked “What games do you choose to preserve? ”

We always have the same answer to that

“All of them.”

Because it is so simple, the people who ask us often look surprised when they hear the answer. I know how they feel.

But that is the only logical answer to the question. If we are talking about Individual artworks such as paintings or any sort of craftwork, we can ask the question, “What do you choose to put into your collection?” And often that is the job of museums and such. But when we talk about what is (generally) a mass produced item, the ideal answer would be “All of them.”

This can be quite counter-intuitive.

We call books, magazines, movies, TV programs, music “media art”, but video games also have the same attributes.

Media art has a shorter history than traditional art but when people started to consider preserving them, it was too already too late and many works that should have been preserved was not preserved.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Movies

The mechanisms for practical use of movies were established during 1895-1896. They were initially used to display sceneries. But the development of various techniques made it possible to show fictional stories play out on screen.
But because of its role as entertainment, films that dropped in popularity were discarded without any second thought. It is said that in some cases, the silver used to produce images were recycled, allowing the film itself to also be reused. Their value as a piece of work was temporary.As a result, only 15% (at most) of the early silent films are left today.  It is a similar case in Japan, where less than 10% of Japan-produced silent films are left today.
In the States, because of copyright laws, there was a need for depositing paper copies of movies in the Library of Congress. So, many movies were revived from there. Even then, the majority of movies are lost and never to be seen again.
The critically acclaimed Yasujirou Ozu’s early works and the works of Sadao Yamanaka, who he held in high regard, are mostly lost.
The period in which movies started to be thought of as a subject of preservation may differ between countries, but it is no mistake that they were all after the 1930s. By then, it was too late. Recently, part of “A diary of Chuji’s Travels”(1927) was recovered, but that is a very rare case. One of the reasons is that the material used for recording naturally degrades after a length of time.
忠次旅日記(監督・伊藤大輔)
Source: “A diary of Chuji’s Travels” (Director: Daisuke ITOU)
懺悔の刃(監督・小津安二郎)
Source: “Sword of Penitence” (Director: Yasujiro OZU)


TV programs

So did the TV industry learn from the mistakes of their movie counterpart? Unfortunately no.

Even NHK did not think of preserving their productions until the 1980s. The reason for that, however, is partly financial. The videotapes used then were expensive so TV studios were inclined to reuse them.

Much of the Taiga dramas, which cost a lot to produce, has not survived either. Most of them have the first and last episodes and, rarely, an extra recap episode stored in the archives, but that’s it. On the other hand, because the films of TV dramas and animation that were made with movie equipment couldn’t be reused, or they might have been cheaper, some old ones have survived till today.  For example the drama “Taiyō ni Hoero!”, airing from 1972 to 1986  is still being shown as reruns, as well as having its DVD released.

NHK is also requesting the recorded tapes, of some TV series from the 1970s to 1980s, from the public.  Unfortunately, VHS (the popular medium of the time) players had only been available on the market since 1976. So any TV programs aired before then has very little chance of resurfacing. As an exception, we have the first part of the “Shonen Drama Series” – “Time-Traveller” (1972). Its first episode was found as an open-reel tape which was a form of home-used recording at the time. The other four episodes, however, hasn’t been found. Its sequel suffers a less fortunate fate where none of its episodes have survived.

So, what is wrong with this state of affairs?

Is it simply that we don’t get a second chance to see what was lost again? No, because if people who think that way all pass away then nobody would be left to think of it as a problem.
So, naturally, that is not the issue.
Even without nostalgia, works of art can be of value even if times have changed. We can even find new value in old things. If the works aren’t preserved, that possibility itself is lost.
In cases that they were historically valued, if we cannot view it again today, there is no way to assess that judgment. The only thing that can provide that possibility is the work itself.

“Why haven’t they been preserved?” The answer to that question is multifaceted. It can be explained by economic reasons, but it may also just have been lost in a fire. Although extremely rare, there were cases where the film was deliberately disposed of because the lead actor/actress was involved in some sort of scandal. Other than accidents, the main reason would be that people thought it wouldn’t be needed ever again.
However, it has been shown that the value of a product can rise with some delay.
If the creator, or team of creators, has produced a highly popular piece of work, people will seek out their previous work. In the video game industry, “Metal Gear” is one of those pieces of work. The first in the series was made in 1987, its second in 1990, both for a console called MSX2. It never really got the chance to be in the spotlight until “Metal Gear Solid” was released in 1998. A few years after the success of “Solid”, coinciding with the rise of internet auctions, “Metal Gear” was being traded at fairly high prices.  Today, second-hand copies “Metal Gear” and “Metal Gear 2” are both being sold at prices above their retail price of the time. It is hard to imagine that in 1995, MSX games had close to no value such that nobody bothered to trade-in their second-hand games.

Let’s go back to our topic. Even famous games now might have experienced a period where they were considered worthless before people recognize their value.

What if they had not survived until the time comes? The cruel truth is that absolutely nothing could be done. If they don’t exist anymore, they cannot be evaluated, and are therefore just forgotten eventually.

That is why, to prevent that, we have to preserve ALL of it. The movie and TV industry failed to do so. “Value” may not necessary only mean monetary value, but if we knew for sure that by re-releasing a certain game, it would certainly sell, more often than not what is stopping us is that no copy of it exists anymore.

One more thing I’d like to add is that “All” has one more meaning. That is, “In preservation, we will not discriminate”.

Like I have said before, even if something has no value at the point of its release, that may not be the case somewhere down the road. But that is not all, we also do not wish to spend time discussing the value of things.

For example, We have a game that sold well upon its release, and one that did not. By saying we will preserve one, we are also saying we will not preserve the other. If we say we will not preserve the game that did not sell, then we would need to decide a threshold for that. i.e If it did not sell as many copies as our threshold, we will not preserve it. Which we then have to investigate.

If we make that judgment not by sales but by content, it becomes even harder. Whether we decide to dismiss some because it has “Adult Content” or just plain “Boring”, we would need to discuss the standards for that. And there are no objective standards in this case. So we would need to discuss endlessly. While doing that we would not have time for preservation work. That is why we need to preserve “All of it”, to save time. Our National Diet Library also has the same philosophy. Although some books and magazines haven’t been preserved, it is only because it had not been donated, not because they made a choice not to.

Video games still have a short history, only 40 years. As with movies and TV, there has been a long period in which people think of video games as a form of entertainment that will not last. Furthermore, since the development of tech is very fast, by the first half of the 1990s, most of the works from a generation before had been discarded. In particular, 8-bit PC games are being highly valued recently despite the dirt-cheap prices it was traded at just a few years ago.

For video games, its creators and users are still very much around. Which is unlike movies whose viewers from the early days are no longer around and countless works have no hope to be rediscovered and doomed to be forgotten forever.  Even if they had been highly praised, we would not know its value just from articles of the time. Even if they were made by great directors, we cannot evaluate the work itself. The same goes for TV programs.

We struggle to prevent the same tragedy repeating itself in the video game industry. That is why I answer “All of them” to the question at the beginning.

It may be difficult in reality. It may be that there are already games lost forever. But the lesson here is that we have to strive to preserve “All of them”.

Game Preservation Society, Yoshimasa KUSAKA
Translated by Ming TEE


Links:
The National Museum of Modern Art, National Film Center
NPO Film Preservation Society