Sadao YAMANAKA (山中貞雄)

The purpose of our society

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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

ゲーム保存協会 Game Preservation Society

The Holy Grail of Humming Bird Soft Successfully Preserved

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Being someone who owns fewer than fifty PC games and barely knows how to modify hardware or even code in BASIC, I owe the opportunity to write this article largely to our president Joseph, with whom I connected with through Humming Bird Soft’s adventure games.

I absolutely adore games and want to make sure that they are lovingly preserved for posterity. On that note, I would like to present this article in commemoration of the Game Preservation Society’s successful preservation of Recapture, a game released by Humming Bird Soft for the FM-7 series systems.

■ About Humming Bird Soft

At the mention of Humming Bird Soft, some readers might remember games like Record of Lodoss War or something older like Laplace’s Demon. They are absolutely right, but in addition to that, Humming Bird Soft was also the first company in Japan to produce adventure games with a certain level of quality. The first of these was a 5-inch disk for the FM-8, titled The Palms (priced at 11,000 yen at the time).

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Before The Palms, adventure games mainly took place in locked-room scenarios, like in Mystery House by Microcabin (a Japanese clone of the famous Mystery House by Sierra Online). The Palms gave the genre a different take by presenting a game world that expanded outwards, from the neighborhood reminiscent of the Shonan Beaches, to the ocean, to Smoopa, the underwater city. In addition, it was in color, which was groundbreaking at the time. Sales commenced during January of 1983, when the market for PC games was still young, and The Palms raised the bar high for domestically produced games.

■ Recapture

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Recapture was released in 1984 as the first title of the Humming Bird – Another Venture #1 series (9,800 yen, reduced to 5,800 yen in 1985). True to the spirit of being “Another Venture,” it went in a different direction from the fantasy settings of previous Humming Bird Soft games.

The protagonist, a researcher at Fly Pharmaceuticals, is a young man who is putting all he has into a “100% Perfect Male Contraceptive” (according to the manual). He succeeds and creates the male contraceptive “Kondoh-Muyo” (literally “condomless”). However, rival company Mosquito Pharmaceuticals will not take this lying down and steals the research files from our protagonist while he is out drunk while celebrating. What is our protagonist to do? The press conference is today at 4:30 p.m., and if he does not return by then, it will spell the end of Fly Pharmaceuticals. Thus the story begins where you as the protagonist have to RECAPTURE the missing files. This prologue is included in the manual in comic-book style; give it a read if you get a chance!

■ The Treasure Trove of Accessories

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For PC games in 1984, it was standard practice to have a slightly well-designed box and a simple manual, but for Recapture, there was an elaborate set with a Dali-esque package, a comic-styled manual, a case resembling a medicine package, and a piece of cardboard with “This is cardboard” written on it. Perhaps they were emulating Infocom, which had various accessories included with the text adventure games they published for Apple and others. Hudson Soft even included soil in their package for Dark Focus: The Case of the Bunnygirl Murder (1986).

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Recapture Accessories

■ The Story

To avoid spoiling the game by revealing too many details, I’ll just introduce each area briefly with a few screenshots.

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This is Fly Pharmaceuticals, where the player works. It’s fun to proceed through the game, as it’s not weighed down by too much text. Your first destinations are the accounting department and the lab. Commands like F***, BAKA (idiot) and AHO (fool) which aren’t normally functional in such games will show you a game over screen with a special scene. It’s well-worth trying out!

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If you take the employee bus, you’ll get to Ohatsu station. Once you get off, you’ll encounter a street hawker trying to get you to visit a “pink salon” (brothel). While Humming Bird Soft had been producing tasteful games up until that point, one of the distinctive features of Recapture is that it doesn’t shy away from lewdness throughout the game. This street also has a drugstore and department store. If you’re not skilled at finding a great bargain, you might have a hard time ahead.

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Taking a train from Ohatsu station enables you to get to Tokube station. What do you know! There’s a Humming Bird shop on the street staffed by a single employee. This game has a rich selection of functional commands, if you key in “LOOK HUMMINGBIRD” in front of the discount shop, you will get some information about the second game in the Another Venture series. There’s a lot available for sale on this street, and you can get some stuff through conversing with NPCs. It’s starting to feel more like an adventure game!

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Next is Chikamatsu station, the station closest to Mosquito Pharmaceuticals. There’s two ways to get in, if you’ve cleared the game before with one method, give the other method a go! (One method is in the hint book but is quite hard to decipher.)

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This is the second floor of Mosquito Pharmaceuticals. The two main goals of this area are to get a staff ID card and to RECAPTURE your missing files. The first goal of getting the staff ID requires some puzzle solving. Your actions regarding something passing across the meeting room is the key.

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The third floor and the stairwell comprise the later half of Mosquito Pharmaceuticals. It’s time to use the items you bought outside Tokube Station! Beware, as the file in the lab is fake, but without it, you won’t be able to get the real one (which is called the HONTO-FILE, or “real file”).

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After you’ve RECAPTURED your file, it’s not the end yet. You’ll still need to deliver it to your manager at Fly Pharmaceuticals. However, Humming Bird adventure games aren’t so easy! If you take the wrong mode of transportation, it’s Game Over. The street hawker from before (remember him?) is also back to block your way. This is your last test of wits; have a look at the items you have and solve the puzzle!

■ Hint Book

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The Recapture Hint Book, which appears when you key in “HINT” during the game (18 pages, 1,000 yen, sold separately), has been obtained by the Game Preservation Society. It presents the story from beginning to end with the same style as the manual, and will help you clear the game without any problems

Recapture is a command-line adventure game, a genre which enjoyed extremely brief popularity from 1983-1984. Command-line games meant that the player needed to key in what to do and how to do it, using Katakana or English. In addition, functional keywords were limited, so most people have probably experienced a cold reply like, “You can’t do this.”

On the other hand, after being stuck forever on a particular scene, finding the right keyword and watching the scenes and story unfold smoothly from there is like a drug. You can’t get this from multiple-choice text adventures. It’s a lost genre.

In addition to Recapture, our Society aims to preserve all existing games, including those that have been lost to history. I hope that anyone who can will lend a hand.

Game Preservation Society, Takayuki KOMABAYASHI
Translated by Ming TEE, edited by Devin MONNENS

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

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