A new year is upon us here at the Game Preservation Society, thanks in no small part to our patrons’ constant support.
It’s been six years since we started our organization. In that time, we’ve remained steadfast in our focus of archiving video games as cultural history so that the medium’s past won’t be lost to future generations. The work is by no means easy, but our dedication is paying off dividends. Last year saw us not only receive media attention for our efforts, but we also received lots of support and help with our activities, for which we’re extremely grateful.
Preparations are underway to properly unveil our archive to the public, much of it dedicated to 1980’s Japanese PC games, and it’s my hope that we’ll be able to do so sometime this year. As I write this, we’re working on organizing a huge trove of archival materials and creating an interface that’ll enable everyone to access those items in an easy and intuitive manner. Continued management of archival materials, as well as maintaining quality control of preserved materials are also expected to remain a difficult, but critical part of our work.
Nevertheless, it’s worth reiterating that we’re not doing this simply out of pure nostalgia that we have for older Japanese games. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, our work at the Game Preservation Society is intended to help fuel legitimate research into game history and hopefully help bring about its inception as a legitimate academic field in the future. We therefore consider it nothing less than our very duty to be able to preserve these primary sources and share access to them with the public so that their place in history won’t be forgotten.
With everybody’s help, I’m confident that vision can be realized, but in the meantime, there are concrete steps that we should take along the way to ensure we reach that point. For those of you already working with us as our supporters, keep trying to think of ways that you, as an individual can help to preserve games, their history, and their culture, as we start another year at the Game Preservation Society. One important way you can always help is by spreading awareness and information about our society and what we do. There are always more people that can be reached and your help in those efforts is always greatly appreciated.
Indeed, the Game Preservation Society is what it is today thanks the generous help of many talented individuals. Your contributions allow us to achieve many things. Beyond keeping us supplied in our preservation and archival work, your contributions ensure we’re properly equipped and logistically prepared to negotiate with government bodies and ultimately make this project grow bigger and even better as time goes on.
Having said that, for those of you who understand the importance of our work and wish to help out financially, you may make a contribution at the following address:
Finally, a 30 minute documentary about our efforts was released in English last year in conjunction with NHK World. For those of you who are interested in learning more about what we do in our day-to-day work, especially in terms of how we handle and process games, our work environment, and our archival space, you can view the documentary at the link below.
Since springtime earlier this year, we’ve been collaborating with the good folks at NHK World to produce a documentary about the Game Preservation Society and our work. After a lot of filming, the final piece aired on 28 November, 2016.
Among the many things that Japan has to be proud of is its games. From Space Invaders, which became a social phenomenon, to the global icon Super Mario Bros, games have long been a critical part of the country’s pop culture output. This documentary we’ve collaborated on details our work in preserving Japanese games from the golden age, as well as the history behind them, in the hopes that they’ll remain accessible for future generations.
Not many people necessarily realize this, but as the foundation of video game culture as we know it today, older games from the 1970s and 1980s are now at serious risk of deterioration. Not only that, but more and more materials related to their creation and development are disappearing, too. Without immediate intervention, within a few years, these important games across all formats, arcade, PC, and console alike, will start to break down for good and it’ll become impossible to bring them back to life. This, in essence, is why the Game Preservation Society was formed, in order to do something about the situation and help avert disaster.
In this documentary, you can see the members of our society who volunteer their time to our cause and see first hand how they’re helping to preserve old video game culture, whether it’s by restoring old games, engaging in archival work, or something else altogether. But as Kazumi Takai of Takai Shoukai discusses during the program, game preservation takes real money in order to do right. While in an ideal world these old games and their assorted materials would be protected by the government as part of museums, short of that level of support, it’s up to us as individual citizens to do what we can to keep that legacy alive in the meantime.
Should we fail to do so, all these games and materials risk going the way of Japanese ukiyo-e art and evaporating from the country forever. As Joseph Redon, the head of the Game Preservation Society, puts it at the end of the documentary, “Japanese people have a different sensibility and that’s good. Only the Japanese could make certain games. I think it’s important that they go on making them and draw on their own history. Games are a heritage that must remain in Japan for the Japanese and indirectly for everyone else, as well, because from all the magnificent things they make, we, too, will benefit.”
The work of the Game Preservation Society has only just begun. How far we’ll ultimately be able to go in preserving Japanese games, works that are deeply embued with those unique sensibilities, will depend on how our organization is able to grow and evolve in the months and years to come. It’s our hope that this work we do in appreciating these old games will inspire a cultural movement within Japan and doing that will take the dedication and hard work of passionate people living within Japan to make happen.
Some of you reading this might be aware of the Cool Japan initiative that the Japanese government sponsors, which is an effort to promote various Japanese subcultures to the rest of the world. While official support for manga and anime is strong, games so far haven’t been so lucky. Time is running out for many games and their materials to stay in one piece and if more isn’t done to address the issue sooner rather than later, it’ll be too little, too late for some of them.
The Game Preservation Society is a non-profit organization run by volunteers who graciously dedicate their time and energy to making sure these games continue to have a future for many years to come. We will continue to work tirelessly in our preservation efforts and find a way to give these games a framework for official, enduring protection, much like books, art, documents, and film are afforded that protection through the work of museums, archives, and libraries across the world. And to make that happen, we need the help of each and every person who can pitch in at any capacity, big or small, because to us and surely to all of you, Japanese games are worth it.
To that end, there are many ways that you can help. You can, of course, spread the word about the Game Preservation Society and our work to people who are interested in game history and culture. Exposure is always important for a small operation like ours. But, in the interest of being frank, just as important as exposure is money so that we can continue to have the funding to go about our work.
As the documentary depicts, the materials that we acquire are each preserved and stored in their own special containers that are designed to help combat deterioration. In a nutshell, they’re organized by the type of medium (e.g.: paper, magnetic, etc.) and the containers are designed to counteract environmental factors that can exacerbate degradation. The flip side is that these containers, unforunately, don’t come cheaply. It’s not just the containers that cost money, either; every piece that enters our archives is tagged with a QR code and the cost of the materials that go into that process adds up when working in large volumes like we do.
Some games, like those that rely on the DECO Casette System, are also difficult to repair and can require special tools to get the job done. That also costs money and in cases where said tools are no longer being manufactured, we have to recreate them in-house. While we’re lucky to have a staff full of passionate volunteers, without a steady stream of money to fund our work, we can’t realistically continue it for the long haul.
As such, we’re asking those of you who understand our mission and wish to support it to please consider registering for a yearly donation. For a one time per year amount of your choosing starting at 3000 yen, you’ll be helping to ensure our long-term survival as an organization. Not only that, in exchange for your generous contribution, we’ll send you newsletters discussing our ongoing work, as well as financial statements that show just how your money is being put to good use.
We as game players, fans, and historians cannot rest on our laurels and be complacent in assuming that this work will inherently get done one way or another. Japanese video game history needs people who are willing to fight for it and protect it for generations to come. With your donation, you’ll be making a statement that you want our important work like ours at the Game Preservation Society to continue and play a crucial role in ensuring these games don’t get lost to time.
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).
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 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
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).
■ The Story
To avoid spoiling the game by revealing too many details, I’ll just introduce each area briefly with a few screenshots.
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!
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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”).
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
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.