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Keeping the classics alive: how archivists are preserving video game history

There’s no shortage of ways to play classic games. There are subscription services, robust retro collections, and modern hardware designed to play old titles. But even still, large swaths of video game history are disappearing. Researchers say that almost 90 percent of games made before 2010 are “critically endangered.” But archivists around the world are finding ways to preserve that history, whether it’s museums releasing translations of classic adventure games or developers racing to release their games on new platforms after others shut down. Collected here is a selection of stories that explore different ways fans, researchers, and archivists are ensuring classic games are kept alive for future generations.

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    David Pierce

    Nov 13, 2023

    David Pierce

    The fight to save old video games

    A stylized version of the Vergecast logo, showing old video games.
    Illustration by Samar Haddad / The Verge

    When I ask Frank Cifaldi, the founder and director of the Video Game History Foundation, to explain the importance of preserving and maintaining old video games, he answers with a movie analogy. Imagine, he said, “if movies were only released on, like, VHS, ever. You want to watch Back to the Future? All right, you have to go on eBay, and you have to find an antique VHS copy that’s degraded a bit from use. You have to find a VCR that works, a TV that it plugs into — or the external scalers that make it look correct on your modern TV — and you might need a time-base corrector because the magnetic flux signal is out of sync.”

    For too many games, this is the state of the industry. For the most part, decades’ worth of games now exist only in their original form: on a disk or cartridge that goes into a console nobody has anymore. Many of those games are going to be hard for players to ever find again — and if we don’t do anything to save them, they might disappear altogether.

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  • Another cool piece of Limited Run Games history.

    The company’s physical version of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was “was literally the last game produced on the US 3DS production line, with our cartridge order managing to get to Nintendo at the absolute last possible second,” CEO Josh Fairhurst says on X. The game is Limited Run’s final 3DS release.


    A post on X from Limited Run Games CEO Josh Fairhurst. It says: “This was literally the last game produced on the US 3DS production line, with our cartridge order managing to get to Nintendo at the absolute last possible second (we had to place it through Rising Star in order to make it happen).”
    You can see the post on X.
    Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge
  • Felix the Cat and Sparkster are back.

    Konami and Limited Run Games are partnering on physical rereleases of two Felix the Cat games and three Rocket Knight games for PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch. I was obsessed with Rocket Knight Adventures as a kid, so I’m happy to see it available in physical formats on modern consoles.


    Images of the Felix the Cat and Rocket Knight Adventures collections.
    Image: Konami and Limited Run Games
  • Andrew Webster

    Dec 6, 2023

    Andrew Webster

    Jeff Minter is getting a playable documentary.

    Digital Eclipse is continuing its interactive documentary series with an upcoming collection about game designer and noted llama enthusiast Jeff Minter. The studio previously made Atari 50 and The Making of Karateka, and the new release will feature 42 different — and very trippy — classic games when it launches in 2024.


  • Jay Peters

    Dec 5, 2023

    Jay Peters

    PlayStation keeps reminding us why digital ownership sucks

    A PlayStation 5 DualSense controller rests on a PlayStation 5 console.
    Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

    In less than a week, Sony has given us two timely reminders of the tenuousness of digital “ownership” — and both reminders involve things on PlayStation.

    Last week, Sony said that, because of content licensing “arrangements,” users wouldn’t be able to watch Discovery content they’ve purchased and that the content would be removed from their libraries as of December 31st, 2023. The resulting list of shows that will suddenly disappear because of corporate agreements is very long. Shows disappearing from streaming services is commonplace, but in this case, people are losing access to shows they bought to watch on demand whenever they wanted.

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  • Andrew Webster

    Dec 1, 2023

    Andrew Webster

    Atari 50 is getting a big update.

    Now that developer Digital Eclipse is under the Atari umbrella, the studio is about to drop the first major update for its brilliant retro collection / playable documentary Atari 50. It launches on December 5th, and will add 12 new (old) Atari 2600 games. Unfortunately, it’s not clear yet what games will be coming, but it sounds like this is just the start of many updates to come.


  • Jon Porter

    Oct 31, 2023

    Jon Porter

    Atari is buying the developer behind its excellent 50th anniversary retro compilation

    An Atari logo.
    Image: Atari

    Atari is acquiring Digital Eclipse, a studio that specializes in preserving and rereleasing retro games on modern hardware. The releases are often rich in additional materials and historical content. Think the Criterion Collection but for video games. In a press release, Atari says it’s paying up to $20 million for the studio, including an initial $6.5 million paid in a combination of cash and shares and a further $13.5 million, which is due to be paid in cash over the next decade subject to Digital Eclipse’s performance. It expects to complete the deal in the coming days.

    The two companies previously worked together on last year’s excellent Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, which included ports of over 90 classic games as well as unreleased prototypes and neat extras like short documentaries and old photos and magazine articles. But Digital Eclipse has also produced a number of other well-received rereleases of classic games including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection and the interactive documentary The Making of Karateka.

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  • Jay Peters

    Oct 16, 2023

    Jay Peters

    The Portland Retro Gaming Expo helps keep the classics alive

    A person sitting on a couch playing an older game at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo.

    “Sega had their own console?”

    That was a devastating comment I heard as I sat playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on a Sega Genesis Mini at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE) this weekend. The Sonic games on Genesis were my favorites as a kid; one time, I played so much Sonic that I peed my pants. How could this person not know about Sega consoles?

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  • Jay Peters

    Oct 10, 2023

    Jay Peters

    Another Stadia exclusive just ate a Power Pellet.

    Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle: Chomp Champs, a battle royale take on Pac-Man that was previously only available on Google Stadia before Stadia shut down, will get another chance on Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X / X, Xbox One, and Steam, Bandai Namco announced on Tuesday. It’s set to release in “early 2024.”

    Also, I regret to inform you that Nintendo just shut down Pac-Man 99. We knew the shutdown was coming, but I’m still sad to see it go.


  • Andrew Webster

    Sep 28, 2023

    Andrew Webster

    A fun way to support video game preservation.

    The Video Game History Foundation does great work when it comes to preserving the history of the medium, and now the institute is offering a unique way for people to show support. Right now on GOG you can purchase a “supporter pack” filled with all kinds of rare art and promotional materials for franchises like Yakuza and The Elder Scrolls, with proceeds going towards the VGHF.

    Check out this interview for more on the work they’re doing.


  • Andrew Webster

    Sep 15, 2023

    Andrew Webster

    The original Wizardry has been remastered — and you can play it right now

    Fresh off the launch of The Making of Karateka, retro game studio Digital Eclipse has announced a remaster of the original action RPG title Wizardry. Even better — it’s out now in early access on both Steam and GOG.

    First released in 1981 and developed by Sir-Tech Software, the first Wizardry — or Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, to give it its very long full title — was a first-person, party-based, D&D-inspired RPG that proved incredibly influential and kicked off a long-running franchise. Here’s the official description for the uninitiated:

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  • Andrew Webster

    Aug 29, 2023

    Andrew Webster

    Digital Eclipse is preserving classic games in the most entertaining way possible

    A screenshot from the video game The Making of Karateka.
    The Making of Karateka.
    Image: Digital Eclipse

    The first game you play in The Making of Karateka, a release about the making of the cinematic action game Karateka, is an Asteroids clone. It may seem strange, but the attempt at recreating Asteroids was a seminal moment for Karateka creator Jordan Mechner, a humble beginning for a designer who would go on to create some of the most influential action games ever made, including Prince of Persia. The clone appears early on during a long, winding, and interactive timeline, which takes you through Mechner’s early days of experimentation before getting into how Karateka was developed and released.

    For studio Digital Eclipse, the team behind the interactive documentary, it’s another attempt at telling the story of classic games in a way that’s completely native to the medium. As classic games become increasingly endangered, this approach is an important tool for keeping them alive. “I think it’s the best way to tell these stories,” says Digital Eclipse president Mike Mika. “If you’re going to tell the story of an interactive experience, it better be interactive.”

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  • Ash Parrish

    Jul 14, 2023

    Ash Parrish

    Almost 90 percent of classic games are ‘critically endangered,’ say archivists

    A photo of the original Game Boy surrounded by cartridges.
    Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

    With advancing console generations and the slow demise of both backward compatibility and digital game storefronts, the ability to play older games has always been tough. Through a new study from the Video Game History Foundation (VGHF) and the Software Preservation Network, we now have a better understanding of just how difficult accessing older games really is.

    “87% of classic video games released in the United States are critically endangered,” wrote Kelsey Lewin, co-director of the Video Game History Foundation.

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  • Ash Parrish

    Dec 25, 2022

    Ash Parrish

    The quest to save a Stadia exclusive

    Screenshot from PixelJunk Raiders featuring a human facing off against a red alien creature
    Image: Q-Games

    Earlier this year, Google announced that it was shutting down its game streaming service Stadia, a short three years since its launch in 2018. While it’s mostly fans of the service feeling the impact of the closure, there are a handful of developers with Stadia exclusives that will unfortunately lose their games when the service shuts down for good in January. One of those is Q-Games, makers of PixelJunk Raiders. The Verge spoke with Q-Games’ founder and CEO, Dylan Cuthbert, who explained the unique situation Q-Games is in, trying to get their exclusive off Stadia’s foundering ship and somewhere safe where people can play it.

    PixelJunk Raiders is a space exploration roguelike that takes advantage of Stadia’s unique “state share” feature that allows people to share instances of their game in which other players can jump into and experience for themselves. 

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  • Andrew Webster

    Nov 11, 2022

    Andrew Webster

    Atari 50 is an incredible playable tour through video game history

    A screenshot of the Atari Jaguar game Atari Karts.
    Atari Karts on the Jaguar.
    Image: Atari

    One of the biggest challenges in video game preservation is figuring out how to actually present old games. In 2022, there are more ways than ever to play the classics, whether it’s mini consoles, updated hardware, subscription services, retro collections, or modern rereleases. While these can make old games playable to new audiences, they aren’t always able to put them in a proper context — which is especially important for really old games like, say, Adventure on the Atari 2600.

    But an expansive new release, made by Digital Eclipse to celebrate Atari’s 50th anniversary, is the best attempt at a retro collection I’ve ever experienced. It’s available on just about every console out there right now as well as the PC, letting me put my PS5 to use for its intended purpose: playing Asteroids. The collection is huge, detailed, and does an amazing job of explaining why these games are so important.

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  • Ash Parrish

    Oct 12, 2022

    Ash Parrish

    Two never-published NES games are up for auction on eBay

    Photo of a Nintendo Entertainment System with a Zapper gun-like peripheral sitting on top with wires connecting the controller and the zapper bound besides the console
    Photo by TENGKU BAHAR / AFP via Getty Images

    When Frank Cifaldi, founder and co-director at the Video Game History Foundation, finds an unreleased original NES game on eBay, it’s cause for celebration. Unearthing never-before-published games is his “research kink,” and according to him, such discoveries only happen “once every five years.” Yesterday, he found two.

    One game, Battlefields of Napoleon, got so far along in its development process that it has finalized box art, but the game never saw the light of a retail store. The other game is even rarer. It’s a demo for the infamous Power Glove developed by Rare (yes, apparently that Rare) and is one of only five known games for the peripheral in existence (if you count the two games Nintendo announced but never released). Cifaldi is now working to raise funds to win both auctions so these never-before-seen pieces of video game history can be preserved and their contents shared with the public.

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  • Sep 1, 2022

    Alicia Haddick

    The ticking time bomb of modern free-to-play games

    Nintendo’s Dragalia Lost is shutting down at the end of 2022.
    Nintendo’s Dragalia Lost is shutting down at the end of 2022.
    Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

    Dragalia Lost launched in 2018 as a statement of intent from Nintendo in partnership with Japanese developer Cygames. Nintendo may have first jumped into the field of mobile games in 2016 with the launch of games like Super Mario Run and Miitomo, but this was the first original property the company had produced exclusively for mobile devices. This free-to-play gacha game (a game whose content is generally free to access while charging microtransactions for loot boxes and randomized lotteries for rare and limited-time characters) had a flashy multi-region launch campaign collaborating with major Japanese musician DAOKO, banking on the game’s success at home and abroad.

    And it was a hit. Less than a year after launch, the game had already earned over $100 million, with a steady stream of merchandise following soon after. Yet, as of last month, Nintendo and Cygames published the game’s final update, and this week, it was revealed that the game would shut down on November 29th after just three years of operation.

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  • Ash Parrish

    Apr 19, 2022

    Ash Parrish

    Habitat for humanity: how a classic MMO got a second life

    Illustration by Melissa Mathieson / The Verge

    Habitat, the world’s first MMO developed for the Commodore 64 personal computer, went offline in 1992. It came back online in 2017 through the efforts of MADE, the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment.

    Founded by Alex Handy in 2011, MADE “seeks to legitimize the preservation of video games as both a historic and artistic medium within the context of our time.” To that end, MADE amassed a collection of working video game consoles and a library of old games for patrons to play. 

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  • Ash Parrish

    Mar 21, 2022

    Ash Parrish

    Inside the fight to save video game history

    Alex Castro / The Verge

    In February, Nintendo announced it would shut down its 3DS and Wii U storefronts. While the closure is an inevitable part of the life cycle of those long since sunset consoles, the move sparked anger, disappointment, and even fear as fans lamented the loss of access to digitally exclusive 3DS and Wii U titles. With console gaming entering its ninth generation, the digital storefronts from the previous generations are slowly disappearing, taking with them thousands of digital-only games and DLC. Combined with the decline of physical media in favor of subscription services and digital distribution, it’s getting harder for people to play older games and harder still for the games of the present to be preserved for the future. 

    That is, if you want a legal way to play them. As games age and as companies continue to remove the means to properly purchase and download them, people are looking at other, less than legitimate options to continue to play the games they enjoy. It’s created tension between players and companies. While it’s unrealistic to expect publishers to maintain their prolific libraries in perpetuity, it’s also not ideal that large swathes of games can, at any time, just disappear on the whims of the store operator

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  • Jan 15, 2022

    Jay Castello

    How a design museum unearthed a treasure trove of classic Slovak games

    Šatochin.
    Šatochin.

    Late last year, the Slovak Design Museum released a translated collection of ’80s text adventures from the region. The games, often programmed by teenagers, capture a moment in history when the first generation of Slovak developers were learning their craft to share among their friends.

    The museum didn’t always cover games. Maroš Brojo, the general manager of the Slovak Game Developers Association, pitched the multimedia collection that he now curates. “When you get the patronage of a museum… it gives you much more credibility,” he says. “Suddenly, people start to have a very different view of this actually being part of something important. Our culture and our heritage.”

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  • Andrew Webster

    Dec 17, 2021

    Andrew Webster

    Clockwork Aquario brings a long-lost arcade game back to life

    If Clockwork Aquario had come out in the early ’90s, it would have cost me a lot of quarters. It’s the kind of arcade game that lures you in: big sprites, bright colors, inventive worlds, a bubbly soundtrack. You see it, and you want to play it. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to experience it in an arcade because it was never actually released. But a few decades later, it’s finally available in a new format — you can now play it on both the PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

    Clockwork Aquario was initially a victim of the game industry’s shift to 3D games. Development started in 1992 at Westone Bit Entertainment, a now-defunct studio best-known for the Wonder Boy series. The game was completed after two years, but by that time, arcades had mostly moved on to 3D experiences and fighting games, and so it was shelved entirely. It stayed that way until retro-focused publisher Inin Games snapped up the rights and reworked it to run on modern devices.

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  • Mar 16, 2021

    Jay Castello

    Archivists are trying to chronicle Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ unforgettable first year

    “The serendipity of the time [Animal Crossing: New Horizons] came out is ridiculous,” says Lex Roberts, curator of the UK National Videogame Museum’s Animal Crossing Diaries. The project aims to capture “the cultural phenomenon that followed the release of Animal Crossing … in March 2020, just as the world was transformed by the pandemic.”

    New Horizons has been inextricably associated with COVID-19, with early reviews making mention of how much we all needed an escape as lockdowns and quarantines suddenly became our lives. As it became apparent that social distancing would be around for a long time, the game became the location of weddings, memorials, protests, and political campaigning, to name just a few.

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  • Bijan Stephen

    Oct 15, 2020

    Bijan Stephen

    A new way to think about your favorite game’s code

    It’s surprisingly hard to archive a video game. Cartridges decay, eventually; discs become unreadable as their plastic degrades. Source codes are lost to corporate mergers and acquisitions. But what’s most dangerous to preserving game history isn’t a physical or corporate consideration: it’s the prevailing attitude that games are playful, evanescent, and therefore not worth archiving.

    Obviously that’s not true, and games deserve critical historical consideration, the kind that other, older mediums get. Frank Cifaldi and Kelsey Lewin, co-directors of the Video Game History Foundation, are two of the people leading that charge. I spoke with them a little while ago about preserving video game history, and their new program, the Video Game Source Project, which takes as its footing the idea that there’s no better way to study a video game than to access its raw material.

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  • Andrew Webster

    Jul 30, 2020

    Andrew Webster

    An unprecedented Nintendo leak turns into a moral dilemma for archivists

    The Nintendo logo in black and red
    Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

    For the past week, Nintendo fans have resembled digital archaeologists. Following a massive leak of source code and other internal documents — appropriately dubbed the gigaleak — previously unknown details from the company’s biggest games have steadily trickled out. Those poring over the code have uncovered a new Animal Crossing villager, early prototypes for games like Pokémon Diamond, cut characters from Star Fox, a very weird Yoshi, and strange titles like a hockey RPG. Perhaps the biggest discovery has been a Luigi character model from Super Mario 64.

    From a historical and preservationist perspective, the leak is an incredible find. It’s a rare look into the process and discarded ideas of one of the most influential — and secretive — companies in video games. But for those preservationists digging through the data, that excitement is tainted by a moral dilemma. The origins of the code leak are still largely unknown, but it’s likely that it was obtained illegally. That presents a pertinent question: does the source of the leak tarnish all that historians can learn from it?

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  • Bijan Stephen

    May 6, 2019

    Bijan Stephen

    Analogue’s console clones are a way to preserve gaming’s past

    Things fall apart, and then they are forgotten. In video games, there was the famous Atari dump, in which the company buried thousands of cartridges of E.T. and other games in a New Mexico landfill. There are more prosaic cases where the source codes for games are lost for dull reasons. For example, Prince of Persia for the Apple II was presumed gone until the developer’s dad found the code in a closet (stored on three fragile floppy discs), after which point the dev posted it to GitHub. Physical media, which makes up most of video game history, has a tendency to degrade, too. That means, even when properly stored, the past is in danger of being lost. As journalist Heather Alexandra wrote in Kotaku in 2016: “Gaming’s early years often painted video games as children’s toys. Only diehard collectors and enthusiasts had the foresight to hold onto their games. Even now, games are treated largely as consumable goods.”

    The culture around games — magazines, merchandise, and the like — disappears, too, which leaves them less analyzable in their original context. The main problem with preservation is that it’s not immediately apparent what’s worth preserving. With video games, though, it becomes a little more complicated: playing them the way they were originally meant to be played is about as important as preserving their code. And that’s also what people think about when they think of emulation, which is a wonderful way to preserve code that might otherwise disappear. But they never think about the hardware.

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