This afternoon as I try to avoid getting real work done, I’m listening to Digital Eclipse producer Frank Cifaldi’s talk from GDC entitled It’s Still Emulation: Saving Video Game History Before it’s Too Late. This is a sequel to his 2016 talk to game developers about repackaging and re-selling old games. You can watch the older video if you want, but Cifaldi sums up that talk at the start of his March 2019 presentation. Since Cifalid runs the Video Game History Foundation charitable organization, emulation is obviously something near and dear to his heart.
Cifaldi covers a range of topics in this discussion. There’s a brief history of how the games industry has treated emulation, starting with Sony vs. Bleem and Sony vs Connectix all the way up to today with Nintendo’s positively archaic stance on the topic. He calls the industry’s stance “demonizing,” and it’s hard to disagree.
The developer thinks game makers could be doing more to entice hardcore retro game players, and uses some of Digital Eclipse’s recent projects as examples. If you can reach that audience, he says, you’ve made something all audiences can enjoy. Digital Eclipse made the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection that Capcom published last year, and I think it does a nice job of adding more to a retro collection than just ROMs.
He also rightly points out that ROM hackers today are making more meaningful experiences from old games for free than any developer is doing with IP that they own. According to Cifaldi, it’s a game developer’s job to create a fun and meaningful experience, but ROM hackers are running circles around them with lots of fun projects. The games industry has mostly neglected its old IPs, and once a platform dies, its games die unless they’re preserved somehow. There are tons of great old games out there that could be enjoyed by the public at large, but for practical purposes, they’re out of reach unless one goes about breaking the law.
I don’t want to give away the whole talk, though, so I encourage everyone to check it out. Game preservation—or just playing old video games—is an interesting topic, and I invite you to discuss it. How do you connect to gaming history? How do you play games that have been out of print for years? Tell your retro story in the comments below.