This week's episode contains the first segment of my interview with Scott Miller, founder of Apogee, 3D Realms, and The Radar Group. He's also a marketing genius who made a fortune from shareware, and recruited talent like Romero and Carmack among others. In short, you can't miss these if you're serious about videogame history.
You can download the episode here.
Today, Good Old Games (gog.com) shut down. It was one of the very few ways available to customers who want to purchase a game that's more than five years old. This is sad news, but not nearly as sad as the cannibalistic reality that we've been living with for a very long time.
"Abandonware" is a term that should fill the heart of anyone who cares about computer gaming with shame. Imagine if you couldn't buy or borrow a book written more than five years ago - or if older films like Casa Blanca or Citizen Kane were simply impossible to get your hands on. The grim situation - if you're not already familiar is this. After a game is about 5 to 10 years old, two things happen. Firstly, it is "succeeded" by a sequel. Instead of adding bug fixes, new content and other improvements to the original game, those are usually released in a new box and sold as a separate piece of software. Then, the old software is simply forgotten, and it is assumed that no one cares about them and they are not sold. The other problem that leads to the existence of Abandonware is the insane, frothing-at-the mouth technology arms race that we've found ourselves embroiled in since day one. Technology has, of course, always been linked to computer games; but for the past twenty years, the situation has been ridiculous. If your software is more than six or seven years old, chances are most people won't even have a suitable platform to play your game on.
Jamie Lendino of ExtremeTech has posted a lovely article called Play Retro Games on Your Modern PC. It covers vintage computers, consoles, legacy PC games, MAME, and abandonware. If you've been wondering how to revisit that Apple II favorite or Atari ST GEM environment, this is a great place to start. I also greatly appreciate the "further reading" section, which cites Dungeons & Desktops and Vintage Games as must-reads on the topic, as well as our Gamasutra articles. Check it out!
I just got a newsletter from X-Gaming that contained a startling announcement: The US Copyright Office has legalized abandonware. Or has it? I went to the US Copyright Office website and recognized at once that this claim is a bit exaggerated. Actually, what's happened is that the anti-circumvention part of the DMCA has been relaxed a bit regarding certain types of works. That's the part of the DMCA that makes it illegal to reverse-engineer or to do anything that attempts to bypass the copy protection schemes introduced by software companies. Here's the part about "abandonware":
Brian Crecente of Kotaku seems upset about some comments from Peter Moore, VP of Microsoft Gaming. Moore claims that Microsoft "underpromised and over-delivered with backwards compatability, and that people just don't care enough about BC to make it worth the investment. Let me add my two cents: Moore is right: Backwards compatability IS backwards. BC is simply an ineffective and inefficient means of hedging the bets with a new platform. Everyone is better off with a clean break and a fresh start.
Every now and then I read an article that makes me stop and wonder about the Big Picture. What will history students a hundred years from now read, if anything, about my lifetime? Will they "read" at all? An article that did that for me today was The Dead Formats Society by someone named Momus. How is the brief half-life of most digital formats affecting our culture and its future? This is probably a question that all of us here at Armchair Arcade have asked at one time or another, since we're constantly faced with the problem of getting old games for "obsolete" systems to run on our modern hardware.