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November 2015 Retro Gaming Article


November 13, 2015 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Night Dive Studios preserves retro games by bringing them back from extinction

If you're a retro gamer, you should know about Night Dive Studios and their take on video game preservation. We've written several articles about this important topic, but this studio has taken an interesting and unique route towards the preservation of games.

Atari breakfast Too often I think about rescuing a box of NES carts from the trash or learning how to fix the issues that plague older consoles. It never occurred to me how many games simply need to be rescued from obscurity!

With price guides in-hand, collectors storm yard sales and flea markets looking for the elusive game carts not yet obtained. As these games are taken from the wild and go into the hands of collectors, they stand a much better chance of becoming valued rather than discarded in the trash. This is a good thing, but there's another sector of games that face challenges when it comes to preservation.

As a console gamer, I tend to think of the physical aspects of games - carts, consoles, accessories. A lot of things can happen to a game beyond winding up in a landfill. There are a lot of legal issues in the gaming industry, especially when a studio shuts down and it's assets sold to the highest bidder. Fast Company published an interesting article about Night Dive's work, by Jared Newman, and how they bring games back to life on modern platforms after languishing in arbitrated limbo.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

Legal Entanglement

What Night Dive studios does is insanely cool! Being a developer is more than the traditional roles we hear about. It sounds as though Night Dive does a fair amount of detective work to secure rights to old games.

Imagine the number of games that have disappeared due to studios closing and their assets being sold off. These sales are transfers of ownership. One seeking rights to re-publish a game from a defunct studio needs to secure rights from the owner.

Determining the owner can be difficult when so many different entities have a hand in both game development and subsequent sale of assets. Bringing a game back to life can be an uphill battle before a single line of code is written.

As they say on their website:
Movies are restored, Books are digitized, and Art is preserved to be appreciated for all time. Why should Games be any different? We know there are countless games that are still unavailable, and we're doing our best to bring them back from the depths to be treasured once more.

System Shock 2 for Windows

Detectives & Coders

Night Dive Studios was founded in 2013 by game designer Stephen Kick as a different kind of game studio. Recognizing the loss of many great games to outside circumstances seemed to foster a desire to bring them back. It apparently started with System Shock 2. Unable to get the game working, led to tracking down the rights-holder, an insurance company in Michigan. After some negotiating, Kick was able to bring the title back.

That quest led to more of the same and they seem to have restored over 80 games from various eras and made them run on modern operating systems. They are able to turn around these aged titles much faster than traditional game dev cycles, but the twists and turns of obtaining rights is a large part of the journey to bringing certain games to life again.

We highly recommend you check out the Night Dive site and read Jared Newman's Fast Company article (both linked above). We are very impressed with how Night Dive has chosen to run their company. As with any effort to preserve retro gaming, we love what these guys do and their willingness to navigate both legal channels and the games' aging code.

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