The COVID-19 pandemic delayed pretty much everything over the last year, and one of the casualties has unfortunately been one of my favorite retro gaming series, Analog Frontiers, from My Life in Gaming. This is a documentary series that combines a lot of subjects that MLiG usually covers into a comprehensive look at the people and technologies that are keeping classic gaming alive. Parts 1 and 2 were released in February and July of last year, with plans to finish the planned five part series by the end of 2020. COVID-19 put a lot of big projects on hold and I had somewhat forgotten about this excellent look at retro gaming preservation.
Part 3 is now available and after watching it in full, I find myself compelled to share it with everyone after setting up my own classic gaming preservation projects over the past year. I hope you can take the time to watch the full video if you're interested in the subject, it's a great reminder of how important classic gaming is, and just how new it really is in the grand scheme of media.
This episode takes a deep dive into the world behind retro game documentation, preservation, and replication. It features many prominent guests from the retro gaming scene, from engineering, to historians, content creators, and more. It starts off with a history behind the public domain of console reference photography, an area of preservation I admittedly had not considered before. Evan Amos is interviewed for his extensive work in documenting high quality photos of video game hardware throughout history, originally to scratch a personal itch to fix bad pictures of consoles on Wikipedia. His work has expanded into the Vanamo Online Game Museum, part of the Wikimedia Commons online media library. It's fascinating that one small project has become the standard of how people find pictures of consoles, controllers, and PCBs, even used in official media by video game companies themselves.
The next segment focuses on community driven game lists like SmokeMonster's Game Pack lists that are open-sourced verifiable scripts of ROM dumps and hacks that are guaranteed to work on original hardware or emulators. SmokeMonster is a long time community contributor and content creator that is passionate about getting people to play classic games any way possible but with the best tools available, a stance I can definitely get behind.
It then segues into how those ROMs are obtained for the scripts to sort through, with various opinions from different guests. I personally agree with the philosophy that if you can't buy the game in a store or on a storefront anymore, you're good to go. I'm not gonna pay $500 to try a copy of Bucky O'Hare on an NES when a flash cart is more affordable, especially when that $500 is for a game that is 25 years or more removed from the developer and publisher, sold second hand who knows how many times now. For some people, that might not sit right, and I don't have a problem with anyone that prefers to use a real cartridge or CD, but for me, the preservation and ability to play outweighs the need for a physical collection. However, I do like having an original copy of a cartridge or disc when I'm playing a retro system if available, it just completes the experience. Sometimes the original hardware is not an option, but that is a grey area as well.
The video moves on to discuss hardware simulation which has been a common thing with software emulation for decades now. I appreciate the breakdown of high-level and low-level emulation with experts like Artemio Urbina, Frank Cifaldi, and Zach 'Voultar' Henson, how those different methods lend themselves to different solutions, and how they are mixed together in most projects. The subject naturally progresses onto hardware simulation like ASIC and FPGA based consoles. ASIC console clones are typically cheaply manufactured clones that have proliferated the market since the late '80s, but newer FPGA clones are quickly becoming a preferred method of replacing original hardware.
FPGA consoles like the Retro AVS, Analogue Inc. products, and the MiSTer open-source project are all talked about, with input from some of the creators themselves like Brian Parker. I have talked about the MiSTer quite a lot in the Chatty and in my feature about the Pac-Man Championship Edition Demake for the NES. Personally, I think the MiSTer is the best product I've ever purchased for retro gaming and would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking to build a digital museum dedicated to accurate preservation of classic gaming, from micro PCs to arcade games.
The biggest takeaway from the video--and there is a lot that I didn't cover in my long winded summary--is that however you prefer to experience classic games, just experiencing them is enough if that is what is fun for you. If it's on a Raspberry Pi, or an NES Classic, maybe you have original hardware and games, or you're just getting into FPGA, all of it is viable and important for the legacy and preservation of retro video games. As I get older, the more important this becomes to me as I hope my children and their children will be able to experience this wealth of gaming history. Or maybe it's more for my selfish desires to play games that I never got a chance to when I was younger. Either way, it's been a lot of fun along the way and I want to keep that fun around for as long as I can.