Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Do you have an obsolescence plan for PC games?

I don't just play games, I also collect them. Even though the advent of digital distribution has removed the tactile element of owning a shelf full of games I still like having a large collection that I can browse through. Regularly enough I will dig out an old classic to play or replay.  Given the rapid time to obsolescence of just about any piece of technology these days it is entirely remarkable just how PC games have withstood the march of technology. Thank to the enduring legacy of the (30 years old now) IBM Pc supported by the trojan work of the emulation community I am pretty confident that I could get any of my old games to play on my current up to date PC if I really wanted. I even have an old floppy disk drive in an attic just in case.

This unusually fortunate circumstance may not persist forever though. Technology will probably move on eventually to devices that are sufficiently different in form that even emulation is no longer feasible. Many are now predicting that mobile tablet computers will replace desktops and that closed architectures will prevail over the open general purpose architecture of current desktop PCs. Emulation may no longer be possible on these devices.

When such a change threatens the future viability of any media format you need to think about whether or not you want to preserve the ability to read and use the older format. Perhaps you are happy to let the collection go or perhaps you want to preserve the means of using it in the future. Not being into music I never bothered to rescue LP's or cassette tapes. When DVDs replaced VHS I was happy to let most of my old watched movies go but we took steps to convert our wedding video. We also converted our old 8mm family videos to DVD.

What then is the plan for maintaining the life of PC games? I guess my current plan is to keep my last PC in an attic somewhere along with the collection of game disks. In the dying days of the PC  I might even take the time to hunt down the patches required to activate offline versions of digital games and store working copies of as many of them as I can on a big hard disk.


Kris Coverdale said...

Interesting post, and a reminder that digital things can be much more ephemeral than we think at the time.

I'm not sure I fully agree with the prediction that mobile tablets etc. will lead to a closed world, as I think the desktop still has a fair amount of life in it, but worth considering.

One thing that came to me was the somewhat tongue in cheek "Atwood's Law", that "any application that can be written in JavaScript, will eventually be written in JavaScript.".

How long before the various emulators start being written in JavaScript (if the process hasn't already started)? Then the web will deliver openness to closed platforms and preserve the lifespan of our games.

Admittedly the processing power in a browser to handle this may be some way off, but given that there's a JavaScript Linux emulator(!) it doesn't seem too far fetched.

A quick search has already thrown out a javascript C64 emulator and a javascript SNES emulator

mbp said...

Hi Kris,

I do think emulation is key here whether in Java script or something else. There is so much stuff written for the PC architecture at this stage it is almost certain that even if PCs do get replaced someone will write an emulator.