Resurrecting Game Worlds

For a few years now, I’ve taken an interest in video game preservation. Despite the growing number of video game archives and increasing awareness amongst gamers themselves, it’s one of those areas in digital preservation that hasn’t really developed or matured yet. I think most of the problem derives from the nature of video games: interactivity. That is, there are very real differences between simple storage, archiving, and providing ‘access’ to a game. This ‘access’ is not just viewing, too: it is fully expected that a game will be provided to play, as the Internet Archive’s Internet Arcade does. For these DOS games, this can be difficult to provide emulation and introduces the inherent problems of emulation, but it is at least possible. However, there exist many types of games where providing access becomes almost impossible.

My first amateur contribution to the area was a metadata schema, more specifically an application profile that would apply to video games in an archiving context. But during a particularly difficult cataloging example involving an MMO, or Massively Multiplayer Online game, I realized they present unique challenges to the entire area of archiving. Doing some research, I discovered the great Preserving Virtual Worlds and Preserving Virtual Worlds 2 from the University of Illinois, along with MITH and RIT. They were tackling the same issues I was dealing with, and I look forward to more of their work.

Lately, though, the theoretical smashed into my daily life. I had heard rumors that the MMO Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, a game I was semi-fond of circa 2008, had been restarted somehow. It had been [shut down] officially on Dec. 18th, 2013.

Now, what does it mean when an MMO is ‘shut down’ or retired? Technically, it just means that the servers that hosted the game (and thus allowed you to play with other players) are shut off. But this means the game is essentially unplayable, since the first thing that you do upon starting an MMO is to log in to the server. Without that process, you now have a non-functioning game.

The resurrection of this game is called Return of Reckoning. I’m not exactly certain how the team opened the source code, but basically all the game assets (textures, animations, etc.) are present. There is one server hosted in Europe, so American players like myself can experience quite a bit of lag, or latency. It’s also interesting to note that ‘Public Quests’, which allowed players within a rather large vicinity to complete staged quests together, do not work. I could speculate that there was some unique server code allowing those things to progress, but suffice it to say it might be a while before those work right.

So there it is. Video game players have taken it upon themselves to preserve virtual worlds. Which is a very common thing in video game preservation. The challenge is, how do we plan for this during game development? And how do we take the contributions of the community, and preserve their work? Hopefully we’ll see the fruits of this work soon and flesh out game preservation in the process.

Written on March 24, 2015