The history of retro gaming isn’t an especially long one, only going back maybe fifty years, at least if we limit ourselves to retro games as being computers rather than just complex machines. Preservation of this material can be challenging and thankless. All the same, today we thank Dustin Hubbard of Gaming Alexandria for his work on this preservation. And also for agreeing to this interview.

William Schwartz: So first of all, I’d like to give you a chance to respond to my opener. How do you define retro games? Are they just computers, or complex machines, or what?

Dustin Hubbard: To me the line on that is always changing and moving up naturally as time goes on. Atari was retro when I was way into video games in the 90s, now the games I played in the 90s are retro and so is everything else probably over 20 years old at this point to most people. But you could make an argument that once a console stops being supported and having releases it could be retro as well. There’s a lot more retro games now than there ever have been, and that number will naturally only increase as time goes on.

WS: This also begs the question of just what it means to preserve retro games. Could you give us a material of what material Gaming Alexandria is cataloguing specifically, and why?

DH: We preserve/catalog all sorts of things from game assets (art, design docs etc.) to scans of magazines, boxes and manuals. We also from time to time preserve unreleased games or prototype/beta builds that weren’t previously out there. We stay away from anything too recent though to avoid getting takedown requests from companies. So in that way I guess you could say we tend to focus on more retro stuff.

WS: Let’s say the apocalypse happens and somehow, all the data on your site survives it. Would it be possible to reconstruct some of these games just from the source code alone?

DH: Potentially but you run into the issue that the vast majority of games don’t have any source code out there. In recent years you’ve seen more and more pop up  (There’s a whole collection of it on the Internet Archive here – https://archive.org/details/gamesourcecode_unsorted) and you’d need to be able to compile it and find hardware/emulators that can play it. Though I think if the apocalypse happens we’ll be worrying more about survival than playing old games 😉 But ultimately I’d just hope the romsets floating around of games survive more than the source code so we could still easily play them with the right software.

WS: What can we learn from the scans, absent the games themselves?

DH: Depends on the box and manual but for some games the descriptions and instructions in the manuals are very detailed and can give you an idea of what the game is like even without playing it. Some games don’t really show you how to do specific things you might need to know to do in certain points without referring to the manual, so I think scans can be very important at times for playability of games.

WS: How did you get into all this anyway, starting off from modest scans and going on from there?

DH: Basically you nailed it. Years ago when I was messing around with an emulation frontend called Hyperspin, I noticed a lot of games didn’t include high resolution artwork. So I bought a scanner and started scanning my own stuff and putting it out there and encouraging others to do it. Overtime we’ve grown into a good sized Discord community that a lot of folks contribute scans to. I helped author the original version of the scanning guide (https://scanning.guide) which is used by the VGPC (https://www.preservegames.org/) and now thanks to the contributions of people in that Discord we have thousands of game items scanned in high resolution. You can see some here – https://archive.org/search?query=subject%3A%22VGSC%22

WS: Would you like to tell us about some recent archival content added to Gaming Alexandria, and why you consider it to be significant?

DH: Almost daily adding scans of magazines and sometimes games (By myself and Detchibe/Joey Wawzonek). But other recent stuff non scan related would be the Epoch Cassette Vision entire game library dumped and scanned and playable on emulator which was literally a multi year project organized and put together by myself and others you can read all about here – https://www.gamingalexandria.com/wp/2024/02/every-epoch-cassette-vision-game-preserved-and-emulated/ but this is especially signficant in my eyes because it was one of the last systems with no emulation whatsoever until this happened. The Epoch Cassette Vision was the first Japanese made programmable console to have any real success and could be argued paved the way for Nintendo a few years later to get their start in console gaming. It’s not well known in most gaming circles but should be!

WS: Where do you get this material anyway? Do sources reach out to you, or do you have to hunt down the sources yourself?

DH: Both, over the years thankfully more and more people are getting involved in game preservation and some reach out to myself or others and we either will try to get it published or pass it off to someone we think can do a better job with it than we can. Also helps to have been at this for almost ten years now and to have built up a reputation that we can be trusted to handle things properly. Generally though if someone reaches out with something but doesn’t want it to be released publically I tend to turn it down as my focus is getting everything I can out there so it’s in the hands of as many people as possible. The more copies of stuff floating around the less likely a game is to be lost in the future. Especially one of a kind stuff!

WS: A lot of what you archive is just in Japanese. What can a person learn from this data if they can’t read the language?

DH: Thankfully translation software is getting better and better every year, so I think this won’t be as big an issue in the future. Already you can usually take the texts and feed it into the various free translation softwares and at least get an idea of what the text is saying. This is invaluable for researchers, especially since there has been an extreme lack of Japanese sources scanned until recently. We’re not the only ones doing them but we are doing a large amount of them and will continue to do so. Most American magazines are pretty well preserved at this point but Japan and other countries as well are still lacking in the preservation department. In the coming years though this will improve dramatically if we all keep up the hard work!

WS: You also post a lot of translations of this Japanese content into English. Who does these translations?

DH: I reach out to a variety of people in the Gaming Alexandria discord requests channel at times to translate small snippets, the larger stuff I’ve reached out to Obskyr a few times to help translate for our release articles. As for the ROM translations those are done by a prolific ROM hacker who goes by Pennywise. He had asked recently if we would host his translations which we are happy to do.

WS: Well, these are all of the questions I have for you. Are there any questions I didn’t ask that you’d like to take this opportunity to answer anyway?

DH: No other questions, the only thing I’d like to say to folks is keep everything and hoard data if you can for as long as you can. If you have something that’s not out there on the Internet Archive and think people would potentially be interested in it then upload it! You never know when you may have the only remaining copy of something 🙂 You also never know when stuff is going to be pulled down due to takedown notices etc. so keep as much as you can. The more we can pass on to future generations the safer it will all be in the long run, especially when copyrights finally begin to expire long after we’re gone.

William Schwartz William Schwartz (9 Posts)

William Schwartz is a media writer who specializes in South Korean media, but also writes about a wide variety of popular culture subjects- including retro video games.