SEVERAL Australian-made games, including the iconic L.A. Noire, have been selected for archival preservation by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) under a new programme announced today.
As part of the opening of the exhibition Game Masters, running in Canberra from September 27 to March 9 2020, the NFSA has announced it will be adding Australian-connected video games to its collection of more than three million items.
NFSA CEO Jan Müller said the Archive’s collection “represents the cultural diversity and breadth of experience of all Australians, and it is constantly evolving – just like our creative industries”.
“We aim to be the national leader in collecting multimedia and new media content, and it would be impossible to accurately represent modern life without games,” he said.
“It is essential that games be collected alongside other audiovisual media, to ensure their continued preservation and access.”
Three of the games in particular will be especially well known to Australian gamers, with Shadowrun (1993), LA Noire (2011) and Hollow Knight (2017) among the games selected for preservation.
The eight games selected for NFSA preservation span nearly four decades of gaming history and have been announced as:
- The Hobbit (Beam Software, 1982)
- Halloween Harry (Interactive Binary Illusions / Sub Zero Software, 1985/1993)
- Shadowrun (Beam Software, 1993)
- L.A. Noire (Team Bondi, 2011)
- Submerged (Uppercut Games, 2015)
- Hollow Knight (Team Cherry, 2017)
- Florence (Mountains, 2018)
- Espire 1: VR Operative (Digital Lode, 2019)
The games were released between 1982 and 2019, and encompass a range of mediums from cassette tapes (the first data storage for computers) through to VR headsets.
Given the various platforms many of the games were released on – L.A. Noire, for example, has been released on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and VR – it does raise the question of which format will be selected for preservation.
NFSA Sound Curator Thorsten Kaeding said the simple answer was they preserved all the formats a game was released on, as well as digitising the game for future reference use.
“What we can do is you can take ROM images and preserve them digitally, and you can look at issues around emulation,” he said.
“We’re not just looking at them (the games) for now, we want them to last for 100 years.”
Mr Kaeding said regardless of what format a game was released in, the NFSA was pretty confident they could digitise it and keep the files going for future use, even allowing for technology changes and hardware/operating system obsolescence.
“We already have long-term digital preservations strategy across other media,” he said.
“We’re going to have issues with operating systems and consoles (become obsolete) but they’re all issues we’re confident there are either solutions now or will be developed in the future.”
Mr Kaeding said they had received a great deal of support from games developers and publishers – Rockstar donated physical game copies of every format L.A. Noire was released on, for example – and in addition to the games themselves, the NFSA was also collecting contextual items to accompany the games.
“Storyboards, soundtracks, original artworks, press kits – we do that with everything we collect, we try to get as much context as we can,” he said.
“We’re already starting to get material in from those – in some cases that does include things like source code, some developers are happy to provide that.”
The Archives also had machines capable of playing some of the games in their original formats, Mr Kaeding said, noting they had both a Commodore 64 and a ZX Spectrum with tape drives which could play The Hobbit from a cassette – as it was originally released.
The eight games selected as part of the initial preservation were part of a proof-of-concept exercise, Mr Kaeding said, and by mid-2020 the NFSA would likely be in a position to expand the games preservation collection.
“It gives us a targeted way to start interacting with industry, the second (aspect) is it gives us a chance to work through the technical issues – (ensure) what we thought was doable is doable.”
The criteria for archiving under the programme would be an Australian connection – so not just games developed here, but games developed by Australians overseas or with an Australian creative connection.
IGEA CEO Ron Curry said the NFSA undertaking was a great development and further recognised the importance of video games in Australia.
“It’s very exciting to see a national collecting institution acknowledging the increasingly important role of video games in the life of all Australians,” he said.
“Games are a major part of contemporary popular culture; an artistic, storytelling and technological achievement, as well as an industry that contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the Australian economy.
“We look forward to working with the NFSA as they start adding games to their vast collection.”
Mr Kaeding said ultimately Australian-connected games were going to become a regular part of the NFSA’s archival work.
“This will go on to be part of a normal stream of collecting from here on in,” he said.