Kingdom Hearts is a great game series, one that I have enjoyed from the beginning. While I have not been able to play every game in the series, it still remains one of my favorites overall. I feel that it is a series that exemplifies the games industry at its best. It has a compelling story, accessible game mechanics, beautiful art direction, and the game is a whole lot of fun to play. This is definitely the type of game that should be preserved for future generations. However, its preservation is not so easy.
IGN reports that in making the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix, SquareEnix had to recreate all the assets from scratch. Why? Because they lost all the master files for the original game. Title Director Tetsuya Nomura stated in a recent video:
Kingdom Hearts 1 was created a long, long time ago, so actually the original data was missing already. It was lost, so we had to research, and we had to dig out from the actual game what was available and recreate everything for HD. We had to recreate all the graphics and it was actually not that easy.
While SquareEnix was able to use its considerable resources to recreate all those missing assets, this story highlights one of the biggest hurdles to full scale game preservation. While it is rather simple and easy, for the most part anyway, to preserve retail copies of games and consoles, trying to preserve the full game is an extremely difficult proposition. A game is not simply the retail copy. It’s true value is in everything that goes into it as well. If a company the size of SquareEnix does not have a sufficient system for preservation of raw assets, what hope is there of external and volunteer preservation efforts?
Can you imagine what the world might think of Leonardo Da Vinci if all we had were his paintings? What would we think of him if we didn’t have his journals, sketches, and other observations of anatomy and invention? Would we really revere him as the Renaissance master that we do? Probably not. Da Vinci’s true value lies in the whole of his work and not just what he was commissioned by a noble to paint. The same should be said of games and the studios that make them.
Despite what some may think, there is a lot of value in preserving the raw source code and other assets for games. It is part of gaming DNA. Not preserving such would be like the US Patent office destroying all documents associated with a patent upon the expiration of the patent. What good does it do society to let these valuable resources turn to dust under our watch? In preserving the raw assets of a game’s life, we take a snapshot of how things were done and can leave that for future generations to explore and build upon.
This desire for preservation is one of the things I love about id Software. They have over the years released as free and open source a number of their games including Quake and Doom. This has not only allowed gamers the chance to poke around, mod and create all new games based on these games, it has allowed these years old games to remain relevant and preserved for posterity. Every time a new technology, such as HTML5, is introduced, one of the first games to ever to be programmed in them is Quake. Can you imagine if something like Kingdom Hearts replaced that milestone?
Why do we not see more companies striving to preserve and open up their game development heritage? Why are games allowed to rot under the watch of those who would seem to have the most to lose with the destruction of this data? When will the games industry take seriously preservation efforts on a widespread basis? Hopefully soon. I would hate for my children to miss out on the great games I played as a child because some CEO didn’t care about her company’s legacy.