Internet Archive Arcade…

What? No “Polybius” or “Bishop of Battle”? After the break…

Internet Archive Arcade…

The only constant is change and we, as a society, are genuinely impressed not when something changes but when something stays the same for a very, very long time. We are impressed when a newspaper keeps publishing daily for a century or longer. We are impressed with automobiles that continue to run well past 100,000 miles or kilometers or whatever you measure really long distances with. We are impressed when people live to be really, really old, such as anyone past 100 years old.

Yet something that stays around as the same is the exception, not the rule. Restaurants open and close for business all of the time. Stores of all types open and close. The stores in your local shopping mall change on a fairly regular basis. Politicians come and go. Co-workers come and go. Your very job changes every so often. Change is the norm and so when things don’t change, that’s when we, as a society, take notice.

One thing that has changed over the years is that we no longer have arcades. Unless you live in Japan, odds are, arcades are now a part of a bygone era. There are exceptions to everything, of course, and there are “boutique” arcades, businesses that are so unique that they can afford to exist as long as they are the only one in a very large area like, say, a county or even a state (or a province). There is nothing wrong with these niche businesses and they exist all over the place. There are still drive-in movie theaters, for instance. They are most certainly not common but they still do exist; They just aren’t everywhere. You can’t drive down just any old street and find a drive-in movie theater, a bowling alley or, for that matter, an arcade. The demand isn’t there anymore for people to bowl or to see movies from their cars or to drive to play video games.

Video games, as the kiddies might not be aware, used to be quite rare. You had to drive to a special business to play them. In the 1970’s, people most certainly did not have computers. The age of the home video game console was just beginning to emerge. Even if you did have a very expensive home video game console, the games that were on those consoles were poorly-rendered equivalents of the games that resided in large, stand-alone, stand-up cabinets called “arcade machines.” Yes, you could play “Pac-Man” on a video game console but it did not look like the “Pac-Man” from the arcade machine. There were differences between the two versions. The graphics were blockier. The sound was more primitive. There were less levels or the game play was simplified.

By the early to mid 1990s, though, the writing was on the wall for arcades. Video game consoles had caught up to the graphical capabilities of arcade machines. By the early 2000s, arcades as a business model was finished unless, again, you somehow supplied a niche in the industry. You couldn’t just open an arcade and expect it to be successful because kids could just buy a video game console and play whatever game they chose. Video games had cheap re-sell values and were plentiful. Yes, there are still video game arcade machines here and there, such as at a restaurant or a movie theater but the days of walking into a local arcade are over. Finished. ‘Fini’ for a mass majority of the world population (again, unless you live in Japan where, from what I have read, they are still very much in vogue).

Ever since the Internet became “the Internet,” though, people have been clamoring to keep the arcade versions of these arcade video games alive. They have captured the “ROM”s of these video games which are the programs themselves. Early arcade machines didn’t have cartridges for the most part and a lot of them were designed specifically for only one game and those games were hard-coded onto chips… Hence, the “ROM” or “Read Only Memory”. Translating these programs to something playable on modern machines has become a conquest for many dedicated programmers and, for the most part, they have succeeded. Today (albeit less than legally), you can now download an emulator program, download a bunch of ROMs (because the ROMs for a majority of these arcade titles is very, very tiny compared to the size of games today) and play them to your heart’s content.

However easy these steps are, though, they still can not reach everyone. I would like to think that I am a somewhat computer-savvy guy… I can install programs… I can follow directions… Yet for me to get an authentic arcade-quality “Frogger” experience, I have to go and find the Frogger ROM… Find a compatible emulator… Install the emulator… Install the ROM… And, throughout it all, go to a bunch of websites and perform a bunch of steps that, quite frankly, I would never otherwise perform unless I really, really wanted to play “Frogger.” Believe it or not, that’s a fairly large barrier.

“Internet Archive Arcade” is an attempt to remove practically all of the barriers from playing classical arcade games. There is nothing to download or install; You play the game straight from your web browser. There are no questionable websites to travel to; The Internet Archive is a fairly staid, reliable and known website.

The experience is, naturally, not perfect. Different browsers will have different success rates in getting the desired video game to run properly. There are issues with sound and web cookies. These issues will be resolved in time. Of course, each play does not cost 25 or 50 cents each. You don’t have the experience of standing up and using authentic arcade controllers. If you were a really good arcade player, you don’t have people looking over your shoulder making comments while you play or people waiting for you to fail so that they can play. There are no crowds of kids exchanging information and advice. It’s not the social gathering place of like-minded individuals, most of whom are all within the same age range.

“Internet Archive Arcade” is, though, a tantalizing glimpse of what the arcade used to be. No, it won’t replace the authentic arcade experience because that era is over. What it has done, though, is lower the barrier to introducing these game to a generation of kids who have grown up knowing only The Internet. Knowing only of downloading software and living their lives through a web browser, a smartphone or a tablet. Just like all generations, they won’t appreciate the experience as fully as we did and that’s completely normal. They’re used to their “Call of Duty: Zero Day DLC.” When they do get bored with fragging their friends on multiplayer, they can, though, stop by and see what the kids of yesteryear were playing. They can appreciate where the roots of a lot of these games took hold.

“Internet Archive Arcade” is a wonderful service. I hope that it matures and gets even better than it already is. Our history is important and it is important to keep these parts of our history from fading.

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