It’s been a long time… before Hardcore Gaming 101, before Kotaku or the Angry Video Game Nerd, before 1UP, Joystiq and a bunch of other sites still living and defunct, there was |tsr’s NES Archive. While it only lived for four years, hasn’t updated in 23 years, and all of the images are broken now (a huge shame for some of the features), it’s still online, still ready to give you their humorous take on old video games. Long may it continue beaming out its snarky message. Consider that the time between when the NES was released, 1985, and |tsr’s archive shut down, 2000, was only 15 years. And that time isn’t getting any longer, while the time since it shutdown is. I’ve said it a lot here lately, but: time is cruel.
A few notable features there:
An interview with Ed Logg, identified as the developer of NES Tengen Tetris but also one of the great designers of Atari, programmer of Asteroids and Gauntlet.
A list of old gaming sites, useful mostly as a base for finding things on the Wayback Machine. It’s interesting to note where some sites redirect to. Domain guardianship of some old domains were handled by Classic Gaming (classicgaming.com), but because IGN didn’t care enough to keep it viable those sites just redirect to the IGN main page now. Poor form. Sites that you can still reach (sometimes through intermediary sites) through their links are eBay, the Howard & Nester comic archive and the Japanese site Classic Videogame Station Odyssey.
The images, I note, are not broken so much as forbidden access. It’s possible that tsr’s web host, Atari HQ, still has them but has misconfigured the site. Atari HQ is still up, but now seems to only be an aggregator for other sites’ content. I wonder if an email to the right person might restore access to that entire swath of early web and videogaming history, or if they’re completely asleep at the switch?
We’re still searching for old game info sites that are still up in 2023. Another couple of use are Video Game Maps, last updated in 2007 but still available, and Revned’s Video Game Maps, which saw its last edit in 2016, but is mirrored on Github.
For the past 20 years it’s felt like any game information you could ever hope to find is out there on the World Wide Web, somewhere, but as both the people who grew up playing these games grow old, and the drive and motivation to start and maintain websites has diminished with the popularity of social media, this is increasingly no longer the case. Sometimes you can find vanished websites on the Wayback Machine, but it’s a lot harder to find things there, Wayback often misses images, their web archives are often incomplete, and server-side scripts are broken by archiving so dynamic content is usually dead, the page contents locked in the state it was at when the time of archival.
I’ve banged this drum a lot lately it feels like, but I have to reemphasize that the internet is not forever, and as Ryan North has told us lately, even the most popular website in the world is one missed bill from disappearing, probably forever. As this happens more and more often, big and well-funded content hosts like Fandom and Github persist, while smaller, independent information sources tend to fall away, which results in a rich-get-richer feedback loop. Independent sources of accurate information are so important, no matter the subject. It is difficult to fault anyone unwilling to keep content up and updated for a large portion of their lives, but whenever it happens, I appreciate it.
So I’ve been trying to celebrate the best, most long-lived websites out there, and NES Maps, and its sister site SNES Maps, qualifies, going back to around 2006. That’s 17 years! And it’s still there, quietly providing maps of just about any NES game you might want to find information on.
It’s not perfect. Their labeled maps of Castlevania III, I discovered just now, are incomplete, cutting off after Block 5, promising that more is coming soon for who knows how many years. But most other games have complete maps, including a number of Japanese-only title. It’s truly a great resource, and I hope they can figure out a way to keep it going for the long term.
Set Side B often verges into adjacent tech areas, especially for older software, especially when those areas happen to contain a lot of games. This is just a note that the always-great Jason Scott of the Internet Archive has a great post about Discmaster, which is hosted at the IA, and is a search engine into the contents of a bunch of old CD-ROM file compilations. Many of these were shareware collections put out by companies like Walnut Creek, intended in the age immediately before the internet to put out collections of shareware, but sometimes bundling freeware, or libre-free software.
Some of these files are very hard to find on the wider internet. When I visited Discmaster myself it was down for an upgrade (it’s a bad sign when your filesystem runs out of inodes) but I look forward to scouring its archives often in the future!
We’ve been feeling a yen for the Old Web here lately, where someone with a particular area of interest and the time and effort to tell the world about it could create a site that could attract hundreds of readers, and become the hub of discussion around that topic.
The internet seems to have largely left the era of the personal obsessive website behind, in favor of videos and social media. I find this a huge tragedy, as the flat HTML page is still a very useful method of communication. Straight static HTML doesn’t rely on backing scripts or content management engines so there’s a lot less to break, and there’s a much smaller attack service for nefarious entities. (If one wanted to make a site like that there are even tools to help you out, like the Python package Jekyll.)
David Wonn’s glitch site is legendary in speedrunning circles, having been mentioned in various Youtube videos as the source of some prominent tricks. (One of them is this video on Mario Kart 64 tracks that have not yet been broken.)
The last update mentions having trouble with Yahoo’s hosting. The site has several dead links to Geocities sites, and I believe it was one of the sites lost in the Geocities Shutdown, part of Yahoo’s long, slow deterioration. The current version is a mirror hosted by kontek.net, which also maintains several other vintage gaming sites. Thank frog for them!
Why did it stop updating? Well it had a good run; it lasted eight years, and anyone’s allowed to move on from their old interests. I’ve said before of other sites and it applies to this one as well, it’s a miracle that it persists, and I hope that it lasts a thousand years.
You may believe this or not as you please, but I actually don’t have much use for nostalgia. Some reminiscing about what once was is okay, but it’s very easy to take it too far, and verge off into ridiculous things like, say, claiming that casting a woman as the lead in a movie in a freakishly popular sci-fi film franchise is somehow retroactively ruining your childhood. We have no truck with that.
But we do try to recognize when things really were better. Not to devolve into the kinds of rhetoric our cave-dwelling co-blogger uses, the internet is easily seen to be in a less useful, less interesting state these days. Where it was once easy to Google up a plethora of simple freeware tools for most purposes, now rampant SEO and adverse purposes has made finding even simple tutorials for most computing tasks a maze of scams, farmed content, and even bots. When you do find something, more than likely it’s in the form of a YouTube video. A world of bloggers has largely been superseded, or at least made difficult to find by Google’s accursed algorithms and by social media and Stack Overflow, and a universe of fansites is being pushed into obscurity by Wikipedia’s sleezy cousin Fandom.com. And whatever you thought about the AIM/Yahoo/MSN instant messaging triumvirate, at least they didn’t lock off substantial content from the wider internet within a constellation of Discord servers.
I won’t claim that the older internet was better in every way (anyone remember ubiquitous pop-up ads?) but the lost hopefulness of it is tragic. Set Side B, in its way, hopes to rekindle some of that.
A contributing factor to the decay of the web is the cost in maintaining server space and connectivity. If you want to keep something up, someone has to pay money to run the internet connection, to store the site, and to pay your service provider for an IP address and the registrar for a domain name. Even fairly big sites like our dear departed ancestor GameSetWatch have vanished from the living web, now findable only by wandering the dim shadowlands of the Wayback Machine, and it’s foolish to think that even that will be around forever.
GameSetWatch was backed by UBM Media, now owned by an entity with the perfectly dystopian name Informa. You’d think they would have the pockets to preserve such a fondly remembered part of their legacy, but no.
This is what makes me so pleased that GameSurge survives. I found it, like I did the subject of Monday’s post on the Interton VC 4000, by perusing the results of alternative search engine Wiby, which prioritizes sites with simple designs, on the grounds that they’re more likely to have interesting content. I’m not sure such an approach will scale with popularity, as it seems just as vulnerable to SEO optimizing as Google’s current mobile-friendly regime, but for now at least I’m finding it useful.
GameSurge is not an up-to-the-moment gaming news site. In fact, GameSurge currently hosts an article enthusing about the upcoming Dreamcast game Eternal Arcadia. As near as I can tell, not a byte has changed on the site since around 2005, and that’s just a late updating column. They don’t even acknowledge the existence of the Playstation 2.
And yet, it survives. Someone is still paying the bills. Someone still cares enough to keep the domain name up. It remains, frozen in amber, as it was back in pre-Gamecube days. The site doesn’t even have a favicon. It’s beautiful.
And when you’re done, why not load up on much more recent gaming news from 1up.com and Joystiq? Geez, with such terrific site names I’m amazed no one’s bought them up and fleshed them out anew. Wait. I’m someone! I could do it! Let me make a call…. Hello? Engadget? I hear you have this domain name you might want to unload. I’ve got… um, 36 cents. Hello? Hello?