Battling Entropy In Restoring Arcade Machines

From the article, a photo of the inside of an original Pac-Man game. The insides of most arcade games are usually a stark contrast to their externals, even upon release, but time is often unkind to them.

I’ve been working on diversifying our link game a bit, so here’s a more academic article, one with an actual bibliography no less, from the site, by Kieran Nolan on restoring arcade machines. I’ll let the link speak for itself this time!

Arcade Entropy (

On Finding and Preserving Discord and Youtube

This editorial doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of this blog. However, blogs don’t have views anyway, so what would that even mean?

This is a slightly edited version of a diatribe I emitted on I really want people to see it and think about what it means though.

A dismaying thing is how much of current gaming culture is locked behind Discords, and/or is revealed to the world only through Youtube videos.

These two phenomena are the result of the Myth of the Benevolent Corporation, which was largely started by early Google and their “Do No Evil” policy, which sustained the early web for a good while but itself did huge damage to online culture, and yet promises to do much much more, when they decided that profits mattered more.

When Youtube started, everyone saw it as a kind of miracle. In the early days videos were limited to 10 minutes, but even so they began attracting a huge amount of material. When they switch to just letting people upload anything for free, that exploded.

I love this page, at I’m really sad that the world depicted within has shrunken so much, and of the list of links on this page only three survive.

It’s not just gaming stuff that I’m talking about really, although as a popular fixation for people it’s kind of a hint of things to come. Lots of information is currently exposed to the world through Youtube videos and minidocs.

From U Can Beat Videogames’s video on Shadowrun. It’s great, but some day it’ll be gone. How will people beat an ancient obscure SNES game like this then?

But Youtube has always been a time bomb for all this content. It’s inevitable that Youtube will someday begin deleting things. If not sooner, then later. Yet there are few entities capable of preserving all of it, or even most of it. All of this will [get destroyed] like [crying] in [a downpour].

Of course, it’s not like videos like these have any other hope as it stands. A collection of the incredible size of Youtube’s is so big that only a government could realistically do it, and most of those have their own issues when it comes to continuity of mission and funding.

But combined with Discords as a means of communication, and (bizarrely) information, a lot of online culture is currently a black box to outsiders, unless they sign up to dozens of miscellaneous Discords. And there is a limit to the number of servers you can follow, which is reputed to be 100. (It used to be that Google could get you a quick answer to a question like how many Discord servers can one user follow, but now I’m not sure.)

Social media companies, who all seem to be racing each other to make their services as crappy as possible to non-paying users, are no solution either.

There used to be a Mastodon search engine, at This is what remains of it. (Yes, it’s just a white page with the text “project has been removed.”)

Fediverse to the rescue! But no, a lot of it is transitory, sometimes intentionally so! In some circles even suggesting that Mastodon be just searchable, let alone preservable, will subject you to a storm of criticism. It’s true that being opaque to general search helps protect vulnerable users, a noble cause, but it also makes Mastodon’s discoverability very low. (One solution, which I think I mentioned here before, is an opt-in search solution called tootfinder, but it currently only goes back three months.)

And I don’t see many other people talking about this, even though the sudden decay of Twitter and Reddit has made this essential problem more visible than its been for a long time.

I feel like going onto every Discord I follow, gaming research ones in particular, and ringing alarm bells, but it’s a task just to find them out, and really what good would it do. People use Discord because it’s free and easy and they even maintain the server for you. These kinds of spaces have always relied on some patron to uphold them; the only real differences are before they were visible to search and the Wayback Machine, and now, it’s a single company that will increasingly hold access to these places obscured behind a storm of pleas to subscribe to Nitro, and someday will delete them entirely.

The Zelda II Randomizer Discord. As a community, it works okay. As a way of storing information, well, it sucks rocks. As a way of preserving everything, it’s DOOOOOMED.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, there are vast swaths of online culture that are already lost permanently: the Compuserve forums of the era immediately preceding the rise of the web. Compuserve was once the biggest online presence. And AOL, which grew to eclipse it in size, likewise holds (still? I don’t know, it’s on AOL!) a vast amount of early internet culture.

Newsgroup archives are a bit better off because of their openness, although nowadays it’s mostly seen as just a way to enable piracy.

Still, essential web services are at least preservable. The Fediverse resembles those, at least in principle, so it’s immediately better off than Discords and Youtube, for making old information findable, even if it’s currently really hard to do it (and some people are outright opposed to it).

It is time to wrap this all up. I say things like this frequently these days. Maybe someday someone will listen. The power and reach of the internet doesn’t have to rely on big companies. I also have qualms about the ability of a even a horde of individual servers to keep things going, mind you. All those dead links on all those surviving old websites, they once represented living projects too.

I think what we ultimately need is an independent organization that can keep up old sites and communities, and provide a place for new ones, maybe supported by donations, without the explicit profit motive of the bigcorps. Something that looks like the Internet Archive or Wikipedia. There’s places where you can host plain websites even today, like the Tildeverse (but its individual pieces, like Fediverse servers, always feel like they could vanish at any time), ancient-yet-still-here Angelfire (of which, like the Lycos it’s a part of, it’s amazing still survives), or the newer, enthusiast-focused Neocities (which too has no guarantee of longevity).

Companies can live longer than people, or their interest cycles. It doesn’t feel right that something like a website require someone to dedicate their life to maintaining it, but due to the dysfunctional way our economic has come to see companies (involving the hateful words fiduciary duty) are also vulnerable to the winds of change. It feels like a non-profit, or at least a durable privately-held company that isn’t pushed by rapacious groups to chase every profit lead no matter how disastrous, may be a solution. I don’t know if it really is, though. I’m just watching this, mostly from the outside. I hope someone can do something though, to overturn the cold tides of entropy. I really do.

WikiData on Video Games

From Wikidata.

Picture your life and interests. Let’s pick out as part of it your interest in, knowledge of, and enthusiasm for video games. In the future, after you’re gone, what will be left of it? What will be remembered of what you know and have seen? Where will all of that go? Have you considered that, the way the internet is, a lot of that will simply disappear, tracelessly?

Websites die, and when they do, they leave very little in their wake. The early days of the web was filled with an overabundance of fansites and web shrines, and most of those are gone. The demise of Geocities, the decay of free web hosts in general, and the loss of online service web communities and hosts like Compuserve Ourworld, has resulted in the large-scale deletion of huge swaths of content, and the loss of web directories as a thing, combined with Google Search’s slide into senility, means what survives is a lot harder to find.

This is a discursive lead-in to the work at WikiData in cataloging games and game sites, which is summarized for 2022 here. Information on their efforts was written up here.

I wish I could say more, their work seems very important, but I’m just starting to learn about it myself! Apparently there is a means of querying their information to answer questions, like which game series has the most games? More on this in the future.

News 12/1/22: DABLOONS

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Quite a bit to get through today! Pull up a florb and moop for a bit!

Luke Plunkett at Kotaku informs us of Nintendo pulling support from the third-party tournament Smash World Tour, leaving them in a gigantic financial hole. This will severely harm tournaments’ willingness to trust Nintendo in the future, and the esports scene around future Nintendo products. Nintendo’s response at the end is especially frustrating, claiming they did not request any events be cancelled while still denying SWT a license, forcing them to cancel anyway.

Benj Edwards at Ars Technica: an AI from Nvidia can play Minecraft now, performing tasks based on text prompts. Congrats, you’ve invented a 10-year-old!

Image from Wario 64’s Twitter feed

After our initial post, I’ve purposely been trying not to talk up the Super Mario Bros. movie, but I do think this post from Ryan Leson at IGN is of interest, about Shigeru Miyamoto noting that Donkey Kong’s been a bit redesigned for the movie, still recognizably the Rare-made version of the character, but with some adjustments to more resemble the original version.

Here’s Rich Stanton at PC Gamer on the effort to preserve a Ridge Racer Full Scale, a version of the arcade game that featured an actual car chassis the player would sit it, had triple ultra-wide display, and cost operators $250,000. Very few were sold, and it’s possible only one survives, which was in Blackpool. After an arcade museum sought to purchase it, but refused when they learned of damage to the frame, it was thought lost, but although the physical structure of the unit has not been salvageable, the car portion and the hardware have been saved, and its code dumped. More can be read at Arcade Blogger.

Yep! I’m old.

Richael Watts at Rock Paper Shotgun has a piece up on Dabloontok, an RPG-ish thing a bunch of people are doing on TikTok, involving cat videos trading an imaginary currency called “dabloons.” This isn’t imaginary in the sense of crptocurrency, or indeed all money when you think about it; this is really imaginary. How many you have is completely on the honor system. Participants use it to “trade” with these cats, and they can also be “stolen” by them. The whole thing seems pretty silly overall, but it’s entertaining to learn about!

And at Engadget, I. Bonifacic remarks upon Pong turning 50 years old. Yeah, that number isn’t getting any smaller. It’s a useful retrospective, although I take issue with them saying that without Pong Nintendo would not exist. Nintendo is over a century old, originally making playing cards. What is more likely is they wouldn’t exist as we know them today-they may not have gotten into video games at all. (By the way, they make traditional Japanese game playing equipment too, like go boards!)

BREAKING: Marble Madness II now in MAME, video on YouTube

This is not some fan game made to play like Marble Madness, but the real deal, a legendary lost prototype from the Silver Age of Atari Games! Cancelled because of the great arcade fervor at the time around fighting games, meaning little Atari released in that era performed well on test.

Word is that the rom has been released somewhere on the internet, although I do not know where. It had been known that all the surviving Marble Madness II cabinets were owned by old Atari staff or collectors who were averse to allowing the rom images to be released. Whether one of them had a change of heart or, as has been speculated with Akka Arrh, another legendary prototype, they may have been obtained through nefarious means.

Technically the rights are still owned by Warner Media, I believe. I’ve long been amazed that the current rights holders haven’t seeked out the owners of these prototypes and offered them a big payday to dump the roms and release something like a Midway Arcade Treasures 4. Sure, it’d only be a matter of time before someone broke the roms out of such a package, but they’d still sell a ton of units and the prototype owners would be properly rewarded for both maintaining their machines and for lost collector value, and importantly, the games would be out there among people who would enjoy them and be protected against further loss and obscurity.

YouTube: Marble Madness II (Atari prototype arcade game) is now playable in MAME

Memory Machine 57: Preserving 70s Arcade Machines

The Memory Machine podcast has a new episode talking about the preservation of 70s arcade machines. Guests include Ethan Johnson, Kate Willaert, Dale Geddis, and Kevin Bunch of Atari Archive.

Games from the classic (Space Invaders onwards) and later eras of arcade machines tend to be preserved fairly well, or at least have MAME watching their backs, but there was a whole era of arcades before that time, that pose special challenges for preservation. Atari/Kee’s early release The Quiz Game Show, for instance, their first game using a processor, read questions off of special data tapes that may not even exist nowadays. Many games from that era had no processor, and were constructed out of discrete logic components.

When I wrote part one of We Love Atari Games, I was surprised by how many games from this era are so little known now. Atari’s Football, for example, sold extremely well, even keeping up with Space Invaders for a little while (until Super Bowl season that year ended), but I barely even heard of it before I started working on the book.

These games are important to preserve too, but the difficulty in emulating them, their great rarity, and the inescapable arrows of time and entropy present huge challenges. Please listen to the podcast for more information, from people who know much more about them than me.