Seventh Gen Retrospective Part 1: Preserving The New Retro Games

This year, it’s been 15 years since the PS3 first released. Coincidentally, the Playstation 3 came out 15 years after the SNES. Same goes for the Nintendo Wii. The Xbox 360 turned 15 last year. The Seventh Generation of gaming has become retro. It might not feel like it – everything from that gen still feels just a bit too modern, and I mean, the last games of that gen are less than 10 years old – but it is. 

Yeah. We’re Old. 

Before we start, I’m just going to state that I’ll go by a fairly loose definition of 7th Gen – which is traditionally considered to be 2005 – 2013. History doesn’t delineate into neat boxes like this, especially with gaming – which by 2005 had started to fragment into a wide variety of markets. So there’s gonna be plenty of talk about the years before and after. PC and handheld gaming especially during the 7th Gen doesn’t line up with the time of 7th Gen consoles all that much. That’s how it is. Also, as an aside, the Seventh Gen is a weird box for me. I never had a PS3 or Xbox 360 – and when I did get a Wii years after its release, I never really explored its library beyond Zelda and Smash. The games I did play at the time were flash games, abandonware, and that era of indie PC games before “indie” was conceived of. I never really experienced the big things of that era – CoD, Halo, Gears, Assassins Creed, GTA 4, Mass Effect, Fallout 3, God of War, Uncharted, et cetera, except either at friends houses or years later when I got a big desktop PC. Same goes for handhelds – I got my DS and then 3DS way later, so no Pokemon for me. So this whole era of games is frankly kinda alien to me. And thus, I am now inaugurating a semi-regular series where I look back at the 7th Gen – what has changed, what has stayed the same, and most importantly, what is so retro about this gen. It’s my own weird way to try and “get” this era of games.

And so, the first article: The state of preservation. It’s becoming increasingly clear that game companies themselves do not care about their history, with games taken offline and left to rot in some data storage center, somewhere. It’s up to fans to make sure that games stay alive and playable, for the next generations to experience. It’s especially important with this generation of gaming, as everything we see in gaming today – the 2nd rise of co-op games, the domination of video gaming by 3rd person open world action games, esports, the diversity of the indie games scene – well, it got really going in the 7th gen.

The first thing I think of when it comes to the 7th Gen of gaming is actually Flash Games. Those were the only games I actually played at the time, as I said earlier. Given that flash games were cheaply made, non-commercial, and distributed through informal channels such as flash game sites, one would expect the state of their preservation to be terrible. However, those exact factors have led to Flash games possibly being the most well preserved. It goes without saying, but Game Preservation, in the eyes of the law, is essentially illegal. One is either illegally downloading or ripping games, breaking both anti-piracy laws and the EULA. But flash games, because they were so non-commericial are saved from the ravages of a legal system that would otherwise consign them to LTO-7 magnetic tape for the lifetime of the author + 90 years*. 

Some indies did get physical releases in this era or just before, but that’s an outlier.

Flash Games are emulated on the Internet Archive, and there are several projects creating emulators for webgames + archiving old flash files. Of course, because there is so much of it, and so many web games were already lost due to website migrations and so on, it’ll be hard to get everything, but these efforts have A LOT. If anything is going to be absurdly well preserved from this era, it will be webgames. Unfortunately, preservation of the internet is very difficult, and it is easy for things to be lost in a few years. But due to a combination of well understood technology and a proliferation of emulators, this will thankfully last just a bit longer. I’ve actually assisted in archiving a few flash games myself as part of the Flashpoint Project, and I’m happy to see that the massive collaborative effort has saved many, many, webgames. Unfortunately, not all of these games are functional. People did a lot of weird stuff with flash, including many complex, technical, projects such as browser MMO’s and multipart game series. Like with all emulation, the same functionality isn’t there. But, it’s good enough. Besides that, the other main preservation issue with web games comes down to indies. In the days before Itch, Steam, Gog, and the rest, indies were released through different platforms, with a lot just being straight up self hosted. Same goes I’m sure for stuff like game jam entries. A lot of those get re-released into one of those platforms, but not all do, and link rot is an inevitability on the internet**. So what’s going to happen? These early indies, these game jam entries, they are a key part of indie history. Without a dedicated preservation effort, we will start seeing games slip through the cracks, if we haven’t already. Especially ones that were locked to console only releases, since these console storefronts are increasingly dead.

So now, let’s talk consoles:

First, I’m going to go with the only console from this era I’ve ever owned: The Wii. Now that was a game console, am I right? Lego Indiana Jones (the best title in that whole series). Twilight Princess. Uh, there’s a lot of great and cool games on there that I never got until later. I don’t have fond childhood memories of Madworld, unfortunately. I didn’t have many games period. But the Wii had a lot of fascinating stuff! WiiWare, all kinds of odd software projects, this:


And thankfully, a lot of that is preserved. Dolphin runs the Wii just as well as the Gamecube, in my experience, even including motion controls. The software, however, is a bit of a problem. Most Wii games have been dumped already, but there are some holdouts with WiiWare. With the Wii Shop Channel Down, one has to hope that owners of Wii’s with that software will come forward and dump it all. At this point, it’s the only option available. One of the sad stories you see with data preservation again and again is that the genuinely obscure stuff is so rare that you end up only being able to rip it from hard drives. But I have hope. 

And now, the big boy of the 7th gen. The Gamer Box. The Xbox 360. Here in the west, it was the King of the Console Heap. For a while, you didn’t go over to your friends house to play video games, you went over to your friends to play Xbox. Synonymous with the unwashed masses playing Halo (and then for the second half of the 7th Gen, Call Of Duty), it was the biggest thing here. Not as much in other countries, but it dominated the American console market, and is credited with kicking off the indie game boom with the Xbox Live Marketplace. So, given that this is such a crucial bit of history, what is the status of emulation?

Well, pretty damn good! Surprisingly, despite many claims online that 7th Gen console emulation is particularly difficult, the truth is, all emulation is difficult. Xenia, the main emulation project, is reportedly pretty good, with all of the classic emulation glitches and issues (my video card isn’t good enough to run it though, so I have just very professionally skimmed the subreddit and noted that many of the bugs are the same kind I see emulating the Gamecube and PS2). Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of unique challenges to emulating this console. Unique graphics chip software, game encryption, lack of proper public documentation of the console software, it has it all. But these aren’t unique to the 360 or other 7th gen consoles, and arguably, previous 3d consoles can have more difficulty because they use nonstandard parts and software, while many 7th Gen consoles are much more PC based, and so are easier to reverse engineer for emulation. The biggest holdup? Lack of developers. Emulation is a fan project, and that means that there are limited numbers of emulator devs in general. Under these constraints, Xenia is progressing very well, but fundamentally the holdup is, and will be for the foreseeable future, that a handful of people reverse engineering video game consoles in their spare time will lead to perfect emulation on a long, slow, timeframe. That all said, as of this year, the project is at 74% of all tested Xbox 360 games being playable in the emulator. It’s an impressive technical achievement. Look at, for example, this article from the Xenia devs examining some of the specific technical hurdles that have been overcome. Emulating is hard!

Which brings us, finally, to the PS3. This console has become pretty legendary for how difficult it is to emulate, because of the more unique hardware that it utilizes. That’s right, it all comes back to the infamous Cell microprocessor. Ironically, despite being almost identical to the PowerPC processors that other consoles use, the specific features and design make it trickier. But, PS3 emulation is progressing nicely. Many games are emulatable, though depressingly, the big ones – Killzone 2 and 3, The Last Of Us, littlebigplanet, all have issues. Like the Xbox 360, there just aren’t enough devs. But progress is being made!

The elephant in the room, however, is that this is the generation where games started relying much more on online DRM. Sure, the Xbox One was the Always Online console, but even in the 360 era we had games that required DRM or could only be played online. A LOT of games were only played through servers run by the company making them. Without hacks or releases sans DRM, or people setting up servers themselves, quite a few of these games could end up essentially lost. This was the era where Online was becoming the thing with console gaming, as PC and Console triple-A game industries converged. By the end of this game generation, every game had an online mode, or co-op, or something. The game industry as it stands now is almost entirely online. What is happening to the old 7th Gen games, their online modes disappearing into the ether, the games that will now rot on a server until the servers die, I don’t see a world where the latest version of Apex Legends would be playable in 50 years, no matter how important it is.

Welcome to the world that started when we hit the 7th Gen. 

That’s it! I hate to end on a sour note, but the game industry is a joke! 

So this was part one of a 3 part series looking at gaming in Gen 7. This was about how well we’ve preserved the past, and the next one is going to be about what is so significant about this past. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Seventh Gen Retrospective: Fear and Desperation In Japan and San Fran.


*Most tapes for data archival (yes, archives still use tape, for a long list of reasons) last 15 to 30 years.

**The average age of an internet link is around 3 years before the site goes down, moves, or something changes that makes the link not work. Hell, I’ve read articles from 2 years ago that are unreadable because the tweets they link to don’t exist anymore. It’s like reading books from a library that’s burning down.

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