Video game preservation has been a hot topic, with the takedown of emulation sites such as Emuparadise, but the conversation goes beyond emulation. Digital only games are particularly vulnerable to being lost forever for a variety of reasons. Music licensing issues led to games like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Alan Wake being removed from stores. Sometimes, games are simply lost, with servers going down and download links disappearing and RPG Maker games happen to suffer from the latter.
Early RPG Maker culture was centered on forums, users sharing games with each other through temporary download sites. More centralized hubs were set up for these downloads, like rpgmaker.net, but many of the early games were never set up on that site, just floating around out there – if they haven’t been lost entirely.
A barrier for the availability of RPG Maker games is the will of the creators. Many of these lost games are demos for things that are never completed. These demos end up being tossed to the side, because why keep them around if a finished product never comes from it? Sometimes developers do finish their games, but they simply don’t post them on anywhere more lasting.
Run-time packages (RTPs) also act as barriers for games, as many RPG Maker games require the RTPs to be run. While RPG Maker 2000/2003/XP are officially localized, it doesn’t mean that games made before localization are readily playable. Many of these games are only compatible with the translated RTPs due to file differences, meaning that people would need to hunt down the specific translation that the game works in. There are a few games that were made to be playable without needing the RTP (such as Yume Nikki, which can be downloaded off ModDB with the RTP integrated), but this is relegated to the more known games and many games aren’t updated to conform to work within the localized RTP.
The RTP nonsense adds extra steps to the process and there’s no guarantee that they would still be floating around in the future. Much like with what happens to emulation efforts, Enterbrain hit Don Miguel – the unofficial translator of the RPG Maker 2000 and 2003 engines – with a cease and desist, making it riskier to find his translation patch. As a result, much of the RPG Maker works pre-official localization is less accessible.
While I personally dislike RPG Maker MV, I praise it for ditching the RTP shenanigans. With these barriers removed, games made in that engine are readily accessible. Hopefully, future engines follow this standard to make preservation easier.
The closest thing to an extensive preservation effort is hosted on rpgmaker.net. “The Rare/Obscure RM Games Request Topic” topics, first started by Darken and restarted by LordBlueRogue, are places where users can make open requests to see if anyone else has downloads for games they’re looking for. In some cases, users stepped up, revealing they had old games hidden away on their hard drives. The topic also links to other sites that act as preservation hubs, some of them for different languages.
In the case of RTPs, the EasyRPG project may address this. The EasyRPG Player is an extension of the EasyRPG project, aimed at playing RPG Maker 2000 and 2003 games. A goal of EasyRPG is to make games playable without the need to hunt down RTPs, nor having to mess with computer settings to be able to play a game in a different language. While it still has plenty of bugs to sort out, EasyRPG presents an accessible experience to play games – if the games can be found, that is.
With that said, I believe that more should be done with regards to preservation. Gaming Ground Zero, a site linked in the first preservation thread that contained many of the old RPG Maker games, happened to disappear. So, who’s to say that rpgmaker.net doesn’t disappear? Rpgmaker.net has the issues of a dwindling userbase and having to rely on a donation drive to keep things going. If this site were to go down, not only would this thread (and easy to access downloads) are lost, but so would everything that was exclusively posted on that site.
You may ask though: why? Why would anyone want to save a whole bunch of old, unfinished RPG Maker games? Why play through somebody’s early attempt to make a Final Fantasy game? Do they have the same merit as games like Alan Wake?
To answer that, look toward the issue of flash games. Flash games face a more serious threat than RPG Maker games do, with Adobe announcing that support for flash would be fully dropped by 2020. They have good reason to do so, considering the security issues that Flash posed and HTML5 games moving in to occupy that space. However, that means that the thousands of flash games floating around out there will be rendered unplayable.
While many deride flash games today, they’re undeniably a huge part of early internet game culture. Flash games were free, easy to access entertainment for many people growing up and places like Newgrounds became cornerstones of internet culture. Many developers got their start making flash games, the most famous being Edmund McMillen of Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac fame – both of which, were of course, originally made in flash.
The biggest champion of the flash game preservation cause is Flashpoint, run by Ben Latimore. It is effectively a program that lets you play stored flash games, many of them tweaked to get around site DRM and to enable online multiplayer. As of a July 30 2018 update, Flashpoint has around 4,000 games archived and much like those RPG Maker threads, is taking requests on what stuff to archive.
RPG Maker occupies a similar space in internet gaming history, even if it’s not as impactful. As LordBlueRogue puts it:
“Studying past rpgmaker games, not only provides an invaluable framework to build the basic ideas of your game around – but also allows for the opportunity for these games be challenged and improved upon.”
Old RPG Maker games is RPG Maker culture. Every demo, lost or not, represents a user yearning to make their dream game and this collective dream of wanting to put something together is what binds communities together. Old games can be indicative of trends to give historical context to the RPG Maker scene, they can be goofy yet relatable to the experience of just experimenting around with the program, they can act as guides for new makers to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and so on and so on. Greater preservation efforts are needed to maintain this history so that newcomers to the scene can build off the past and make greater games for the future.
Perhaps there should be a site separate from a forum with a dwindling userbase. Perhaps all those temporary downloads should be posted on proper, more lasting sites. The ethics of doing so may be morally in the gray, given that many users might not be around to give consent to their stuff being re-posted, but these efforts always skirt in the gray; the vague legality is what leads to emulation sites getting shut down and Flashpoint openly acknowledges that some of their techniques to preserve games may not be legal. For the sake of history however, it may be a risk worth taking.