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theory: Conservation of 'Virtual Architecture'
Posted on Monday, July 10 @ 11:48:53 CEST by julian

writes that an Italian group has come up with a convention that seeks to preserve, largely through archiving, the 'virtual architecture' of videogames so that it may be studied at ease in future.

The preservation convention is an important step, lighting fires that need to be lit - especially where intellectual property is concerned. Are the architectures of games public enough for them to be considered part of our 'digital heritage'? We spend countless hours in game environments, becoming local to these places. They are shared in memory from player to player and sometimes shared at the same time, but how 'public' are they really?

Their project is extremely ambitious, and perhaps entertaining madnesss at several points. It's no doubt that good will come of it however even in the case they have a few uphill battles. Read on to hear what I think they are ..

As they recognise in their text, many environments/maps/levels need to be played to be understood - they are performance driven architectures, not simply an aesthetic collection of intersecting volumes and cavities. For this reason the preservation project inevitably entails a physical museum or site, public or otherwise, where these architectures can be played.

What happens however in the event of an MMO no longer running, where a central server cannot provide the game at all? What happens if a Microsoft service pack, new DirectX version, Linux ABI transition or Apple hardware switch means that once running games run no more? While they want to insist that developers should provide an archival copy, in years to come many current games will not even run on future hardware, or will run badly. Is not the best preservation strategy then emulation?

Once a game is emulated it can also be shared, and run on any current system supported by the emulator. I play games made 20 years ago with a MAME emulator, on my fast laptop, or on my mobile phone, or GP2X. That's videogame archiving at its finest. The alternative is grim, as no level or map is intended to be separated from it's game, they will need to archive the related game with each environment. That's a vast number of games, and thus machines of varying ages over time, across consoles and PC's, despite the fact they want to be selective about which environments they preserve.

Furthermore they want to document game architecture and environments, somehow collecting raw models and other assets in the process. Where this is not possible, they want to reproduce models themselves. It'll be interesting to see whether they can reach good common terms with those producers that even, via EULA's, disallow the distribution of screenshots let alone have access to their heavily copyrighted artwork - especially in a time where game designs are able to be patented under the auspice of a Software Patent.

In 2.2 they mention that the economic value of a building must be considered in the context of heritage. With the real world as an example, does the public have the right to enforce preservation of a private building. Consider a privately owned residence as a simile to expensive property in Project Entropia. Where do public and private spaces begin and end here?

My favourite part? Article 7, Protection Procedures, where they introduce a protection act serving a game environment in the event of it's demolition. They want to make it mandatory for game developers and site owners to submit plans to 'demolish' or otherwise cease a given virtual architecture to a non-governmental authority. Futhermore in Article 8 part 2 they want to ensure that developers reproduce any protected architecture or environment they have previously demolished.

I look forward to following this..

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