Video games and the automotive industry have a long history as digital dancing partners, or perhaps friendly hotrod racers forever running in parallel with one another. This friendship is, in fact, older than many of us who grew up with video games themselves, from the most obvious iteration of racing games through the years, to the downright unlikely bizarre crossovers such as the LucasArts / Chrysler (yes, you read that correctly) demo disc in 1996.
But how often do we hear about this history or take the time to preserve it in our communities? And what exactly does video game preservation look like? Is it a simple matter of dusty hardware in a museum, or can it be something more, like a living digital exhibit? Leo Burke set out on a mission earlier this year to embark on his own interpretation in the recently released Auto Museum 64.
The work of an archivist is difficult to quantify given the many skills necessary to analyze, document, and ultimately safeguard these cultural relics against the forces of time. One doesn’t simply feed a library like some kind of yeast, merely adding more material until the end result naturally ferments. No, it is more akin to carefully transcribing a chronicle into stone intent on weathering eternity.
Like any catacomb or lost monument, these articles must often be unearthed from the sands of time by steady professional hands, and Leo has spared no laborious expense when dislodging these digital sculptures from their EEPROM tombs. After going through the painstaking process of capturing these meshes and slowly piecing them together like a set of fossilized dinosaur bones, the finished product is an exquisite testament to the talent of a bygone development era.
Walking around the museum, you find myriad placards detailing the titles, publishers, and credits of individual 3d artists responsible for each fleet of vehicles. From Hydro Thunder to Penny Racers, Leo has managed to curate an ensemble of both memorable and obscure racing games for your viewing pleasure and as a cultural keepsake for future generations. It’s rather touching in a way that these relics, likely forgotten by even their creators, still remain accessible to us for now thanks to these efforts, the hours of labor and emotional investment successfully preserved for the foreseeable future.
However, despite this difficult undertaking, what exists within Auto Museum 64 is sadly a drop in the bucket compared to all the games and their respective assets produced over the past decades. While not everything will survive in the long-term, Leo’s undertaking has shown us that we still have so far to go in order to capture even a small snapshot of our efforts for posterity. Auto Museum 64 is, in a sense, a warning to us all that we must undertake our own preservation efforts, building it into the process of game development rather than an afterthought or a distant yet-to-be-seen revitalization at the hands of our audiences.
I fear if we do not heed this warning, we may lose far more than we understand, potentially robbing generations of possible inspiration and technical knowledge now set adrift on the currents of a digital ocean.
Hopefully, we will see them on the distant horizon of time and space, carved into stone ravaged by the winds of the universe. Until then, cherish them while you still can.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice