More than any other medium, games have struggled to preserve their past. If you want to read an old book or see an old movie, there’s a good chance that between the second-hand market, electronic distribution, and reprintings, you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for. But if you’re a gamer, playing old games usually means spending lots of cash on old, unreliable systems, and even more for an original (and usually only) printing of an old game.
In recent decades many publishers have forayed into the digital distribution of retro titles, but those are often treated more as gimmicks than serious preservation attempts. After all, Nintendo’s Virtual Console, one of the standard bearers for retro download services, was discontinued on the Switch, rendering the ability to play its library of games impossible on current hardware.
Luckily, the video game community has no shortage of driven hobbyists who have no problem with doing the work big publishers are reluctant to devote resources to. Wade Rosen is an entrepreneur with a passion for playing games and an equal passion for keeping them playable. After being shocked to find so many of the games that once inspired him were now so difficult to purchase and play, he founded Ziggurat Interactive with the goal of celebrating and expanding gaming’s legacy.
Through Ziggurat Interactive, Rosen hopes to preserve the types of games that he grew up with that are either hard to find or hard to play. With a focus on working closely with original developers, the company hopes to bridge the gap between simply preserving old games and making subtle tweaks to keep them playable to newcomers today.
“An early, deeply influential game was Dragon Warrior IV,” Rosen said when we reached out to him. “My parents didn’t think it was a good idea to have a console in the house, and so I would play the NES relentlessly when I was at my friend’s house. It opened up my eyes to what games were capable of and I remember connecting deeply with the individual personalities of these characters, which now seems quaint.”
Growing up playing console games gave Rosen an understanding later of just how bad game preservation had become.
“There are not a lot of easy and legal ways to play classic console games. The hoops that I continue to jump through just to play my Sega Saturn are a case in point,” he said. “To this day I think it’s a shame that people can’t easily enjoy Panzer Dragoon Saga or Dragon Force.”
Rosen explained that Ziggurat started as a way to prevent these meaningful experiences from being lost to later generations. That means making them available, but also making them playable to a modern audience without losing their original feel.
To Ziggurat, it’s not just about re-releasing every old game on Steam and calling it a day.
“We approach remastering and updating differently for each title based on the game assets we have available,” said Rosen. This means that while one game may only need to be made compatible with modern systems, others may receive new art, sound, or features.
Working With the Best
Despite the games being old, the process of going through them and making changes—whether it’s an enhanced update or a more in-depth remaster—is a huge undertaking. Ziggurat tries to work with the original creators as much as possible to retain a high level of care and passion.
“A few examples would be Nfusion, the original creators of the first Deadly Dozen game; Webfoot, the original creators of Super Huey 3, which we’re doing both a remaster and creating a spiritual successor called Super Chopper; and Terminal Reality on an enhanced version of Bloodrayne 1 & 2,” Rosen said. “This is really our preferred method in any of our projects.”
Looking at the list of projects that Ziggurat has chosen to work on, the sheer diversity of games that remain abandoned and unplayable is clear. Early Ziggurat re-releases, like 1993’s Napoleonic RTS Fields of Glory, 1994’s historical point-and-click Marco Polo, and 1995’s over-the-top FPS Killing Time, show a respect for PC gaming’s less well-known past.
“Professionally, there are only so many games that we can remaster. Based upon the audience for that title, that often determines what type of preservation treatment the game will get,” Rosen admitted.
“The personal motivation is almost more challenging because it’s so inherently subjective. For example, I personally would love to see us do a larger project around Superhero League of Hoboken. But I’m only one member of a larger team, and we have to take into consideration what’s going to get everybody out of bed in the morning,” he said.” That’s not to say my team doesn’t also love Superhero League of Hoboken!”
Rosen describes himself as bullish on the future of game preservation, but despite his drive, he admits that part of the difficulty is that—when it comes to consoles at least—every generation requires almost a refresh of expectations and requirements.
“The act of preservation is never complete. It’s a constant act of rejuvenation and it begins again with each console generation,” he said.
With Ziggurat’s passion for games and focus on working with original game creators as much as possible, it is clear that Rosen and his team want to see larger changes in how gamers access and enjoy retro titles.
“Nothing that commercially exists was really designed for retro gaming, and as a result, everything has to be modified or adapted to make it work. The user experience hasn’t been created yet to take this industry to the next level, and it’s my belief that things will really take off when mediums are created that will specifically address the needs of retro gaming. I would love to see Ziggurat be a part of that change,” Rosen said.
“We all got into this because we have a passion for retro gaming, and so at the end of the day, it always has to return to that quest for passion and joy.”