Unplanned Obsolescence and “Lost” Art


The above picture is the oldest picture from the oldest version of Date Ariane. The modified date is listed as August 6, 2004.

As I was finishing the Renpy version of Date Ariane, I decided to dive into my archives and attempt to play the oldest version I could find.

It wouldn’t run on any browser, not the way it is supposed to anyways. The game was written for Internet Explorer 4 using some HTML coding that only worked on IE4. Over the years I updated the code to run on as many browsers as I could, but the first version is now completely obsolete.

It gets worse: Date Ariane was written using Microsoft FrontPage which basically has ceased to exist. This week I upgraded to Windows 10, and FrontPage loads on Windows 10 but it is unstable. I have been forced to switch to KompoZer, a nice open source HTML editor, but I can’t mass edit a thousand web pages at a time which makes further upgrades to Date Ariane Online version way more difficult. Besides that browser security issue is already a reason to throw in the towel and stick with Renpy version from now on.

But it is a little sad that a piece of my history, a “work of art” I created, is likely lost to the future.

I’m not the only one facing unplanned obsolescence

Obsolescence is becoming an issue on the web now.  Recently security flaws were found in Flash Player, one of the most used programs on the web. You Tube, once the biggest supporter of Flash has now basically stopped using it. Worse yet, Mozilla turned off Flash by default until Adobe released a secure version, which they have now done, but who knows how long it will last.

So now as the world scrambles to move to HTML5 or some other substitute to flash, what happens to the millions of flash based videos, and online games which someday soon may no longer run?

Preservation efforts for the internet?

We humans like to preserve the past.  There are whole industries devoted to film preservation thanks to the unstable nitrate most of the old films were originally filmed in. More than half of the movies made before 1950 no longer exist.

This is why film gurus get excited about discovering a lost reel to a classic movie thought lost.

Similarly we are slowly losing our musical heritage as most master tapes before 1990 or so are on a medium which also degrades over time. Most all of it has been digitized, but many music gurus will tell you music is better in the original analog, and the original analog sources are decaying.

We see it also in video games. Many of my old games will no longer run on my computer, and the ones that do run in a tiny 800 x 600 window, since that is how they were designed. Some classic games like Age of Empires II or Leisure Suit Larry, have gotten the HD treatment, but hundreds never will.

Will much of the internet content suffer the same fate?

Yes, I know about things like The Wayback Machine which archives lost text and picture content, but what will preserve online games?


The “medium” problem

When the medium by which we distribute content changes, it becomes necessary to find ways to bring old content to the new medium. Entire libraries are being digitized, although paper books have largely proven to be a resilient medium, sometimes finding that rare volume is a lot easier online.

Except that “mediums” themselves are radically changing every few years it seems, so we are constantly having to convert, especially as popularity wanes in the old medium.  Sometimes we lose some things in the conversion, even as recent as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons.

Communication mediums eventually get replaced, by better mediums that we all convert to.  But in so doing we lose some of the “art” of the old medium.


For example: “Twitter”

Here is one I bet you didn’t see coming: Apparently Twitter is dying.  Yes, one of the most popular web sites on the planet is seeing a sharp decline in active users.

My solution to fixing it is pretty revolutionary: Drop the 140 character limit.  We can thank twitter for the abundance of short link generators. Those links leave Twitter and go to other web sites that allow long essays. Why can’t Twitter users write long essays on Twitter itself and have it show up as a title with a “read more” button, instead of a link to another site?

Yes, I know the 140 character limit was what made the site famous, but the novelty has worn off, and prevents people like me who can’t write in 140 characters to not even bother using the site.

If twitter dies then so does the hashtag. (Yes I am aware that other sites support hashtagging, but they also support other types of tagging, which are more useful except they can’t be printed on a t-shirt)

That’s a whole chunk of internet culture lost if it happens.


  • That’s some really good points. Online games should be preserved.

    Though, the problem with getting people to see online games as worth preserving is like telling

    people to get off of social networks. Even if they sometimes make really questionable decisions.

    Facebook and Google Plus…I’m looking at you.

    But, that’s not the point: It’s only a small part of it.

    The truth is that online games aren’t overall as popular as video games and social networks.

    And, only in recent years has video games been more recognized as a medium: With a lot of

    bumps in the road.

    The most popular online games are advertised on social networks, put up on social networks, or

    on sites for big names for movies and tv.

    Like most everything with commercially run social networks, online games have mostly just been

    fads: Coming and going, and sometimes left obsolete without a care.

    You don’t like a online game? Just look around for another. A company takes down a online game

    on a whim? Just look for another, or the same game copied onto another site.

    That’s how it’s mostly been.

    Does that mean all online games are like that? Of course not. Date Ariane sure isn’t.

    But, there’s just not a lot of online games that are seen as that good. And so, it’s much harder for

    video game players to really get into online games: Let alone most everyone else to care about

    preserving them.

    My best advice? Backups for everything you want to keep for every system you have. And if you

    really don’t want to fall into unplanned obsolescence…get some digital converter software that

    allows for the new system to still run for the older stuff.

    Is there uncertain legality with the latter? Yes. Unfortunately.

    But, unless there is a more legal way or a archive to still run the same thing…what else can we do

    to preserve online games that we own?

    However, if there is a archive out there that does preserve online games already…that’s a lot

    better than having to turn to uncertain legality to do it.

    I doubt there is one. But, I’d welcome it.

  • Oldest version I still have is 5.0 and it still runs on Firefox. For older games that do not like my current PC and OS, I have a couple of older machines linked that I can fire up. One of them is set up to read floppies, ZipDrives, and obsolete camera cards as well. Of course, I am old enough to have played games on an APL interactive terminal (print out only, no video) so I have seen huge changes in game systems and computing over the years.

  • Oh also re the 800×600 box, many versions of Windows can be tricked into playing Windows compatible versions of games full screen without screwing up your normal settings. Turn off any screen savers or slide shows (or set for 12 hr or more), then pull up your resolution screen. Run the slider down to 800×600 but do not accept the change (otherwise all your icons, etc. will get pushed around in a very ugly fashion). Then start your game with the resolution screen still open. In most cases the system and game will accept the setting at full screen. When you finish, cancel the resolution screen and reset your screen saver and slide shows.

  • I had many great programs that worked very well on old Macs and PCs , and got useless through the years. Drawing programs, painting programs, some games… Many web sites disappeared, chat rooms… Twitter will eventually end, like Orkut. Facebook will also go away in some years, giving place to new things. As the Web evolves, some things fade away while new ones are born. Like in real life.

  • I don’t know, but with digital goods it’s only obsolete if the people in charge of it let it get obsolete. No you can’t rely on 20 year old tapes and floppies – that’s why you should dump the data while you can and upgrade the medium. Emulation takes care of old hardware, no-cd/no-floppy patches can take care of broken copy protection schemes/media types (if stuff like gog releases do not happen) etc etc

    The storage requirements for really old stuff is laughable (game sizes were measured in KB not GB) so the only real problem is DRM/DMCA etc. – and that’s not “Unplanned”, that’s intentional.

    If you worry about the preservation of your first version of da – keep it available for download. People can play it as is in a virtual machine and I am pretty sure with a bit of scripting all offending bits of frontpage can be mangled to make it compatible with modern browsers…

  • Twitter is dying? I will have to read that article. I hear nothing but Tweet this, and Tweet that, etc., all the time.

    • Twitter is not necessarily dying, its growth has leveled out and there are fewer tweets.

      • Twitter dying isn’t necessarily a bad thing I think. Society needs more of a filter in general, and for people to stop and think before they fire off their comments. While I get that “# anything” being lost would be a blow to easy reference, frankly speaking if it taught people to have more patience and less instant gratification mentality, that wouldn’t be as bad thing.

        My $0.02 anyway, hopefully the glut of everyone being wide open about all aspects of their lives (even if everyone else is cringing away due to it) will eventually pass.

  • The Library of Congress has a video game preservation project ( http://www.buzzfeed.com/josephbernstein/meet-the-men-trying-to-immortalize-video-games ). So does the Internet Archive ( https://archive.org/details/softwarelibrary_msdos_games ). For interactive fiction, even old Infocom games are still playable today, because many interactive fiction games use the same software as for Infocom (but modernized). You can find those old games here: http://ifdb.tads.org/ .

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