Tutorial: Archiving Games
Having made my first games about 10 years ago, I sadly can’t play them anymore. Files went missing and other games required hardware & software I no longer had. This article is meant to help this prevent from happening to you. Learn how to properly back up your games, so you can play them in 10 years from now.
1. Use common file formats
A general rule for archival is to only use file formats which are easy to open & can be opened by a variety of tools. E.g. for 3D models you’d want to archive them as FBX or OBJ instead of a BLEND file. Those formats can be opened independent from a specific tool.
For images you’d want to pick JPG, PNG or GIF. For text TXT or PDF. For audio WAV or MP3 (you get the idea). If you use specialist formats, you risk not being able to open them once you can’t access the required tool anymore.
2. Don’t backup everything!
If you backup everything on your PC it makes it harder to distribute & also to find data. Only back up the art & games that you definitely want to keep. This is especially an important point for games, as they often have large file sizes.
3. Give it structure
You want to establish a structure which makes it easy to include & find the files you need. Usually the categories for the structure will include a) game executable, b) screenshots/ media and c) source files. More on how I approach it at the end of this article.
4. Include info what hardware & software is required
While most of my points apply to backing up media in general, this one is specific to games/ software. Games usually need a specific operating system (OS) & hardware to run. For my archive I include info on what machine I tested the game on (OS, hardware specs, browser). This allows to later find a similar machine or run the game through an emulator.
5. A look at different ways to backup games
5.1 Digital backups on physical storage mediums
We used to save a lot of Data on CD & DVD, but now they phase out more and more. Many devices now come without a reader for CD/DVD. CDs are often also made out of organic material, which gives them a short shelf-life before they get corrupted.
Currently I back up data on Flash Memory mediums (USB, SD, SSD). For the most part, their life cycle is limited by the number of read & write actions performed. As I’m only using them for archival it’s easy to stay under the read & write limit. Another positive factor is that they are cheap and widely spread. Almost any device has an USB outlet to access the data on an USB stick or SSD. But we don’t have reliable enough research yet on how well they survive the passing of time. You should also use other forms of backup.
5.2 Digital backups on servers/ the “cloud”
I’d never solely rely on cloud storage for backup (as the services might go offline at some point/ change pricing models/ etc.). Yet, it’s a great cheap/ free extra option to backup your files, which is easy to automate.
5.3 Digital backups on game sites
If you develop free or web games, it’s a good idea to release them through multiple platforms. Again, platforms might close down. But if you upload your game to multiple places, it’s more likely it’ll remain online at least in one place.
5.4 Physical, analogue backups are most reliable
If you want to be sure to preserve the visual part of your games, it’s best to create prints/ books of screenshots, etc.
For many paper types we know they can have a really long shelf-life (if stored well). Again, here the best strategy is to spread the backups in multiple places. Analogue backups e.g. can be destroyed through water damage.
My favorite online print service is Moo. Definitively a bit more on the pricey side, but the quality is worth it.
6. Example: How I backup my games
This example focuses on digital backups. I also create analogue backups & upload my games to multiple sites.
Game folders are named by the game’s release year and title. This makes it easy to locate the games I want to find.
Within such a game folder you’ll always find the same structure: “Game”, “Media” and “Source”. I created a template folder with this structure, so it’s quick & easy to add new games.
“Game” includes an executable version of the game. In case this doesn’t work or I just want to take a quick look, “Media” features screenshots. I use JPG/PNG as file formats, as they are wide-spread and can be opened by a variety of tools. Lastly, “Source” includes some game files I might want to access & edit later. Usually this is not a full source for the game, as that would increase the overall file size too much. Lastly, a game folder has a “tested_on” TXT file, which lists requirements to run the game. This is helpful when later trying to run it using an emulator.
I hope this was helpful! Go backup your games, so your future-self still can revisit them :)