Video Games: From Art to Artifact

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
| The video game industry has gone from a mole hill to a mountain in no time flat, Chris DiMarco is your Sherpa as you endeavor to scale Mount “Everquest”

Video Games: From Art to Artifact

The idea of video games as art has been something of a gray area for a long time now, with gamers insisting that games are indeed art, and everyone else insisting that gamers have been inhaling their own Cheeto dust for too long. For one online community, meanwhile, video games are less an art than they are an artifact, a kind of rare bird to find and preserve at all costs.

Alex "Xkeeper" Workman is one of the names in this particular field, a PHP developer and system administrator who has a hand in The Cutting Room Floor, an organization focused on discovering and revealing points that are hidden within the cartridges of gaming's olden days. Xkeeper didn't actually start The Cutting Room Floor, but many suggest that he was a big part of its rise to prominence.

Essentially, as Xkeeper notes, his pursuit of the variations involved in video gaming is like backstage access at a concert, or like urban exploration; it's about getting to look at old, familiar spaces in a whole new way. By looking at the code involved in cartridge and disc-based games of the past, Xkeeper et al can find the secrets contained therein and eventually reveal same to others.

This isn't exactly new; we've seen rumormongers ferret their way through source code for some time now. That's how we first found out about Nuka World, after all. But this is much deeper, and much older, without the sexy clickbait factor of new game information. This is searching for unused graphical tables or the like to see if there's something in the code that isn't actively being displayed. If there is such a thing, users can look and see just what it is, why it isn't in play, or even get a look at how it might have looked in the game.

Some of the content is mundane, other parts downright impressive. The N64-era version of Tetris, for example, contains ASCII art of the N64 logo, H2O's corporate logo, even representations of marijuana leaves. Complete levels from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 have been spotted, and an Amiga game, "Mad Professor Mariarti," contains a surprisingly blunt warning to hackers from the game's designer and musical lead Matt Furniss, noting that he will "find you where ever you are and break your legs." This kind of threat may seem criminal by today's standards, but was apparently par for the course for Amiga developers of the era.

While this may not be much of a development--sifting through the code of 30-plus year old games looking for random treasures--it's still exciting, in its way, and particularly noteworthy. There's a lot more to games than what we see, and that's not just a vague statement of cultural value. There are secrets buried in the very code, and many we'll likely never even know about.

Featured Events