The 2015 AMIA conference in Portland was the 25th anniversary of the organizations annual members meeting and it was the best attended in years. Multiple presentations and sessions were standing-room only.
PRO-TEK was very involved with this years conference in various ways and for me, the most exciting part was the way we were able to be involved on such different levels and with such different media. PRO-TEK President Tom Regal, while continuing his stint on the AMIA governing board, also brought his DAS conference to this year’s AMIA, curating a stream of presentations focused on cutting-edge digital archiving and access. The DAS conference took place within the larger AMIA conference. This meant it was possible to move from a session highlighting an effort to preserve video and computer games into another discussion regarding the efforts of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il to archive 35mm prints of his favorite movies. And DAS presented another session with a law-enforcement specialist, a theme also explored at this years stand-alone DAS Conference in New York City; the current challenges in archiving all the data that is being created as our nations police forces grapple with the explosion of body-worn and other cameras that are rapidly appearing everywhere.
And longtime PRO-TEK employee, Randy Gitsch, the head of our stills-scanning department, took over the Whitsell Auditoreum in Portland and blew the audience away with THIS IS CINERAMA Remastered, the digitally-restored version of a spectacular piece of filmmaking, a widescreen feature-film documentary that was, in 1952, an immersive cinematic process that utilized 3 separate 35mm film images all projected simultaneously. Randy Gitsch has been part of a restoration team that has done incredible detective work as well as innovative technical breakthroughs and his Saturday screening of a high-tech version of an older and complex technology was a massive audience-pleaser.
PRO-TEK also teamed up with the AMIA Film Advocacy Task Force (FATF) and threw a great party in a swanky Portland lounge; Jackknife. And finally, PRO-TEK sponsored the popular Photobooth during the closing-night cocktail reception. Hordes of colleagues, vendors, competitors and clients squeezed into the booth and got new media digital versions of an old-fashioned strip of 4 photographs with the PRO-TEK /LAC logo emblazoned on the bottom. But before that, the PRO-TEK /FATF party highlighted, in one night, the duality of maintaining expertise in older media formats that are being replaced by new technology as well as embracing that disruptive new technology. During the party, a 16mm movie was projected, a movie that was born digital when it was shot on an iPhone, edited and then transferred to film for the screening. FATF member, small-gauge film expert and head of the Hugh Hefner Archives at USC, Dino Everett, projected the born-digital movie from an old-fashioned analog 16mm print. I can’t think of a better metaphor for what we do at PRO-TEK, staying cutting-edge while always retaining and growing the skills to properly handle older assets.
AMIA opened with a reminder of its origins:
In 1990, a group of archivists and historians with F/TAAC – the Film and Television Archives Advisory Committee proposed the creation of AMIA, a standalone organization with a more focused mission of bringing together colleagues whose sole focus was the preservation and archiving of moving images.
In November of 1990, they held their first election. And all of this took place at the Oregon Historical Society, so now, 25 years later, the organization has come full circle and back to its roots in Portland.
DAS opened its Portland conference with a:
KEYNOTE SPEECH FROM ERIK WEAVER.
Erik runs PROJECT CLOUD for The School of Cinematic Arts’ Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at the University of Southern California (USC). This project unites the major film studios and media content creators in an effort to standardize access to and from the “Cloud”. With more and more data, particularly digital files containing moving images being stored in servers not owned by the content creators, ease of access and workflow becomes trickier. Erik is helping build common language and standards, without which, the promise of Cloud accessibility can’t be realized. The goal is to be able to take an image from a camera operating in the field somewhere and upload it to the cloud, where the production staff can watch dailies, the editors can start cutting and various other vendors can begin accessing and manipulating the images, like, the special efx team. Current standards mean indexing and accessing information stored on the cloud involves navigating multiple compression standards, filename hierarchies, etc. For big-time media creators, the cloud can’t fulfill its promise until back-end processes can all integrate and work seamlessly, in realtime. As the notes for the keynote put it; “an agnostic framework that unites key vendors and studios”.
Continuing with DAS programming;
CABRINETY-NIST PROJECT: LARGE-SCALE DIGITAL PRESERVATION OF A LEGACY SOFTWARE COLLECTION
The Cabrinety-NIST Project is a cross-country collaborative effort between SUL (Stanford University Libraries) and NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) to integrate and fully migrate a vast and truly incredible collection of early videogame software. Stephen M. Cabrinety was a young man that began collecting computer and video game cartridges, software, catalogs, print materials, gaming consoles and pretty much anything associated with the world of computer games from the early 1980’s up to 1995. Cabrinety died at the too-young age of 29 and his family donated the massive collection to Stanford University. Over 700 boxes of material are still being sorted, including over 27 different hardware platforms / consoles.
Charlotte C. Thai, the Cabrinety Project Archivist spoke about the methods and goals of this project. All the software is being transferred and made available on the Stanford Digital Repository. All the ephemera associated with the games, like the box art, ads, the instruction manuals, etc. are also being digitized and stored.
One of the fascinating things about a project like this is the challenge of pulling original games software code off of an old cartridge or disk from a now-defunct gaming system.
These games were all written to be incompatible with any third-party hardware, so special machines have to be used just to extract the code. Special devices, like a machine known as the “Retrode” have to be used, in this case, to extract code from Sega Genesis and Nintendo cartridges. With cartridges and discs this old, bit-rot and other forms of decay are setting in, so just archiving the original material isn’t enough, the code has to be extracted and saved separately. And many of these games had anti-piracy software installed, sometimes by engineers who are now long-gone, and with spotty corporate records, the archivists on this project often have to work with the fan community to find working algorithms to unlock the code. The Nintendo Gameboy cartridges, for example, had three levels of copy-protection that had to be unlocked every time a game is ingested into the system.
All of this data is being gathered with deep metadata collection, so access for researchers can happen at a very granular level. Secure digital hashtags and Checksums are developed for every file, so the database can maintain accuracy for long into the future. Many of the game consoles are now gone or in barely-useable form, so the software code in the repository will someday be our only link to this huge part of our shared culture.
Following on this talk was:
CHALLENGES IN GAME PRESERVATION: EXPERIENCES WITH ARCHIVING DIGITAL GAMES AND THEIR ASSETS.
Eric Kaltman, PhD Candidate at UCSC Expressive Intelligence Studio, talked about the challenges in archiving older computer games. Many corporations hold onto proprietary software and don’t want to share code or have long since lost early drafts and original code.
And what about all those clever games developed for platforms that were never considered videogame consoles, like calculators and digital watches? Erik says there are currently over 450 different platforms known, with a countless number of games that were available to be played on each one. There was once a very addicting game of Breakout that worked on the iPod and used the little clickwheel to operate. And currently, there are over half-a-million games on the Apple appstore, with no real plan to archive or save any of them.
It’s one thing to strip out and archive the code for a game, but the hardware these games were played on mattered, it could affect the timing and structure of the game. While some institutions, like the University of Michigan, have a large collection of playable game consoles and machines, the larger challenge will be archiving the specs of the architecture and framework that all games fit within. Otherwise, preserved game software code will become just a dry set of data, with no context and no real way to observe how they looked and felt when played.
Another challenge is collecting and creating a common language for all this Metadata, a shared dictionary of terms so this massive amount of data can take on some kind of uniformity as databases grow. To that end, he talked about;
https://gamecip.soe.ucsc.edu/about – A project to allow the general public to weigh in and create metatags for the thousands of games still in need of data collection.
For me, one of the interesting things about both these talks is the need for academics to work with the fan community. Like old movies that a studio has lost the original negative to, games have passionate fans and collectors. The entire Cabrinety collection being ingested into the Stanford Digital Repository was gathered by one passionate amateur, Stephen M. Cabrinety.
Or crossover efforts between academics and amateurs, like The Game Metadata and Citation Project (GAMECIP) a multi-year IMLS-funded project that allows gamers and enthusiasts to help build the common vocabulary needed to archive and tag games for future access.
And, finally, like movies and television shows, once upon a time, there were those, including the content creators, that dismissed the need to archive and protect these aspects of our popular culture. Computer and Videogames are reflections of society and their preservation is as important as any other media that can help us understand who we are.
AMIA 2015 Conference Wrap-Up is a 3 part article series written by Danny Kuchuck. To read Part 2, please click here.