Brighten your November morning: 900 in-browser arcade classics added to the Internet Archive

Productivity nosedive predicted

For all the conflict between console gamers and their PC brethren, kids today have never had it so good.

In our day we had to gather in darkened shops to play video games housed in wooden cabinets that mercilessly gobbled quarters.

This archaic form of gaming is almost lost to humanity, but survives thanks to a few retro stores, the odd extremely well-stocked basement, and a thriving emulator software scene.

If the seeking out a preserved arcade or installing an emulator and ROMs sounds like too much hard work, you can today thank the Internet Archive for making 900 antique computer games conveniently playable within your web browser.

The titles in the Internet Arcade date from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, when the increasing power of PCs and consoles took over and people learned to play in their homes, rather than going to the shops to do so. Today, they look hopelessly primitive, but they are a piece of history that the Internet Archive thought it worthwhile to conserve.

"Obviously, a lot of people are going to migrate to games they recognize and ones that they may not have played in years. They’ll do a few rounds, probably get their asses kicked, smile, and go back to their news sites," said curator Jason Scott in a blog post this week.

"A few more, I hope, will go towards games they’ve never heard of, with rules they have to suss out, and maybe more people will play some of these arcades in the coming months than the games ever saw in their 'real' lifetimes. My hope is that a handful, a probably tiny percentage, will begin plotting out ways to use this stuff in research, in writing, and remixing these old games into understanding their contexts."

The games are run using the JavaScript MESS emulator that executes the titles' original code within the browser (Firefox works best, Scott said), using the keyboard for controls and inserting free coins. You can either run the game in a window or go to full screen.

Scott acknowledged that a few of the 900 games aren't entirely playable under emulation: the controls are an issue for some keyboards and there's little in the way of guidance as to which keys do what – you have to experiment – plus vector graphics games are glitchy, and scaling is broken for some titles (Tron in this hack's experience). Sound, or the lack of it sometimes, is also an issue.

But it's still a wonderful treasury of games that some of us grew up with, and judging from the sound of keyboard hammering here in Vulture West more than a few of our staff have been reliving their youth with the likes of Golden Axe, Pengu, and Frogger. ®

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