Digital archaeology, game disassemblies and more

About SUDDENデス

SUDDENデス (that's "desu," pronounced "dayss" and used as in the phrase "Sudden Death") is a website dedicated to digital archaeology and its related topics, such as data preservation, retro hardware, and emulation.

Who are you?

Online, I go by the name Ryou (or RyogaMasaki, from old communities). I grew up with the 16- and 32-bit hardware of the 90's and my interest in video games never really escaped that era. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to call myself a gamer, as I haven't followed modern video games since the mid 2000's or so. Not that I think modern games are bad, per se, I'm just not interested in them the same way.

But 320x240 resolution and an 8 bit color palette? Now we're talking!

Like many kids back then, I loved cheat codes. I was particularly fascinated by debug modes, especially those in the original Sonic the Hedgehog games. I could zoom the camera around anywhere, finding incomplete parts of the map and breaking the engine in all sorts of creative ways. Reflecting on it, it was actually very meta: I was enjoying the software more than the game.

As the Internet entered my life around the time I entered high school, I found websites and burgeoning communities that were also interested in these technical aspects of video games. Collectively, this was the 'game hacking' scene, though perhaps this term isn't nuanced enough for the variety of research being done. Some people were interested in modifying game content (such as story text or artwork); some people wanted the content dumped out for their own use; some wanted to get around copy protection. As for myself, I stuck around the more "academic" communities, those who were interested in finding existing but unused content, comparing prototypes to final versions and understanding the context and history of a game's development.

Years later, I'm still at it.

What is Digital Archaeology?

ar·chae·ol·o·gy
the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.

I struggled for a while to define what, exactly, this hobby of mine is. 'Game hacking' isn't really accurate. For one, my interest is not limited to games; I think hidden content in spreadsheet software is just as fascinating as anything else. And while I do "hack" code, it is a byproduct of research rather than my sole focus.

Referring to what I wrote earlier, my attention was focused on the meta aspects of a piece of software: Who wrote the code? Who drew the art and composed the music? What was the software company like at the time? What happened during development that x was removed or y was changed?

To answer musings like this, research must be done using whatever resources are available, including the product itself. Being a construct, software can be deconstructed, and in doing so we may discover facts that were previously unknown. I came to associate this process with archaeology. There is an incomplete record of the past and, like an archaeologist in the field, it is necessary to chip away the dirt and rubble to find and examine hidden data within program code. These excavated bits are analyzed and restored and any findings are documented.

So I arrived at digital archaeology as the best way to describe what I do. Unfortunately, the term has already been used by real archaeologists (the ones with doctorates) to describe using modern technology in their line of work. Besides that, it's a bit long and not very catchy as a phrase. I've considered software archaeology as well, shorted to 'SoftArch,' but I'm not sure that's any better.

Until I think of something more succinct, this is what I call digital archaeology.


  • 2017.02.13 23:02 by Ryou