Missing Links

(artwork by Eleanor Snippy)

Here Lie The Games I Once Loved
By Pierre Corbinais

Thousands of video games are born every week. Big games, small games, AAA games, jam games, computer games, console games, mobile games...all kind of games. But how many video games die in those same weeks? We don't know, because most of the time we don't even notice. Video games don't die when there's no one to play them; they die when there's nothing left to play. When the links pointing to them only lead to addresses not found and internal server errors, and when there's no one to put them back online.  

Big commercial games don't die easily. Even if they generally have a short and successful lifespan, they keep on living through the cartridges or CDs they're engraved on, through strong and reliable servers, through ports, through abandonware communities, through emulation. Tiny alternative games are much more fragile. A server crash, a broken hard drive, a web player update, and they could be lost forever. If they're lucky, their legacy will subsist through screenshots, reviews, video playthroughs... If they're not, well, they'll only live in their players' memories.

Having reviewed small indie games for six years now, I've witnessed a lot of deaths. They weren't unfinished prototypes but fully fleshed-out games, most of the time from game jams. They were out there in the wild wild web just one minute before and then they were gone, leaving only a broken link. Sometimes, their creators don't even know and may never know without a disappointed player waving at them. Sometimes they do know, but hadn't been careful enough to keep the original files, or are unable to update the build for the new web player. Most of the time, however, and this is the saddest part, they just don't care. The leading cause of death for small indie game isn't server crash – it's abandonment.

Why wouldn't they care? One can imagine a lot of reasons. Maybe they think no one will notice, that this game was created years ago and that it didn't have much success even then. Maybe they're ashamed, because this game reminds them of the crappy developer they think they used to be. Maybe they moved on, and have much more important game projects to focus on. Maybe they're just lazy. Maybe they never find the time. Maybe they think resurrecting this old project isn't worth the hassle.

But it IS worth it. Those broken links are the missing links between the aspiring game developer they were and the person they are today. A step forward. The witness of a precise mindset and skill-level. However great and successful a developer's latest game might be, it cannot be more important than all the previous games that led them to make it, least of all their very first one. If not for their creators, such games should be kept alive for their players. Those from the past, whom they shaped in their own tiny way, and those from the future, who may be interested.  

Some dead games don't stand a chance to be brought back to life, because their files are irremediably lost, or for much sadder reasons. But some do, and I really hope their creators will take the time to give those games a second chance, and a third, and a fourth. Of all media, video games are the most vulnerable to obsolescence, but it doesn't have to be that way, and even the tiniest creations should be given a shot at eternity.

In memory of games I once played and now cannot, I erect this tiny graveyard.
Here lie twenty games I loved.

Minotaur China Shop, Blurst, November 2008

Web player updates can be deadly, even for a brave, strong, brutal and yet delicate minotaur. On December 3rd, Minotaur China Shop passed away, along with his brothers Time Donkey, Jetpack Brontosaurus and Off-Road Velociraptor Safari. May they rest in peace in the Heaven of weird-animals-doing-stuff-they-are-not-really-supposed-to.

Hell is Other People, George Buckenham, October 2009

In Hell is Other People, players were trying to shoot down their predecessor's ghosts, thus writing the smooth moves that their own ghosts would repeat ad infinitum. An Unity update made the game impossible to play, but its server is still up and running, and it's sad to think that the ghosts are still stuck in this hell, waiting to face someone that will never come.

Waiting for Godot, Mike & Jeff Rosenthal, November 2009

Waiting for Godot (later renamed Waiting for Grodoudou due to a cease-and-desist letter) had many fine qualities, but patience was definitely his greatest strength. Being endless, one can say he was even more patient than the Beckett play from which he borrowed his name. Endless, however, doesn't mean eternal: The game died from a Unity update, and Godot Grodoudou didn't even show up at his funeral.

We the Giants, Peter Groenwig, December 2009

Them the giants weren't that big, but they were very wise. They went extinct on June 11th, 2013, leaving behind them words full of wisdom, such as “Love yourself before you venture to love another,” “Don't fart while sneezing,” ”Use old ketchup bottles to squeeze pancake mix onto the frying pan,” “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start,” and “Don't die in vain.”

Hey Baby, Suyin Looui, June 2010

Graduate of the School of Hard Knocks, Hey Baby had her very own way to deal with catcalling, and not a very gentle one. She took care of hundreds of street creeps with her machine gun, engraving their obnoxious one-liners on their tombstones as a reminder of their dorkiness. She left the World a better place, fulfilling many players' fantasies.

Darkfate, Kevin Soulas, February 2010

Darkfate was dark, but not grim. Linear, but not boring. Complex, but not far-fetched. Generous to a fault, he made every minute of his half-hour playthrough count, telling us a story of hope, time-travel and regrets. Suffering from chronic amnesia, Darkfate's protagonist might not have remembered the time we spent with him, but we'll never forget any of his four pixels.

Cow Clicker, Ian Bogost, July 2010

Born on July 21st, 2010, Cow Clicker met its doom soon after its first birthday when its creator cruelly abducted all of the cattle. Now the barns stay empty, Zynga's future in jeopardy, and the satire lost, but the clickers will always remember their beloved stargrazer and will keep clicking 'til the cows come home. Ironically of course.

Tiny Robot, Armel Gibson, Novembre 2010

Armel Gibson's first game, Tiny Robot, died after his host shut down, and the deficient external drive containing his sources wasn't able to save him. He was known for his dark setting and his character's cute jumping pose. At the funeral, Armel Gibson swore he would make more games in memory of the little robot, and thus he did.  

Rock Paper Scissors, Àngel Quijada Àlvarez, Mars 2011

Created for the mini Ludum Dare 25 whose theme was “The Worst Game I Have Ever Made,” Rock Paper Scissors was a failure since it was actually pretty OK. It was a game about memories, old toys, childhood, and how having fun was simpler back then. Now all we have left is the memory of it, and that awesome screenshot that pits a LEGO cosmonaut against a two-headed monster.

The Child, Christopher “Jack” Nielsen, May 2011

Born on May 1st after 48 hours of intense labor pain, The Child had a brilliant future ahead of him: An episodic series, filled with terror and mystery. But fate decided otherwise, and while we were still waiting for episode one, episode zero passed away peacefully in his father's arms, quickly followed by his younger brother Escapology.

Mountain, Thomas Purnell, December 2011

Many died in the Mountain, bringing light where their body fell and shouting their last words to the world. Words of advice: “Don't even go near those spikes.” Words of sadness: “Got lost :(“  Words of exaltation: “GERONIMO!” And words of anger: “Shit.” As for the Mountain, it left in silence, and now there is only darkness.

The adventures of Glowy Cuberton, Zed, February 2012

Glowy Cuberton only had a couple of sprites, but he went on many adventures and experimented with many gameplays. Platformer, tactical shooter, break-out-like...no genre was too hard for him. This squared gentleman is now lost somewhere on a memory stick, and is probably living more adventures on his own.

Dead Balls, Lee Petty, Drew Skillman, Alex Vaughan, Bill Gahr, Patrick Connor, April 2012

A literal interpretation of Peter Molydeux's tweet “Survival Horror combined with Bowling,” Dead Balls was identified in 2012 as a victim of the Molyjam website's catastrophic server issue,  which caused 87 young games to meet an early and unfortunate end. He's probably in Hell now, enjoying a bloody bowling game with Satan and his devils.

Whistle Wave, Stewart Hogarth, July 2012

The loss of a video game is always sad; the loss of a young game developer is a tragedy. Whistle Wave will probably never be back online since its creator passed away on September 15th, 2015, from a congenital heart disease. But even if his sweet whistling game isn't available anymore, Stewart Hogarth can still be remembered through his other creations: I Am Level, Ducky Fuzz, iON Bond, and Sid the Snake.

Adrift – A real time castaway simulator, Tom Campbell, September 2012

Put to sea with neither sail nor engine, this frail skiff was condemned to drift nights and days in the middle of nowhere, with the player as her only companion. After years of inspirational sky-watching and relaxing not-gaming, Adrift peacefully sank in the arms of the ocean, “her only friend, her bitterest foe,” and probably would have wanted it that way.

Ultimate Evil King, Marcus Horn, October 2012

Born on October 28th, 2012, during the first zero hour game jam, Ultimate Evil King lived a short but fulfilling life beheading his loyal subjects, when he wasn't enslaving them. He passed away with no heir and will be regretted by none of his vassals. He will however be missed by his players who enjoyed his simplicity and his silliness.

Jumping Rocks Jump, Pierre Corbinais, January 2013

Jumping Rocks Jump died just like he lived: Without anyone giving a single fuck. Its creator cared so little that he created it in three hours and gave it a randomly generated name. Jumping Rocks Jump will however be remembered by its 14 players as “that crappy game with the talking rocks that couldn't even jump.”

Utopia of a Tyrant, Ahmet Kamil Keleş, June 2013

Utopia was brought to life in Istanbul's Taksim Gazi Park a few days after the government's violent response to the 2013 peaceful protests. Along with its comrades from the GeziJAM, it tried to raise awareness of the police brutality in the country and, hopefully, succeeded. The Gezijam's website was taken down a few months later for unknown reasons.

Chain Game, Copenhagen Game Collective et al., September 2013

While most small indie games are raised by couples or single parents, Chain Game had more than fifty mothers and fathers to take care of him. Everybody added their own piece to the quilt and the one known as “the Mario Party of the people” lived happily doing what he loved the most: Entertaining 4 players simultaneously through a collection of button-mashing mini-games.

Gaming Cockroach, Jonathan Ellena, February 2014

Friend to the friendless, Gaming Cockroach dedicated his whole life to raising awareness within the game industry of the importance of making games accessible for insects, showing how a simple game of Tetris could be a hassle for the tiny six-legged creatures. Truly one of a kind, he was loved by people from all crawls of life and will be deeply regretted by them.