Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Digital Preservation hits home

  Sorry for not posting for a bit.  I have a conundrum, and its name is digital preservation.

  First, some background.  I just finished a series on Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS; the only detail that I left out was that I had purchased it digitally, along with a number of other eShop hidden gems, like Steamworld Dig, some of the Guild02 games like Bugs vs. Tanks, and a score of virtual console games.  I expended real money, money that I worked hard for, to play games that are by and large good.  

  I would like to retain access to these games, much as I currently have for the DS, Wii, Gameboy Advance and Gamecube games up on my shelf, and much as I have for earlier 3DS titles (Fire Emblem: Awakening, Castlevania, Resident Evil: Revelations).  As long as everything just works as intended, I, and I’m sure others, can ignore the question of how.  As long as everything just works…

  My 3DS has encountered a technical fault, and encountered it just after my three month warranty extension ran out (it was purchased in February 2012).  After exhaustive Googling of the problem, I found at least confirmation that others have had the problem before – it’s a loose fuse.  There’s even a wiki to detail how to fix it, and good news, as loose fuses are easy fixes … after one has managed to completely disassemble the 3DS in a 22 step process handling circuit boards small enough to require tweezers.  Then reassembling the device! 

  Nintendo didn’t build the 3DS, or any of its hardware, to make tampering inside easy, and I respect their reasons why.  Any attempt to do this myself runs the risk of completely scrapping the device, and with it the only system on which I can currently run 3DS software, including the boxed 3DS software up on my shelf with the classics.  I could still send it in and pay Nintendo for the work – that starts at $85 plus shipping.  That is already half the cost of a new device.  Also, I live in Ontario, meaning that my service center is in Vancouver (Nintendo of Canada – sheesh).   

  After adding an extra eighty or so dollars Canadian onto the price, it really isn’t any cheaper to send it in, than it would be to buy new.   Heck, I could chip in $15 more (plus tax, oh the joys of Ontario) and try out that 3DS XL.  This brings me, tangentially, to another problem – there are now some awesome looking games on the WiiU I’d like to try, and $200 or so to replace my 17 month old 3DS, when my DS Lite is happily chugging along at 6 years old, feels like a terrible drain on a hobby.

  And that is what this is for me, a hobby.  I don’t want to keep spending a fortune every 17 months, and if I did, I would game on a PC!  Isn’t the benefit of a boxed video game machine supposed to be that it just works? 

  Purchasing a new 3DS is now more or less mandatory for me, as I have a lot of money tied up into it in both digital and retail copies.  The retail copies are fine, and they will transfer over no problem, as easily as inserting the cartridge into another cartridge slot.  The digital content is the content that I need to make a move to preserve. 

  So this makes me understandably introspective.  I never liked the MS/Sony conceit of accounts, though I do experiment with Steam.  Accounts are a frank truth, at least; purchasers do not own the content that they purchase.  As long as everything works, then there's no difference, but as soon as they online system drops for maintainence or hackers the purchaser loses all of the content hosted remotely that they purchased.  I’ve been dealing with computers since my dad caved in and started sharing his computing hobby with me, back before preschool.  Also, I’m of the 1986 crowd, so before preschool was a good deal before my fixation on Mario and Zelda, just for clarity.  I can take responsibility for my own digital content, I don’t need accounts and high cost servers to manage it for me, and I don’t want to pay monthly to access it.

  I want to own my content.  I want all of the rights and privileges that I used to have on the NES and SNES, and Gameboy, not because the games were so much better than PC knock-offs of Battleship and Pac-Man (they were), but because the rights are better.  I acknowledge my responsibility to back up my own content, I know what that means and I stay current on it.  Downloading eShop games almost means the same thing.  I have a responsibility to back up my own content, and I have the rights (de facto, if not for any other reason) to save the content onto any save system that works in Windows today.  Even the supreme conceit of Nintendo, that I must play Nintendo games on a Nintendo system, I can acknowledge.  I see why they did that, anyway, and DS/3DS games would look terrible on any other display because of the screen cropping.  But Nintendo still has its DRM to make sure I don’t try it. 

  Nintendo has released a data transfer tool, that takes all of the data from on system (a DSi, or a 3DS) and transfers it to a valid other system (a new 3DS; there’s a whole separate one for a Wii/WiiU transfer).  If I wait too long, I can’t run the 3DS, and the content becomes trapped.

  My 3DS still works today.  I can still get my Animal Crossing: New Leaf fix, and I can still look forward to Zelda: A Link Between Worlds in a few months.  I have precious little extra, and it looks like I had better forgo Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, to say nothing of a WiiU, until better days roll around.  Even at this, I will probably get over it.  What can I really do, besides experiment in cheap emulation?  But I’m still upset.  This represents a good $200 extra out of pocket, and would have paid for a lot of great games. 

  It’s left me wondering what other means to preserving access to content might be out there.  The door to PC gaming is still wide open, and the Playstation’s account systems have been restored, eventually.  The overly drawn out affair is something I now have all too much sympathy for.  Maybe Sony’s way is the correct way. Don’t forget, when the network was hacked, gamers were all screwed together!  Nintendo’s way doesn’t have that central point to attack, but each device will fail in its own time, and this is much sooner than it had any right to be.

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