Preserving video game history can be a tricky affair as time marches on and older games become unplayable. A game preservation organization recently restored lost artwork from forgotten games with the unlikely aid of a Twitter bot.
@gifs_bot is a Twitter bot that post images from the GIFs Galore CD-ROM, a massive collection of images released in 1992. On February 6th, the bot tweeted out an image from a Philips CD-i game called StarTribes: Myth of the Dragon Lord, which was in development but never released. The image caught the attention of the host of video game podcast Your Favorite Game, who noted that it looked like an early version of a game called Laser Lords. Following up on this lead, Video Game History Foundation founder and director Frank Cifaldi scoured the GIFs Galore CD-ROM for more information about the game.
The process was complicated by the sheer amount of random images on the disc.“They’re not organized in any way that would make it obvious they’re games or anything, it’s like animals, sci-fi, stuff,” Cifaldi told Kotaku via Twitter DM. “Pictures of Christina Applegate and Bart Simpson next to lost video game history.” Through a lot of searching, Cifaldi managed to recover more lost images of the forgotten game.
Cifaldi set out to learn more about StarTribes and why it was never released. StarTribes had some coverage in the 1990 Winter Consumer Electronics Show and some magazines, but although it was “coming soon” according to to an advertisement, it never saw a final release. In a blog post outlining the search process Cifaldi speculates that the game’s development fell victim to financial woes, citing a 1990 Boston Globe article stating that developer Spinnaker Software “expects to post an operating loss in the third quarter March 31 and will undertake several cost reductions in response to weakness in demand for consumer software.”
Cifaldi found other interesting things on the disc as well. After spending more time sorting through the GIFs Galore CD-ROM, Cifaldi noticed a picture of a dinosaur drawn in the distinctive pixel style of artist Jim Sachs.
An early version of the dinosaur could be found in an image from the Commodore 64 game Time Crystal. The project would be reworked into an unfinished Nintendo Entertainment System version featuring the power glove accessory. Footage from YouTube channel Gaming Historian showed the dinosaur bounding across the screen in a demo version of Time Crystal. Having located the source of the dinosaur, Cifaldi restored the creature’s sprite and brought back a literal video game dinosaur.
Cifaldi’s restoration of StarTribes: Myth of the Dragon Lord’s promotion images and Time Crystal’s dinosaur can be attributed to his sleuthing and hard work, but they were spawned by @gifs_bot’s random tweet. With countless images on the GIFs Galore CD-ROM, the bot might help archivists find even more lost work.