Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

The Ending of Large ROM Sites Should Garner A Different Response

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With the recent fall of some major rom sites, and others pulling their own hosted files offline as a response, I’ve seen a somewhat trending reaction from the community that concerns me.  My peers are avidly going out and downloading entire collections of games and files from these sites to have on hand should we see the fall of the easy to access rom site.  Not only do I feel this will never happen, but this response is flawed and wrong.  The response you should be having is to start looking into ways to back up your own games.  It’s relatively cheap, free if you don’t need to backup carts, and it will allow you to never worry about losing another game again whether it’s damaged, stolen, or subject to the rare chip/disc rot.  Oh yeah, and it’s also not illegal.

A Little Background

Just under a month ago, web site Torrent Freak reported that Nintendo sued loveroms.com and loveRETRO.co over having open access to copyrighted material.  For those not familiar, Torrent Freak refers to itself as “a publication dedicated to bringing the latest news about copyright, privacy, and everything related to filesharing.”  The web sites in question were owned by an individual, Jacob Mathias, who ran his own Arizona-based LLC that focused on these file sharing sites.  Those who work in rom sites specifically tend to not carry certain games and files specifically for fear that something like this would happen.  While I’d never been on the site myself, the fact that these sites had direct download links to a myriad of roms (files that represent a cartridge based video game) that included Nintendo’s prime catalog is a big mistake.  The one or two sites I used to frequent would pull down specific roms that were re-released such as Virtual Console games and more recently the “Classic Edition” line of Nintendo’s library.  This other site also would pull down any game that the publisher had requested, so if you went to most Capcom titles there would be a note that the game was removed due to the publisher’s request.  Finally that other site would not host BIOS files, which are proprietary software in certain consoles that are required to get certain emulators working, which it was revealed Mathias’ sites also hosted.  Put all of these factors together and these sites had massive bulls-eyes on them for just this kind of response.  Nintendo even makes it a point in the suit to call it out, “The LoveROMs and LoveRETRO websites are among the most open and notorious online hubs for pirated video games.”

The fall of a big name rom site is nothing new.  As a site that hosts pirated or copyrighted material grows, the owner has to balance what it does about the increased traffic and the items it’s hosting.  Get too big and someone will rush to take you down.  What is significant is that as a response a few other rom sites took it upon themselves to remove the links to rom, ISO (ISO are optical disc based games like PS1 CD-ROM and PS2 DVD-ROM media), and BIOS files on their own sites.  One site I knew and had used in the past was emuparadise.me, which has now removed all links to games.  I find this significant because Emuparadise was often referenced by friends, comments on my YouTube videos, and even web sites as a safe place to get quality games.  Additionally I know that the person who runs the site follows me on Twitter and often reminds me when I cover a rare or licensed game doomed to never see re-release that it can often be found at Emuparadise.  Obviously this is no more because the site has since stopped hosting games.  I know there are plenty of rom sites that are up and running today, not to mention the random uploads to sites like Mega and shared on message boards, and of course the good old torrent will never go away.  That said, it’s possible that in time it will be much harder to get your hands on a game file, should you need it for emulation or even flash carts.

So What Should You Do?

In the house I run a Plex server that has ripped versions of more than 1,000 DVDs and Blu Rays, it also houses hundreds of music CDs, and of course personal photos.  Anytime you have this much data it is important to keep the files safe.  There’s a lot of work to building, ripping (extracting contents from optical media), and categorizing these files that you don’t want to have to redo so backups are crucial.  Some use a RAID array for their hard drives, which basically has you putting twice the storage in to create a redundancy in case anything gets corrupted or lost.  The same money and secondary backup can be purchased, cloned, and merely put in a safe place as a backup as well.  At this point in history, it’s best you do the same to your video games.  I have personally backed up most of my collection to the point that with a few exceptions I’m using backup solutions to play all of my games.  It makes your life easier, it reduces wear on these aging consoles, and you never have to worry about the safety of the master (the actual game disc/cart itself).

Carts can be a bit of a pain, but for most of the big systems there will be a cart dumper you can purchase online.  You will usually get a device with one (or more) cartridge ports depending on the console, a connection (usually USB), and some software to rip the cart.  These will almost always be able to output to binary (.bin) and other popular formats utilized by emulators or flash carts because the people who make them know what you want to use them for.  I’ve also heard a great catch-all device is the Retro Game Freak that is sold in Japan because it can rip and dump most of the portable and home consoles from the 80s and 90s, including TurboGrafx-16/PC-Engine.  I have also heard the Retron 5 can do a version of this, but that console uses unlicensed emulators and can be damaging to carts due to its tight grip on games, so I don’t like suggesting Hyperkin’s Retron 5 to anyone.  Either way, if you want to rip game cartridges you will need to find an appropriate device and hook it up.  I personally have one that rips NES, SNES, Master System, and Genesis via USB, which mostly serves my purpose.  I hope to find an N64 solution in the future, but keep in mind carts don’t die nearly as easily as optical discs (CD/DVD) so I don’t worry as much about them.

Those that want to back up optical software don’t need to look very hard, there are tons of solutions online and many of them are free.  My personal favorite is ImgBurn (click here to go to the official web site, don’t trust a simple Google search on anything these days) and it’s completely free.  Keep in mind developer Lightening UK does accept donations and if you get some real use out of the program like I have it’s best to throw them a few bones as thanks and continued support.  Either way, whether you use ImgBurn or some other software, backing up a CD-ROM game or DVD-ROM game is incredibly easy.  You will need either a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive on your computer, depending on which you want to back up, and remember that DVD-ROM drives can read CD-ROM as well.  If you don’t have one, an external quality DVD-ROM drive can be had for just about $30-$50 at most big box retailers, do your research.  After that it’s pretty much plug-and-play to make image files from your games.  It’s important to back the files up in a way that is best for all purposes and by that I mean to make a file that can be used in an emulator, modded console, or to create a copy of the disc.  CD-ROM games often contain data on the first track and then several additional tracks containing Red Book Audio media that is streamed in the game, you can quickly run into trouble if you don’t back it up properly.  Your best bet for any of these CD-ROM games, which covers consoles starting with the PC-Engine CD/Turbografx CD and going all the way to the original Playstation and Saturn, use what is called “bin/cue” format.  You will most likely see this as an option to back up CD media and it works best because it just extracts the entire game to a large binary (.bin) file and then utilizes a “cue” (.cue) file to figure out how to re-create the disc for burning or other use in the future.  Aside from making an easy file that can be used to burn a copy of the disc at will, most of your emulators and modded consoles want the game in this format for ease of use so it gets you a complete version of the game in a versatile format.  Storage will be important and keep in mind each CD-ROM game can be up to 700 MB in size when extracted to bin/cue format.  I do not recommend using any compression software in the creation portion of the file, but if you want to take these bin/cue files and pop them into a .zip, .rar, or .7z file to make them smaller that’s up to you.  DVD-ROM software should always extract to an ISO file (.iso) that will be a single, umcompressed version of the entire DVD-ROM disc and like bin/cue, it’s the most useful and versatile file format for burning/cloning, emulation, and softmodded consoles.  DVD-ROM requires a lot more space, up to 4.7 GB for a single layer and as much as just over 9 GB for a dual layer disc (which games from even the PS2 generation sometimes were).  I have created a video showing how to do all of these things in ImgBurn if you’re interested, but you’ll have to adapt this if using a different piece of software.

There are exceptions, however, and certain console games just can’t be backed up on a PC with this software.  Of note, the Dreamcast, Xbox, and everything from the 360 generation and beyond can’t be backed up this way.  For the Dreamcast, you can back up discs using the console itself provided you have the broadband adapter and the correct piece of software.  Many Dreamcast consoles will run anything burned to a CD-R that’s put into it – although there was a point where Sega removed this feature – and allow you to create the backup .cdi images of the Dreamcast’s proprietary GD-ROM format.  As long as the game is less than 700 MB, .cdi files can even be burned back onto CD-ROMs and played in a Dreamcast, although that can significantly shorten the life of the console so you may want to look into ways of bypassing the optical drive completely.  The Xbox, although it used DVDs, is encrypted in a way that has never been cracked, so the only way you’re backing up those games is on a modded Xbox console.  There are many reasons to mod your Xbox, either via modchip or soft mod, and backing up your games to a hard drive is just one of those.  This is also true of following generation of the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii, which all can have failing optical drives and if you take the time to soft mod can help you.  At the same time, 360/PS3/Wii games are found in abundance, are relatively cheap, and have been kept in much better shape than older consoles so it may not be worth the work.  The 360 is especially true in this case given that you can install the games to the consoles hard drive without any modding and preserve the life of that optical drive, not to mention that an Xbox One can use backward compatibility and will download a fresh digital copy of your disc-based game so even heavily scratched or unplayable discs will work on the XB1.  Keep in mind none of these non-modded solutions removes the need to keep your disc, but the purpose of this article is to back up what you own, not pirate games or backup items you can sell off and still play.  Be responsible people.

 

Written by Fred Rojas

August 13, 2018 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Blog

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. “it’s also not illegal.”

    That depends on where you live.
    In some countries, even backing up your own stuff is considered pirating and is illegal.

    Sparky Kestrel

    August 15, 2018 at 12:56 am


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