User:JimmyBlackwing/Sourcing video game articles
In my experience, finding reliable sources is the single most challenging aspect of writing a video game-related article. Several factors have created this problem. First, the mass interest in video games coincided with the early years of the Internet, and so important video game coverage was put online—only to be scattered by decades of website redesigns and closures. Second, video games' long-standing reputation as a niche pastime has meant that, until recently, little effort has been made to preserve historical materials related to the medium. Third, very few historians have cared to study and document video games. In short, you probably won't be able to read up on Lufia & the Fortress of Doom at your local library.
This puts WikiProject Video games in a position very different from that of, for example, WikiProject Military history. If you plan to write a video game-related article, you won't be able to rely on archivists and historians to dig up and parse reliable sources for you. Nine times out of ten, you'll have to do it yourself. And that involves learning how to use the Internet for more than superficial research. Boatloads of online and print sources are out there—if you know how to find them. This essay will give you, in less than half an hour, what it took me over five years to learn about sourcing video game articles.
- 1 What kind of source is it?
- 2 Selecting a research tool
- 3 When all else fails
- 4 Good luck
What kind of source is it?
Are you trying to find material for a game, a company or a concept? Is your subject old or recent? Do you want a contemporaneous or a retrospective source? Should it cover cultural impact or the inner workings of a company? Without specifics, you'll have no efficient method for locating your source, and you'll be reduced to aimless Googling.
Let's take an example. Suppose that I want to write an article about Escape from Monkey Island. I start by looking for contemporaneous sources for the Development section. The game was released in 2000, and I know that GameSpot and IGN covered games then. A quick search of those sites nets me several news stories and previews—but I need more. IGN links to a site dedicated to Escape from Monkey Island (the URL is unfortunately misspelled), and I use the Wayback Machine to retrieve it. This gives me numerous interviews with the team, and a hub for all news related to the game—including links to other long-dead sites, which I couldn't have found otherwise. I fill out the Development section by looking up issues of print magazines, such as Computer Gaming World, from 1999 and 2000. As for reviews, I know that Metacritic existed in 2000, so I check its entry for Escape from Monkey Island and Wayback any reviews that have gone dead.
Simply put, if you know what you need, you can narrow down the research tools that you use to find it. If I'm working on an article about a 1995 video game, I don't look for contemporaneous material on IGN and GameSpot; I pick up an issue of Next Generation or Electronic Gaming Monthly. Similarly, official sites can help you locate contemporaneous articles about a game, but this doesn't work for games released before the Internet. (On the other hand, I might be able to find magazine scans related to a pre-Internet game on a retrospective fansite.) Determine what you're looking for first and the means for finding it become clearer. Which brings us to the next topic.
Selecting a research tool
Once you've identified the type of source you need, it's time to find a research tool. What follows is a list of the research tools I've found and/or used in my time on Wikipedia, along with advice on how to locate your own.
The largest-scale online research tool for video games, and the best place to begin your hunt. Type your subject into the search box and hope for the best.
If your search doesn't return anything, don't despair. Manually check the magazine listings for issues around the date you need. For example, if you're looking for the Electronic Gaming Monthly review of Dino Crisis, you can expect it to be in an issue near that game's North American release date. Drop a polite request for the review, along with information about which issue might contain it, on the magazine owner's talk page. Don't forget to browse the reference library's list of books and strategy guides for material related to the game.
Before you ask anyone for a scan, though, check the Online print archive (OPA). Magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly, Computer Gaming World and PC Gamer often posted their print material online, only to take it down later. That problem is solved by the Wayback Machine. The OPA is a collection of Wayback links to the reviews and site indexes of print magazines. From there, you can find a direct link to the Electronic Gaming Monthly review of Dino Crisis for the Dreamcast. However, let's say you want GamePro's Dino Crisis review, which isn't in the magazine listings or linked directly from the OPA. Go to the GamePro index in the OPA, click on the 1996-2006 review archive, and browse until you find the link you need.
Two side notes. Some of the OPA's indexes (such as Computer Games Magazine's article archive) are also great for digging up previews and other non-review material. And, if you're looking for a PC game review from between 1980 and 1995, don't forget to check BOZ's amazing Dragon archive, which isn't included in the reference library search engine.
Alternative magazine libraries
If the reference library doesn't have the magazine(s) you need, you aren't out of options. Sites dedicated to preserving old magazines are on the rise:
- Amiga Magazine Rack (Amiga, Amstrad, Commodore 64, DOS, Game Gear, Mega Drive, NES, SNES, ZX Spectrum, etc.)
- Probably the best online archive of magazines related to '80s and early '90s PC games, but it contains a few articles about console games from that period as well. Type in a game's title and you'll be given a comprehensive list of the magazines that covered it, often with scans. Even if scans aren't available, the issue numbers and dates can help you track down sources in other libraries.
- The Computer Magazine Archives (Amiga, Amstrad, Commodore 64, DOS, Mac/Apple II, MSX, Windows, ZX Spectrum, etc.)
- During the last few years, the Internet Archive has been compiling searchable, cover-to-cover PDFs of old computer magazines. This library overlaps a bit with the Amiga Magazine Rack—so unscanned pages from the AMR can be manually tracked down here. For example, the AMR has an unscanned Zero preview of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge in its database, which I located in The Computer Magazine Archives without much trouble.
- SMS Power (Game Gear, Mark III, Master System, OMV, SC-3000, SF-7000, SG-1000)
- By far the most intuitive magazine archive related to early Sega. Simply browse the game directory and select a title—every relevant review and article in the archive will be displayed. Also a good resource for manuals.
- Game and Gamer Magazines (Atari, DOS, Dreamcast, GameCube, Genesis, Intellivision, Mega Drive, NES, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Saturn, Windows, Xbox, etc.)
- Another Internet Archive project, but this time specifically focused on video game magazines. Although its coverage is spotty, it contains issues from important magazines such as Game Informer, PC Zone and Official Xbox Magazine—and each one is searchable. (GamesTM issues are also available, but they've yet to be placed in the proper directory.)
- Digital Press Library (Atari 2600, Atari ST, Commodore 64, etc.)
- A solid collection of (mostly) '80s magazines related to Atari consoles and computers. Overlaps a bit with the Internet Archive's libraries. Unfortunately, its PDFs don't appear to be searchable, so go with the Internet Archive if you have the option.
- Computer Gaming World Museum (Amiga, DOS, Commodore 64, Mac/Apple II, Windows, etc.)
- A library of every Computer Gaming World issue, from 1981 to 2006. It's an incredible tool that I've turned to many times. The archive's one key flaw is that only the first 10 years of magazines are searchable. This can make researching '90s and '00s games a slog; but the sources are worth it.
- Game Developer Magazine Complete Archives (DOS, Dreamcast, GameCube, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Saturn, Wii, Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360, etc.)
- No other video game-related magazine was as technical or in-depth as Game Developer (1994-2013). Because it doesn't focus on a specific platform, you can read about the production design of Spyro the Dragon in one issue and the development of Half-Life in another. This makes it hard to predict the contents of each issue, but, luckily, they're all searchable.
- DLH's Commodore Archive (Amiga, Commodore 64)
- A regularly updated archive of Commodore magazines, whose coverage overlaps heavily with that of the Internet Archive. However, DLH's library has an unrivaled assortment of books and manuals related to Commodore games and systems—it's truly incredible. The go-to for anyone working in the Commodore field.
- Retromags (All systems)
- A large but unintuitive collection of various magazines, with many gaps in coverage. It's a pain to use, particularly because most of the files are in the comic book archive format (readable with kthoom); but it contains magazines that are impossible to access elsewhere. Consider it a last resort.
Other online resources
These are the best research tools I've found online that are not A) dedicated to scanning print magazines or B) listed in the OPA:
- Everyone knows IGN. The site's been covering games since the late '90s, and, unlike most other sites of its kind, it rarely loses content during redesigns. It has a huge number of contemporaneous and retrospective features. A solid starting point for most video game-related articles.
- Another household name from the late '90s onward. What you might not know is that a lot of its best content is available only through the Wayback Machine. For example: Behind the Games, Columns, Review archive, Designer Diaries, History of, Game Index, Desslock's RPG News, The Greatest Games of All Time and the original news archive (alt). Or just browse the different incarnations of their old features archive. (Note: GameSpot sometimes used a scroll-and-select menu, which is now broken. To access the articles in it, view the page source, search for a key word and manually copy/paste the relevant link into the Wayback Machine.)
- A site that's fallen far since its glory days in the early '00s. Even more so than GameSpot, a lot of GameSpy's best material is in the Wayback Machine. For example: their Interviews, 20 Questions, Dev Diaries, Hall of Fame and Dev Corner. All of those archives end around 2004; later articles remain available on their site.
- This site has become pretty obscure since its closure in 2001, but it's hard to match as a source for PC game news from 1996-2001. At one time, it was a chief rival of GameSpot. Check out its various news, previews and features archives.
- News archives
- LexisNexis, Questia, Highbeam, NewsBank and similar services provide searchable archives of general interest newspapers and magazines. They're irreplaceable research tools, especially for articles on older (pre-2000s) subjects. If you don't have a subscription to one of them, request help from someone who does at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Video games or Wikipedia:The Wikipedia Library. Alternatively, grab one of the free accounts at Wikipedia:TWL/Journals.
- Two great tools for filling in your sources. Type in a few variations of your search (e.g. "halo combat evolved", "halo bungie", "halo xbox 2001") to maximize your results. If Google doesn't provide a book preview, you can generally access the source elsewhere online or through a library.
- Video game manuals and other pack-in materials are invaluable sources, and Replacementdocs has the biggest digitized collection of them anywhere. It's not complete, but it's close enough.
Finding subject-specific tools
After you've exhausted the generalized resources above, you should look for subject-specific tools. These can be official or fan sites, enthusiast forums or even personal blogs. What's key is that they provide a hub for information on a given topic. For example, fansite The International House of Mojo is the best subject-specific research tool for LucasArts adventure games, and the same could be said about SonicRetro for Sonic the Hedgehog games. Blogger "Pix" runs a site dedicated to Origin Systems games, where he often posts magazine scans related to that subject. Sierra Gamers is rife with old magazine scans that cover Sierra Entertainment games. Hallfiry's Blizzard fan page contains a hoard of print material. The archived official site of a company like Ion Storm is an unending treasure trove of information.
It's usually not too difficult to find tools like these. Try a few Google searches likely to bring up what you need (e.g. "origin systems magazine scans", "lucasarts fansite") and go from there. With official or fan sites that have gone offline, things are more difficult. Google only brings up results for currently-online material, so you'll have to do detective work with the Wayback Machine to find the original sites. Look for dead URLs on fan forums or on news sites like IGN—places like that typically link to official sites whenever they're created, and to fan sites whenever they do something noteworthy.
When all else fails
You've tried all of the above, but you still don't have enough material. Worse, tools like fan sites and Google Books have turned up mentions of key sources—but you can't access them. Basically, you're screwed. Being in this situation has led me and/or other editors to desperate measures and dirty tricks. That's what you'll be learning here, in a Breaking the Magician's Code segment that might upset some people.
Beg for it
Drop a random request at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Video games. Cold post on a fan forum asking for help. Ask (or even email) a Wikipedian who once cited the source you need. For example, I managed to get the manual to British Open Championship Golf only after a protracted begging session on a Looking Glass Studios fan site; and I got the Computer Gaming World review of System Shock from a kind stranger on Wikipedia, who'd cited that issue of CGW on an unrelated subject years before.
Many a sourcing crisis can be solved by buying the material you need. For example, I was forced to do this when I discovered that Flight Unlimited's manual and strategy guide, which weren't available online, contain swaths of critical information about the game's development. I've also grabbed an issue of PC Gamer US, and Richard Rouse III's book Game Design: Theory and Practice, to access Looking Glass coverage. Check for listings of the source(s) you need on eBay and Amazon.com, or even, as a last resort in extreme cases, Craigslist.
Google it—for hours
Most people don't venture past page five of a Google search. When things are really dire, I've found myself past page 30, 40 or 50. Mindless Googling is, in general, hugely inefficient; but it can be the only option. I used it to cite the Reception section of Robbing the Cradle, in one of many examples.
The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad option
It involves BitTorrent, and it's always an awful idea. Even bringing it up invites legal disaster. Some editors have done it; I don't recommend it, unless you have a fair use defense so bulletproof that it could survive in court.
Solid sources exist for just about any subject you can imagine, but there's no single way to find them. The above is what I've learned about the process so far. I'll be updating this page whenever I discover or remember more sourcing tools. Hopefully, what you've read here will make sourcing video game articles easier for you in the future. Good luck. JimmyBlackwing (talk) 17:12, 11 August 2014 (UTC)