ININ Games: The Demand For Long-Lost Titles Could Lead To Restoration Projects

Support from the community can do wonders for preservation of classic gems.

Story Highlights

  • The state of video game preservation is far from ideal, but some publishers are fighting those odds.
  • ININ Games has revived canceled projects like Ultracore and released old classics to modern hardware.
  • We interviewed the people at ININ Games to understand their process and how they preserve titles.

Many of today’s video games come from established IPs created for arcade gaming in the 1970s-80s, and despite gaining much popularity now, the earliest iterations are now at an all-time high risk of completely vanishing. That is mostly due to the unfortunate state of video game preservation in the industry. Despite the odds, some publishers have taken it as an obligation to preserve some of those titles to the best of their abilities.

ININ Games is one of those rare few that has not only brought those old titles to the latest hardware but also scavenged canceled projects like Ultracore. It breathes longevity into the titles that are at risk of going extinct. As such, we spoke with the minds at ININ Games over an email interview and asked them various questions about the difficulties of video game preservation and how they approach recreating old titles.

Read ahead for the full interview.

The Legend of Steel Empire
The Legend of Steel Empire – via ININ Games.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and the Xbox ININvasion?
ININ: ININ is a rising publishing label for stunning retro, arcade, and indie games. In Japanese, ININ means ‘mandate’— as in, we hold the responsibility to preserve timeless gems of the past and to publish charming present-day games. We have a small and dedicated team with a huge passion for feel-good games— a love for bringing classic titles back to life while also creating future gaming gems.
The XBOX ININvasion was birthed out of our desire to make sure our catalogue is available to fans across all platforms. Choosing these 6 for the initial XBOX invasion was a no-brainer— the Cotton series (Panorama Cotton and Cotton 100%), Ultracore, IREM Collection, and Clockwork Aquario are some of our favorite retro gems, each one with specific lovable nostalgic qualities.

There aren't many publishers out there who focus on keeping the old games alive like ININ Games has been. Why do you think that is the case?
ININ: The primary factor driving any business decision is market demand, and despite the dedicated fan base and beloved communities that retro and classic games have, they still belong to a niche section of the market. Moreover, to restore and re-release an old gem, you often need to deal with strict intellectual property ownership and licensing issues. So, it’s a difficult market niche to get into and sustain, which is why we don’t see many other publishers in this part of the industry. Despite the challenges, what brings ININ to restore and re-release many iconic gems from the past is expertise in the development department, long-lasting relationships with iconic partners and licensors, and a lot, a lot of passion!
Irem Collection Volume 1
Irem Collection Volume 1 – via ININ Games.

What would you say are the most challenging aspects of developing and releasing games that adhere to the limitations of older hardware?
ININ: One of the biggest challenges in developing and releasing games that adhere to the limitations of older hardware is maintaining a game’s original feel and experiences. Older games were designed with the hardware’s limitations in mind, such as limited memory, lower-resolution graphics, and unique audio chips. These constraints often influenced the design choices for gameplay mechanics. Replicating the various nuances of old systems on modern hardware can prove to be difficult.

For instance, a notable example is Turrican and the complex Amiga Emulation. This involves tasks like replacing Kickstart, remapping keyboard input to controllers and navigating the intricacies of emulating older hardware setups.

Additionally, it’s worth considering Nolan Bushnell’s famous quote, “easy to learn, difficult to master,” in the context of older games. The “old” games often adhered to this principle, offering leaner gameplay and mechanics. Many of them introduced new genres, and there are valid reasons why genre definitions persisted until the early 2000s, when genres started to blend more and more. This evolution brought about new challenges in preserving the distinct characteristics of older games while adapting them to modern gaming expectations.

Are there particular outdated technologies or hardware constraints that present significant obstacles during the development process?
ININ: Indeed, the landscape of outdated technologies and hardware constraints is diverse and navigating them presents unique challenges during the development process. While many older technologies may seem outdated by modern standards, they aren’t necessarily excessively challenging to work with. Platforms like SNES and Mega Drive can offer a smoother experience, but it’s important to delve deeper into what “smoother experience” entails.

For example, when dealing with 32-bit and above platforms, troubleshooting becomes more complex. This complexity is particularly evident with certain hardware add-ons, such as the CD-ROM for the PC Engine or peripherals like the 32x. It’s worth noting that even platforms that generally provide a smoother experience may present complications when things don’t function seamlessly out of the box, demanding meticulous troubleshooting.

Space Invaders Forever
Space Invaders Forever – via ININ Games.

During the ININvasion announcement, it was mentioned that 'it's just the beginning.' Could you tell us a bit more about what we can expect?
ININ: ININ Games is a young publisher but has a huge portfolio overall. The Xbox ININvasion is not a one-shot – there are already several additional titles in development that we will announce at a later point.

Are there titles you wanted to bring back but couldn't due to some issue? Whether it be licensing issues with a publisher or simply the lack of original source.
ININ: People often think it’s just old games, so it cannot be that much work, but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The biggest hurdles when it comes to reviving retro titles are the costs and licensing difficulties.

We have quite a long list of names (which we cannot reveal for various reasons) that we would love to bring back, but it sometimes takes months or even years unless you find the right person who is able to make a decision. You first need to build up trust and create a detailed business case before you can even think of the development challenges that come afterward.

Usually, there’s no source code available which means that any change needs to be done in the closed binary data. That makes things much more complex as you are more or less working with a black box since you do not have the source data that gives you insights into the inner workings of the game.

Different research has been conducted to highlight the dire situation of video games 'disappearing' due to lack of preservation. As someone who has contributed to the preservation of titles, what is your take on the situation?
ININ: Knowing that more and more games are being sold only digitally since (the very costly) physical releases are becoming less feasible, we are really getting worried about how the industry (which we are part of) treats their own works. Even though we have already been taught so many lessons by other media as books or films, with many important pieces already being lost, we see no joint efforts within the industry to properly preserve games. In many cases, they seem closer to a “throw-away product” with a short lifespan than to a piece of art, which is a shame!
Ultracore – via ININ Games.

While much of your portfolio consists of Japanese games, there are some titles like Ultracore that come from Western developers. I am curious to know whether it is easier to work with older Japanese titles than those from the West.
ININ: It’s more the question with which type of games you grew up and the personal memories that are associated with it. In our company, Japan has a very special standing as many of us grew up with games like Wonder Boy or Bubble Bobble.

The fact that Japan (powered by Manga, Anime and the logographic written language system) basically revived the video game market after the video game crash of the 1980s and gave the industry a second chance is something that cannot be praised highly enough and we think there’s still so much that needs to be told about Japan and the creative minds which influenced so many Western developers and studios.

But this, of course, does not mean that there are no exciting products in the West. It’s just that we made it a part of our mission to tell stories that got lost for various reasons, and with the help of our Japanese partners, we can achieve this. Of course, this won’t prevent us from also conveying the stories of legendary Western bedroom coders and studios like Factor 5… [wink face].

Speaking of Ultracore, it was canceled in the 1990s and was rescued recently by ININ Games. What are the challenges behind salvaging a decades-old canceled title? And how does it compare to releasing a “complete” game like Panorama Cotton?
ININ: The challenge with canceled and unfinished titles is that the lack of source code (like it was the case with Ultracore) or missing graphic and sound files (as with Clockwork Aquario) makes it very difficult to finalize and polish them. And as they are games of historical value, we need to make sure not to alter them too much: Every artist has her/his own style, so if we, for example, would have finished the missing enemy sprites and animations of Clockwork Aquario with a different artist, we run the risk of producing a game which does not represent the vision of the original team back then. Fortunately, we always managed to get the original people involved, so we can proudly say that the end result really is as authentic as it can be (with the exception of some quality-of-life features like a rewind of the quick save and things like that).
Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble 3
Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble 3 – via ININ Games.

Is there another cancelled game, similar to Ultracore, that you would like to rescue?
ININ: There are indeed. Not so easy to find, but our game scouts have eagle eyes – surely, we will soon start another rescue project like with Ultracore and the iconic Clockwork Aquario!

Many fans have qualms with big publishers who, they believe, don't take care of their own classic games and let them become victims of time. Do you share the same opinion, or do you believe there is a reason why it has become so common?
ININ: The perception that some big publishers don’t adequately preserve or support their classic games is not uncommon – too often publishers end up prioritizing genres and styles that align with current market trends and player preferences, forgetting the classic releases that got them there in the first place – it’s just how the market is. But we’ve been experiencing an increasing demand for long-lost titles and classic games recently, so hopefully, we’ll see more and more restoration projects in the future, and many gems of the gaming industry will be made available for the modern generation of consoles and gamers.

Is there something that fans can do in the legal sphere to help preserve titles?
ININ: There are several legal and advocacy steps to contribute, especially when it comes to classic and older games: fans can support organizations and initiatives that focus on the preservation of video game history, or support open-source projects that aim to create emulators, tools, or platforms for preserving and playing older games – these initiatives often rely on community support and involvement. But what helps the most is being vocal about it: contributing to efforts to document gaming history; sharing your experiences, memories, and insights about classic games on forums, blogs, or dedicated platforms. Your contributions can become part of the historical record and influence business decisions!
Air Twister
Air Twister – via ININ Games.

Since 2024 is right around the corner, what are some of your big plans that you can tease here?
ININ: Well, first of all, we definitely wish to bring more and more games to the Xbox platform. The current Xbox ININvasion is only the beginning! Another project that we’ve been proudly working on is the re-release of the steampunk shoot-’em-up Steel Empire, both as an HD remaster and as its classic Game Boy Advance experience, but bundled with his spiritual successor, Over Horizon! I’m sure you’ll soon hear more about it!

Lastly, we’ve been working on yet another legendary Japanese release, which is gearing up for a stunning makeover, transitioning from 8-bit nostalgia to the realm of 16-bit magic… Can’t say more. You have to stay tuned for this one!

Anything else you would like to share with the audience? Something we haven't touched upon yet.
ININ: During the Xbox ININvasion initiative, we’ve been receiving a lot of engagement and support from the communities – sharing with us their favorite memories of these classic gems and thanking us for bringing them to the Microsoft family… So we would like to thank you all back – we wouldn’t be able to do what we do if so many of you didn’t share this passion with us.

YouTube video

ININ Games is one of the few publishers focusing on returning classic retro and arcade games to the latest hardware. Its most recent Xbox ININvasion contained a collection of 6 classic titles which was released on December 7, 2023. The studio also hinted that this is just the beginning, and we can expect more exciting gems throughout 2024.

Was this article helpful?

Thanks! Do share your feedback with us. ⚡

How could we improve this post? Please Help us. ✍

Get up-to-speed gaming updates delivered right to your inbox.

We don’t spam! Read more in our privacy policy.

Mudassir is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering the stories behind our favorite virtual worlds. Armed with a trusty notepad and a keen curiosity, he dives headfirst into the gaming industry's most exciting personalities. His knack for insightful questions and his ability to connect with developers and gamers alike makes his interviews a must-read. While on the lookout for the next person to interview, Mudassir keeps himself busy by writing news surrounding the gaming universe.

Experience: 4+ Years || Senior Journalist

Related Articles