Underdogfight: Home Of The Underdogs Returns

Woof

This went live last week, but I wanted to give it a chance to stabilize before linking. Home of the Underdogs is back. Kind of. It’s a revival, which plans to pick up where the last king of abandonware left off, and push forward with lots of new functionality (user reviews, additions, etc). Home of the Underdogs has been sadly missed since it went bankrupt in February. While existing well into a legal grey area, it was a singular historical resource which any lover of the medium really has to adore. Go bookmark it, eh?

Of course, there’s a little internet drama around it.

I’ll keep it short, because I’m not actively involved in any way and not technically qualified to judge the merits of the case. Basically, while a revival group was formed, it ended up in a direct schism between different people wanting to take different routes.

The one linked to takes the idea that the site should press forward and embrace-off-the-shelf coding to allow to do it as quickly as possible. Its’ the one which is mainly active. Homeoftheunderdogs.net conversely wants to be more faithful to the original, without re-creating its problems, and seems to think that technically speaking HOTUD is going to fall over if it tries to do what it does. And then there’s Hotu.pratyeka.org which – er – does other stuff too. It’s classic Internet politics. I suspect eventually it’ll shake down one way or the other, but until it does, there’s a pack of Underdogs running these internet streets.

Oh, go watch the Wikipedia page to pick over some of this. It’s very much a story in progress.

107 Comments

  1. Markoff Chaney says:

    As long as an online repository continues to exist for strings of 0s and 1s arranged in a particular order which can no longer be purchased or licensed from their original publisher or developer, there is hope that not many games will be lost. Soon, I hope, more people will come around to understanding that keeping of code is just as important as the keeping of books. We have libraries, private collections and grey area software repositories. HotU was an important link in that chain and it offers equal parts nostalgia and heritage preservation. Any continuation of service, in any way, is a wonderful thing.

  2. Rinox says:

    Good to have the underdogs (whichever of them) back. Any site that pays proper tribute to the forgotten classic Realms of the Haunting deserves respect.

  3. Bob says:

    These sites are great! I never would have found Rockstar again without them

  4. Dominic White says:

    To clarify: HOTU didn’t go bankrupt. Their web-hosting company did, and managed to take most of the site with it as they imploded.

    What amazes me is that, for the most part, HOTU was a project run by one woman in her spare time. Her love of classic gaming was the stuff of legend. Sadly, she doesn’t have the time or drive to continue as she used to, but the community look like they’re picking up the slack.

  5. Joq says:

    I’ve been somewhat involved in HotU for about seven years now, and it’s rather sad to see people argue about which is the best way to build the site anew. And then everyone decides to build their own personal HotU clone. Real smooth.

    I wish Sarinee would’ve stuck around to function as a dictator on the rebuilding, so we would’ve had one single site that actually works as envisioned by her a few years ago.

  6. Captain Planet says:

    Hail the best site on the internet.

  7. Tei says:

    Great!. I guest I don’t have excuse now to install openttd on my eepc…

  8. pimorte says:

    I don’t think I approve of RPS approving a piracy site.

  9. pimorte says:

    I’m not sure I approve of RPS approving of a piracy site.

  10. muzz says:

    pimorte: They do provide abandonware downloads, I’ll give you that, but for games that are still being sold somewhere, they just link to that somewhere. It’s not really straight piracy in many people’s opinion.

  11. rei says:

    RPS are quite capable of deciding for themselves what they approve of without your approval, I’m sure. And calling HotU a “piracy site” is tragically narrowminded.

  12. Dominic White says:

    Yeah, a lot of the reason why HOTU was covered by a wide variety of legitimate news sites (Gamespot even did a pretty big article on them back in the day) was their policy of doing a thorough search of the internet for a game before putting it up for download. If there was any retailer, anywhere in the world that still sold the game (within reason – a small store in Australia that only ships to Oz would be exempt), then they’d link to that instead of offering a download.

    And the moment copyright holders asked to have stuff removed, it was. The whole thing was *technically* illegal, but they went to massive lengths to ensure that they weren’t stepping on anyones toes.

    Also, agreeing with Joq. Seeing the community splintered like this is really depressing. Someone offer Sarinee a big sack of cash-moneys to come back and at least oversee the initial rebuild, if not stay on long-term! Her organizational skills were pretty damn impressive.

    I’m still blown away that the webhost would just collapse like that, losing most of their hosted sites in the process.

  13. Jim Rossignol says:

    Abandonware. A grey area, and not exactly piracy.

  14. Count Zero says:

    I always found amazing things on Home of the Underdogs, and it’s great to see it continue in some shape or form. I loved the site years ago, and what I would usually do was hit up a random game then follow all the game and developer links, sometimes for hours. HoTU introduced me to stuff like Sanitarium, Bad Mojo, Ultima Worlds and even System Shock 2…
    I was in the habit of browsing on a regular basis, but moved on once the site stopped being updated. Good to see it’s been picked up. The site dates from before wiki’s were popular, and was mostly the work of one person -an incredibly dedicated one, but I can only imagine what a larger wiki community can do with the HoTU archives.

  15. Bananaphone says:

    Didn’t Sarinee say she wanted to make HOTU a wiki-style site? The new HOTUD linked above is a lot closer to that, with lots of volunteer editors and the ability to upload your own files.

  16. Bhazor says:

    Isn’t this how a religious war starts?
    “No I think it should be called this!”
    “No I think we should classify the games like this!”
    “Yea, we shall embrace the unofficial and the indie!”
    “God hates anything post 1990!”

    Reply to Jim: Well seeing as no one is left to actually give money to it really is more a service. In an ideal all the makers would still be together and flogging their wares on GoG. But this is the real world with it’s *fucking* publishers so Home of the underdogs was often the only place you could get them. As it happens HotUD was generally very careful to remove any games, or put Amazon links to, any games that were re-released.

  17. NikRichards says:

    Yay for the return of the underdogs!

    Aslong as they keep to strictly Abandonware I wish them damm good luck old chap!

  18. Clovis says:

    @Dominic White: It is not *technically* legal; at least not under US copyright law (which is similar to most other countries’ law, or the Berne Convention or whatever). You simply cannot distribute copies of something without permission of the author. It doesn’t matter if the author doesn’t seem to care. The “grey” area here is just that there’s very little chance of someone suing the website over this stuff, especially if they respond to takedown notices. Jim’s wiki link above seems to support this.

    There is a way to make it properly legal, although it seems silly. The owner of the site shouldn’t put any material on it themselves, like YouTube. Then you just have to respond to the takedown notices, like YouTube does. The users of the site would clearly be breaking copyright laws, but the site itself wouldn’t.

    Of course, this is all just nonsense. I can see nothing ethically wrong with the site at all. In fact, most people agree that is is proving an important service.

  19. pimorte says:

    Jim: Actually, the law is pretty clear-cut that it’s violations.
    Abandonware is pretty much a term invented to make people feel better about piracy from certain time periods.

  20. Jim Rossignol says:

    And clearly RPS feels fine about it, especially when its game material that would not otherwise is accessible or available.

  21. Kieron Gillen says:

    Idle comment: Piracy is pretty much a term invented to make people feel worse about copyright infringement?

    KG

  22. Robin says:

    It’s good that HOTU is being rethought. It was the product of a time when piracy of old games was rampant, essentially a ROM site with pretensions of historical preservation tacked on as an afterthought (and as its implosion demonstrated, not backed up by adequate organisation).

    Abandonware is not legally a grey area at all, Jim. The vast majority of games hosted by HOTU and its ilk had easily identifiable rights holders. The “Abandonware FAQ” (with its utterly preposterous, infantile claims about when they think copyrights should expire) shows the true colours of the people involved in these efforts in the early 1990s.

    Hopefully going forwards there will be more effort put into encouraging game creators to keep their work available (perhaps through sites like GOG.com) rather than finding excuses to rip it off.

  23. jackflash says:

    @pimorte – yes, yes, thanks for your commentary. Maybe you’re right, we should wait to play these years until 70 years after the original author dies or, in the case of games owned by corporations, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation. Oh wait, none of us will be alive then.

    Don’t be a copyright nazi. People on this site generally pay for their games when they’re commercially available. You’ll find plenty of threads here with users (myself included) screaming our hatred for piracy. The only reason I (and probably a lot of others here) have used HOTU is because we bought the damn game 15 years ago and have long since lost our original discs. Now please go away.

  24. Robin says:

    (I mean late 1990s of course. Out of coffee error.)

  25. TheSombreroKid says:

    Abandonware is based on an implicit licence to distibute taken from the copywrite owners refusal to profit from and distrubute thier copywrited material, in the straight reading of the law in the UK at least it is illegal, but it’s the same moral and legal base that sites like youtube operate and you’d have to be pretty stupid to try and fight for your rights as a copywrite holder on this issue.

  26. Jockie says:

    To be fair to the original HOTU, when a game was requested to be removed by the copyright holder, they generally did it (iirc there were no lucasarts game downloads for instance). It also included links to stores where games could be bought whenever possible.

  27. pkt-zer0 says:

    People installing a game on more than one computer = pirates. OFF WITH THEIR HEADS

    Also, the law is pretty clear-cut that a legal back-up copy of a game/movie/music disc you own is illegal because you’re bypassing the copy protection in place.

    Piracy… check, DRM… check. Oh, Left 4 Dead 2! Perfect recipe for setting a new record with the number of comments.

  28. pimorte says:

    Well, Robin says what I’m thinking but with better words.
    So just imagine I said it first.

  29. TheSombreroKid says:

    @pkt-zer0 where your EULA allows it which is every EULA i’ve ever agreed to you’re allowed to back up the content for your own personal use, where it doesn’t circumvent DRM.

  30. Gap Gen says:

    Wikifact: Apparently the first reference to piracy as copyright infringement was made by Daniel Defoe in 1703 (before copyright was part of British law by some 7 years).

  31. Tei says:

    The abandonware sites have demoed the interest of the people to play old games. And this was able the creation of sites like GOG. And the inclusion on old titles on new digital shops. Somewhere in this world, theres a game dev’s that is paid to make games work with DOSBox.

    Withouth the abandonware sites, these titles would have been *lost* forever. Since withouth a economic interest, no one would have saved a copy, save for a very few entusiast.

    NOTE:
    Probably the fraking source code of about 99.99% of the games are lost forever, not having a “abandonware” for source code mean all these code is lost. And that shows the interest of publishers to preserver the games for the future, or the ability of the game studios to do so.

  32. Robin says:

    To clarify, I don’t think HOTU was putting anyone’s livelihood at risk, and I’d prefer people were playing old games than not, but claiming that it was providing an important service of preservation or striking a blow against The Man is just self-righteous blather.

  33. Kieron Gillen says:

    Robin: I’d agree with the latter – it’s clearly not – but disagree with the former. These games are going. There’s no library of games in Oxford or whatever.

    KG

  34. Robin says:

    KG: I’ve heard of cases of arcade games being genuinely lost (due to suicide chips, dilapidated hardware, etc.), but I’d be surprised if there were many cases of easily-copyable PC, computer and console games being lost. Would be interesting to find out.

    Certainly someone should keep an archive (I seem to recall reading that some university was planning to, or maybe the Library of Congress?), but it should be done actually as an archive, with the level of organisation and documentation that entails.

  35. Matthew says:

    Technically speaking, HOTU is operating against the law, yes. Practically speaking, do you really think the rights holders are going to get annoyed at you downloading something like Bard’s Tale or Winter Games?

  36. jalf says:

    @pimorte: How is it piracy exactly? Unlike most other abandonware sites, this one had a strict policy of removing downloads if 1) the game is still sold anywhere, or 2) if the rights holders request it.

    Which means that the only games you can download are the ones that either have no owners, or whose owners have no problem with it.

  37. Lobotomist says:

    Glad to see them back

  38. Malagate says:

    Hmm, no library of games…there totally should be a games library, if only to preserve the cream of the crop for posterities sake. Now I have all the more reason to somehow create a library of both books and electronical entertainment.

  39. Butler` says:

    I’m a big proponent of abandonware sites. Glad to see ’em back in action, if in a somewhat dispersed format…

  40. pimorte says:

    @jalf – I’d put it forward that that’s the “steal until you get caught” approach. Should it really be the rightsholder’s responsibility to hunt down and request takedowns off n ‘abandonware’ sites for as long as they hold the copyright?
    It should be the responsibility of the site itself to get permission first.

    I do think there should be some sort of archival institution for games etc, like the Internet Archive was doing for a while. Keep it as a time capsule for release when the game runs out of copyright.

  41. Dominic White says:

    That Gamespot article I mentioned actually interviewed a bunch of game developers and asked their thoughts on HOTU. All of them basically agreed that it was a good thing, and a necessity as publishers are unwilling to let go of anything, even if there’s no possible way of it turning a profit.

    They also interviewed a couple of publishers and anti-piracy agencies, and they were just furious, and were apparently drawing plans to bring the site down for good.

  42. Crane says:

    @pimorte:
    “It should be the responsibility of the site itself to get permission first.”

    Somewhat difficult when the company that produced the game has gone out of business, and the staff involved in it have disappeared from view, no?

  43. Risingson says:

    HOTU has been my pass to maturity. But I meant the HOTU forum. I miss the board a lot. Sometimes I see hotuers around here, but I miss you, guys.

  44. Ginger Yellow says:

    Robert Ashley did an episode of A Life Well Wasted all about the problems of video game archiving. It’s not just a question of having the source code – you need to have the hardware/OS to run it, as well. You can listen to the full interview with the guy who runs Stanford’s game archiving project here

  45. Kieron Gillen says:

    Abandonware is the sort of issue which you can use in an old-skool D&D character test, I suspect. For generally commercially unavailable games there’s no actual harm as there’s no financial loss – it’s merely a question of whether you stick to the firm letter of the law. I’m leaning Chaotic Good.

    Christ, y’know? Imagine what pop-criticism would be like if you could only get hold of Beatles or Stones records from the 60s. That’s videogames. We’re neutering our thought due to industry short-sightedness.

    KG

  46. Gap Gen says:

    Actually, that’s an interesting point – should a copyright library hold *all* copyrighted material published in the UK, not just books? I think there’s a good case for it, assuming it’s physically possible.

  47. Rinox says:

    I think the fact that the original HoTU site actually hosted content (and not a little, too) but never was the victim of a serious lawsuit by anyone says enough about how little most companies cared.

    Yes, technically speaking they were doing some illegal things, but not for any personal profit (probably more of a loss counting [wo]man hours) and filling in a clear vacuum in the PC game world. Laws, even copyright laws, aren’t an absolute measure. They’re interpreted by judges on a case-by-case basis, taking into account context, circumstances and motivations of the parties involved. Just because something is illegal in the strict sense of the word doesn’t mean it is wrong, per se. I know, I know, it’s a slippery slope. But still.

  48. Risingson says:

    Abandonware is illegal, period. Another thing is that if you support it, think that is necessary or not, and so on. I think conscience, responsability and just knowing what you are doing is the fact about abandonware.

  49. Risingson says:

    And anyway, i’ve seen closing board topics because they began with “i borrowed this game from my brother” and that was considered copyright infringement…