Ripper—the Inside Story of the Egregiously Bad Videogame
“We have it, but we don’t have anything to play it on,” says Sean Kelly, the museum’s cofounder and director. “I think people watch Ripper now out of morbid curiosity.” He adds, “When I think of full-motion video, I think of NightTrap. That’s the one I remember.” The infamous Night Trap, starring Different Strokes’ Dana Plato, made headlines for its role in the 1993 Senate Hearings on Violent Video Games where the Ed Wood-ian B-movie jiggle fest was brought out as an example of how videogames degraded women.
Those hearings were the basis for what would become the ESRB Entertainment Software Rating Board, which slaps ratings and parental warnings on games. And yet the game endures: Last year the 25th anniversary edition of Night Trap was made available on Steam, PS4, and the Nintendo Switch.
Even Toonstruck got a second wind: In 2015 it was re-released as a download on GOG.com. If YouTube is limbo, Gog (formally Good Old Games) is heaven. Maybe Take Two should bring Ripper back too? Or maybe it can’t. Last year at the Library of Congress’ Rulemaking Public Roundtable, James Clarendon, who used to work at 2K Games, a Take Two Company, gave testimony that when the company was seeking to reissue its megahit BioShock after a period of about five years, they realized that no archive of the game existed. “We had to scour people’s machines, artists, engineers, everybody’s machines to find the missing pieces and put it back together. The version that was re-released was not the same version that had been originally released because of that,” Clarendon testified. Take Two declined to participate in this story so it’s not known if they still have the elements for Ripper.
“What would have shocked me was if Take Two had the elements,” Alex Handy tells me. Aside from being a former WIRED contributor, Handy is the director and founder of the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, an organization with a collection of more than 5,300 playable titles that bills itself as, “the only all-playable video museum in the world.”
And while Ripper is not part of MADE’s vast collection, if I brought in my CD-ROMs—and yes, I held onto them—to the Oakland, California museum, I could play the game on one of its old Windows PC systems. There are other videogame museums, like New York’s Strong Museum of Play, and the National Videogame Museum. All of these institutions see their mission as archiving and being stewards of their historical collections. MADE, however, is all about keeping the games playable on more than 40 systems, everything from the Atari 2600 to the Macintosh Classic. As Handy sees it, “A videogame museum without playable games is like an art museum with the lights off.”
When I mentioned how Ripper—now known for its campy feel and Walken’s over-the-top performance—had attracted an audience on YouTube, Handy wasn’t surprised. “Adventure games weren’t a great genre, but the Silliwood games are like the sci-fi films from the ’50s. There’s joy in watching them.”
Abandoned games on CD-ROM, floppy disk, or console cartridges can be purchased online at auction sites, or in person at one of the many retro gaming conferences, but the physical media the games are stored on are in constant danger of degradation.
That’s where emulation comes in. The emulation community has been making old game files run on new hardware for decades, thus helping to preserve these old titles and save them from total extinction. Using some free software downloads, I could set up my MacBook Air with the tools necessary to play Ripper all the way through to all four endings—and if I didn’t happen to own the original discs, I could download a copy of the actual game.