Preserving and Rediscovering My Game Collection

This all started when one day last month I had a concern: I became very worried that the PSN for PlayStation 3 and Vita would shut be shut down with very little notice. I had recently started rebuilding my PS3 collection. I have an 80GB “Phat” model and realized I couldn’t download all the games I had digitally acquired over the years.

Thankfully, Sony seems to have always made hard drive swapping in their consoles user friendly. I swapped in my original PS4 500GB hard drive and went download crazy. I also took out an old orange USB stick with all my old PS3 save data.

Back when I sold my PS3 and collection, I did have the foresight to backup all my save data. I never lost track of that USB stick. I keep it with my Wii U stick, a friend’s PS2 memory card, and an old 3DS SD card. It felt comforting to know that I made the right call by backing up that save data.

Then a train of thought rolled into the station.

What about all my games? I have got plenty of cartridge based games. The GameCube is my favorite system ever, how can I save that data? How do I preserve and protect my collection from the cruelness of time and the elements?

Turns out, I had nearly all the tools required. I have been on a mad quest this past month of copying, backing up, and archiving my game collection. I now have complete back-ups of all* my Nintendo handheld games, my SNES and GameCube collections, and my PS3, PSP, and Vita. There are still some outliers that I need more tools for, but I’m sure I’ll find a solution someday.

This quest to preserve everything has also lead me down a path of finding new ways to play these games. The retro world is quite exciting with FPGA consoles in full swing and new digital output and scaling solutions coming out all the time. Emulation and controller support are more mature than ever. It feels like a new Golden Age of retro gaming and here is how I entered (or returned to) that era.

USB Sticks and SD Cards (Easy Stuff)

I want to give credit where credit is due. Sony has really made it remarkably easy to copy save data and expand storage since the PSP. Back in my prime with the PSP and PS3, I just backed everything up via USB and kept the files on my computer. The same is possible with the Vita. A quick Google search confirmed that you can also backup save data to USB on the PS4. Unfortunately, this is not currently supported on the PS5.

As for new ways to play those games, I don’t quiet have all the hardware required. I have a PSP-1000, which doesn’t have video output. The PS3 is fine as it is. If Sony can’t properly emulate the Cell processor, I doubt my MacBook Pro could. Then my Vita has finally been brought to the TV thanks to a sweet deal on a PS TV. Chef kiss

Other notable, user friendly solutions: the Wii! All hail the SD card slot on the Wii. While my Virtual Console games are unfortunately locked forever in time due to the bad decision to transfer them all to my first Wii U, which was then sold and truly lost in time, the save data for non-Wi-Fi games is still intact and accessible. And I still have both my Wii and Wii U, giving me the ability to play them on my CRT or HDTV.

A far more niche tool I own is the Super NT. With jailbroken software, users may dump cartridge ROMs and saves to the SD card. It’s incredibly easy and nice to have a permanent backup of those battery-based saves. Simple, but far overpriced if all you want/need is to backup those precious cartridges. And currently out of stock.

Now for the fun stuff…

Brewing Solutions

Since lucking into locking in a pre-order for the Analogue Pocket, I have been eagerly awaiting the “Save/Restore” menu option seen in early screenshots. This implies official support for backing up and restoring save data. There’s also the likely promise of jailbroken software allowing for ROM dumping as well, giving users access backing up their games, just like the Super NT with its jailbreak.

I don’t have to necessarily wait until May 2021 (fingers crossed) to dump my Game Boy Advance games though. I already have a Game Boy Player on my GameCube with the ability to boot the homebrew app Swiss and the Game Boy Interface, mod-free. The Game Boy Interface, aka GBI, has the ability to dump and restore ROMs and saves. Simply load GBI with no cartridge inserted and hold Start + Y. Then insert the cartridge and dump away. It’ll save the data to your homebrew SD card.

This process was by far the slowest option I tested, maybe only out down by the 3DS game backups. It also requires removing the Game Boy Player to get access to my SD2SP2 adapter on the underside of my GameCube. A bit more cumbersome than I’d like. I am happy to have a baseline to compare to the Pocket come May though.

Speaking of the GameCube, with the speed granted by the SD2SP2, I was finally able to take advantage of the homebrew app GCMM, which is a GameCube Memory Card Manager. I backed up my entire childhood memory card to the SD card and moved it to my laptop. Using the Dolphin emulator, I could visually manage those save files, since the file names aren’t clearly named. I could export them to designated folders, allowing my personal level of organization to my own data.

As for the games themselves, I also backed those up…

And now for the DS family of games. Over the Christmas break, I went into my storage totes and dug out all my DS game cases and put my manuals and carts back in their respective boxes. I truly missed the look of all my DS games on my shelf.

It turns out that putting homebrew on a New 3DS XL is quite simple and non-invasive. Part of my homebrew installation included an application called Checkpoint. It allows backing up and restoration of save data to DS and 3DS games, both physical and digital! Using the app GodMode9 actually allows for the dumping of saves and the game ROM.

This is so rad for me. I grew up on GBA and DS. Formative years were spent playing these games. It even opened up the opportunity to transfer save files between carts of the same game. I was finally able to buy a Complete-in-Box copy of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and transfer my exact save data from my beat up cart to the new one.

While backing up 3DS saves is easy with Checkpoint, extracting the game ROM is a bit more tedious. It takes a lot longer and Nintendo’s own security is stronger and rightfully so. With 3DS emulation not rock solid yet, it isn’t worth it to me yet to fully backup the games themselves beyond the save data.

New Ways to Play

Bringing Homebrew software into the mix has also allowed me to play the games I own in new and more convenient ways. It has even made me think more about building my own gaming PC, since it’d have the chops to run the newer games at higher resolutions and such.

Putting homebrew on my PS TV has opened the door to playing any Vita game on the big screen, regardless of Sony’s internal blacklist due to the “lack” of motion controls in the controllers. Thanks to a whitelist mod along with some motion sensing recognition software for the DualShock 4, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is entirely playable on the TV now. Now maybe I’ll finally finish Bend’s outing with Nathan Drake. I also have the option to use an HD fan-patch on Persona 4 Golden to make the game look even better.

Another nifty oddity is being able to run my GameCube games in 3D thanks to Dolphin. Paired with my 3D TV and I get to experience the possibilities of “what-if” Nintendo had figured out 3D a few years before the 3DS. This is easily this biggest plus to the idea of building a gaming PC. My MacBook Pro doesn’t have the chops to run these games smoothly. Another nicety of digitzing my GameCube collection is being able to run the games off an SD card through Swiss, reducing the wear and tear on the disc drive. It has actually made me consider modding the next GameCube I get with a ODE and having it be an entirely digital console.

The 3DS homebrew options have allowed me to actually run my DS collection digitally, keeping my games with me wherever I take the system. Using some PC software (thanks to my wife’s Windows laptop), I can actually load Game Boy games as well, giving me that ambassador feel without actually needing my 3DS account to have been registered before the price cut.

By far my favorite new way to play is found on my Wii U. With homebrew on that system I have completely transferred my DS library and save data to the Wii U and am able to play using Nintendo’s own DS emulator on the console. While I wait for the DS Consolizer to use real DS hardware to play games on my TV, this is by far the easiest way to put those handheld games on the big screen. It was definitely tedious to move files around, add in game art, and make sure my saves worked properly, but the pay off is fantastic. I absolutely love having my DS games on the Wii U.

This whole journey has been fun to dive into. What started out as a paranoid backup spree turned into discovering new ways to play some of my favorite games. The gears are still turning too. I’ve looked into fan-translations of some Japanese-only titles. I still need to figure out how to backup my N64 collection, as well as my PS1 and PS2. The quest is far from over, but it has proven to be more exciting than I ever would have thought.