Over the past several months, I’ve been working on a project to provide a place to catalogue and preserve the vast amounts of user-created content the Unreal and Unreal Tournament community has been creating over the past 20+ years.
This has resulted in the Unreal Archive.
While it may seem a silly cause to invest so much time (and money) into, this stuff directly influenced the lives of myself and thousands of others. I would certainly not be in the profession I’m in, driving my car, living in my house, if not for the direct influence of working on Unreal Tournament maps, mods and community, and personal websites.
This stuff made many of us who we are today, and a lot of it has already been lost in time. The internet may not ever forget, but it certainly misplaces things in ways it can’t be found again.
A lot of content is in fact mirrored in various places on the internet, but it can be hard to download, as people generally don’t appreciate you mirroring 100s of gigabytes off their shared hosting.
Thus, the Unreal Archive is an initiative to gather up, index, and catalogue as much Unreal, UT99 and UT2004 content as possible. So far, we have maps, map packs, voices, skins, mutators, player models, as well as support for things such as patches, updates and drivers as well as a (currently very empty) section for written documents with the intent of providing guides, tutorials, manuals, and other related documented knowledge which also seems to get lost and forgotten.
The tech stack and some of the decisions involved may seem odd, but in keeping with the theme of longevity, preservation, and the general ease of losing things on the internet, these are some of my motivations:
- statically generated content - the website is generated as a collection of
plain HTML pages. this ensures no dependence on having to host a website
with any dependency on any sort of back-end service beyond the simplest of
HTTP servers. specific pains have been taken to ensure it works well with
file://local resources as well, so it doesn’t even need to be hosted!
- written in Java - largely because I know it well enough to do this, but also because it’s not going anywhere soon, so the indexing and site generation capabilities will remain in action for a long time.
- data stored as YAML files - a dead simple format that’s also easily human- readable. in 30 years when all the YAML parsers have died, if someone looks at these files, they’ll be easy to write new parsers for, if that’s ever needed.
- the “database” is Git - easy to distribute amongst many people, and since this is primarily an archive, the data does not change rapidly enough to require anything more real-time.
- the entire project is “licensed” under UNLICENSE, with the intent of it being as absolutely open as possible, for as long as possible.
As I’m collecting a lot of the data for the archive directly from the pieces of content themselves, a large part of implementing this also involved figuring out the Unreal Package data formats. Thankfully there are still several references for this hanging around, and many people have made their research on the topic public.
I’ve released a separate Unreal Package Library (Java) which some people may find useful. I’m using it to read map information, such as authors, player counts, titles, etc, export images such as screenshots and player portraits, as well as for parsing Unreal’s INT and UPL metadata files (more-or-less glorified INI files).
All the code for the project is up on GitHub, as is the content database.