Earlier this year, and several months late, I wrote a longish post about the game JFK Reloaded. I was looking back over that post (which, due to the haphazard nature of my posts, is just like seven or eight posts ago) I clicked on the link for the game’s site to discover that the site is dead, replaced with a terse message. This was last month, in September. The game was released on November 22, 2004 so the site didn’t even last a year.

Which is disappointing for several reasons, mostly that I never got around to actually buying the game. It had always been on my to-do list but I never actually did do it. I know at one point they had lowered the price of the game to $4.99 but still never got it. And now no one can buy the game.

But the part that makes it really interesting is this – JFK Reloaded, at least in its initial form, required that the user authenticate off of a central server when they played the game, somewhat similar to the CD Key copy protection employed by many games in the last few years. However, the argument against this has always been that of what happens when/if the company goes out of business and their servers go offline. In the case of a AAA title like Quake III: Arena, the argument is moot since the game (which only did this when it was played over the Internet) removed the requirement with the final patch to the game. However, as anyone with a stack of useless DIVX discs can tell you, it pays to be leery of conventions which require something you purchased to “dial home” first. Essentially anyone with a version of JFK Reloaded up to and including version 1.03 was screwed – they couldn’t play the game they purchased anymore. One could argue that this comes with the territory of an inexpensive game, and that you merely bought the “right” to play the game for so long as the company exists (MMORPGs are like this – you simply don’t get to play anymore if the company goes out of buisness and turns off all the servers).

Plus, there’s more weirdness. JFK Reloaded was made by a company in Scotland called Traffic Management Ltd. Other than the name of the Marketing Director, Kirk Ewing, no other persons in the company were ever known, other than the vague rumbling that they consisted of people who helped develop another controversial game, State of Emergency. Traffic, however, never had a website and never had another product. That’s pretty much the end of it. Some speculate that the closing was due to immense pressure, including threats from Ted Kennedy to prosecute and/or sue the developers (exactly how that would work given that they’re in Scotland has never been specified) but I don’t think that’s it – I think they didn’t make as much money as they needed or wanted to on the title (not a good sign when it only costs $10 and you have to cut even that in half), I think the $100,000 prize (which we have no evidence was ever won) would have broken them, and I think they just called it a day and closed up shop.

It turns out, however, that just prior to disappearing, Traffic did release JFK Reloaded version 1.1. This version did not dial home or check the Internet, did not care about license codes or any DRM, and also appears to have no traces of the online contest to recreate the assassination. Since it was released prior to the closing of the site it would appear that Traffic knew of their imminent demise. It doesn’t appear that anyone won the $100,000 contest, either (or at least not that I’m aware of).

As a result of this – the fact that the developer has disappeared off the face of the earth and the fact that no other parties (like publishers) are involved, it appears that JFK Reloaded is not just abandonware (software no longer sold or supported), it’s orphanware (software whose parties have disappeared entirely). This makes it pretty much safe for Home of the Underdogs, an abandonware site. You can download the full version of JFK Reloaded here.

The game, if you’ll recall, experienced a large but brief amount of hype when it was released almost a year ago, and for the most part was forgotten. It’s still brought up from time to time – I heard X-Play mention it the other day in the same context as other games like Postal 2 which most gamers wish never existed because it “hurts the cause”. A large number of people still seem to think the game went the traditional route of being put on CD’s and released in stores, or that it was developed by an American developer. And it’s become apparent in the people I talk to that I’m probably one of the only people who think it’s a neat concept. Sure, the “scoring” concept is a bit ghoulish, as is the “gore” option, but as an interactive simulation it’s still quite an interesting exercise, especially since most of the non-interactive computer simulations have been concerned with straight and instant trajectories, not concerned at all with the effects of gravity, wind, non-instant bullets, etc.

I thought perhaps my aforementioned blog post would be the last on the subject, or that no one was as interested in this software post as I was, but someone out there did do a very detailed analysis of the game and put it up at their oddly named site, JFKaos. This site is a fascinating read since in order to put the game in context, it does a rather thorough crash course in the Zapruder film, the various commisions, and the details of what is known and what is speculated about what happened in Dealy Plaza, along with critiques of the game from both sides – people who liked it and people who detested it. I believe the author is overall cynical of the actual aims of the game (which include profit) but the site is pretty fair and even handed on the handling of the subject. If you’ve always wondered what the big deal was with the JFK assassination (other than who did it) and wondered why there’s such a controversy, this site does an excellent job of dissemenating the situation. It appears that the site was put online roughly a month before the JFK Reloaded site went dead.

Anywho, for anyone out there who always wondered what this game was like but wasn’t interested in paying for it, now is the time to check it out. My take is that JFK Reloaded is an interesting concept of an interactive recreation of an historical event, similar to how a wargame is an interactive recreation of an historic battle. It’s far from perfect, and will ultimately go down as a footnote in gaming history, but it’s definitely interesting.