"We've gone from bashing our information into rock, where it will last a billion years, to putting the sum-total of the knowledge of the universe on - a chip you can destroy with a fridge magnet."
— Glen Foster
It is, understandably, common in post-apocalyptic fiction to show the ruins of society. However, despite being set several decades, or even centuries or millennia After the End, the remains of the pre-cataclysm society are still in remarkably preserved condition. Buildings and objects may have a lot of dust and dirt on them, but they haven't fallen apart due to neglect. Furthermore, any pre-cataclysm devices or vehicles that the characters find will work just fine.
In reality, time isn't so kind to abandoned things.
Metal, no matter how well protected, will eventually succumb to the elements and corrode. After about 75 years, cars and other large machines will turn into almost unrecognizable piles of rust while the fuel, oil and other lubricants inside them will go bad long before that. (It is common practice to drain or put fuel stabilizer chemicals in the gasoline tank of equipment not being used for a few months, like lawn cutting equipment and boats during late fall, winter and early spring; snowmobiles during early spring through late fall, etc.) The same fate awaits the rubber in the tires, hoses and accessory belts, which will inevitably crumble from dry rot. Long before any of that happens, the car will have become an immobile lump as batteries lose their charge, tires slowly leak air, and the brakes rust up and seize from disuse, conditions known as "lot rot".
Large scale structures fare no better. In many climates, wooden frame buildings will last about 50 years before falling apart thanks to termites and rotting. Large bridges will collapse after only a century, and most skyscrapers will collapse around the 200-300 year mark. After 500 years, nearly all concrete structures still standing will crumble as their steel reinforcements corrode. See The History Channel's Life AfterPeople for more information. And this is all assuming that a natural disaster like a tornado, earthquake, or hurricane doesn't destroy it all first (how much of Florida would survive 10 years if people weren't around to board everything up each summer?). It also ignores the likelihood that whatever arises after the fall of society would knock it down/scavenge it themselves instead of just waiting for nature to do the job.
Modern technology isn't immune either. All but the simplest electronics will fail after decades of being unused. Electrolytic capacitors dry out (or succumb to the capacitor plague), batteries self-discharge and leak, flash memory very slowly fades away, and the chassis and contacts rust and corrode. Lead free solder grows tin-whiskers, creating short circuits; hard discs rot or degrade, and the skin of optical media such as Blu-Rays and DVDs corrodes, rendering the disc illegible (aka "CD rot").
After a thousand years of no human activity, the Earth would look much like it was before humans, and few obvious traces of civilization would be left. Some plastic types, if buried underground (away from UV radiation) would keep for a long time until something figured out how to properly eat them; anything made out of bronze is expected to last for millions of years (so cast your memoirs with it); major cities, being massive conglomerations of artificial rock on the scale of a coral reef or lava flow, would leave traces in the geological record discernible for several hundred million years; depleted uranium would remain detectably depleted for billions of years — but none of this would be visible to a casual observer, or even a medieval society, and little of it would be immediately recognizable to future visitors.
If only one thing inexplicably survives, such as in a Time Travel or Earth All Along setting, it's known as The Constant.
This trope can be justified, in small doses, since there is an expensive way to render any metal rust-proof the same way that platinum is — one could assume that these relics have survived because of a similar process and the chemicals used in it are breaking down, allowing the relics to decay in places where the treatment faded first. This trope is also justified when dealing with advanced alien technology, as such technology may not necessarily decay as the same rate as modern Earth technology.
Societies with Ragnarok Proofing will allow a Scavenger World to exist, using Schizo Tech from many different time periods. Precursors frequently build like this — though usually the main effect is limited to the collective awe of upstart civilizations stumbling on their artifacts long after they became extinct or moved on.
The term Ragnarok (Ragnarök) originates from Norse Mythology where it means 'Destiny of the Gods'; although in modern consciousness it's better known as 'Twilight of the Gods' and associated with The End of the World as We Know It, largely due to some German composer by the name of Richard Wagner.
A subtrope of Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale, Older Is Better and/or They Don't Make Them Like They Used To. See also Durable Deathtrap, Apocalypse Not, In Working Order, and Never Recycle a Building. See Indestructible Edible for the food version.
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Anime & Manga
Played straight & subverted in the Sankei Newspaper Astro Boy serial. When he travels back in time to the era of The Vietnam War he eventually shuts down due to the fuel he runs on not having been invented yet. He winds up at the bottom of the Mekong river & isn't found for decades, but a quick refill has him up & about again with no difficulty (though he was in a box at the time). When he runs out of fuel a second time due to its prohibitive cost, though, he falls down on a mountain & by the time his "birth" comes around again he is nothing more than a rusted-out shell.
The eponymous mecha of Cannon God Exaxxion lay buried on Earth for over 2000 years before being excavated by the hero's father. Perhaps justified, in that it was kept in a giant space-packing crate and the mech itself is practically indestructible.
Both played straight & subverted in ∀ Gundam. While Mobile Suits sealed in special "Mountain Cycle" chambers work more-or-less perfectly due to maintenance Nanomachines, other Lost Technology isn't so lucky. The titular Gundam's beam rifle it was uncovered with is degraded enough to burn itself out with one shot, and when Loran finds an armory, nearly every weapon crumbles to dust when he tries to pick it up, aside from the Hyper Hammer & that one breaks after being used only once.
Another reason why there aren't any other relics from the "Dark History" is because the Moonlight Butterfly destroyed everything else.
Played partially straight (but justified) in GaoGaiGar, when the missing ChoRyuJin is dug up after sixty-five million years, his body is completely fossilized, but his AIs are found to still be in working order. It turns out, however, that he had some serious Applied Phlebotinum they were using specifically to keep himself alive long enough to be found again.
The manga one-shot Hotel is a deliberate case. The main character is a robotically controlled, self-repairing structure designed to preserve the genetic data of Earth's creatures for billions of years after global warming has destroyed everything.
And when you consider the fact that the AI is not only increasingly self-aware but had managed to keep itself functioning for 27 million years, even as all its systems break down, it's could also be a case of And I Must Scream.
The Noah Ark from the same manga is another example: an intelligent colony ship designed to carry all human knowledge as well as 140,000 samples of human DNA. By the time Noah reached its destination however, the DNA strands were lost, resulting in its evolved AI returning to Earth in the hopes of accessing the Hotel.
Slightly subverted by a hotel dining room that's found in one chapter. It's obviously rotting and is filled with overgrown plants. Played straight in that it has a perfectly working organ.
While it's never stated just how far into the future the cast is, the presence of mutated wildlife and mentions of a mini-ice age suggest that it could be at least a hundred years or so since the meteor impact. Still, the Osaka shelter and Fuji ship look remarkably well preserved for the most part, complete with working electricity.
A significant plot point in King of Thorn, when the characters are trying to figure out how far in the future they are after waking up from suspended animation. The massive jungle of thorns that has overgrown the island indicates that thousands of years have passed until one character notices that the lights are still on and none of the bulbs have burned out...
In the penultimate scene of End of Evangelion, this trope is mentioned as the true reason why the Evas were created: a monument that will outlast the universe itself.
Yui: Humans can only exist on this Earth but the Evangelion will be able to exist forever, along with the human soul that dwells within it. When the Earth, the Moon and the Sun are all gone, Eva will exist so long as just one person remains. It will be lonely but as long as one person still lives-
Fuyutsuki: It will be eternal proof that mankind ever existed.
Humorously averted in Slayers. In her first appearance, Martina reactivates a war golem made by her ancestors during the last great Mazoku War, which took place 1,500 years previous. As she gloats over its immense power, the golem starts malfunctioning, due to the fact that its 1,500 years old and hasn't been maintained in at least 1,000.
Played straight in One Piece by the Poneglyphs, much to the chagrin of the World Government. The Poneglyphs are indestructible records of the true history of the world that the government wants to suppress. Since they can't destroy the Poneglyphs they settle for silencing anyone capable of reading them such as Nico Robin and Gold Roger.
In Kyon Big Damn Hero the SOS Brigade uses a lost dimensional anchor created millions of years ago. It works perfectly fine.
Used to a degree in the 1983: Doomsday Stories. A number of places are described in varying stages of decay. Abandoned ruins and wasteland settings, naturally, suffer the worst of it though even the relatively unharmed areas such as the Alpine Confederation show signs of neglect. Though the flashbacks show at least one particular ruin in better condition.
Handwaved and justified in The Dark Past, a fanfic-of-a-fanfic of the Niklas And Friends "universe". The spaceship has been running on reducing power for millennia. The ship's electronics have survived so long because of running well under their usual power ratings.
Films — Animated
WALL•E plays this straight mostly. The world that's been abandoned for 700 years is filled with rust and falling apart. The eponymous robot has only survived for so long by scavenging parts from other robots as they break down. However, even after 700 years, and all the believable wear and tear, there are a great many buildings still standing, ships operate enough to use their magnet, buildings are mostly intact, electronic billboards operate enough to give exposition, and most of the random gadgets that Wall-E finds are in perfect working condition, including an old VCR and VHS (maybe not perfect, but far better off than they should be after 700 years). Perhaps other robots programmed for repair are still going.
The Axiom even more so. Keep in mind that the starship is over 700 years old by the time the movie takes place. Yet it looks and functions almost just as it during its maiden launch. Probably helped that in addition to Buy N Large's "built-to-last" mentality, there's a network of robots and automated systems constantly maintaining the ship and even robots to repair other robots.
In the Ralph Bakshi film Wizards, Blackwolf finds a movie projector and propaganda films from Nazi Germany. The film is set two million years from now.
Films — Live-Action
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence: the main character David (a Ridiculously Human Robot made to be exactly like a real boy) ends up trapped underwater in a police hovercar/submarine, wishing to a statue that he could be a real boy. 2000 years later, he's run out of power and is revived by a literal Hand Wave from a Sufficiently Advanced Alien. Boy robot gets up and walks around, albeit clumsily. As an added bonus, the New York Skyline (circa 1999) is perfectly intact despite being submerged in water which then froze solid.
Battlefield Earth is one of the worst offenders. The Earth has been taken over by aliens for a thousand years, and the characters escape into the ruins of Denver, Colorado. Not only are all of the buildings still standing, but books are still readable, computers still work, and military jets that should have crumbled into dust centuries ago are completely operational. And they have perfectly working jet fuel, which has a shelf life of 40 years. And as if that weren't bad enough, the characters even encounter an abandoned shopping mall where frozen chickens can still be found in the supermarkets. This is a major divergence from the book, wherein civilization was pretty much completely gone, buildings crumbling, machines rusted to junk, books decayed to the point of falling apart. Although the book has other problems.
Waterworld is another major offender. It's been long enough for people to forget that there ever was dry land. The ruins of pre-cataclysm society have spent all this time underwater. Despite this, anyone the Mariner can just swim down to a former city and come back up with perfectly working artifacts. The "smokers" have completely operational jet skis and sea planes, and even large stashes of cigarettes, which have a shelf life of a few weeks.
Parodied in the Woody Allen comedy Sleeper. After 200 years, a VW Beetle is still in perfect working condition. Woody's character then remarks, "Wow, they really built these things, didn't they?"
Semi-averted in The Time Machine (2002) when Alexander Hartdegen finds the library from 2030, but in the year 802,701; the building itself is in ruins, but the artificial intelligence Librarian Vox 114 is still unbroken and semifunctional. Averted completely in the 1960 version. When the protagonist arrives in the future, he finds practically all traces of his own time gone entirely- the remnants of his time consist of a collection of books that crumble into dust as soon as he touches them. The only other remnants of any previous society are "talking rings" (presumably an advanced recording device from a future society, possibly intended as a time capsule or Apocalyptic Log in which case its preservation is somewhat understandable)
The remake of Planet of the Apes had a space station shot through a Negative Space Wedgie of the especially Magical variety. It wound up being abandoned for centuries, on an Earthlike planet's surface, with zero maintenance, and the computer and thrusters still worked immediately upon being activated. Although the main character specifically mentions it was designed to last forever, making this an Invoked Trope.
The main character in Doomsday finds a Bentley that's been in a storage locker for twenty-seven years. It's in perfect condition with a full tank of petrol, and she has no problem using it to stage a Mad Max-style chase with the bad guys. This may be justifiable (after all, it had been locked away in a sealed underground bunker), but what can't be explained is how the denizens of post-apocalyptic Scotland have somehow managed to keep their own cars running for twenty-seven years, despite there being no oil on the Scottish mainland (it all comes from the North Sea).
To be fair, when they're unearthing the Bentley we do see them manhandling some fuel drums, so it's possible it was fueled from these, although this isn't explicitly shown.
Scotland also has some pretty huge refineries and storage depots for processing of North Sea oil. As civilisation collapsed in a matter of weeks, it's conceivable that there would be enough salvageable fuel to run a limited amount of vehicles.
Played completely straight in Logan's Run, where the city has been running completely without maintenance for at least 200 years. The main characters wander through several rooms of massive machinery which is merrily pumping away with no one looking after it. And this doesn't even get into the problems of how food was imported into the city and waste was exported from it.
Possibly Justified and/or handwaved (at least in the novel) in that the city was specifically designed to function on its own for practically forever; with maintenance systems, food processing systems, and so on that operate out of sight of the residents (some of which are encountered by Logan and other Runners).
Short-term variant: In Night of the Comet, despite the death-by-disintegration of nearly everyone on the planet, everything automated in Los Angeles — lawn sprinklers, pre-recorded radio broadcasts, traffic lights — keep right on activating on schedule, well after power outages should've resulted with no one to oversee city utilities.
Largely averted in I Am Legend, which is set in New York City three years After the End. Despite the relatively short timeframe, there are already signs of decay in the seemingly empty metropolis: tunnels are flooded, plants are starting to grow in the streets, and outside of the protagonist's home, near everything has a hint of dust and grime. Which is a case of Truth in Television. New York City spends thousands of dollars a year on pumps to keep water out of the tunnels. And anyone in the city can tell you how much damage grass does to sidewalks.
Just about everything in The Book of Eli looks considerably worn out and battered 30 years after "The "Flash".
In Man of Steel, a Kryptonian scout ship crash-lands on Earth and spends 18,000 years buried underneath the ice in the Artic. But when Clark finds it all systems seem to be in working order.
Elysium: Judging by the the data thieves' ride and the cars along the street, no new cars have been manufactured on Earth for over 150 years. The land yachts shown on the street at one point would be considered in visibly good shape if they were found today, much less found in a slum after 150 years.
Both justified and inverted in Pandorum. The colony ship Elysium was intentionally built to last the multiple-century flight to another star-system using minimal maintenance staff on rotating rounds of cryogenic sleep. It was also to arrive intact enough to likely serve as the base foundation for the new colony. The inversion and catalyst for the main plot is that the ship's engine and power core is breaking down far faster than it should. Only it turns out to not be an inversion; during the climactic confrontation the protagonists are shown that they've already arrived at their destination planet, and in fact crashed or set down and are at the bottom of the ocean. Exact numbers are sketchy or non-existent, but they estimate it must have been there several times longer than the ship was ever designed to remain operational, meaning it's likely lasted several thousand years.
Marvin from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Thanks to Time Travel, his subjective age is 37 times the lifespan of the universe, and the diodes on his left side (which gave him a constant ache) were never replaced in all that time even though every other component was at least fifty times.
The Takers, an Indiana Jones-homage novel by Jerry Ahern, has an abandoned alien base with still-operable UFO's under the Antarctic ice. It also contains the dead bodies of an earlier Nazi expedition — as it turns out, the base's self defense system is also in full working order...
Federation technology in Safehold apparently reached this level, as fed tech is still working after nine hundred years. Most visible examples include main character, android Merlin, the Temple (basically a giant building with automatic light, door control and heating systems) and Rakurai, the Kill Sat which still works after almost century in space. Defied, though, with medicines (Merlin throws them away without checking) and AIs, who are said to go crazy from boredom after too long time.
The universe of Perry Rhodan where underground bases of the Imperium Lemuria are scattered in the Milky Way. Most of them are still functional despite the fall of Lemuria 50,000 years ago.
In the Homecoming series by Orson Scott Card, the technology was all designed to be self-repairing even on the stuff doing the repairs, and last a very long time regardless... but it's been forty million years since this stuff was built. Naturally, some of it broke down anyway and characters are amazed that even more isn't broken.
The Dark Tower books by Stephen King have technology of the Ancients that still exists and functions, for the most part. There are functioning oil derricks in Mejis, working robots near the Callah Bryn Sturgis, and Blaine the Mono. This might be justified, because the flow of time in Roland's world is said to be very inconsistent, as is distance and direction.
The robots and Blaine were designed with future tech that was supposed to run forever, so the fact that they're breaking down at all is proof that they weren't Ragnarok Proofed. We'll have to go with the funky flow of time thing for the derricks, though.
Flow of time and reality itself... pretty much all of existence is going completely loopy. That's what the heroes want to fix, after all.
In George R. R. Martin's Tuf Voyaging, Tuf finds an EEC seed-ship which has been abandoned for over 1,000 years, which is somewhat functional as the original crew had shut it down for long term storage including automated repair robots, but which required significant repairs to make it fully operational. But things like air lock door seals and handles still worked perfectly even after a millennium.
Larry Niven's A World Out Of Time has high-tech devices, including a network of teleport booths, Flying Cars, automated house-manufacturing units, and medical technology still functioning after three million years. The setting does have temporal stasis technology, so may be Justified.
In the new Foundation trilogy novels, this is averted because R. Daneel and his compatriots rely completely upon the services of a robot-repairing robot who specifically says "[he] has only 500 years of active service remaining". There is also mention of various robots slowly decaying.
In the real Foundation series, the Galactic Empire did this with much of their technology, leading to a situation where they had the machines available for centuries without bothering to teach any new engineers how to build more.For example, a nuclear reactor explodes, rendering a planet uninhabitable because of improper repairs done several centuries ago, while the Foundation is easily able to reactivate the nuclear power systems on planets on the periphery with minimal repair work.
The Mote in God's Eye features a species who view the periodic rise and fall of civilisation as inevitable, and thus plan in advance for the next period of barbarism by providing instructive museums with Only Smart People May Pass tests to kickstart the next development of civilisation.
This was parodied in Terry Pratchett's The Dark Side of the Sun with the drosks, who "periodically build an advanced machine-level civilisation and then, for no apparent reason, carefully dismantle it and revert to barbarism".
In Terry Pratchett's Strata an artificial world has survived for several thousand years, maintained by a sophisticated AI and an army of robots that have managed to keep it and themselves in working order, but they can't keep it up forever; eventually there will just be too many worn-out parts for them to replace. ("What do you do when the robot that repairs the robot-repairing robots breaks down?") The protagonists arrive just as things are reaching that point and the world is on the verge of final breakdown.
In fact it is revealed in the end that they arrive because the world is on the verge of final breakdown and they've been brought there as a result of the central AI's desperate attempt to get outside help.
Sylveste: It's my suspicion — no; not a suspicion, my conclusion — that the [900,000-year-gone] Amarantin eventually progressed to the point where they could achieve space travel.
Sajaki: From what I gathered on the surface there's very little in the fossil record to substantiate that.
Sylveste: But there wouldn't be, would there? Technological artifacts are inherently less durable than more primitive items. Pottery endures. Microcircuits crumble to dust.
Also played straight later, as several spacecraft and assorted other bits of Golden Age technology that survived the Melding Plague centuries earlier still functioning — even if left untended for arbitrarily long periods of time.
Not necessarily an example, due to the utilisation of nano-scale technology- it could just be the case that the space-craft etc themselves are infused with a nanotech 'housekeeping' contingent that constantly repairs them. After all, if you're taking a thousands of years journey across the galaxy in abeyance or reefersleep, you dont want the hull of the ship degrading from rust or metal fatigue let alone the ablative effects of interstellar travel.
In Empire of the East by Fred Saberhagen, set thousands of years After the End, the heroes search for a magic metal elephant to help them in the war. The elephant turns out to be a mostly operational nuclear-powered battle tank from before the nuclear holocaust. The armament is dead and the chemical-protective gear crumbles when touched, but the controls still light up, the engine roars, and none of the drive mechanism is broken. This is rare enough on a tank that hasn't been maintained since last week.
Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky features a planet whose sun only shines for 35 out of every 250 years. The creatures themselves can survive the dark in hibernation, but once their civilization develops to a certain level they have to start learning how to apocalypse-proof their technology.
H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Things and the Great Race of Yith were said to have colonized the Earth about a billion years ago and 200 million years ago, respectively. Yet, there are remarkably intact ruins of their colonies on Earth discovered by humans much later on. The Shadow Out of Time even has the protagonist uncovering Yithian books from a millions-of-years-old ruins in the Australian desert. Then there's At the Mountains of Madness where an entire Elder Thing city is found relatively intact in Antarctica, along with exceedingly well-preserved Elder Thing bodies. May be explained as the Elder Things and Yithians being very advanced aliens and possibly in possession of insanely durable materials construction and preservation technologies, but still...
The whole point was to demonstrate just how ridiculously advanced they were. The archive of the Great Race was explicitly stated to have been built to last any cataclysms in the billions of years it'll remain unused, until they come back to reclaim it. None of the advanced technology of either species has survived, however.
And Lovecraft was writing before plate tectonics was accepted by geologists, so the assumption that the cities (not to mention the continents they were built on) could've been patiently sitting there for hundreds of millions of years wasn't quite as preposterous then.
Also, the Elder Thing city has "only" been abandoned for about 5 million years, and it's made of insanely huge stone blocks.
And there was a perfectly good reason why the bodies they found were so "well-preserved"...
In The Night Land, there are aircraft that would still be functional, if the air wasn't too thin to support them. They've remained in working order for hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of years.
In Illium and Olympos civilization has been out of touch for long that most of the planet has basically been forgotten yet a transcontinental gondola system still functions.
Mentioned in Song of the Lioness, when one character relates stories of the mysterious Old Ones; their society, existing millennia before the current human one, had a cultural fear of aging, and they treated everything they owned with something to keep it from decaying. The method was lost, but some of their artifacts did, in fact, survive.
Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night and The City and the Stars. The city of Diaspar was shielded and designed to be self-maintaining and to survive for millennia. The all-pervading computer system that runs the city creates clones of technicians, imbuing them with recorded knowledge and memories, when it needs service it cannot perform itself. This is contrasted against the world outside Diaspar, which has decayed completely into desert; with the exception of the city of Lys, which is shielded by artificial mountains and maintained by the advanced abilities of its residents. There are indications in the story that the technology that enables this is at least partly the product of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. Played somewhat more straight with the Master's ship and the robot probe, since there is no indication of how they were maintained. Implicitly handwaved with the Sufficiently Advanced Alien excuse.
Any fool could see there was something unnatural about the structure; the winds and suns of three thousand years had lashed it, yet its gold and ivory rose bright and glistening as the day it was reared by nameless hands on the bank of the nameless river.
In Across A Billion Years by Robert Silverberg, the protagonist (who is a junior member of a mixed alien archaeological expedition) is off to a dig site containing artifacts of the High Ones, a race that existed over a billion years ago, give or take a hundred million years. All the technology found is in perfect working order including a large sphere that proves to be a holographic projector that sends them questing after the lost secrets of these ancient precursor beings. Think about that, the percentile error alone covers a span of geological time greater than from the death of the dinosaurs all the way to now, and all that stuff works perfectly, even advanced robots stored on asteroids in the depths of space. Even if something is 100.00 percent proof against rust, corrosion by oxygen, UV radiation, deterioration caused by plants taking root, and inedible, over that time scale you'd expect it to be engulfed in lava or hit by an asteroid.
Dragonriders of Pern had three abandoned town-sized colony ships orbiting without maintenance for two millennia or so, with Deflector Shields active, orbital corrections properly performed and antimatter containment stable (which, of course, makes two previous points even more important). Granted, those were slow-ships made to hold well for a few centuries, while the nearest repair facility is several light years away and most of the crew are human popsicles.
There are multiple Bolo stories about Bolos that had been lost for decades or even centuries and still being in repairable or sometimes immediately usable condition when some human found it and (often accidentally) turned it on.
What's a few centuries to something designed to shrug off multi-kiloton-per-second firepower? Especially given autonomous repair capability, multiple (and seemingly distributed) redundancy, and all the other goodies the later models get.
The Great Ship from Robert Reed's Great Ship universe spent a couple billion years drifting towards the Milky Way. Aside from superficial damage to the exterior hull, all the on-board systems work perfectly fine with no damage.
Jack McDevitt's Eternity Road has this. The AI computer running the city of Chicago is still up and running many, many years after a plague kills off much of humanity. Also the automated security system of a bank.
Lampshaded in a poignant line when a character finds some rotten books and laments that the only thing the roadbuilders made that didn't stand up to time was plain old paper.
Jedi in the Star Wars Expanded Universe often stored information in things called holocrons, which typically contained several AI personalities which could distribute information, or not, depending on if they felt people were worthy. These tended to last thousands of years, though some had limited batteries. Of course, they are seen as something special, imbued somehow with the Force.
The penultimate book has a secret experimental cloning facility on Dantooine, abandoned long ago and staffed by ancient droids. It's unknown just how old it is, but thanks to statements from the natives, who don't keep dates, the characters assume it's thousands of years old. It still works perfectly. Presumably the droids maintained everything, and each other.
A Lost Colony is found in the last book, consisting of the malnourished and uneducated Children of a stranded survey group lost on Dagobah. The survey group's technology broke down as power ran out. The last thing to function was a datapad that was used as an Apocalyptic Log. The Children keep and revere it even though its power is out - maybe it's their care of it which kept it in good enough condition that the heroes can just swap new batteries in and play the contents. It's unknown how old it is, though - the wiki suggests forty years, but it's hard to say. The Parents mentioned seeing an "imp" that the heroes later identify as Yoda, and he'd only been there for twenty years.
Speaking of Dagobah, in The Thrawn Trilogy Luke heads back to the world five years after Return of the Jedi and finds that Yoda's hut has been overwhelmed and pretty much broken down until he barely recognizes it by the life in the swamp. He's surprised, but chastises himself, thinking that Tatooine is so dry that an abandoned structure will last forever, but it's different here. However, when he goes back into the cave he does find a still recognizable beckon call.
Justified in Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember, in which the entire city is, quite literally, built to be Ragnarok-proof. It was build to last for 200 years, but by the time the story takes place, has been running (and inhabited) for 241. Suffice it to say, its beginning to crumble a bit...
In David Brin's Uplift series, the technology of the alien Galactic civilization pretty much always does this. Aliens design their spaceships and equipment to last for thousands or millions of years, so it can be passed down to descendants or sold to buyers who expect it to keep its value. Some of the highest-tech items are rumored to be billions of years old (although this may be religious propaganda).
The titular Aquila was an alien battlecruiser'slifepod which crashed on Earth thousands of years ago, where it was later found and used to explore the world by a Roman centurion. After that, it then spent another thousand years or so buried underground before being discovered by two boys - still in fully working order.
Downplayed in Karl Schroeder's novel Permanence, the place known as Dis - a 500 x 400 km piece of woven fullerene. Three billion years old, the remains of an orbital ring, built by a species that built to last in everything they made. The builders only lasted eighty million years. Despite being swallowed by a sun for a time, records found inside are still readable.
Deliberately invoked in Spinneret, where the titular artifact has been not just preserved, but actively operating for at least 100,000 years, probably much longer. One of the scientists admits that the had been thinking of it as essentially a solid-state machine barely preserved through massive redundancy. When they find that one of several small, autonomous digging machines is still functional, he describes the hyper-survivable technology as "awesome and just a little bit creepy."
In an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, Archer is transported to an abandoned Earth in the 31st century. There, he finds a library with books that are still readable.
Let's not forget the TNG episode "Booby Trap", where the crew boards a 1000 year old Promellian warship that still has air. Yes, the life support system, lights, power generator etc. have been in use constantly for 1000 years with no maintenance and not only have not completely broken down but are in good enough condition that the Enterprise crew feels safe beaming over with no spacesuits. Lampshaded by Picard remarking that the ship was built "for the generations" and it worked.
Or TNG's Time's Arrow where Data's head is found to still be in working condition after about half a millennium. Underground. With a postmortem-programmed message still recorded and intact inside. That was programmed using a steel file. Not only was it still working, it was returned to service and seems none the worse for its advanced age, throughout the remainder of the series and movies!
This is quite aside from a 1937 pickup truck, floating in space and intact, in the Voyager episode "The 37s". The truck itself surviving in space isn't as silly as it seems (though see Final Fantasy in the video game section below), but never mind that the fuel's still good: that there's fuel left in the tank at all, it having been in space for some time (even if it wasn't for the full 450 years), puts the entire thing into the realm of the ridonkulous.
In the TNG episode "Contagion", they come across a perfectly functioning pan-galactic teleporter, which was built over 200,000 years ago... and the planet it was found on was an uninhabitable wasteland... which was made that way via orbital bombardment, around the same time.
Red Dwarf has no end of functional artifacts and living creatures that seem to date back to around the time that Lister left the solar system, give or take a few centuries, including the eponymous ship itself. Given that the show takes place 3 million years after he left, it's amazing they still work so well.
According to the novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, the ship was originally used for extremely long periods of deep space exploration before being converted into a mining craft — the reason why it carries a stasis chamber to begin with. Also, "vacuum storage" is mentioned, indicating that the possessions of the crew were kept in stasis as well.
Actually addressed in the show, for comic effect, Holly's IQ has degraded from 6000 to 6. And attempts to revert this do not go well.
This problem is mostly averted or justified in Stargate SG-1, where most of the alien sites the team visits are some combination of inhabited, in ruins, or made of Applied Phlebotinum by aliens so sufficiently advanced (the epononymous Stargates are the primary example) that building something that lasts for a million years is frankly almost plausible. However, there are a few times when it gets bizarre.
In the episode Moebius, Daniel takes what appears to be a small commercial camcorder on a time-travel 5000 years into the past. When the team screws up the timeline, he leaves the camcorder in a buried goa'uld jar to be unearthed in the 21st Century. The Alternate History SG-1 watches the tape with little difficulty (Hammond says only that the battery needed to be recharged) and take the camera with them to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, then leave it buried again for the back-to-normal SG-1 to find, meaning this simple piece of home electronics has made a 10,000 year round-trip journey! These jars are made to last.
Arguably justified, as those Goa'uld jars are actually stasis devices designed to "store" rebellious Goa'uld symbiotes.
In the spinoff Stargate Atlantis, Atlantis has been abandoned for 10,000 years at the bottom of the sea with a shield covering it, but most of the things inside are in working order or at least intact, down to the dead plants. We do see several sections of the city that protruded outside the shield and were worse for wear, however, and in one episode we see a "sister city" of Atlantis that was left on a planet's surface without the protection of a shield. It's so overrun with vegetation and general decay that only the central tower is even recognizable. The city's weapon system is still functional, however.
In Stargate Universe the Ancient exploration ship Destiny was launched on an unmanned voyage long before Atlantis left Earth, perhaps more than a million years ago. When the protagonists arrive it's still travelling but is very much the worse for wear - the majority of its interior is sealed off to contain various hull breaches, its life support system is no longer able to extract carbon dioxide from the air (the filters are quite realistically choked with toxic black muck), and even the lights are dim or failing.
Power Rangers features this in spades. Alpha is not limber or possessing of sufficient dexterity to have kept the place running for 10,000 years. Dai Shi's palace also survived 10,000 years with no repair, and the haunts of the demons in Lightspeed Rescue made it for 3000 with no maintenance while all its inhabitants were trapped in a tomb, and while the Animarium displayed some decay, it was much too intact for having been uninhabited for 3,000 years.
To be fair, Alpha is known as Alpha 5, and is later on replaced by Alpha 6, so it probably wasn't him for 10,000 years. What remains of Alpha 4 can be seen in a box in one episode.
BIONICLE's story toys with the concept. On the planet Bara Magna, pretty much every structure exposed to environmental forces has degraded into ruins over the last 100 000 years, and the locals possess no technology to keep them in shape. However when they literally pull their settlements together, those combine to form the frame of a Humongous Mecha that only needs a Power Source to become functional again. Also there's an even more ancient fortress in the Northern region, which still stands intact with all its traps operational. The excess of Phlebotinum in the BIONICLE universe lends this some justification, though.
Gamma World. Set in the post-apocalyptic ruins of a high-tech civilization, the rules explicitly say that enjoyment of the players and usefulness for the plot are the sole determining factors in whether any given artifact has survived decades or even centuries lying around unprotected in a irradiated mutant-infested wasteland. (A Hand Wave is of course always possible: the goodies can be locked away in nuke-proof buildings, and the exact amount of time since the apocalypse is left very vague.)
Sometimes averted, sometimes played straight with ancient human technology in Warhammer 40,000. Said Lost Technology has about a fifty-fifty chance of still being fully operational when discovered-but if it is operational, it's generally a safe bet that it's been corrupted by Chaos.
"Playing it straight" tends to include vehicles and wargear that have seen common or even frequent use in combat situations for 10,000 years or more, such as old suits of Power Armor. In the case of the last remaining Imperial jetbike, though, it's hinted that its owners actually have the Lost Technology required to replace it (and that they have done so several times), but don't want to share it with anyone else.
In Exalted, most First Age technology is self-maintaining, so even after hundreds of years of moldering in some forgotten ruin or other, they'll still work perfectly. Since Solars were the only ones who could obtain or create the materials and enchantments that make this possible, however, all Magitek made since the Usurpation requires periodic maintenance to remain operational.
Anything from GURPS: Ultra-Tech'' that is made from Living Metal will last forever because the material will automatically repair any damage that it incurs.
BattleTech: The 'Mechs that are jockeyed around circa 3025 are already possibly hundreds of years old, passed down from generation to generation of pilot families. And they still work. Often times better than the new stuff. Many fans believe some of the absurdly heavy tonnages and large size of various electronic equipment and weapons is specifically because they're built to last.
Also, presumably if you're planning to pass a Humongous Mecha off to you kids, you're going to keep it maintained. Same applies to Drop Ships, which you don't exactly want to be held together by rusty bolts if you're coming down into an atmosphere at Mach 3 inside a ship that is about as aerodynamic as the Sydney Opera House. Unmaintained and poorly maintained BattleTech technology tends to fail miserably when pushed into combat.
An old Traveller supplement detailed the Darrians, a minor human (space-elvish) offshoot in the Spinward Marches which had destroyed its own advanced (TL16) civilization by accidentally triggering a solar flare and frying every microchip for parsecs. A few starships still remained operational from the ancient Darrian fleet; The expected number of modern Imperial Navy starships (TL15) to be usable after several hundred years of disuse and no maintenance was exactly 0.
Rifts only uses this a little. Though the physical ruins of some cities and towns still stand a few centuries AfterAfter the End, the chances of finding anything usable in them is pretty much nil. However, ever so often, a cache of military equipment from the previous age, specifically stated to be Ragnarok-Proofed, is found.
The fact that certain Golden Age structures and technology were built using "mega-damage" materials that were far superior to presently existing real world materials helps considerably. Even so, most surface structures from pre-Rifts times have been reduced to ruins, with surviving locations often being underground military-industrial installations designed to withstand a global war.
This has been partially subverted recently, as it's been revealed that many of those caches are much more recent, and were deliberately left for people to find.
This is something of a Necessary Weasel in Numenera, given that the entire concept behind it is that recovered technology from the previous eight super-science civilizations is the stand-in for the setting's magic.
In Assassin's Creed I, some of the technology created by Those Who Came Before is in perfect condition after being lost and buried for who knows how many millenia; Altair even wondered if the Pieces of Eden might just be leftover scraps that they wouldn't have given a second thought about despite how wondrous they seem. The secret chamber under the Vatican is in remarkably good shape, and it's suggested there are more places just like it. Justified, as Those Who Came Before are shown to have been incredibly advanced, to the point of being beyond human comprehension.
Justified in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The abandoned Dwemer settlements, despite being deserted for thousands of years, are filled with running machinery and weapons and armour in perfect condition, however the Dwemer bent/changed the laws of physics to make their materials impervious to wear, tear and corrosion.
Mostly averted in Journey. The vast majority of the buildings encountered in the game are in a visible state of disrepair. The still-active war machines are the exception to this rule.
You can't swing a sword in Final Fantasy games without hitting a fully functional relic of a lost civilization:
Final Fantasy I has the Sky Warriors, who built a fabulous Floating Castle, robots, and an Airship before being obliterated by the Fiends. The Castle was abandoned, the robots were left to fend for themselves in the ruins (one of them even fell from the sky and crashed near a waterfall) and the Airship was buried in a desert, and yet everything is in perfect working order by the time the Light Warriors need to use it.
The Lonka (or Ronka) Ruins of Final Fantasy V, buried beneath the surface for thousands of years, work well enough to activate computerized defense systems and artillery when raised into the skies.
The Gardens in Final Fantasy VIII were built by the Centra, an ancient civilization that was obliterated during the last Lunar Cry. Though derelict by the time they're turned into SeeD schools, the technology that transforms them into flying, mobile stations works perfectly fine. There's also the appropriately named, fueled & functioning Ragnarok, which spent seventeen years drifting in space. In the Ragnarok's case, it makes some sense (space being a fairly safe environment for preservation) as the ship appeared to be in low-power mode and not using any oxygen thanks to the alien things running loose on the ship that didn't require it. Even more impressive is the Lunatic Pandora, a massive, mountain-sized craft that was buried in the ocean for the better part of two decades but remained fully functional when it was recovered. Those Estharian engineers really know their craft.
The Al-Bhed tribe in Final Fantasy X is devoted entirely to salvaging Ancient Technology, but this often goes to ridiculous lengths. Case in point: Cid's airship, the Fahrenheit, was found embedded in rock, underwater, a thousand years after the fall of civilization. Not only is its interior in perfect condition (as Tidus and Rikku verify when they first salvage it), its weaponry is fully operational and Cid gets it airborne within a matter of days. Similarly, the Sin-level Vegnagun, sealed under Bevelle for a thousand years, is in perfect condition when Shuyin steals it.
The party in Final Fantasy XII have no objection to trusting their lives to teleporters and elevators from the days of the Galtean Alliance, even ones that have been left abandoned in shrines or tombs for centuries. The lift in the Sochen Cave Palace wobbles visibly while stopping, and that's about the long and the short of the risk involved.
When Lightning's party descends onto Gran Pulse in Final Fantasy XIII, they find that it runneth over with machinery built by the ancient Pulsian civilization that died out shortly after the War of Transgression500 years ago. An especially jarring example is Shakti, Vanille's Robot Buddy who was abandoned by its owner during the War of Transgression and is still mostly intact (for but five missing parts) when the heroes find it. The durability of combat drones may be understandable, but that little useless thing?
Played straight in all the Breath of Fire games, but especially Breath of Fire III, where it's played to the hilt, where there's a whole town whose purpose is to comb through giant piles of ancient technology washed up from the ocean. Justified due to a Well-Intentioned Extremist demigoddess having a chokehold on the world's technology due to the massive damage it's done to the ecosystem in the past, turning a large part of the world into an uninhabitable desert that's threathening to engulf the rest of it: she regulates exactly what kind of technology is allowed to be salvaged by the people living in the still-thriving part of the world so that they won't accidentally or intentionally invent Weapons Of Mass Destruction again.
Although the Eldridge crashed into Earth tens of thousands of years ago, and broke up as it hit the surface, its individual systems (such as the security robots, laser turrets, and defense reflectors, and the computer systems needed to run them) work as if they had been built yesterday.
Additionally, there's the Gears themselves (giant mecha found buried beneath the surface), some of which come from the previous civilization, but the most powerful ones are much, much older than that and presumably come from the Eldridge itself.
The Yggdrasil vessels, including a sand-sub, a seaworthy version, and even a gigantic robot which had actually been built on because people thought it was a ruin.
The Eldridge-era Merkava and Excalibur-class ships.
Although it comes after the Eldridge incident, the Zeboim civilization is thousands of years old by the time the game takes place. It left behind an entire city, preserved for thousands of years, including a nanotechnology lab with a living Artificial Human made entirely out of nanites.
you forget that Xenogears revolves around the Zohar, so its not unlikely that it literally Deus Ex Machina-ed some mecha for the people who would eventually free it... hell, that is why it reincarnated the same dumbasses again and again throughout the centuries.
Hell: the civilisation that built the Eldridge managed to enslave god, so their gadgets should at least be able to endure a few millenia.
While Chrono Cross's Chronopolis is at least ten thousand years old, it can be argued that its AI caretaker took precautions to keep it in working order. The same cannot be said for Terra Tower, which was sealed under the sea for that same amount of time and whose defense mechanisms (of a more organic, rather than electronic, form of technology) were up to the task when freed.
Averted in Chrono Trigger, where the food stores in 2300 A.D. have all rotted because the systems designed to make it last a long time failed due to lack of maintenance. Being guarded by strong monsters certainly didn't help.
One part of Metal Slug 3D has Marco fall into decently preserved ruins of an ancient alien civilization... 8 billion years old.
Justified in Halo. The eponymous rings (and various other megastructures built by the Forerunners) are in perfect working condition, but there's robots to upkeep everything, and factories that build robots, etc. Also, a lot of Forerunner construction utilized Hard Light holographically disguised as physical materials, which would almost certainly negate many things that factor into decaying structures (though the fact that the generators themselves still function perfectly is definitely an example of this trope). Most noticeable on Requiem: while some of the structures on the Halos (mentioned to not utilize Hard Light to as much a degree as other installations) have at least some physical signs of age (smudges, some discoloration), the mostly Hard Light structures of Requiem are as perfect and clean as the day they... appeared.
The Precursor artifacts in The Forerunner Saga (which include giant star system spanning cables) play this even more straightly, being virtually indestructible despite being millions of years old, with absolutely no visible maintenance system of any kind. This somehow has to do with the Precursors' ability to manipulate "neural physics" (basically Halo's version of the Force). As to why we don't see any Precursor artifacts in the "current" time, despite their apparent indestructibility? Well, the Halos were made to destroy neurological systems of any kind, and since Precursor tech is basically made of thought...
In Mega Man ZX Advent, you can find several artifacts from the original Mega Man series, despite the fact that at least 400 years have passed since then. Legends seems to play this straight with its underground ruins full of Lost Technology, but later we find out that while the infrastructure that maintains them is severely compromised, it's still there, just hidden from the common people. Then it turns out that the common people areLost Technology themselves; a form of robot called a 'Carbon Unit', and the last actual, biological human died a very, very long time ago. We're talking Lost Technology capable of sexual reproduction here.
Mass Effect is littered with Prothean relics and buildings, despite the fact that the Protheans died many thousands of years ago.
Humans discovered the first prothean remains on Mars, which with its lack of plant or animal life, moisture, or tectonic activity, provided perfect conditions to preserve mechanical equipment under the sand for 50,000 years.
The Citadel was actually quite intentionally Ragnarok proofed, being equipped with millions of drones that keep it in working order during the times between occupation by other races.
Likewise, the Mass Relays have extremely advanced self-repair systems keeping them functioning for at least 50,000 years at a time. It is explicitly mentioned that one was caught in a supernova and was no worse for wear except that no one could find it again for a couple thousand years. Presumably the Relays are made from a material designed to last. They can also "quantum lock," becoming almost literally indestructible, when in extreme danger.
However the Prothean Megacity on Feros, and the Archives on Ilos, definitely do fit under the trope. On the former thin vertical spires several kilometers high are still standing, even after said 50,000 years of weather erosion and simple decay. On the later there are still functioning power sources, elevators, lighting, force fields and elaborate Virtual Intelligence terminals (slightly degraded). Visually, they appear like 20th century constructions that have been abandoned for only 10 to 20 years. Though Vigil does say he had to turn off everyone's stasis pods to keep the power on.
Which is again discussed in the From Ashes DLC mod for Mass Effect 3: apparently the only reason the Prothean pods failed on Ilos was lack of power. There's still one pod with a very-much-alive inhabitant in the Prothean bunker on Eden Prime.
In the second game, the Krogan homeworld of Tuchanka was apparently bombed into ruins during the Krogan Rebellions around 1000 AD. By AD 2185 it is apparently still in the grips of a nuclear winter complete with constant sandstorm, yet many of the ruins are still intact enough that you can find a recognisable radar dish, pyramidal skyscraper or even an unexploded bomb with the casing intact.
Even before the Krogan rebellions, their architecture was built with this in mind. In the second game it's mentioned that the hospitals are constructed like bunkers because injured Krogan have a tendency to succumb to Blood Rage and destroy everything in their path.
In the third game, Shepard travels through an Ancient Krogan temple complex with underground ruins, which despite being abandoned millennia ago, have survived remarkably well and only have a minimal amount of structural damage. A side-mission on Tuchanka involves a ground-to-space cannon that hasn't seen use since the Rebellions. Cerberus gets it up and running pretty quickly, which works out for you once you kill them.
In one of the expanded endings of the third game, the Reapers win, but you see one of Liara's time capsules being activated during the next cycle, apparently none the worse for wear. Unlike the Protheans, Liara thought to make sure that people actually understood them, including a galactic Rosetta Stone in the design. Likewise, Liara made sure to seed the time capsules on numerous worlds so that all civilisations that might exist in the next Cycle would be able to find them.
When you get to the sunken city of Thor in Tales of Phantasia, long since destroyed by a meteor impact, the shield around it is still working perfectly. So by extension, so are the automatic doors, the TV (and video game system) in the pub, an electronic lock and card reader, the security systems, and the main computer Oz. Justified in that the city's power comes from the Spirit of Light, Aska. After the city's been pulled up from underwater, you can free Aska and have her join you. The city systems still somehow work after that, though...
Technology made by the Quartz, ranging from a simple lever-operated door to an entire mobile fortress, works perfectly after 2000 years in Tales of Hearts.
The first games have completely abandoned sewer systems that haven't collapsed fifty years after the last human could have walked through them.
Computers and other electronics in perfect working order, even if at least one area, the Glow, was directly hit by a nuke. There's a slight excuse for the electromagnetic pulse from a nuke that would normally fry computers: because the game is set in an alternate universe, they still use vacuum tubes for computing, and while that may be slower, clunkier, and overall less efficient, they lack the vulnerability to electromagnetic pulses that modern computers have.
Fallout 3: The game is set 200 years after the War.
There are still freestanding wooden house support beams, identifiable cars (that explode), glass soda bottles that still have potable liquid in them, and a standing Washington monument.
The most grievous example? Abraham Lincoln's Henry Rifle from 1860, fully functional.
A justified example, the N99 10mm pistol was intentionally designed and tested to endure the harshest conditions for extended periods of time with no maintenance. It more than lived up to it's standards.
There's edible left-over food. You don't want to know what's in the food that leaves it edible 200 years after a nuclear holocaust.
One of the most egregious examples is the presence of a functioning power grid. Seriously, every single intact computer you find, even those in half-demolished, completely abandoned buildings, still somehow has a working power source. And at least one computer entry mentions the user having found buried power lines and tapped into the still-functioning portions of the power grid.
Some of the power grid is repaired with the use of car batteries, this is usually only found in human settlements. Where they get all of these fully functional batteries is another question.
Remember, this is a divergent timeline with an Atom Punk setting. While it lags behind our own in certain departments such as computation (Although even with vacuum tubes instead of integrated circuits, they somehow have functional AI and humanoid robots), this setting has widespread use of portable fission power. Before the nuclear holocaust, pretty much everything in the US used to run on self-contained reactors, which could in theory remain operational for hundreds of years. Of course, they're still in need of incredibly resilient reaction control mechanisms and functional cooling to prevent a runaway meltdown...
In the Broken Steel DLC, there's a fully functional train from a largely destroyed secret subway system that connects from the remains of the U.S. Capitol Building and a sewer from the ruins of the White House to a nearby airbase that proves pivotal to the game's plot. For something that survived a war from over 200 years ago, it proved to be astonishingly resilient to rust and decay, and got even luckier when it completely avoided attempts at sabotage after the War.
There are several power plants that provide energy to the Mojave area that use ambient energy sources, such as the hydroelectric Hoover Dam and the solar Helios One. They're considered an invaluable strategic resource and are hotly contested by various organizations in the setting. This still doesn't explain how various long-abandoned buildings have power, though.
Most of the tech and items left in the wastes are either on the verge of breaking down permanently or (barely) held together by tape. The ones that aren't are usually those maintained and/or built by post-War factions like the NCR.
Across all games, everything also seems to be remarkably fireproof, for a postapocalyptic wasteland where all but the hardiest plants have whithered away, all the trees are dead, and the climate has been permanently set to sweltering summer desert heat, without rain. And people run around making campfires and using flamethrowers...
Used and abused in the The Legend of Zelda series, which not only takes place over a period of thousands of years, but already has ancient Magitech in the chronological beginning, which is still running perfectly by the chronological end, despite being used (and not at all maintained) fairly frequently throughout.
Done in Marathon 2: Durandal and Infinity (3rd game). The ruins of the S'pht civilization might look run down, but anything the player needs to use (Computer terminals, shield rechargers, doors, lifts, etc) works just fine. Lampshaded at least twice.
Tycho: It's likely a quick and dirty patch into the durable S'pht hardware. These types of strongholds were build to outlast centuries of warfare.
Pfhor computer terminal: The quality of the machinery is quite extraordinary, and most of the computer terminals are still functional even after two thousand years.
Justified, in that the S'pht have been so advanced for so long that prior to meeting the Pfhor couldn't conceive of non-cybernetic intelligence. They were originally created to serve as servants of the Jjaro, a race so advanced that they could warp entire planets instantly through space millions of years before the game's timeline.
Wild ARMs - This trope inverted may actually justify the Word of God stating that all six games take place on the same very unlucky planet... just thousands upon thousands of years apart. After all, technology just doesn't last! You've still got facilities/bits of tech built thousands of years before game start in working order in 3.
Overplayed to the extreme in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). At one point in the game, Shadow and Rouge are forcibly sent to a post-apocalyptic future 200 years from the game's "present" complete with a city that is mostly intact only perpetually on fire. Conveniently, Sonic and his pals were sent to the same future in the same area by sheer coincidence, so they work together to form a portal back to the present. It works, but Shadow finds the guy who zapped him and Rouge to this hellhole in the first place, and misses the portal closing in an attempt to get answers from him. Rouge's solution? To put a Mineral MacGuffin in her robot friend E-123 Omega's glove compartment and put him on sleep mode for the next two hundred years so Shadow can find him in the future and use it to teleport back in time. Needless to say, he survives Armageddon unscathed and the plan works perfectly.
Probably justified, since they already know that the plan will work due to time shenanigans, as the game never really makes up its mind on how the time travel works. It's a minor plot hole in a game riddled with huge ones. Also, it's a Chaos Emerald, the series' go to MacGuffin for any given miracle required. It could probably not only stop itself from being destroyed, but also protect a sleep mode enabled Omega.
The same post-apocalyptic volcano city has working electricity, computers that are perfectly functional, and Sonic is even able to look up old news articles, implying one hell of a sysadmin is still devoted to doing their job.
Eternal Darkness features the Lost City of Ehn'gha, constructed by a long-dead race that inhabited the Earth before mankind showed up. It's remarkably intact, though it's use as a Guardian colony may have something to do with that. Another "forbidden city" is slightly less intact but still standing strong after twenty centuries, and in fact one of the protagonists is forced by The Dragon to perform routine maintenance. The resident Tome of Eldritch Lore also manages to survive for longer than your average book would, but then it is protected by Magick.
A strangely appropriate trope for Ragnarok Online, where the Juperos Ruins and its machinations are still in surprisingly good shape.
Metro 2033 averts this: it's only been 20 years, but the subway system has taken a heavy toll. Considering much longer planned lifetime for these facilities, decay has to be attributed to poor maintenance rather than to time alone.
Portal 2 takes place several hundred years after the end of the first game, with the protagonist having been trapped in the Enrichment Center in cryogenic stasis. It initially looks like an aversion, as the place is rather thoroughly wrecked, but the portal gun still works as do many of the center's mechanisms. In particular, GLaDOS is still around, and once you restore power, she rapidly goes about repairing the facility. Less explicable is how the original Enrichment Center, four kilometers beneath the surface and abandoned before even the first game without the benefits of a caretaker AI, remains functional.
The state of the labs and its' technology indicates that it is not several hundred years after the events of the first Portal. The technology wouldn't be working that far into the future, especially without GLaDOS to keep everything together.
Considering that Portal and the Half-Life series are in the same universe, and that the developers have said that Chell goes on to meet several key Half-Life characters after the events of Portal 2, it seems likely that the game is set a few decades later at most. However, Valve have since said that they don't plan on having any direct crossovers between the franchises - but that doesn't mean it can't happen beyond the scope of the games.
The Xel'naga from StarCraft seem to have invested in some seriously heavy-duty Ragnarok Proofing. Despite being anywhere from several thousand to several million years old, their (frighteningly advanced) relics always seem to be in working order when they are inevitably dug up and reactivated.
Caves Of Qud has this trope going on in full force with its many Lost Technology artifacts and Killer Robots, all still around after the world was ruined probably over a thousand years ago. But given one of the settings the game homages, that shouldn't be a surprise.
Go to pretty much any beach in World of Warcraft and you'll find some ruins left by the Highborne, before the world cracked open due to the hubris of Queen Azshara. That was ten thousand years ago and the ruins are still mostly standing, looking even better than Roman ruins are today.
One-upped by the Titans, which have been present on Azeroth geological ages ago. Any of their structures that haven't been damaged by the Shattering are still in pristine condition, with fully operational Magitek machinery. Justified as they have been maintained and defended by a veritable army of constructs, from clockwork beetles to Humongous Mecha, and more could be manufactured as needed at the Forge of Wills.
The underwater city of Rapture from BioShock is pretty battered and leaking at parts, with sections of it already on the verge of collapse. Yet much of it looks more or less as it did during the outbreak of its Civil War: the lights are still on, VA systems are (mostly) operational and everything's (barring some wet parts) in working order. Justified in that said mess only happened about a year before the player shows up. Fast-forward eight years to the events of the sequel and it's a different story: rust, moss and sea-crusted life are creeping more and more into what's left of the city that isn't swallowed up wholesale by the ocean. Which only serves to underline its ultimate fate as a symbol of hubris doomed to vanish beneath the sea forever.
This is completely averted in The Last of Us. Many of the buildings are falling apart a mere 20 years after the Zombie Apocalypse (in fact in one of the earlier parts of the game you go through a building that's nearly sideways) and all of the surviving humans and soldiers have taken residence in sections of the city that haven't fallen apart.
Sweet and Sour Grapes hangs a lampshade on this trope, with Silas (a ghost) surprised to see how well the ruins of his old home have held up.
Thundarr the Barbarian. It's very doubtful that the working machinery and the wrecked cars that everybody tosses around like footballs would be anything but dust in the year 3994. Same for all of the buildings which are ruined but still standing.
Partially justified and averted in "Artifacts", an episode of The Batman set 1000 years after Batman's death. All of the computers in the Batcave were entirely ruined. The suits were vacuum-sealed. The entire reason the cave stayed up was because it had braces made of titanium, which is famous for resistance to corrosion, that also had a message stored on them in binary since Batman knew the computer wouldn't keep working, and the largely intact Batmobile was presumably made of the same material.
Old New York is in surprisingly well-preserved ruins a thousand years later under New New York when Fry, Leela and Bender go there to find Fry's lucky seven-leaf clover, or when Fry and Bender escape Leela's career chip needle. The mutants have been working there in the meantime. So there's that.
Parodied in "Luck of the Fryrish", when Fry's house looks ruined in the future, but the exterior is in an equally dire state in the 1990s and 2000s.
Bender's head spent a thousand years in a New Mexico desert without looking any worse for wear. As of Bender's Big Score, he's lived thousands and thousands of years. Partially justified, in that Bender is 40% titanium (see Batman entry above) and 40% dolomite (the tough black mineral that won't cop out when there's heat all about).
There's also the cryogenics lab where Fry and others throughout the series are frozen. It remains completely functional and undisturbed while the rest of New York appears to get destroyed several times. Justified in that The niblonians (specifically Nibbler) froze him on purpose and would be watching over him/protecting him so he can save the universe in the future.
Cadillacs And Dinosaurs. (Hand Waved in that humanity has been living in underground cities, and the cadillacs are converted to run on dinosaur guano.)
The Justice League episode "Hereafter" has the JL's orbital Watchtower's communication system still functional after 75 years in a jungle without maintainance. Prior to that, it spent nearly thirty thousand years in Earth orbit before falling. Even Batman can't build 'em that good. Vandal Savage even lampshades how absurdly well its held up. On the other hand, Metropolis is a pile of rubble, with the once giant skyscrapers barely above five stories high. This is what Savage has been REBUILDING over the last few decades.
Lampshaded then subverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender. An ancient, abandoned city is in pretty good shape, but then it turns out the inhabitants still live there, just in hiding. No proofing, just actual upkeep.
Averted in Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears. Although some of the technology left by the Great Gummies still works after an unknown period of neglect (possibly over 100+ years), some do need to be cleaned/repaired/refueled before they will work. Many episodes also show that Gummi Glen only continues to exist due to the Gummies continuing to care for it - disused quick tunnel tracks are seen to have collapsed, the books in an abandoned Gummi library are seen to have rotted away, etc.
Transformers Cybertron: The four ancient starships are still spaceworthy in spite of spending millennia: mostly buried (Hyperborea), completely buried (Ogygia), sitting with the lower decks in a lake (Lemuria), or lying at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean (Atlantis). Justified in that they have very good self repair systems that have been doing upkeep the whole time, and that they were built to be extremely tough in order to protect not only their crew and passengers, but also their Plot Coupon cargo (we're talking god power stuff here).
Galaxy Rangers had the Heart of Tarkon, an ancient (benevolent!) Master Computer left behind after a massive war blew the planet back to the Bronze Age. It was awaked after many thousands of years when the planet needed its defenses. However, it was an alien technology, partly organic, and ran on Life Energy. It also may have been maintained by shamans who believed it to be the embodiment of the planet and a sacred place.
Averted in Ben 10 Episode "Ultimate Weapon", where the Forever Knights discover the location of an alien artifact and set out to retrieve it. However, upon doing so, the artifact crumbles into dust, much to the relief and amusement of our heroes.
In Adventure Time, the world of Ooo suffered a devastating war a thousand years ago, which set it in a post-apocalyptic fantasy era. However, practically everything from those days is still perfectly intact and usable. As an example, entire ruined cities have stood under the sea, completely recognizable, for about hundred times as long as they should have. Perhaps most egregiously, a newspaper clipping from before the war can still be touched, read, its picture recognized, and even scribbled on without any issue.
The Long Now Foundation intends to build a clock capable of keeping time for 10000 years. It will be accompanied by a large selection of high-tech cave paintings, ranging from schematics of the clock to a microprinted encyclopedia.
Egyptian tombs were also deliberate attempts at Ragnarok proofing, as the ancient Egyptians believed the body had to remain intact forever for their afterlife to work properly. They didn't have all that much success, at least in the case of the Pharaohs, as the conspicuous and treasure-filled tombs tended to draw robbers. That being said, the mummies themselves, while they aren't exactly full-fleshed, still have some meat on their bones, which is almost achievement enough for any sort of organic material that old.
What's inside them may be (as a rule) long gone to looters... the pyramids themselves are a powerful example of this trope. The Great Pyramid is over four thousand years old and spent most of that time as the tallest structure on the planet. It lacks only its limestone facade from ancient times; much of which was deliberately removed a few centuries later, to use for building the houses, palaces, mosques, and other monuments of nearby Cairo (the great Citadel of Cairo built by Saladin is partly built with these blocks). Barring the destructive impulses of its creators the Great Pyramid will likely last on a geological timescale.
Ironically just dropping a body in the sand will preserve it very well as it will dry out and plenty of soft tissue (skin) will survive. Burying a body in a coffin in sand retains enough moisture to let the body rot leaving just bones (both types of actual remains can be seen in the British Museum). Thus the entire mummification process is an attempt to recreate (and improve) the effect of the very simplest form of burial.
The pyramids themselves, however, have held up pretty dang well being over 3,800 years old.
The Zombie Survival Guide takes a close examination at what life will be like if, say, the last living humans on earth in a huge honking survival shelter decide to go out for a look after fifteen years of hiding.
We really don't build them the way the Romans used to. Almost all of the buildings in the ancient Roman city of Ostia Antica are over a thousand years old; most of them closer to two thousand years old. It's still safe to wander up to the top of millennia-old blocks of flats to look at the cityscape. Pompeii and Herculaneum are similar examples, although they did have the advantage of being buried for most of that time. And some Roman roads are still in use today.
Best example: Roman aqueducts. Many are essentially functional after a couple millennium of being in service. Carrying one of the main causes of erosion no less.
Most buildings made of brick and stone are technically Ragnarok Proof. The best example are medieval houses and cathedrals that are several centuries old (some churches may be more than 1000 years old) and they are still in use. Despite weather, wars and natural disasters. In Central Europe, many 19th-century townhouses are in definitely better shape (despite lack of maintenance) than concrete housing projects built in the 1950's and 60's.
The biggest danger to Greek and Roman ruins is modern air pollution. Acid rain, ozone, and other pollutants are destroying them rapidly.
Perhaps the most impressive example is the Pantheon in Rome, which was revolutionary for its time and is still of a design that nobody today would inusure...yet it's given constant use for 1500 years.
In the days before computers could tell you exactly how much cement was needed or bricks were required to do a job, the standard way of doing things was to throw as much stuff as possible in, unintentionally Ragnarok Proofing some things. Hoover Dam, for example, would likely stand for quite some time. Similarly, the Brooklyn Bridge was built in the 1870s to accommodate horse and buggy traffic, and now supports thousands of cars and trucks each day.
Albert Speer, chief architect and arguably the Only Sane Man in Hitler's inner circle, pioneered the concept of "ruin value". Taking a note from ancient Greek and Roman buildings, he argued that future Reich buildings and monuments should be built to last and from appropriate materials so that, when they eventually degraded, they would leave behind aesthetically pleasing ruins like the Colosseum and the Parthenon. Few of his designs were ever realized.
In 2012, a time capsule that had been entombed for 100 years was removed from the cornerstone of a GE building in Cleveland, OH. In addition to documents and photographs, it contained five light bulbs, at least one of which worked fine.
When firearms need to be stored for long periods of time, governments usually dip them in cosmoline to keep air and moisture from rusting steel parts. The Soviet Union did this with their Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifles, and because so many of the Model 1891/30 variants of the rifle survive today, they are sold to civilians for around $90 each in the United States.
One can also get Soviet surplus ammunition, usually from the 1960's or 1970's, but sometimes earlier. It's not uncommon to be at the range and realize that you're firing a weapon and ammunition with a combined age of well over 100 years.
Firearm survival has a lot to do with quality of steel construction, wood treatment and storage. Nitro Express rifles from the 1880s, if properly cared for, can fire just fine today. What makes the Mosin-Nagant so impressive is the fact it has been a cheap weapon from the start, and yet it performs like new...just like the AK-47s do.
One notable exception to this is some US military hardware, particularly anything built since the end of the Cold War, largely as a consequence of the budget cuts. Military hardware is designed to be maintained by teams of mechanics. Many US trucks and arms are meant to be worked on by teams and given daily, weekly and monthly maintenance checks. If abandoned , or neglected, seals dry rot, fluids evaporate and parts rust. It's made worse that some pieces of US kit are COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) so they aren't made to the tougher military specs.
The most notable recent example being the case of the ballistic armor developed for the Iraq War, which worked fine when it was first issued at the beginning but when the war unexpectedly ground down to a protracted stalemate many soldiers were left unprotected as some lots of armor decayed. This was a case of defective soft armor. The same problem happened to civilian police departments.
Both a Subverted Trope and played straight with Glacier Girl. She was a P-38 lost under the ice in Greenland. Found but unflyable, she was restored after lots of work.
Kee Bird is another example. She was a B-29 found to be flyable after 50 years on a frozen lake. Sadly a broken generator caught fire and Kee Birdwent up in flames.
The ARMARC "Boneyard" is an aversion. Tucson Arizona was chosen as the massive storage area due to the dry climate and the hard soil. Many aircraft have returned to service or others scrapped. Even then, special procedures are taken to make sure the planes are preserved. Most involved removal of ordinance, batteries, fuel and oils.
The Weapons Cache Case. During the Summer 1944 the Finnish Army, fearing defeat and occupation by USSR, arranged a weapons caching: small arms and mortars and their ammunition were hidden all around Finland, to enable quick mobilization of partisan war. The war ended on favorable terms, but before the caches were dismantled, the Communists became interested. Hence, many of the caches were left hidden. As it is almost 70 years now and most of the involved are dead, undismantled caches turn up every now and then. Usually the weapons are rusted or inoperable, but sometimes they appear in fully greased and oiled and ready for use condition.
Mount Rushmore. It is an an area that is geologically stable, and not prone to natural disaster. The granite facing erodes at a rate of roughly 1 inch per 10,000 years. It should be distinguishable as a non-natural construct for over 1 million years, and will exist for an estimated 7.2 million years. Indeed they only disaster likely to befall it is if the Yosemite Supervolcano decided to erupt, which would probably just bury it - protecting it from the elements more than damaging it.
The entire country of Switzerland. Owing to its aggressively neutral stance but unfortunate location (at least per World War II and the Cold War) it had to go to extreme measures in this direction: every road into and out of the country can be made impassable within a day using landslides to create the effect, everyone has some degree of military training, and there are large underground shelters that are rated for nuclear blasts and asteroid strikes with space for almost every citizen of the country, and using its banking system to maintain enough leverage, if needed, to possibly collapse or severely damage the world banking system. Among many other things, some of which are not known to the public. The country created a strategy of so Ragnarok Proofing itself that invasion or forced allegiance could possibly be accomplished but wouldn't be worth it and would cost the invader or threatener more in effort and misery than just leaving it alone. So far, the strategy has worked well.
It was once believed that the Germanic invaders of post-Roman Britain had some kind of superstitious horror of stone buildings, and deliberately trashed the Romano-British cities. Today it's reckoned that the towns were simply abandoned as law and order, government services and the cash economy broke down, and entropy, aided by country dwellers canibalising the buildings for stone and metal, did the rest.
Çatalhöyük dates back to 7500 BC and yet still has remains still intact enough for us to reconstruct their culture, although much of it had to be dug up and restored. It's the best-preserved Neolithic site.
Many nuclear bunkers have been abandoned since at least the end of the Cold War and, more often than not, well before that and have managed to survive in an almost untouched state since then. When you think about it, these structures use many of the same techniques as underground tombs but with an even greater emphasis on keeping out air, only the whole thing is done by a much more advanced civilization.
The Space Needle is about as close as you can get to this trope when building a tower over 600 feet tall, as it is rated to withstand a magnitude 9.1 earthquake and the winds of a Category 5 hurricane. When the 2001 Nisqually earthquake (magnitude 6.8, i.e. quite high) struck Seattle, the most that happened to the Space Needle was that the toilets splashed over their rims and flooded the bathrooms.
The Japanese firm Hitachi has developed a prototype data storage device based on quartz glass that it believes could store data without degrading indefinitely- potentially millions of years or longer.