Recovering the code of Prince of Persia

March 29th, 2012 10:18 PM
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Filed under Game trail, History, Mainstream coverage, People;
3 comments.

Jordan Mechner, rockstar programmer responsible for Prince of Persia and Karateka and keynote speaker of next week's PAX East convention, published a comprehensive journal of the making of Prince of Persia. In the book and on Mechner's Web site are notes, sketches, concept art, demo videos, and more — a wealth of information he preserved from decades ago.

Yet for all that time, there was one vital piece of data he was missing: the original source code. Whether it had been overwritten, lent or donated, mistakenly or purposely trashed, or simply lost remained unknown to Mechner, despite his best efforts.

This week, that long-lost treasure fell in his lap when his father mailed him a box of assorted unidentified floppies. Contained therein was Prince of Persia in its rawest form.

It never occurred to me that Mechner didn't already have PoP's source code. Given that PoP has appeared on platforms as recent as the Xbox 360, I wonder what version or fork they were basing that port on. It makes even more recent independent ports all the more impressive.

Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal followed his role as Mechner's Prince of Persia
with the lead in
Source Code... coincidence?!

Mechner's next task is to verify the integrity of the floppies and migrate the data off them. New hardware like the FC5025 and Kyroflux are miracle workers in our ability to access vintage media via a modern operating system, but the fact remains that the floppy disk is a magnetic medium whose charge is dying. I started (but did not finish) my own floppy migration two years ago. It's easy to dismiss it as a low-priority project compared to ongoing and more demanding tasks, but it will be all too soon that I'll have put it off too long.

Once the code is recovered, I wonder what Mechner will do with it? It's still copyrighted material, so will he continue to keep it a secret — or will he publish it under Creative Commons, allowing a variety of variations and ports?

All this reminds me: David X. Cohen, co-creator of the television show Futurama, reported almost five years ago that he too had programmed an Apple II game that needed rescuing from floppies. I wonder what ever came of that?

UPDATE (Mar 30): Jason Scott tells me, "You'll be delighted to know I am leading this expedition."

(Hat tip to Sean Fahey)

Floppy preservation

July 8th, 2010 12:31 PM
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Filed under History;
7 comments.

There seems to be an emerging number of technologies for salvaging old data — not only the recent FC5025, as reviewed in the latest issue of Juiced.GS, but other methods that continue to enjoy developer support, such as ADTPro. I first used ADTPro after setting up an Apple IIGS in my office and wanted to make backups of its aging hard drive. Having done so, it's now occurred to me that I have overlooked a trove of much older data.

Box of floppies

So much data, yearning to be preserved!

A brief perusal of the disks reveals several Apple Writer and Dazzle Draw data disks. Neither appears to be a format supported by MacLinkPlus, but the original Apple Writer is a free download courtesy the Lost Classics Project. In the worst case scenario, perhaps I can use Sweet16's text screen capture function to convert some of the text, and standard screenshots for the images.

My collection also contains several games that aren't exactly lost treasures. Every Apple II user seems familiar with the likes of Ultima or Tass Times in Tonetown, but I've never heard anyone sharing fond memories of Ardy the Aardvark — and I can find no online reference to Pylon Racer and Electra Laser. The clamshells for those latter games don't even have screen shots; I'll need to boot them in an emulator to stir my own memories.

Finally, my collection doubtless includes numerous pirated programs, as we were all younger and stupider at the dawn of the personal computer era. Though I cannot in good conscience enjoy these programs now, I am glad for the opportunity to preserve them for posterity, should legitimate copies prove extinct. With magnetic media subject to decay, now is the best time to save this data before it is too late — assuming it isn't already.

I expect to convert these programs into disk images over a period of several lunch breaks, with cataloging of their contents to come later. A disadvantage of ADTPro over the FC5025 is that it requires a working Apple II computer. But since I have that hardware, I appreciate the advantage of having access to both 3.5" and 5.25" drives connected ot the Apple II. Access to both formats from a Mac or PC is possible but require different approaches, whereas ADTPro can handle both with ease.

Who knows what lost classics of my own I might discover?