Prince of Persia Creator Rescues Digital History
The source code to the original Prince of Persia has been saved.
Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner made a remarkable discovery back in March: floppy discs containing the original Prince of Persia Apple II source code. The discs were in a box, alongside unopened Spanish Drosoft copies of Prince of Persia and Karateka, sent to him by his father, who discovered it during a bout of spring cleaning and sent it off to Junior. Mechner said at the time that he wanted to get the data off the floppies and onto a more modern format, but was naturally concerned about data corruption. 22-plus years is a long time for such a notoriously delicate medium, after all.
But with the help of digital archivist Jason Scott, Apple II collector Tony Diaz and "dozens of others who contributed their expertise via IRC, skype and twitter," he, and we, got lucky, and the data was saved. The experience prompted Mechner to offer some advice about storing information on digital media and the long-term importance of hard copies.
"Try popping your old 1980s VHS and Hi-8 home movies into a player (if you can find one). Odds are at least some of them will be visibly degraded or downright unplayable," he wrote on his blog. "Whereas my parents' Super 8 home movies from the 1960s, and my grandparents' photos from the 1930s, are still completely usable and will probably remain so fifty years from now."
"Pretty much anything on paper or film, if you pop it in a cardboard box and forget about for a few decades, the people of the future will still be able to figure out what it is, or was. Not so with digital media. Operating systems and data formats change every few years, along with the size and shape of the thingy and the thing you need to plug it into," he continued. "Skip a few updates in a row, and you're quickly in the territory where special equipment and expertise are needed to recover your data. Add to that the fact that magnetic media degrade with time, a single hard knock or scratch can render a hard drive or floppy disk unreadable, and suddenly the analog media of the past start to look remarkably durable."
But why go to all this trouble to save some old, effectively useless data in the first place? "Because if we didn't, it might have disappeared forever," he wrote.
Fans of 6502 assembly language and those with a taste for videogame history can get a look at the Prince of Persia Apple II source code and a readme file containing a bit more background information at GitHub.
The professor for the film history class I took lamented frequently about how few works from the silent era have survived to the modern day. It was really sad for me to think that there are films from some of the early great pioneers of cinema that we'll never see simply because time got the best of them.
Recovering the source code to the original prince of persia I think is a godsend. It's important to preserve our older games, but it's even more important that we save their source code in such a way that it can continue to be enjoyed decades from now when undoubtedly there will be college classes teaching the history of game development.
Such is why I sought out digital rips of the original Star Wars trilogy. I didn't find the LaserDisc ones I really wanted, but did find high-quality VHS rips. Now I don't have to worry about my aging tapes of the unmolested, Han-shoots-first edition of Star Wars.
I also bought a video capture device with RCA plugs to plug into my VCR and rip my own VHS anime.
And I'd like to remind people -- burnable optical media decay too. More specifically, the dye in them does. And while they're sure to last quite a while, if you've got some aging CDRs from the mid/late 90s, you should definitely consider re-burning them to either DVD or BluRay media, even if only to consolidate and save space.
A wonderful piece of reclaimed history. Ahhh... that 6502 source code takes me back to my 80s NES programming days. This is great news.
It's a good job PoP wasn't a Bethesda game, or they might sue for releasing trade secrets... ;-)
Paper is great, film can be difficult though. From what I've heard, it tends not to last well unless you keep it under good conditions. Seems like the only solution (for anything you can't carve into stone) is to keep it moving from medium to medium as each new thing happens.
It even produces archeological layering sometimes... I have a folder of "everything off the hard drive of the old computer" which itself contains a similar folder for the computer before that. Dug around in there recently and found some old DOS-era games I'd forgotten about. Nothing as momentous as PoP source code, but fun for a while.
So, now, it should be much more possible to make an accurate port of this game!
It's nice to see people like this appreciating their history, like this.
This won't work as long as libraries/librarians/archivars are prohibited by law to do such and the amount of time required for something to enter public domain goes up and up.
There was a rather interesting article about this a while ago: http://technologizer.com/2012/01/23/why-history-needs-software-piracy/
Another reason why copyright in its current form sucks, we see time and time again that the companies are only interested in the short-term profit and not much else, with untracable source code or art assets just a few years later, they'd rather let it rot than giving anyone else even the possibility of profiting off of it... so much for artistic integrity.
In fact I believe even the Baldur's Gate remake ran into this problem:
Background-wise, we had hoped to get the source artwork from Bioware, but they were unable to locate the source art assets for characters or backgrounds. They communicated the assets may have been forever lost.
With rebuilding all the content not an option, we examined over-painting the existing backgrounds. We were unhappy with the cost vs the quality, so we made the decision to focus our content creation on new content and attempt procedural content filtering on the old stuff. We're still experimenting with the filtering. I have high hopes, but only time will tell.