When Jordan Mechner released Prince of Persia for the Apple II in 1989, it immediately took the world by storm. Running and jumping were common tropes in gaming at that point, but the game’s incredibly fluid rotoscope animation was totally new. Combine that with the game’s engrossing combat and cerebral, puzzle-esque layout and you have all the makings of a classic.
Unfortunately, at the time, Mechner was, as he writes in his blog, “burned out on coding and seriously eager for the next chapter of my life to start.” Thus, he packed away the floppy disks containing the game’s source code, thinking he’d never need them again. Fast foward to 2002 and Mechner is working on Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. He wonders what ever happened to the original PoP code, but discovers that he can’t find those old disks anywhere. The idea was that the original version of the game would be included in the PlayStation 2 version of Sands of Time, but to do so the development team needed access to the source code and Mechner just couldn’t find it. Eventually they found a version of the Mac source code, and that was put into the PS2 title instead.
Mechner continued periodically searching for the code for the next few years, but never managed to locate the disks. That is, until two weeks ago when his father was cleaning house and opted to ship a box of his son’s belongings off, if only to get them out of the way. Therein lay the original disks.
Realizing that he could never risk losing such an important piece of gaming history again, Mechner decided the best way to preserve the source code would be to upload it to the internet. Nothing ever truly dies on the ‘net, so it seemed the ideal archival solution. The only problem was that Mechner’s code was stored on ancient 3.5″ floppy disks. Finding a machine that could read them would prove a minor hassle in comparison to the fear that the now more-than-two-decade-old disks had degraded over time.
After a bit of fretting publicly, Mechner was contacted by a group of volunteers including “digital archivist Jason Scott, Apple II collector Tony Diaz, Derek Moore, and the technical teams behind the DiscFerret and Kryoflux disk readers” who offered to help preserve the code for future generations. As of this morning the team uploaded its efforts to github, and now you too can download the original Apple II source code for Prince of Persia.
As for the moral of this story, Mechner concludes his tale by urging everyone to backup their data as often as possible. “If you have data you want to keep for posterity, follow the Russian doll approach,” he writes. “Back up your old 20GB hard drives into a folder on your new 200GB hard drive. Next year, back up your 200GB hard drive into a folder on your new 1TB hard drive. And so on into the future.”
“As for me, the past 48 hours have been a fun walk down memory lane. And have given me a renewed appreciation for paper, celluloid, and stone tablets.”