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Dev rescues '80s text adventure source code by baking tapes in an oven

Dev rescues '80s text adventure source code by baking tapes in an oven

June 28, 2017 | By Alex Wawro

June 28, 2017 | By Alex Wawro
More: Console/PC, History

Source code for a number of early text adventures released by Magnetic Scrolls has reportedly been recovered after tape cassettes holding the only known backups were baked in a 45-degree (Celsius) oven for about eight hours. 

It's a fun story that highlights the work involved in finding and recovering game dev artifacts, which often requires going to crazy lengths (like say, raiding forgotten storage units or recreating a '70s oscilloscope) to preserve work with historical value.

The recovery of the Magnetic Scrolls game code was spearheaded by the folks at Strand Games, which was launched by Magnetic Scrolls cofounder Hugh Steers and interactive fiction fan Stefan Meier this year in an effort to revive interactive fiction and produce new open-source IF design tools. The company has already released a remastered version of the first Magnetic Scrolls game, 1985's The Pawn.

According to a blog post detailing the recovery effort, a box of TK50 tape cartridges holding the only known surviving backups of Magnetic Scrolls' games (which were reportedly all developed on a DEC MicroVAX minicomputer) was recovered recently and matched up with preservation enthusiast Rob Jarratt, who had a compatible tape drive hooked up to a working DEC.

However, when the tapes were tried they wouldn't read due to degradation (aka "Sticky Shed Syndrome") so Jarratt attempted to bake them long enough to dry them out so they could be read, without destroying them. It worked well enough, but Jarratt and company figured out they had to also do some repair work on the tape drives themselves before the data could be fully recovered.

It's a strange tale, one that deserves to be read in full over on the Strand Games blog. In the end, source code for a number of games was recovered, and Strand reports it's currently working on a remastered release of Magnetic Scrolls' 1987 game The Guild of Thieves that will include original source code and a special thanks to Rob Jarratt.


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