Saving Ones and Zeroes

Six months ago I was contacted out of the blue by a friend-of-a-friend (I don’t even know his real name) who asked if I was able to archive some old Commodore diskettes for him. I told him I could. I asked him what type of data was on the disks and he told me they contained programs he had written in BASIC and custom levels for games he had created almost 30 years ago. I gladly obliged.

Unfortunately when the diskettes arrived in my mailbox the were unreadable. This happens. I don’t know if the disks were ruined from being stored in sub-optimal conditions (old floppy disks stored in attics and garages for two decades don’t seem to be faring well) or if something happened to them in transit, but none of the disks were readable. I tried multiple devices and multiple floppy disks and couldn’t retrieve any data from the disks. I felt bad about telling this guy his data was lost.

This same individual found another batch of floppies a few weeks ago and so we tried again. This time I suggested that he write “MAGNETIC MEDIA — DO NOT BEND!” on the outside of the package. I don’t know if that makes the post office treat the package any differently en route, but it made us both feel better. When the disks arrived last week, I crossed my fingers, inserted the first one, and gave it a shot. Success!

Out of eight double-sided disks I was able to archive fifteen of the sixteen sides with no errors. One of the disks contained some read errors; through cleaning and multiple retries I think I got a working copy of the diskette, but I’m not 100% sure. As you can see in the picture above, the first disk contained saved characters from the game Mail Order Monsters and a level created for the Electronic Arts game Demon Stalkers. All of the data on all of the diskettes consisted of user-generated content. The data on these disks exist nowhere else. Before last week the only copy of this data existed on these floppies. Now they exist in D64/G64 virtual disks and can be accessed and played through modern emulation.

I don’t know if this friend-of-a-friend plans on publicly sharing these disks or not. I hope he does just so others can see the types of things that we were creating on Commodore computers 30 years ago, but if he doesn’t that’s okay too. I was just glad to do my part in saving a few ones and zeros from disappearing forever.

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