Lost Sierra source code miraculously found!

Long ago, in the heroic days of Sierra adventure games, amidst 80 yearsa game had just been released: Space Quest II. Thousands of players then rushed to obtain it (on floppy disks) to go on new crazy space adventures. So far, nothing unusual.

Except that… in reality these Space Quest II floppy disks (SQ2 for short) hid a incredible secret that no one has discovered until today ! Indeed, on most of the game’s floppy disks (versions 2.0D and 2.0F), the Sierra devs had accidentally left nearly 70% of the original Source code of their AGI game engine (Adventure Game Interpreter)!

Because yes, on these floppy disks which ran on all the PCs on the planet, there was not only the game but also most of the Source code normally kept secret which ran all their games since the first King’s Quest!

But how could something like this happen?

Well quite simply because of a small handling error when preparing the master diskettes for duplication. At the time, the floppy disk manufacturing process involved copying the entire sectors of the master floppy disk, including the free space. Except that, unfortunately, the master disks used for SQ2 previously contained the AGI Source code. The files had been deleted, but the data was still present in the unused sectors. And with the duplication, presto, the Source code ended up without Sierra’s knowledge on the floppy disks of tens of thousands of players!

A simple DIR command on the diskette directories revealed nothing abnormal. The main game files, such as PICDIR, LOGDIR, VIEWDIR, SNDDIR, VOL.0 and VOL.1were indeed dated March 1988. However, the free space on floppy disk 1 of version 2.0D contained fragments of Source code, from the deleted files but not completely deleted and discovered simply with the help of a hexadecimal editor .

By searching the recesses of the floppy disks, Lance Ewing was able to find 93 Source files scattered in forgotten areas! Most of these files are written in C language, the rest is a bit of assembler and DOS batch scripts. A veritable Ali Baba’s cave for retro code enthusiasts.

The crazy thing about this is that some of these C files even contained comments and a history of modifications ultra detailed! We can therefore see the names of the developers, the dates, the descriptions of each change…etc. It’s a real archaeological treasure to understand how these pioneers of adventure games worked at the time.

We thus learn that the AGI code was mainly developed by Jeff Stephenson and Chris Iden between 1985 and 1987, with the last modifications at the beginning of 88. We see their relentless work to constantly refine the code, optimize, debug, add new features. A crazy job that paved the way for all Sierra adventure masterpieces: King’s Quest, Larry, Space Quest, Police Quest…all these legends of the genre have passed through this brilliantly oiled software machinery!

Just imagine if this AGI Source code had really ended up in the wrong hands at the time, like an unscrupulous competitor… They could have discreetly recovered it and used it in their own games, stealing all the details. Sierra’s revolutionary ideas without any shame (well, a little anyway). Fortunately this little security incident remained without consequence. A miracle when you think about it!

Lance had the good idea to share all his findings in a GitHub repository dedicated to lovers of old school code, it’s a gold mine to explore! In addition, he developed his own modern AGI interpreter based on this original Source code, to run all these classics directly in the browser. The so-called AGILE, a project as crazy as it is admirable that you can test with real games here.

And if you too have old floppy disks lying around, it might be worth taking a look at them with a hexa editor, because you never know, they might have been badly erased before going to the master and you might discover some funny things there.




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