Digging up the Past – ArcVenture’s Past

If you have been following ArcVenture via the newsletter, Patreon(patreon.com/arcventure) or social media (twitter.com/ArcVenture1) you will have noticed that I have released the whole series of the original ArcVenture for playing on a PC. The original series was written for the Archimedes range of computers which meant when Windows became the dominant operating system in schools, ArcVenture was no longer usable. As ArcVenture was still very popular, the publishers, Sherston Software re-versioned three of the series to run on PC and Mac. Unfortunately with the march of time, these newer versions are no longer compatible with the latest operating systems on those platforms.

ArcVenture 4 The Anglo Saxons Work Disc
The floppy discs were Archimedes format (ADFS) and not compatible with modern PCs

When I started collecting together the old series I wasn’t sure if it was going to be possible to access the programs for several reasons: the first being that my old development machine (and Acorn A4 laptop :o) had been stolen in the late nineties and my A3000 test computer’s battery had leaked and after some attempts to get it going again was dismantled for parts. I had some success getting the demo version of ArcVenture 3 The Vikings running on an emulator having downloaded it from a CD image(raw data file) of demos released on a magazine cover. I still had the original packages of ArcVenture 1 The Romans and two copies of ArcVenture 4 The Anglo Saxons but no way to read the disks – so I took a dive into the world of digital curation and archiving.

I found a very useful Windows utility for reading old floppy disks called Omniflop which will read an old Archimedes format (ADFS) disk and make a disk image(raw data file) that can be viewed on an emulator. There is a slight drawback of this software in that it only works with in-built floppy drives, not USB drives, so the choice of computers to use for the task of conversion is not great. When the conversion was complete I had two disk images for ArcVenture The Romans and three for The Anglo Saxons – then came the next roadblock: the copy protect that was originally put on the disks to stop illegal copies being made prevented the disk programs running on the emulator. Without access to the original development code, I thought that the first ArcVenture may be hack-able as it was written in BASIC and the source code could be altered to ignore the protection system but the Anglo Saxons program was written in C and would need a re-compilation of the source (which I didn’t have anymore) to get round the protection, or so I thought.

ArcVenture The Romans Resourcs
All the resources for each package are available to download.

I had started to think that getting ArcVenture to run again was not going to happen and the window of opportunity was starting to close in that not only would the hardware to convert these disks (if they could still be read) would soon be very difficult to obtain but I was also having trouble finding any copies of the original ArcVenture 2, The Egyptians  and ArcVenture 3, The Vikings. Considering that in the first few years after they were released, many thousands of the packages were bought by schools and home users I was surprised how difficult they were to track down. It was then late in 2019  that I happened upon a Twitter conversation about old games that were played at school which introduced me to Dave Hope who was busy de-protecting and collecting Sherston Software titles. I sent him the disk image files for ArcVenture one and four hoping that he may be able to circumnavigate the protection system.

My faith in Dave was rewarded very quickly as I was soon posted screenshots of the working programs ‘sans protection’ and my impetus to continue with the rest of the series was re-energised. I started scouring all the online shops, forums and computer museums in the search of the other two titles in the series. I found ArcVenture 3, The Vikings at CJE Micros, still stocking 25 year old software! It was very much a J.R. Hartley moment (for younger readers see the eighties Yellow Pages advert on Youtube). The Egyptians was more difficult to find but thanks to the Museum For Computing History, I found a copy that I could take an image from (along with all the paper resources) so I popped over to Cambridge with my 20 year old lap top (with built-in floppy drive running Windows 2000) to meet Jason and his team to re-complete my collection.

RPCEmu running ArcVenture
The emulator runs as if it is running RISCOS 3.71

So with a bit of fiddling to get things working well in the emulator, lots of scanning of resource documents and some help from community of people who still curate software and skills from decades ago, there is now a downloadable package of all four original ArcVenture programs and all their associated resources that can be run on a modern Windows PC. There is also a version that I have compiled for the Raspberry Pi but I haven’t released that yet as there is a problem with the sound system. The Windows download is available to anyone who is signed up for the free newsletter and of course all the ArcVenture Patrons (see the button on the front page 😉 )

Development on the main program has been continuing alongside this release and some prototyping will soon be available to see.

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