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The Video Game History Foundation was recently contacted by a family friend of Chris Oberth, a video game programmer that passed away back in 2012. They needed help to make sense of the materials he had left behind – a basement full of old computers, notes and data backed up on various media formats.
Oberth’s family loaned the foundation the material for evaluation and what they found didn’t disappoint.
They found a clue in one of Oberth’s final public interviews where he briefly mentioned working on an unpublished version of Days of Thunder for Mindscape (Beam Software was ultimately commissioned to finish work on the game and that version is the one that was released commercially).
After ripping the disk and assembling a binary using the source code and assets, they found an NES game that was technically playable. “If anything, it appeared to be early proof-of-concept work, perhaps Oberth getting his feet wet for the first time on a platform that was brand new to him,” said VGHF founder Frank Cifaldi.
After coming up short, the team had one other place to check – a stack of nearly 40 floppy disks containing a variety of hard drive backups made with various tools over the years. There’s a deep dive on this process over on the foundation’s website if that’s the sort of thing you like to geek out on.
In the end, the team was able to successfully reconstruct the long-lost version of Days of Thunder and share it with the world for the first time in over 30 years. Best yet, Oberth’s family has agreed to let the team publish buildable source code on GitHub so you’ll be able to experiment with the unreleased title soon. Keep an eye out for that in the near future.