Questron was released for the C64, Atari, and Apple II in 1984; it was probably 1986 when I first encountered it. It may have been the first CRPG I ever completed (the first CRPG I ever played was Ultima IV, but I didn’t finish that one until many years later). I think these days it’s pretty obscure. There was a sequel in 1988, and successors like Legacy of the Ancients and Legend of Blacksilver, but there’s no MMO based on it or any kind of modern reimagining of the series like there’s been for the more popular Wasteland or Bard’s Tale.
Questron is a simple, even primitive-looking game, although that does give it a certain charm. It owes a lot of its structure and mechanics to Ultima I, and in fact there was some legal wrangling prior to the game’s release. A note on the inside front cover of the manual acknowledges “Game structure and style used under license of Richard Garriott”.
Okay, think about that for a moment. For all the similarities, Questron isn’t an Ultima ripoff by any stretch of the imagination. If you think software patents are out of hand now, just be glad this didn’t set a lasting legal precedent!
Questron – at least the C64 version which I’ll be working with – shipped on two sides of a 5-1/4″ floppy disk. The front of the disk contains the initial boot program and what appear to be the save-game files. The disk is notched so this side is writable. The back of the disk is write-protected, and it’s the one you’ll have in the drive most of the time when actually playing the game.
The copy of the game I bought on Ebay was not sealed – if it had been, I probably couldn’t have afforded it. That also means that the files on the disks aren’t in their initial state. In fact, there’s a save file for one character (you can create up to four) which I assume was created by a previous owner.
Making a Working Copy
I received Questron earlier this spring, but I didn’t have a floppy drive to connect to my C64 until May, when I got a good deal on a Commodore 1541-II disk drive. After cleaning the drive and testing it with a few expendable disks, I gave the Questron disk a try. I didn’t want to get my hopes up since 30-year-old floppy disks can be pretty delicate, but before long (by the standards of Commodore disk drives) I was playing the game.
I expected trouble when it came to copying the disks. While there are disk images of Questron online, most of them don’t actually work. In some versions, the game will crash when you enter a town; in another, everything works except for the casino games available in the towns, which break in strange ways.
I started by trying to make a copy onto a “new” floppy disk that I got from floppydisk.com. I tried a couple of old disk copying programs I had around from back in the day. First up was the nibble copier in Fast Hack’em 4.1. This program included a parameters file for Questron, but the copy I made didn’t load correctly. It’s always possible it was a bad disk, but my second try – using Maverick 5.04, seems to have done the trick. I guess I can’t know for sure without playing the entire game, but we’ll get to that in due time.
Coincidentally, it turned out that I was making those copies on the International Day Against DRM. So I guess I was doing it for a good cause:
Now that the Retrochallenge has actually started, my first step was to make another set of backup copies. This time, instead of physical disks, I used Maverick to copy the Questron disks onto .g64 disk image files on my 1541 Ultimate cartridge. That gave me an easy way to copy the disk images to a PC where I’ll be able to use a variety of tools to examine them. More on that in my next post.