It seems like the Ghost of Gaming Past is haunting us a lot these days. Whether it’s from data leaks of older games or releases of long-shelved titles, it feels like we’re seeing the echoes of an alternate universe where these games were released. However, we have something especially strange this time around. Here’s the story of how the Video Game History Foundation recovered a long-lost version of Days of Thunder for the NES.
It starts with Chris Oberth, who was a programmer and designer for a number of different computer game companies starting in the 1970s. One of the more famous games he worked on was the arcade game Anteater and its computer port Ardy the Aardvark. He also released a title for the NES, American Gladiators. Sadly, he passed away in 2012, but before he did, he’d mentioned that there was another game he worked on for the console: Days of Thunder. There was a different game released to tie into this movie, so Oberth’s version was lost to time.
Earlier this year, VGHF heard from a friend of Oberth’s asking them to help look through his archived materials. Among floppy disks, hard drives, cassettes, and data tapes, there was a lot to go through. There was a 5.25″ floppy titled “Nintendo Hot Rod Taxi Final,” but that ended up being more of a proof-of-concept demo to get the hang of developing for the NES.
There were more floppies that contained hard drive rips, partitioned and encoded. Rich Whitehouse went about the Herculean task of accumulating data, eventually building a hardware environment to reassemble and decode everything. The entire source code presented itself, and after extracting every archive into every format, there was a single binary file that offered up the art assets as well. Whitehouse put it all together, and after 30 years, we can finally see Chris Oberth’s Days of Thunder.
The sheer amount of dedication and passion that went into this is astounding and proof of the Video Game History Foundation’s valuable work. These folks don’t just store carts and discs on a shelf; they also dig deep into the process, even building computers to extract decades-old data and rebuild old games. They’ll be publishing a build of Days of Thunder on GitHub soon (with permission from Oberth’s family).