Dusting Off Crusty Old Software

Yesterday, a phone call cam and was like one of those cans of compressed air designed to blow the cobwebs off my neurons. Someone teaching psychology at a school located in the middle of the US was interested in a multimedia project dating back to 1997 (and that was when it was completed).


Negative Reinforcement University (NRU) was a multimedia CD-ROM that was actually content designed by a team of students and a faculty member. NRU was sketched out to be a game-like exploration and experience of negative-reinforcement, with the navigation metaphors lifted directly out of Myst. It was one of my favorite of all time projects.

Back in 1997, the web was not very viable for creating this, so it was done as a CD-ROM built in Macromedia Director. We did manage to convert it to a version that does play back via the web using the Shockwave plug-in. It looks horribly cheesy now, but I always loved the non linear flow and the small things embedded into it that made navigation not a fixed path of choices, but a subtly guided nudging one.

Anyhow, the person who called me noted it was hard to use in a browser because of the funkiness of the Shockwave plug-in and asked if there was a downloadable version, even if it was a big file (the total content size is about 50 Mb, which was huge then but not such a big deal now). I checked my archived CDs, which were pressed to boot for both Mac OS and Windows. The Mac version actually played back okay in OS X (running in Classic), not bad almost 8 years later. On the PC, though, I found that the old code meant to detect the version of QuickTime present was faulty, and the program would exit saying there was no QuickTime, although I knew there was.

I thought it would be a quick fix if I could find the source code for the launcher, delete a few lines, and re-publish the executable. First it took a while to locate my original development files- they had been archived off of my mina drives to some still unclear destination. But I did find a CD with copies of the old files.

Next was trying to get Director 7 re-installed on my Dell laptop. I found my install disks, but this version was an upgrade, and it kept promoting for a valid Director 5 or 6 serial number… and I could not find them anywhere in our software cabinet. We did some major summer cleaning, yikes. No worries, we have a FileMaker database with all of our software…. except the number someone entered was clearly NOT a valid Macromedia serial number, short by about 10 characters. All I needed was an old Director 5 serial number… so I admit I surfed one of the software crack sites that list serial numbers. I had a valid copy of the software I needed, just needed to convince the installer of that. Go ahead and arrest me, but Macromedia’s software reliance on old numbers is rather crippling.

Once I could open my launcher file, I commented out 3 lines of code, published a new executable, and we were back in business. It actually worked as it should have on Windows XP.

The download files are still hefty (30 Mb compressed) and I am thinking about learning (by doing) about publishing them as torrent files, though the number of people interested in this antiquated software must by very small.

So NRU is back in business! Our football team this year is not expected to do well, but the archery team is top ranked.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.