When The Professionals Trash Your Data Tape, Can It Still Be Recovered?

People trying to preserve digital artifacts held on old media often not only have to contend with the media themselves decaying, but also with obscure media formats for which there’s seemingly little chance of finding a working reader. [Kneesnap] had this problem with a tape containing the only known copy of all the assets for the game Frogger 2: Swampy’s Revenge, and the tale of how the data was recovered is a dive into both the shady side of the data recovery industry and some clever old-format hacking.

The tape was an Onstream cartridge, a short-lived format from a company whose first product hit the market at the end of the ’90s and who went bust in 2004. An old drive was found, but it proved to have a pinch roller melted with age, so in desperation the tape was sent to a data recovery company.

We admire the forbearance in not naming and shaming the data recovery company, because far from recovering the data they sent it back with the tape damaged and spliced — something you can do with an analogue tape but not a digital one without compromising the data. Then faced with an unrecoverable tape and a slightly different Onstream cartridge, how could anything be salvaged?

The answer came in overriding the drive’s sensors and initializing it with a known-good tape, then swapping out the tapes so that the drive, unaware anything had changed, could read whatever data it could find. In the event the vast majority of the archive was retrieved, making it a win for the preservation of that game.

This may be more involved than some recovery stories, but it’s not the first we’ve covered.