WHHRRRRRR. CHNK. CHNK. CHNNNNNNKKKK. No, I’m not choking. I’m reminiscing about heady days perched before a Commodore 64, eagerly awaiting something amazing rocking up on the screen of a rubbish portable telly, by way of a floppy disk, a cable, and what to my mind back then felt like magic. But some of that magic has now been extinguished by the Sauron of reality. And that’s because floppy disks are dead.
At least, the 5¼in ones I once used are. My Facebook feed recently displayed news that C64 software publisher Psytronik Software has discontinued its budget range of disk games, due to dwindling floppy supplies. (The premium line has a dreaded ‘while stocks last’ temporary stay of execution.) Reboot of classic C64 magazine Zzap!64 has followed suit, shuttering its disk covermount Patreon tier forever.
Why floppies were fab
This all shouldn’t come as a shock. Floppy disks have been around since the mid-1970s, when IBM had to make the tricky decision whether they should be used as a storage medium, an angular frisbee, or a weapon prized by tech-savvy ninjas. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel sad they were finally – albeit many years after they ceased to be commercially viable – about to disappear for good.
I’ve in the past been vocal about my belief cassette tapes were always rubbish and should be consigned to history. A big part of that was how awful they were as a games medium. Sure, they were cheap. When I was a kid, petrol stations sold rubbish budget games for two quid. But tapes were also prone to getting eaten by a player. And even when that didn’t happen, they were slow.
You might get angry on firing up your PS5 and it deciding in that moment to download a colossal update. But every single time you loaded an early C64 title, it’d take 20 minutes to get through the process. Later, turbo-loaders reduced this to a more palatable five minutes, but by then many games were multi-load. And that was hell on cassette, forcing you to rewind and fast-forward a lengthy tape to get to the bit you needed.
By comparison, floppy disks were fast. And they were freeing, due to allowing a computer to get at arbitrary data on demand. This made possible ambitious fare like Little Computer People – a kind of proto-Sims/Tamagotchi mash-up that when reworked for tape made it appear like the titular LCP had received a lobotomy.
Death of the disk
Now, there aren’t enough disks to go round. Despite valiant recycling efforts, we’re at the dregs stage, and no-one is going to produce more. It’s not like hipsters will suddenly be strapping disk drives to their legs – there’s no revival on the way, of the kind vinyl and cassettes enjoyed. And while one bloke in the US soldiers on selling the later (and decidedly less floppy) 3½in format, that business is on borrowed time too.
Before long, the floppy disk will exist solely as a Save symbol in apps too lazy to think of a better design, clicked on by people oblivious to what the medium once represented, while old folks look on with rose-tinted specs and remember the good old days. Although they’ll then probably remember that, actually, SD cards and SSDs are way better. And even if you still use old systems, hardware exists to have them talk to new storage tech with relative ease, giving you an even bigger dash of freedom.
So perhaps extinction of the old is for the best after all. Although good luck getting quality game cover art to fit on a micro SD card label.