⇠ Luna’s Blog

Video Game Preservation and Minecraft

2022-05-10 · Luna

Note: This is an edited retelling of the original Twitter thread from June 2021.

Back in the early days of Classic and Alpha, I used to play Minecraft quite a bit on my old laptop. My data organizing wasn’t great at the time (what’s changed?) so it wasn’t uncommon for me to have a mess of multiple versions scattered about on my computer.

I was even tweeting about it at the time (I’ve been on the hellsite for a long time), including such incredible and insightful tweets as this one from late 2010:

oooooohhhhhhh MineCraft update!

— Comic Trans 💙 (@lunasorcery) September 18, 2010

In early 2011 I got my first desktop computer, and never really played anything on that laptop again. In the years following, I wiped and reinstalled the laptop’s OS multiple times — but, in the interests of not losing personal data, I took a backup of the user profiles first.

Let’s fast-forward to 2021.

Over the past decade, it’s safe to say that Minecraft has exploded in popularity, and now old versions of the game are sought after for archival. A group called Omniarchive have spent countless hours meticulously cataloguing all of the known builds of the game throughout history, following up on every lead they can find about rare versions. Some versions of the game were originally only available to download for very short spans of time, and so are incredibly hard to track down.

One rare version that was of particular interest to them is Alpha 1.1.1, released on September 18th, 2010. It was released with a major bug that turns the player’s entire screen gray, and was promptly fixed in Alpha 1.1.2. The bug-ridden Alpha 1.1.1 was only available to the public for 3 hours and 25 minutes.

Within the Omniarchive community, Alpha 1.1.1 was a long-running meme, even a holy grail of sorts. Not only did it have a short window of availability, but Mojang’s servers were under extremely heavy load on the day it was released, with many users reporting excruciatingly slow downloads, making it even harder to get. There were also rumors that it contained early prototype biome code, which, if true, would be of great interest. Across literal years of searching, numerous dead download links (on MediaFire et al), and leads that went nowhere, they’d never found it.

On June 25th 2021, I was sat at home watching TV, and just as I reached the end of an episode, my phone started buzzing. Someone had found that old tweet of mine, where I’d excitedly mentioned a new Minecraft update, and which I’d posted on the exact date of the build they were looking for. They wondered if it was at all possible that I still had a copy, and they’d caught me at just the right time to grab my attention — I wasn’t busy, and it couldn’t hurt to have a quick look, right?

I booted up my PC and looked, but I couldn’t find the backup. I remembered clearly that I’d had a “Laptop Backup” folder in the root of one of my drives, but it wasn’t anywhere to be found.


Ah! Perhaps it was on my old external USB hard drive? So I rummaged through some boxes, found it, plugged it in, and was greeted by that backup folder! I breathed a sigh of relief.

Now, I had no idea whereabouts in the backup to look, so I bodged together a quick script to look for any .jar files with “minecraft” in the path. It found several. I looked through the datestamps on the files it found to see if any were even remotely close to what the archivists were after.

Reader, I wasn’t ready. A file with the exact date they were after! Could it be?

Screenshot of Windows file explorer, showing minecraft.jar with a modification date of 18/09/2010 21:53

I wasn’t sure how to quickly verify which version I was looking at — it easily could have been 1.1.2 — so I unzipped the file (a .jar is actually just a .zip), and searched the contents for “1.1”, figuring there’d be a version number string in there somewhere.

And, well, there it is.

Screenshot of a hex editor showing the string 'Minecraft Alpha v1.1.1'

I joined the Omniarchive Discord server to let them know, and it would be an understatement to say that a few people noticed. Watching the reactions roll in, it began to sink in just how big a deal this was for the community, and I actually started shaking from the adrenaline rush.

Screenshot of a public channel in the Omniarchive server. I post that I think I've got the a1.1.1 build, along with corroborating screenshots. In response there's a lot of yelling of 'OH MY GOD' and 'YES YES YES' and 'HOLT SAHIOT [sic]' etc

The moderators quickly ushered me into a private channel to talk about the find. They asked me to DM the build over for verification, and I happily obliged. A short while later, they confirmed it — it’s legit. The server erupted with joy.

Someone also checked the file modification timestamp on my copy of the Alpha 1.1.1 build. If we got the timezone calculation right, then I likely downloaded it with less than 90 seconds to spare before 1.1.2 was released.

The story didn’t stop there. I mentioned earlier that I found several builds in my backups, and given the monumental find we’d already had, I figured I had to check the rest of them. My collection consisted mostly of common builds that had already been accounted for, but there was one other thing of note — a .jar file for c0.29_01. This was a rare Classic build, which had previously only been recovered in a modified state, and now we have a clean unmodified copy of it. Not quite as earth-shaking as Alpha 1.1.1, but still an awesome find nonetheless.

These builds have both been archived by Omniarchive on archive.org. You can find Alpha 1.1.1 in the Alpha collection, and c0.29_01 in the Classic collection.

This story blew up massively when I first tweeted it, far more than I ever expected, and even ended up getting coverage from Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, PC Gamer, Eurogamer, Game Developer, IGN, along with multiple others. The widespread attention brought numerous new people to the Omniarchive community, and as a result several more lost builds were found.

In the original Twitter thread, I signed off by saying that the moral of the story is to “Never Delete Anything”. However, on reflection, I’d like to offer some more nuanced thoughts.

I stand by my stance that archival work is important, especially in the video games space. Numerous old games are now cost-prohibitive for most people to play legally. Several more cannot be played at all any more, for one reason or another. We’ve seen multiplayer servers being shut down. We’ve seen publishers taking active steps to restrict people from playing original versions of games, in nakedly transparent efforts to push players towards buying their modern remasters. We’ve seen the rise of streaming services like Stadia, which operate in such a way that games simply cannot be preserved by players. I have the utmost respect and admiration for any individuals or groups who, despite all of this, work tirelessly to preserve the history of the industry, and in particular the efforts of the Video Game History Foundation, Hidden Palace, Unseen64, and of course Omniarchive.

However, that doesn’t mean we should keep absolutely everything. Some data — especially data involving personally identifiable information — has the potential to be a vector for identity fraud, doxxing, or any number of other forms of abuse or endangerment. Alternatively, one might have a legal obligation to delete certain records under the remit of the Data Protection Act, GDPR, etc. In such cases we have a duty to act appropriately.

Treat your data with the care and attention it deserves. Hold on where you can, but let go where you should.

- Luna