Caverns of Mordia 2/2 – Q&A with developer Hans Coster

In part 1, I explained how I came across Caverns of Mordia.

Here is the Q&A I had with Hans Coster, the developer. Note that this was done before he came to Wozfest and before the re-release.


Q: It’s great you’ve still got the source code – has that been transferred onto a more recent storage medium?

A: No, it hasn’t.  I should transfer it from the floppy disk because that media has a finite retention time.  There are still service bureaus that will transfer such material.


Q: Which prompts the question, was all the coding done on an Apple or did you have access to other ways of doing it, perhaps on a uni mainframe or mini?

A: I did it all on an Apple II.


Q: Is it all written in BASIC or is there some machine code used?

A: Most of it is written in Applesoft (BASIC) and compiled using the Microsoft Applesoft compiler.  There is some machine code in there as well, mainly for sound effects etc.


Q: I only have an original disk. Was there a box and manual? How was the product packaged?

A: Yes a special box/package was made and it contained the disk and manual and command entry table.


Q: Do you have any original copies left?

A: Yes I have some original copies of the manual etc.


Q: The scanned manual I’ve found online mentions A L D’Assumpcao – how did that collaboration work?

A: Tony D’Assumpcao was a Professional Officer in the School of Biochemistry at UNSW at the time.  He was a very keen Dungeons and Dragons player (which I was not!).  He talked me into writing Caverns of Mordia.  He also did most of the drawings in the manual/story book.


Q: How did you distribute it? Was it ever distributed outside Australia?

A: By direct sales using ads in computer magazines and by word of mouth.  Some orders did come from overseas but we did not actively market it outside of Australia.


Q: I can only find one small reference to Lothlorien Farming on the internet:

Did you produce any other software? What else did LF do and how long was it in business?

A: Yes, following the Caverns of Mordia, I wrote a number of Tutorial programs for School students.  These were rote learning exercises and included The Geography Tutor, The Spelling Tutor, The French Tutor, The German Tutor and The Universal Tutor.  These all came with prepackaged lesson files but also included a facility to enter new lesson files.  The program tracked the student performance and adjusted the probability of question selected from the list to favour the student weak areas.   They did also provided feedback on nearly correct answers.

In addition library catalogue and archiving programs were produced.

These were all marketed under the Lothlorien Farming logo.

Later, I wrote a much more complicated software system for Library management.  That was marketed by Lothlorien Software.  It was called the Integrated Microcomputer Library System.  It was very comprehensive and performed all the functions then available on Mainframe library management systems, including a financial package for library acquisitions. It provided for multiple PC terminals in a network with very rapid searching. It was more comprehensive than the Mainframe library system at Fisher library at Sydney University at that time, except that because of limitations on Hard drives available for PCs, we were limited to libraries with <100,000 books.  The Integrated Microcomputer library system initially ran on both Apple IIe’s and other PCs, but later versions only ran on PCs as they offered more memory etc etc.  It was installed in many Schools throughout Australia and some sites abroad.


Q: Are you perchance a fan of Lord of the Rings 😉

A: Yes indeed!  Many of the characters and items in the game are named after those in The Lord of the Rings.


Q: The manual has a copyright date of 1980. How long did it take to write?

A: A few months.  The original version was written for my children and friend, many of whom were into Dungeons and Dragons.  It evolved and was distributed (and copied) amongst  them. Only later, Tony D’Assumpcao suggested to market it and helped write the manual.


Q: Roughly how many copies did you sell?

A: Marketing was haphazard so I cannot recall but it was in the thousands.


Q: Roughly what proportion were DOS 3.2 and DOS 3.3?

A: Not sure about that but probably 50:50


Q: This post mentions a copy protection system. Can you tell me about that?

A: Yes there was a copy protection system that I devised. This became necessary because the game proved popular and pirate copies started to appear.

For the copy protection I amended the DOS.  The altered DOS program would not show the game software in the Directory list if a user listed the Directory.  Instead a loading program appeared that itself was not the usual  loading program but contained hooks to allow the game to be loaded. In a pre-booted machine running the normal DOS, the program appeared not to be there either as the File allocation had been performed using the altered DOS and was different from what the normal DOS used. Thus it could not be loaded (or copied) from normal DOS. If the supplied diskette was booted up, the altered DOS was loaded and it could find the program although it still did not show up in the Directory and file saving was disabled.  In the game, the players status is recorded and that required the file saving to be temporarily dynamically  re-implemented. .

The whole disk could, of course, be copied by Bit copiers but they came later and in any case were not in possession of  the large majority of potential copiers


Q: There’s a downloadable dsk version of Mordia online that seems to crash a lot – would this be due to the copy protection system? Or possibly the emulators not working properly?

(My Apple IIGS is in a box in my garage!)

A: I was unaware that there is a downloadable dsk version on-line. I would be interested in getting details.

The crashing could well be due to the copy protection because that is called within the program here and there.  I have been meaning to remove the protection and re-do the whole thing to run on a PC.


Q: Someone on the whirlpool forums mentions an IBM version – was there an IBM version or is that person thinking of something else?

A: I am not aware of an IBM version.


Q: Do you still have an Apple II?

A: Yes, indeed.


Q: I’ve attached an image showing the back label of the disk. Any comments?

Caverns of Mordia disk – back label

A: The making of the recording on the diskette was somewhat laborious because it had to be initialized with the altered DOS. But that DOS had  the file saving code removed and a scrambled Directory function. Because there was room for error in this many-step process, each disk was individually tested.  The signature is that of my daughter who was 11 at that time and who was involved in making the disks as orders came in!


Q: At the end of the manual there is a registration card and mention of “The Caverns of Mordia Club”

Did you ever send out any news or updates to club members?

A: Yes indeed.  There were some very active groups playing the game. Sometimes the game nights would go right through the night!


Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Not that I can think of at the moment, but I would be pleased to discuss it further.


Q: Thanks for taking the time to answer!

A: It is my pleasure!

Caverns of Mordia 1/2 – How a vintage Apple II game came back from the dead

“What on earth is that game?”

I was mixing two of my hobbies:

  • working on a side project, my eBay frontend software, AuctionSieve
  • testing it by searching for vintage Apple II stuff

I wasn’t really expecting to find anything. I’d just fixed a bug and was doing some testing to make sure everything was working. But an auction came up. It was a ‘lot’ of old Apple II games – original disks! And the bid was still at one dollar.

eBay auction of Apple II games – this is just half of them

Let’s see – Ultima 1, Cranston Manor, (Sierra) Online systems Hi-res adventures 1-4, stuff from Broderbund, Muse, etc – around 30 games in all – all originals (no boxes or manuals though). Wait a sec, that’s a California Pacific version of Ultima 1. Some quick googling ensues. Yep, these are worth quite a bit of money.

And some weird game I’d never heard of called Caverns of Mordia.

So I put a bid in and after several days, couldn’t believe my luck. I won the auction for $10.50!

The games arrived a week later and I did a closer examination of what I got. All in good order. Yep, this was definitely a bargain. And what on earth is this Caverns of Mordia thing?

Caverns of Mordia disk

So I did some searching. I actually found a copy of the disk online in the asimov archive. Downloaded it and played it in an emulator. Real old-school stuff but unfortunately it crashes at certain points – perhaps a bad crack?

Did some more searching and found a pdf of the manual. Looked through it and found the authors – H. G. L. Coster and A. L. D’Assumpcao – published in Sydney by Lothlorien Farming copyright 1980.

Hm, I wonder who these guys are? Searched for A L D’Assumpcao – no dice. Did a search for H G L Coster and hit pay dirt – found he’s a professor at Sydney Uni and UNSW – one Hans Coster!

Hans Coster

Could it really be the same person? So I sent him an email.

Dear Professor Coster,

I recently bought a bunch of Apple II games off eBay.

Your game, Caverns of Mordia, was included – see attached image.

I’m interested in the digital preservation of items such as this and there’s not a lot of information on the internet about it.

What I did find was a scan of the manual with your name – and a quick google search later, you were easy to find.

I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about it?


Neville Ridley-Smith

And the next day, he replied!

Dear Neville,
What a surprise to r of this; a real blast from the past!
I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Actually, I still have the source code etc.
I look forward to hearing from you,

Wow, I had made contact with an original Apple II game developer.

And then I got to meet him!

By chance, Wozfest /// (a gathering of Apple II enthusiasts in Sydney) was just around the corner and after some Q&A with Hans, I invited him along and he was very enthusiastic.

We had a great time on the night. He brought along some of his original disks, which unfortunately couldn’t be imaged.

Hans at Wozfest ///

He also brought along an original manual (printed on orangey-red paper to prevent photocopying)

Caverns of Mordia manual – cover
Caverns of Mordia Manual – inside

and some of his notes and graphs he drew up when designing the game.

Caverns of Mordia graph

Much fun was had – there were even some Apple II product announcements on the night. Recap here :

So that was that.

Time passed…

Wozfest $04 came and went and I wasn’t able to go.

But unbeknownst to me, the organiser and host of Wozfest, Sean McNamara, planned something a bit more elaborate for Wozfest 5.25” – he hinted at something big in the mailing list.

Fortunately I was able to go along to this one. And what a surprise it was – a new updated re-release of Caverns of Mordia!

Hans had a slightly updated version of the game which was never released.

Caverns of Mordia source disk with never released version

He deprotected it and had his grandson type up the manual afresh. With Sean’s help they created 20 copies to give away and I was one of those lucky ones to attend in person and receive a copy! Here it is pictured below.

For more detailed info about the re-release, follow these links.

And that’s how a retro game can come back to life and be preserved. I’m glad I was able to play a small part. If you have any interest in digital preservation, now is the time to act.

Read on to Part 2 – a Q&A I did with Hans about the game which contains fascinating historical and technical information.