The random ramblings of a French programmer living in Norway...
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  Modern Retro Software
Sat 29th June 2019   
If you visit the software page1, you will quickly notice that the top 10 is mostly filled by software written after the commercial life of the Oric company.

Unfortunately, these high quality pieces of software have never been released in physical form - they only existed as digital files usable on emulators -, something I really was not happy about.

Classic Oric Software

Most of the Oric Software was released on audio tapes.

There was some floppy drive availables for the machine, but a combination of high prices and lack of common standard format for the systems meant that releasing floppy version of software was not really commercially viable.

In term of packaging, most of the earlier programs were released in "Crystal Case" form, very similar to actual audio tapes containing music to play on your auto radio.

Later on, most of the games were released in what we call "Clam Shell" format, with larger boxes able to sustain falls without actually breaking into sharp shards of hard plastic.
Oric Mon - Crystal and Clam Shell versions
Oric Mon - Crystal and Clam Shell versions

Many games actually exist in both formats, originally released for Oric 1 in crystal format, and then were re-released in Atmos compatible format in clam shell version.

This happened mostly with Tansoft, Loriciels and No Man's Land software.

Some publishers only released games in one format:
  • Every IJK software game was released in Clam Shell format
  • Every PSS, Durell, Severn Software or Ere Informatique were released in Crystal Case format.

Aside of these two common formats, there was also a myriad of different packaging used by some publishers, but they generally failed to get traction either because they were unpractical, too fragile, too hard to produce, took too much room, or probably other reasons I can't think of :)

Chaos area

A selection of more exotic formats
A selection of more exotic formats

On the photo above, you can see the following:
  • an earlier Tansoft Crystal Case software still in the original cardboard box
  • Colossal Adventure, from Level 9 before they switched from cardboard boxes to double size clam shell cases
  • The Hobbit, from Melbourne House, which for some reason is in a black cardboard box without any logo or marking at all!
  • Space Shuttle, from Microdeal, which thanks to the polystyrene insert inside did not got crushed as other cardboard boxes usually get
  • Arsène Lapin and Talisman, both from Infogrames but in different size clamshell formats
  • Cobra Pinball, which like most Cobra Soft products actually came in a VHS case: Too big, kind of ugly, but pretty much undestructible
  • Lorigraph, from Loriciels, which is one of the very few Loriciels using a double size clam shell case
  • The Quill, from Gilsoft, which has by far the largest box among all the Oric software I own

Meurtre a Grande Vitesse
Meurtre a Grande Vitesse
The reason why some of these boxes were that large is that some games came with many additional elements which would not fit in one of the more usual packaging.

Level 9 software typically came with a decent manual, warranty card, but also most importantly some A3 sized colour posters!

Cobra Soft adventure games came with what they called "physical clues" that you would need to use to solve the mystery: Fragment of letters, telegrams, postcards, lost buttons and other similar fancy items also playing the role of game protection (since they were hard to reproduce)

The reason why I've been through this, is to explain what my thought process was when I started to design these physical editions for the Defence Force games.

Packaging choice

Now that we've seen what was available back in the days, it should be easy to pickup one of these and just go with it.


Except we are in 2019, and we are trying to release software on obsolete supports (Audio tapes and floppy disks), which means most of these packaging are not available anymore.

Additionally, we need to discard some of these formats because they would not be able to host a floppy disk!

So, here is some of the candidates which were considered:

3.5" Floppy, Audio Tape, 3" Floppy

On the left you can see a standard audio CD case, which if you remove the internal plastic tray can easily fit the 3.5" floppy you see above it (or a 3" floppy), but definitely not a tape.

Next is a clam shell case (standard Oric one) which can easily fit an audio tape.

And finally on the right is a Nintendo DS compatible case (you can easily find these online), which would accommodate easily either of the three possible storage media.

Looks like we have an easy winner.

Nintendo DS cases

I did some testing with these cases, and they neatly accommodated all we could throw at them, but only after being modified to remove the internal memory card holder.

Being made of quite hard plastic, removing these was definitely non trivial, and unfortunately we ended up with some nasty hole in the back, requiring to reinforce the back of the case.

Hold tight
Hold tight
Additionally there was a problem with the floppy or tape wiggling around since the internal holders were removed, making it mandatory to design something else to keep the media in place.

I came up with a solution involving some hard foam, the result were relatively pleasing aesthetically speaking but took quite a lot of time, not something I would do for many cases.

The final nail in the cofin was definitely the form factor.

My idea was to get new software to fit nicely with the old one, and unfortunately the Nintendo DS cases are both much deeper and not as tall as other clam shell games, so they definitely stand out among the rest of the software collection.

Variants of the CD storage format suffer from the exact same problem, so they also get eliminated.

Back to square one.

The Curious Case of Athanor

While I'm discussing the topic of impractical packaging for Oric games, I can't pass over the case of Athanor, a classical graphical adventure game released commercially by Eric Safar in 2014.

I helped Eric with a few issues he had in the game, and in return I received my own original version, yeah!

Athanor (Front cover)
Athanor (Front cover)

As you can see using the two other games as a reference, this thing is basically the format of a LP Vinyl, which means it does not fit anywhere since I don't have anything in this format, so i just lays on the back of one of my shelves behind some other Oric games.

I guess alternatively I could pin it on the wall or a door, but yeah, that's not very practical.

Athanor (Inside)
Athanor (Inside)

What you don't see on the second photo is that the left part of the cover is actually hollow and contains some clues, old parchments style pictures, some images, etc... so with the additional small manual and the 3" floppy in the center, you can't even pile things on top of Athanor because it's not actually flat:

Anything you put on it would risk to fall like the leaning tower of Pisa.

I believe Eric got some feedback about that, because Athanor 2 seems to come in an actual box that follows generally accepted rules of Euclydian geometry

Back to Clam Shells

At that point, I was kind of feeling I reached a dead end, but I wanted to be done with it, so I had to take some terminal decisions.

While toying around with ideas, I realized that there was actually two different types of Clam Shell, the most common one made of plastified cardboard, and a less common type made of hard plastic.

Soft and Hard Clam Shell cases
Soft and Hard Clam Shell cases

On this photo you can see the difference between the two types of cases.

The important factor is that the soft type is impossible to modify or repair, which means you can put a tape, and that's it:

Any attempt at cutting into to try to make room for a floppy will just end up with a broken case you can't use anymore.

Been there, done that.

The hard shell on the other hand can be modified, and by cutting some of the plastic bits inside, can be made to accept a 3" floppy without too much problem.

Same style when closed
Same style when closed
Different media inside
Different media inside

This solves relatively elegantly the problem for new tape games, and new 3" games, but unfortunately it does not really help with 3.5" floppies2.

Anyway, assuming we go for the hard-shell clam shell, the question become:

Where to find these?

Sourcing Cases

Fortunately for us, it is still possible to find some brand new Clam Shell Case.

Not the right type: Only the soft one, but that's not that much of a problem because it solves one part of the equation!

You can find brand new units on multiple online shops, and you can sometimes find "new old stocks" on eBay and Amazon.

One of the sure sources is Retro Style Media, which has both Black and White types:

They are not particularly cheap, but they look good: If you have a bunch of games you like, but they barely survived the 80ies, just replacing the cases makes them look like new! And even better, you can now buy the white cases to match the actual inlay color :)

Before and After
Before and After

So what about the hard shell ones, can we find them?

As far as I know, this is a negative... but you probably have some already3.

Some of these Oric games everybody has, the ones you keep seeing on ebay or sell my retro, came in hard shells: Good candidates are House of Death, Chess and Zodiac.

Assuming you have a few of these, all you need to do is to transfer the original game in a standard soft clam shell (new or old), and then use the hard shell for the new project.

Now that this problem is solved, let's talk paper and color

Case Inlays

"Inlay" is the word generally used to describe these slim paper sleeves containing the game title picture and description, inserted behind the transparent film that covers the case.

DVD, BlueRay disks, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One physical disks cases are not very different from our old Oric game cases in this regard: By separating the printed element from the actual plastic container, it is much easier to produce them, do localization, new versions, etc...

Since I decided to go with the Clam Shell format, it means I could just start from existing inlays from games by IJK Software, Loriciels or Tansoft.

Funily enough, they are not all exactly of the same size, so I took some measurements until I found some combination size that inserts nicely on every single case I could find.

Chema's original Blake's 7 leaflet
Chema's original Blake's 7 leaflet

I had made some prototypes for Blake's 7 based on Chema's original design when I did some tests for the Nintendo DS cases, but when I finally moved to the original Clam Shell format I had to pretty much redo everything.

Nintendo DS version of Blake's 7 inlay
Nintendo DS version of Blake's 7 inlay

Since I like challenges and consistency, I added an additional constraint: Whatever design I could come up with, it should work for other games and still look good.

Basically the idea is: What if Defence Force became an actual publisher, and reused the same template for all the games, which is why I worked on more than one game at the same time to make sure I could have something coherent.

This version 2 of the Blake's 7 package has some of the final design cues:
  • The center area is black, with the Oric Software logo, and the title in large in the center. The idea is that when you have many games they are all stacked or placed side by side, so all you see is the side: It should be consistent, standardized and make it easy to see these are the oric games.
  • The red and black accent lines are here to remind of the Oric Atmos color scheme
From there I moved to Stormlord and tried to apply the design template over some high definition scan of the game from another platform:

Stormlord, light blue edition
Stormlord, light blue edition

It became immediately apparent that light/pastel colors were probably not the best choice for this specific game, so I gave a shot at a darker palette.

Stormlord, dark blue edition
Stormlord, dark blue edition

The final version is not that different, basically all I did was to remove the name of the authors, the supported hardware, the big Defence Force logo and shuffle the screen shots and descriptive text

Stormlord, dark blue edition
Stormlord, dark blue edition

Modern Noise

When I presented the new design, there was a number of questions and some reticence, but I defended my choice.

Regarding the Defence Force logo, originally Defence Force is a game. It has this particular logo. It just feels weird to have this logo on all the games.

So instead I managed to find a font that happens to use the same typography as the original logo (minus the 3D effect), and I used that to just display DEFENCE FORCE as a desaturated cut out on the inlays.

It's still there, it's just not the focus point anymore, and because it's a font, we can vary the color to adapt to the palette used by the game.

Basically I'm trying to avoid this curse of modern game packages:

Publisher, platform, version, rating, language, website, disclaimers...
Publisher, platform, version, rating, language, website, disclaimers...

Of course, there's always been some information on the box, like the name of the publisher, the platform, etc... but the focus was on the game.

Now there's so much crap on a game, that the point of buying a physical edition is slowly eroding away because they are just ugly4.

An additional problem I encountered is that when you do small production runs, you can't really afford to make multiple versions of each game: You have to choose between the English and French name, you can't have an "Oric 1" and an "Oric Atmos" version.

This become even more problematic when you have the name of the authors on the box... which need to be modified because a friend helped you do the French localization of your game, so he should be on the French edition!

DIY Platform Stickers
DIY Platform Stickers
The solution I came up with is to basically remove all the variable parameters from the packaging design.

These can easily be added later, directly in the game (by having the credit list in the program itself, which is actually a good idea when you do digital downloads so they don't get split from the main game by people making these digital collections) or later on the game box using stickers (which was a common method used in the past).

Stickers and Labels

Since we are now up to stickers, let's talk about labels!

Having inlays for the box is nice, but having nice stickers for your floppies and tapes is even better.

I did some attempts at making tape labels, but I did not really come up with anything that satisfied me, at leat not when printed by me.

Failed attempt at tape labels
Failed attempt at tape labels

Some companies can do actual full color label printing for audio tape labels, one of these being also the one I mentioned earlier:

I may give another shot at some point, but at the moment I focused on stickers for floppies.

Trivia: Did you know that 3" and 3.5" floppies labels were exactly the same size?

Same label on different floppies?
Same label on different floppies?

I guess the idea was for the manufacturers to reuse a much as possible of their equipment, so by using similarly sized labels they could just change the patterns without having to change the actual paper!

What it means for us, is that we can make only one label, and make it work for both type of floppies.

It's obviously never going to be perfect, but as I said earlier, with limited manpower and budget you have to do with what you have :)

The design was obviously made first for the 3" floppies, which I consider the "official" Oric format, even if they are harder to find, more expensive, etc... if you are in the retro scene you want to be as authentic as possible anyway, but since many of the Oricians around the world use 3.5" floppies, I adapted the design so it would not totally look horrible on these floppies.

The main change I did was to make sure that on the reverse side the Oric logo would fit naturally, not be misaligned or truncated, or half folded over the edge.

Since I was going to print a number of sheets of stickers, I took the additional decision to print a bunch of blank labels that could be used for people's personal work, in three variants:

Blank Labels for Single Sided 3
Blank Labels for Single Sided 3", Double Sided 3" and 3.5"

Since a number of the people who use 3" drives only have single sided models5 I made a variant of the label so you can write on both sides6.

Final designs

In the end, I ended up with four pictures in SRA3 format7 which I got printed at a local Oslo print shop.

Of course, I could probably have had cheaper prices on some online shop, but I needed to have a test run done to validate that all the colors looked ok, and indeed I had to do some adjustment before doing the final printing.

Here is what they look like:

Inlays - Page 1
Inlays - Page 1
Inlays - Page 2
Inlays - Page 2
Stickers - Page 1
Stickers - Page 1
Stickers - Page 2
Stickers - Page 2

you can access the high resolution PNG files and the Paint Shop Pro work files on the Defence Force SVN depot.

Please note: You can download these files and do your own batches of printing, you are welcome to give them away or sell them, with the following restrictions:
  • None of these restrictions apply if you are actually the author of the game you are modifying
  • You are not allowed to remove the Defence-Force marking (if you want to put back the classic logo somewhere, sure, go ahead)
  • You are not allowed to add your own brand or markings on it
  • If you sell, it should only cover the production cost: The authors of these games gave them for free, so there's no reason you should make a profit from their work
  • In short: Be respectful of the work done and don't exploit it for your own purposes

Putting it all together

Considering how long it took to do all that, I doubt I'm going to do it again.

That was an interesting experience for sure, and I will enjoy having these games on my shelves, hopefully there will be enough people interested by having some of these documents to recover a part of the investment, but I mostly did it because I wanted it :)

What 300 euros worth of paper looks like
What 300 euros worth of paper looks like

The plan is not to send people complete boxes with tapes and disks8, from Norway that would be way too expensive, and that would require me to be able to guarantee that the tape and floppies to load correctly.

The idea is that I'm going to come up with the actual unitary price of these inlays and stickers, I will put a thread on the defence force forums asking people which one they want, and I will send that by normal postal envelopes9.

This will probably happen in about one month, I'm not going to even think about that during my July summer holidays break :)

2. You can fit a 3.5" floppy in one of the hard shell case, but that require some not really elegant cutting, that being said, it's only visible from the opening side, it looks normal when it's on your shelf, so if you can live with that, maybe?
3. Thanks to Steve Marshall for pointing out that!
4. And in most case you have nothing on the disc anyway, it still require a full download on Steam, uPlay or whatever...
5. These models only have one magnetic head, so you need to eject and flip the disk to access the other side
6. And yes, I removed the A/B identifiers, because they are useless: If you can read the Oric logo, then you are on side A, if the logo is upside down, then you are on side B.
7. 45 x 32 cm / 17.7 x 12.6 inches
8. With an exception made for Twilighte's familly, they deserve to have some physical tokens representing all the great software he made for us.
9. An additional benefit is that this will go through customs without any problem and will not require tracked mailing
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