Search for the frog

A frog catches flies, soothes a snake with a flute and glides weightlessly through space. That was it: my very first PC game, which I played when I was about four years old. At that time, my father worked in Mainz at the big computer company IBM – a goldmine, because the employees there traded huge amounts of games back and forth on floppy disks. So this pixelated frog must have made it to our home, which surprised one of the developers a few years later: “The three of us developed the game at the University of Kaiserslautern in the physics department and put a copy protection on it, so that it only ran there. So I’m surprised that you were able to get your hands on it when you were four years old.” In retrospect, I’m also surprised and it didn’t really simplify the search for the game almost ten years later.

I can’t remember if the floppy disk broke at some point or got lost when I sorted it out. Possibly I needed the 1.44 megabytes of the disk for other things, so at some point the frog was simply formatted away. But later I really wanted the frog back: “I associate a lot with the game, because it sealed my entry into the video game world.” I wrote these lines on a video game forum in 2001, including all the info and memories I had of the game: “A frog catches flies, soothes a snake with a flute, and glides weightlessly through space.” That’s all I remembered. No title. No developer. No publisher. No release date. There was only one answer to my post – and this answer was unfortunately wrong, because I really wasn’t looking for Frogger. The following years I wrote again and again – in irregular regularity – new requests for help in other forums. Always without the desired success.

I didn’t search the internet for the frog every day. Not once a week or once a month. Maybe once or twice a year. Even in 2007, six years after I started searching, the frog must have jumped into my mind again, because I came across a thread in the GameStar forum from 2006 called “Searching for the name of an old game” – and I liked the content: “I once had a game, where you controlled a frog and had to eat all the flies in a level. Traps, like spiders and shoes stomping from above, included.” And even though the first reply in this thread was, how could it be otherwise, Frogger, the later posts contained exactly the answers I had been looking for so long: “I have hints that it might be 20th Century Frog.” And a few posts below that: “I have the game here! My father still had it in his collection!”

I wrote a long detailed private forum message to the lucky owner of the game and was sure that my search would finally come to an end. I got no reply. Now I had the title of the game and even the name of the developer, but I still didn’t have the game itself. So at the end of 2007 I wrote the following mail to the developer, whose mail address I could find somewhere on the Internet:
For years I’ve been looking for a game where you had to hop through levels with a frog and catch flies. There was a space level and you had to soothe a snake with a flute. When I played the game I was just four years old and it was my first PC game. Now after a really long search I found out that the game is called “20th Century Frog” and is said to have been developed by you. If I am right with you, I would be incredibly happy if you still have a copy of your game and would send it to me. That would make me incredibly happy after years of searching.

In January 2008, the beginning of the search for the frog was already seven years ago, I received an answer that I had not expected: Wow. Yes, I developed the game,… but I’m not the only developer of the game and I’m very sorry, but unfortunately I didn’t take a copy of the game. Three of us developed the game at the University of Kaiserslautern in the physics department and put a copy protection on it, so it only ran there. That must be the reason why it can’t be found anywhere. In retrospect, I think it would have been wiser not to put the protection on it. However, I’m surprised you were able to get it at the time as a four year old. Maybe one of the other two developed the game further – I don’t remember a snake. The last time I saw it, the highest level contained a bar, a spider web, a roller, a flying bird and a stork, I think. Once you were through that, it started all over again, but you had to control two frogs instead of one. Then three. Meanwhile, I’d like to have the game too, if only to show it around….

He has it by now. I emailed it to him a year later, after discovering it on a Russian site in 2009. After a few failed attempts, due to the Russian language barrier, I finally found the right download button. I installed and played it right after that. I never played it again. I miss searching for my frog.

If I were to start my search for 20th Century Frog today, it wouldn’t take eight years, it would take eight seconds at most. For a few years now, there have not only been a few Let’s Plays on YouTube and countless Classic / Retro sites that have included the title in their database, but also the possibility to easily play the title in the browser.

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