Unlocking game preview secrets

I’ve always been fascinated with finding hidden messages/sprites and other assets within games, either via a particular SYS call, or via hacking with an Action Replay cartridge. It was ever since I was given a SYS call which pulled up a demo called “Daring Dots” by Ash and Dave, which was hidden away in their Fruitbank game and when my friend Jason Kelk gave me a SYS call which pulled up the complete intro sequence to his Reaxion game when Commodore Format froze it just after a particular effect had ran.

Then there was the famous “Trap” demo tucked away in the game of the same name by Tony Crowther. The hidden messages within the Ocean Loader before a game fully loaded in. There were many, a good few we have documented here:


As well tales of unused sprites/assets in Paperboy on the C64:


If it wasn’t in a desperate way of filling up space, it was leaving left overs behind due to a lack of space (which was the case with Paperboy anyway).

A recent part of my weird “curiosity” has been looking back at the previews and demos which companies gave to magazines to put on their covermounts back in the day.

I have found that in some instances, demos come with some extra screens and bits tucked away (or even plain on show). There are potentially tunes in the previews which are not used in the final version – two examples of which I found recently with the Flying Shark demo from Commodore User magazine and also from Nobby The Aardvark from Commodore Format.

There are instances where the preview has looked fairly different to the final version. The very well known example is of course R-Type which CVG released, which was infact a completely different development to the final version that surfaced – which you can read more about here:


Another more recent finding with visible differences has been with Dragon Ninja’s demo from ACE magazine – containing a rather different main character sprite than the final version, as well as a completely different score panel and position. See below for the comparison!…

ACE preview of Dragon Ninja
Final released version

But what I have enjoyed far more is discovering that some previews contain far more than they should have done. Pretty much giving away the entire full game, just with only certain small segments unlocked to create the illusion of a “preview”.

My first discovery of such a thing was with the Arnie 2 preview on Commodore Format. The preview was a small segment of Level 1, before it cut away with a “Buy the game if you like it… blah blah…” type screen. Several months after the preview and game was released, one of the magazines produced an interesting tip which showed how you could exploit a flaw in the background graphics to slip past a barb wired fence at the very start to then just edge round a corner to complete the first level.

Slipping through the fence to Level 2... whoo hoo!!

I didn’t have the full game, as I really hated the sequel compared to the first game, but I just wondered what would happen if I tried the tip on the preview. Would it crash?… What would it do? … To my shock and surprise, the level was completed and I was suddenly playing Level 2!! The programmer had practically given the entire game away and just locked down specific parts. The second level was fairly glitchy, and you randomly died – but with cheats enabled – you could go all the way to the end of the game and complete it. Only the rocket at the end was missing, but you could still shoot where it was and get the congrats message.

I hadn’t really discovered anything similar since then, apart from some half finished extra levels in Fuzzball’s demo for GTW. But then recently I learnt of a demo of Bubble Bobble which was given away on ACE magazine’s covermount. Infamously ACE had accidently given away the full version of the Spectrum version on the same tape, but luckily recalled most tapes before too many copies sneaked out. However, I had wondered if the C64 demo was much different to the final game as I had never seen a demo of the game before.

Stephen (Mort) Stuttard kindly dug out the TAP image of the game and I took a look. Initially there was nothing obviously different – sound, graphics and the 5 levels in the preview were exactly like the final game. However, oddly the levels were out of sequence – they jumped from 1, 5, 8, 10, 15. Was there a possibility of the other levels being tucked away?

I passed the preview over to Vinny (C64endings) Mainolfi, who has been prolifically hacking various games over the past 6 months or so and producing some excellent crazy hacks to extend the life of games which had otherwise ran out of life. I knew that he would be able to discover if there was more to this preview, and he didn’t disappoint!

Last level within the ACE preview

After a bit of hacking around, Vinny discovered that pretty much all 100 levels are tucked away in the game. Below is a screenshot of the last level from the preview. At present a bit more work is required to get a full game working, as the characters are jumping randomly – but at the moment I can now set pokes to set the 5 levels to be whatever I want. When I have a bit more time, I hope to compare levels more closely to the final game to see if there is much (if any) difference.

It is pretty awesome to think that many people who had the preview, in fact had a near enough complete game without ever realising. Had the crackers at the time realised this, then it could have caused a bit of a stir 24 years ago. The awesome creator of the game was probably rushed, and didn’t have chance to strip assets – and maybe the jumping of the characters is part of a protection measure which was done quickly. It doesn’t matter – no-one found out until now 🙂

The discovery (thanks to Vinny Mainolfi) has stirred my interest into finding out if other previews also have more content tucked away, and so another job on the list to dig out some old covermounts! Vinny had better get ready for some more files going over his way! 😉


2 thoughts on “Unlocking game preview secrets

  1. altribit October 8, 2011 / 10:44 pm

    Great info, as usual :).

  2. Jason October 11, 2011 / 7:33 am

    There’s a way to get the Daring Dots demo up from within Fruit Bank itself, although it took me a couple of hours back in 2008 to find the relevant code and work out the keypresses needed! On the titles page, type “cor blimey crikey an all that an everythin” (the dropped letters are deliberate) and hit return – as long as the crack hasn’t had that part of the RAM scrubbed it should work.

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