Hidden secrets in games

Update: 11th July 2016 – Added Jet Power Jack hidden hacker messages (See top)

I’ve always had a bizarre interest in the things we were never meant to see – I don’t know why, it’s something i’ve had ever since the day I discovered a cheat which allowed me to be immune to fire/water in Fantasy World Dizzy and helped me to discover odd looking screens which were not part of the game. The desire for discovering unseen materials is why I run a preservation project for games that never saw the light of day.

Getting hold of and sharing something that we waited months for back in the day when magazines showed promising previews of a particular game, and which eventually never showed. However, it’s not just unreleased/lost games which interest me, but its the little details within the games that DID make it.  Most of you are probably well aware of the term “Easter egg” in the computing world, being a small piece of code which is buried away and unlocked in a particular way (Via a code or a key combination).   With C64 games, there are loads of easter eggs buried away in the shape of mini-games,  demo’s and messages from the developers – unlocked via a combination of key strokes or accessing a strange part of a game. Finding an easter egg is pretty neat, but there is much more awaiting discovery that we may not be aware of – things classified as easter eggs maybe, but not intentional ones…

No, i’m talking about bits of unseen ‘assets’ within games …  unused sprites, music, background graphics and even levels! There is a lot of this kind of thing tucked away in the games we all love and know very well, but unless you’re actively digging around – you most likely will never get to see these things.  You may not for instance get to see the cheeky message hidden away in Army Moves Part 2 (See below) unless you were hunting around in the code with a Machine Code monitor. After starting a thread recently on Lemon64 forum, it seems others out there are interested in this kind of thing – and its got me hungry for starting up a new segment/category on the up and coming new GTW portal site (Which btw will be here soon!).

Very quick fire pages/entries for particular titles with hidden bits and pieces, showing you the assets or even how to get access to them.  It’s a slight expansion from just covering unreleased/lost games, but I think it will be an interesting one.  Let’s see how it goes…. As a taster, below are some samples of hidden bits and pieces discovered in a few C64 titles (Thanks to those over at Lemon64 for discovering them)… Continue reading

Orpheus’ Young Ones conversion story

Recently I got chatting with the C64 developer of The Mighty Bombjack for Elite back in 1991, Geoff Phillips. Very nice chap, who also had a lot of tales from his earlier development days at Orpheus, who were most famous for their Electrosound tool.

Geoff offered to tell a story behind the development woes of The Young Ones, and was happy for me to post it here. So here it is below… enjoy!

Development of The Young Ones

“So I’ll tell you a bit about the Young Ones game. Paul Kaufman and John Marshall went to meet Rik Mayall, and Lise – possibly Ben Elton. I sadly did not go to that meeting – Paul reported back that Rik leant back too far in his chair and fell backwards… We had permission (with obvious rights payments going to Rik/Ben) to develop the game – would that be 1984? Whichever year, it was early in the year when we started. I say we, but I didn’t do any programming, just possibly bounced some ideas around…

At that point I was still working from London, and coming up as needed to Hatley St George, and obscure place near Biggleswade – so obscure that even the nearest bakery was about a ten mile drive down windy roads. Somehow, John had gotten in his head that the AI needed to be farmed out to another programmer and he knew (somehow) a student at university called Stephen Streeter. He would bring his viola to the office, and we had that bizarre thing of him practising viola in between programming. Time passed by, the summer holidays meant presumably that Stephen would be able to do his bit. Summer drew to a close, but still there seemed to be no progress. At that point, Paul, myself and John drove to Stephen’s digs, a smelly student’s room somewhere in Cambridge and we tried to assess what code he had written.

What Stephen had in mind seemingly was that the characters in the game must *want* to meet their objectives. He was writing code to create true AI, but was struggling [perhaps not unreasonably when I look back – we all used pure assembler back then] to make the code function. Then we looked at the code – developed on the BBC Model B. I was horrified by his coding methods. He was not using a proper symbolic assembler with labels and meaningful names. His code consisted of lines of assembler strung out on a line with manually calculated branches! We looked at a few lines, and immediately (by counting instructions) saw two lines with wrongly calculated branch values.

I don’t want to be too hard on Stephen – he was a very nice fellow, and I went to his parents house once for a meal. Soon after John realised he’d have to do the coding himself – he had already done the graphics side with the animations and main game drawing. Time was pressing on though for a release… possibly too late even then. I think he probably knocked up the game logic in a couple of weeks. He used what any sane programmer would have done – tables of objects. For myself, I had to do the package that would be duplicated…. I had created a turbo loader … the C64’s own loader was always too slow. We tested it and it worked reliably. And so John finished the game.

We all piled in Paul’s car and drove up from Bedfordshire to Batley, Yorkshire, where the tape duplicators were. We had in mind that they would take our master tape, and whizz, done, all good, we could come back again. If only…. The tape went through their test rig to make a sample copy. The copy didn’t load… And the hours passed by, evening fell, then night, and I worked through the night, trying to make the damn thing work when it was copied. It was the timings you see, too tight for the copy to work. In the end the really nice guy there in charge of duplication found a way round it – they had their own duplication code that they knew and trusted. Totally exhausted I put in his code.

It was now the middle of the following day, and I was too tired to continue. We found a b+b nearby and getting very strange looks put our heads down for a few hours sleep. What I remember from that experience is that when I put my trousers on the chair of the room all my loose change fell out, and I didn’t ever remember to collect it. Back to the factory. The replacement code worked… but then that led to some new problems which weren’t of my making… I don’t remember what exactly, the game crashed I think …. but John had to work on the main game itself, and this killed some more time. Finally though, the game was put in the bag… with a few bugs (in the game itself) caused by the rush to complete all the logic in such a short time.

The game was too late for Christmas for the main distributor.. I don’t remember exactly what happened there. I recall piles of Young Ones boxes everywhere. I fell asleep in the car on the way back (glad I wasn’t driving) and slept at Paul’s house. I think it took me days to recover! I remember being annoyed at the others back at the office who didn’t seem the slightest bit grateful at the effort made.

I think the disaster of the Young Ones killed the company as I said previously. If it had been sucessful we would have had the money to develop other games. It was a slow downhill slope to doom afterwards!”

Geoff Phillips

Trip to Retrovision 2011

Well, it was straight back to work yesterday after a fantastic 3 days of retro gaming at Retrovision 2011 in Oxford.  Following on from last year’s event, this was some more of the same gaming goodness.

I was up at 4:30am to catch a 5:20am train to London Victoria, then switching at 9am to a bus to Milton Keynes, where I met Vinny Mainolfi of C64endings.co.uk fame.  From here Vinny drove us both up to Oxford, quickly checked in at the hotel (Which had superb “all you can eat breakfast” every day! 🙂 )and headed straight over to the venue at the Follybridge Inn.  Things were quiet on the Friday, as most people were still working and the large majority of people were to arrive on Saturday.

We grabbed some lunch quickly to fill our boots, along with host Mark Rayson and also Vintage Matt and Rob (Psycho Rob) Callister.  Matt and Rob both had brought along their 3DS’, which I hadn’t played on before – so I had a quick game of Ridge Racer.  Overall, it was a neat machine – the 3D effect worked well (although Vinny had a bit of motion sickness from it after a while).

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Moons of Jupiter (Vic 20)

1982 Romik
Code and design – David Byrden

As you have probably guessed by now and from my blog, I have particular fond memories of games from my childhood, none more so than on the Commodore 64, Atari 2600 and also the Vic 20. One such Vic 20 game is yet another along with Chariot Race which is firmly en-grained into my memories, the classic ‘Moons of Jupiter’.

Cover art for the game

‘Moons of Jupiter’ was the product of David Byrden, who came over from Ireland to work for Romik Software back in the early 80’s. Romik were particularly stand out compared to most companies at the time. Most companies would hire a talented artist to create an amazing fantasy inlay – which very often covered up a game which was to be very poor once you loaded it up. Romik wanted to be open about what you were buying, so proudly presented screenshots on the front cover (Although earlier covers were actual carefully handdrawn screenshots).

David Byrden was caught up in the buzz of creating games when starting up with Romik, though the flirtation with developing games in a new era was to be sadly short lived:

“My technical skill in hardware was matched by my complete lack of business acumen and so I didn’t enjoy much success from gaming. I went to work for Romik, wrote some games-to-order which were greatly inferior, then the company folded in 1985 and I returned to Ireland. In retrospect I should have honed my coding skills and sold my services to a more long-lasting company.”

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Retrobyte: I-Ball 2 and Bug Bomber

Last few weeks have been pretty hectic, preparing for a job interview and working through small lists of projects (including digitising some retro videos for the GTW YouTube channel.). In between i’ve been flicking through some old gaming magazines and noted these two gems which I haven’t played in a while:

I-Ball 2 (C64, Spectrum, Amstrad – 1988 Firebird)

Firebird were one of the early companies to have a budget label with their 1.99 silver range.  I-Ball was one of their flagship titles where you had to rescue your family through around 16 vertically push scrolled levels.  Very frantic and surreal based shooter which won many fans, especially the C64 version due to its brilliant music by Rob Hubbard.

The sequel was a quieter affair, and doesn’t really get as much attention as the first game – which is a shame as although it doesn’t quite feature the rush and excitement of the first game,  it plays very well.  You see, the sequel is more of a platform blaster type affair, where you have to navigate through 50 still screens of action, opening up pathways to get a key to exit to the next level.  Hoards of re-spawning enemies makes this task a little difficult.

Although not quite as loud as the first game, this is worth checking out – especially for the very cool speech throughout.

Bug Bomber (C64, Amiga – 1992 Kingsoft)

The next title I have particularly fond memories of on the C64.  My first experience of it was with a 10 level demo that was given away with Commodore Format magazine back in 1992.  I played it to death, by myself and also with the 4 player mode that came with it.

At the time Bomberman was pretty big, and the desire to play such a title on the C64 was huge.  Although a Dynablaster licence was due, it sadly never surfaced.  Luckily Kingsoft decided to produce their own clone of the series with a title which was set on a computer keyboard, and had the same general idea of trying to clear each level of all the creatures inside it.

The major difference with Bug Bomber, is that creatures are laid onto the grid as eggs, which if you don’t get to and blow up in time, will hatch into a variety of different creatures which can shoot at you or run around at different speeds.

Also with your character, as well as setting bombs – you can lay mines, bullets which will fire once an enemy crosses its horizontal/vertical path, and also your own eggs!  These eggs can hatch into energy to build up your supplies, creatures to turn enemy eggs into your own and creatures that you can send into battle.  All of these different features are accessed by holding down fire and pressing in a particular direction – no need to use keyboard to access particular features.

Overall there are 100 fun levels to play, and during the later part – things get very challenging.  Once you’ve passed all 100 levels, you then have chance to play a 2-4 player match (With two people on keyboard).  Finished off with a superb Chris Huelsbeck tune on the title (Which was his last on the C64), its a superb game from towards the end of the C64’s life that you may have missed.

Unfortunately as a result of its late-coming, its hard to find an original – but its out there in a downloadable format for emulation if you want to check it out.

Many thanks to Lemon64 for the shots!

Roughing it up with Speedball 2 (C64)

Continuing a semi-regular highlight of gaming titles, today I spotted mention on a retro forum about the love of Sensible Soccer and Speedball 2 – which in turn prompted me to dig out Speedball 2 on the Commodore 64.

Title screen - thanks to Lemon64.


Generally when sports games are highlighted on the C64 and which are the best, generally for football you get the likes of Microprose Soccer and Emlyn Hughes International Soccer listed. For Golf, World Class Leaderboard and for multi game events, pretty much all the Epyx titles.

Sadly Speedball 2 has never really received the full attention it deserved, which might be due to the fact that it was released so late into the C64’s commercial life when many had upgraded to the likes of the Amiga or 16-bit consoles in 1991. It was also one of the last Imageworks titles before Mirrorsoft went under.

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New era of digital preservation

In the age where technology is ever moving and evolving, what of the technology which has come and gone?  And in particular with the data which has been forgotten about and disguarded?

These days there are pockets of digital preservers whom specify in preserving materials from a particular medium.  For example preserving VHS/Vinyl to digital form is something that has been happening for a number of years.  Like VHS, disks and tapes will sadly eventually decay and render useless in years to come as materials deterioate and signals fade and so it is important to have digital backups of these materials before they disappear altogether and have means of being able to access that data.

One of my big interests is digtal preservation in the retro gaming world.  In particular across the Commodore brand of machines,  the Commodore 64 and the Vic 20.  This includes digitally backing up complete copies of tapes as digital .TAP files and disks as digital .D64 images which all can be ran back via a PC based emulator and are preserved for future generations.  This process in the past has often been fiddly and quite tricky, with special cables having to be built to connect Commodore specific hardware to a PC and transfer data.  The PC had to have a particular old style parallel port as well, which led to myself using a very old laptop from the late 90’s.

DC2N and 1541U2 plugged into a C64C. NOTE! .. The DC2N is not normally plugged into a C64 by default as it primarily runs standalone, but only if I wanted to play back TAP images to the hardware.

Thankfully within the past year or so we have been blessed with two new pieces of hardware which has made the process a whole lot smoother, and with the extra bonus of being able to play back our preservation work on the real hardware.  These two pieces of hardware?   The DC2N and the 1541 Ultimate V2….

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