Message in a Binary Bottle

jcrf-tout2

It’s 20 or 30 years ago. You’re working on a videogame. You don’t get any credit for your work, blogs don’t exist, there’s no internet and no fanboys. It’s just you, a crusty old terminal, and got a few spare bytes left in the ROM. What now?

> Type Secret Message

OK. You’ve hidden a secret message in the ROM, to be uncovered many, many years later, and posted on the incredible website, The Cutting Room Floor.

Here are some of my favorites. Click any game’s title to read more.

Donkey Kong (Arcade)

tcrf-donkey

CONGRATULATION ! IF YOU ANALYSE DIFFICULT THIS PROGRAM,WE WOULD TEACH YOU. ***** TEL.TOKYO-JAPAN 044(244)2151 EXTENTION 304 SYSTEM DESIGN IKEGAMI CO. LIM.

I had no idea Nintendo didn’t program Donkey Kong. Ikegami Co Limited didn’t stop there — they also worked on Popeye, Radar Scope, Sky Skipper, Zaxxon, and more.

For fun, my friend Noby tried to call this number. Sadly, they can no longer teach you:

Disconnected.

Alien Breed (Amiga)

tcrf-alienbreen

DIVINE PROTECTION BY =THE MIGHTY GOD= WRITE TO ME: boberg@lysator.liu.se FINALLY YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK TO A REAL COMPUTER ===== GOD! =====

Stefan Boberg is now the technical director at EA DICE, working on the Frostbite engine, so I think he fully qualifies as a godgineer.

Stefan catches us up: “LOL, 18 year old me… I was trying on bullying, didn’t honestly think it was unbreakable. Although my first version was uncopyable — as in, uncopyable by the duplication plant!” Ah, the dangers of aggressive disk protection tricks. He didn’t remember anyone e-mailing him: “I didn’t expect more than one or two people to read it to be honest, and it’s written accordingly. It’s a message from a parallel universe or something. Things are so different today!” Of course, I know this parallel universe well — one where we would meet up at pizza parlors, bring our big old computers and monitors, set them up, and copy games, like Alien Breed, between stale bites of pepperoni — so Stefan’s message makes perfect sense, and feels like another lifetime entirely, all at once.

Blood Money

tcrf-bloodmoney

I’ll warn you now that this game has a LOT of protection, so it will be a few late nights for you lot. It’s a mugs game anyway, you should be writing games and making loads of money like me (you too could afford a 16V Astra GTE). [...] In the meantime I’ll be thinking of you when I’m in Florida, spending some of my dosh.

Developers often resorted to psychologically shaming crackers, often using the “I have money and you don’t!” angle.  I think probably it missed the point of a cracker’s motivation and likely only made the crack more fulfilling.

For the record, a 16V Astra GTE cost £9499 on launch, and looked so awesome:

tcrf-car

And Dave Jones did OK: he went on to make Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto.

Digger (Arcade)

WRITTEN BY DAVID L. EVANS, 4535 TAFT AVENUE, LA MESA, CALIF. 92041 AND BEAT OUT ON THE KEYBOARD OF A NOVAL 765!

In 2012, I can immediately see this house on Google Earth. I bet David Evans couldn’t have imagined this. The house sold in 1988.

tcrf-house

And a Noval 765 was a computer built into a desk. Yes please.

102692780.01.01.lg

Erika to Satoru no Yume Bouken

tcrf-erika

Next, Tatsuya Ōhashi. Yes, you, you bastard. Don’t give me your flippant sh*t — coming in late on the day we ship the ROM like nothing’s amiss. You can give me all the porn you want; I’m not forgetting that one. All that f***ing weight you put on. No wonder you paid out 18,000 yen and still got nothing but a kiss out of it.

My god. Make sure to read the whole thing. Co-worker gossip aired in what’s certainly one of the funniest of presentations — one page of virtual dirt at a time.

Modem Wars

tcrf-modemwars

AS FOR GETTING RICH, IT JUST AINT TRUE IN MY CASE. (GOING BROKE MAY BE MORE LIKE IT!) OF THE PRODUCTS I’VE DONE IN THE PAST (M.U.L.E., SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD, HEART OF AFRICA AND ROBOT RASCALS) ONLY SEVEN CITIES MADE ANY MONEY AND HEART OF AFRICA JUST BARELY BROKE EVEN. WHAT THIS SAYS TO MY PUBLISHER IS THE MARKET DOESN’T WANT MULTI-PLAYER STRATEGY GAMES! BUT I DON’T BELIEVE IT.

Danielle Bunten was a prolific developer and M.U.L.E. is largely considered one of the most influential strategy games ever written. I’m very surprised to see it revealed in this message that it didn’t make any money. I want to know more, but quite sadly, Danielle died in 1998 due to lung cancer.

Moto Roader

tcrf-motoroader

****************
Thank you very much for purchasing this game.
Did you enjoy it?
But who are you, to be able to read this message?
If you don’t mind, please give me a call.
NCS 03-486-6588 (Ask for Suzuki)
Or, I also use a computer connection, so you can contact me there, too.
NCS NET 03-499-5996 7:00pm to 8:00am
****************

I just like that you could’ve either phoned Suzuki-san, or called his BBS, which has classic “Mom, don’t pick up the phone!” house hours.

Pachi Com

tcrf-pachicom

You RETARDS say one thing, then something else later all the time. You’re a sound company; quit ignoring pachinko sounds and trying to put these weird sounds in instead! Do you WANT it to be this hard to hear the balls?! I’ve left the PREVIOUS sounds, so edit this if you want to hear it. Set hex address AFFC to 1FAF and AFC4 to E0EE to get decent sounds.

Wow. So management decided to tinker with the sounds in the game, forcing the programmer to play an annoying high-pitched wavering tone almost constantly during gameplay. The programmer didn’t like this and, in protest, provides instructions to ROM hackers on how to revert the sound.

So I busted out my HEX editor. Here’s management’s version:

And here’s the programmers version:

The alarm-like sound is lower and more Pac-Man like, but, well, still pretty annoying.

Spiker! Super Pro Volleyball

tcrf-spiker

ANNOUNCING -
Jessica Louise
Ettinger
July 19, 1988
3:25 a.m.
Welcome To The
Fun And Games!
Way To Go, Linda!

Pixar movies, by tradition, have a section of credits for “Production Babies” — babies born during the making of a film. This got me wondering: what’s the earliest “Production Baby” credit in a video game? Is this it?

I asked Jessica about this message. She wrote back:

“I found out about this probably after I started college. Up until then I didn’t know what my exact time of birth was since my mom couldn’t remember and I was too lazy to find my birth certificate I guess. I at least know my birth was noted to the galaxy in some small way!”

And then, some words from Steve himself!

“Yes, I put messages to my kids (and wife) in all of my Intellivision games. This one was obviously from the birth of my daughter – her two older brothers are featured in hidden messages in each of the games that preceded her birth.

I put messages into each of these games: Hover Force (1986), Slam Dunk (1987), Chip Shot (1987), Body Slam (1988), Spiker! (1989), Deep Pockets (1989). My typical ‘cheat code’ was to hold down 23 on the left [Intellivision] controller while simultaneously holding down 26 on the right controller and then pressing reset while holding them down. Admittedly a bit of a contortion act, and not easily replicated on an emulator as it turns out.

I kept the source code for many years for all of these (and more) games, but sadly with a hard drive crash and a neglected back-up I lost them, so I can’t retrieve the code and have to try to remember how to trigger these messages from memory…”

Hey, ROM hackers: sounds like Steve could use your help! Exciting to know there are more hidden personal messages yet to be discovered…

The New Tetris

tcrf-newtetris

This game sucks. The music is great but the game itself is not how we wanted it unfortunately. I mean, it is a good game, but some things could be polished, as well as sped up. Could use another month to finish this thing off AFTER all the bugs are fixed. oh well, woh is me.

David Pridie died in 2001. According to a memorial site, due to his now-infamous Tetris Rant, “he got himself and H2O in quite a bit of hot water with Nintendo. He figured it was his small piece of immortality and that no one would find it for years, if at all. It took the hardcore gamers about 3 days to find it and post it on the internet.”

Elmo in Grouchland

tcrf-elmoSee if you can retrieve them from this ROM. If you do, you win the prize. Please.. call (609) 466-2092 (in New Jersey, USA) if you have been able to view the two .GIF pictures, located in the rest of the upper 6 Megs of this ROM. We will have a nice reward..
for you…….Good Luck!….Roger W. Amidon..

Call this number today, and you’ll get… Roger Amidon!

“Good grief! It was over 12 years ago, but yes, that’s me. I have no idea what I was thinking about at the time for a prize!”

The tiny hidden image in the ROM is of Roger and his two sons:

rod001

Warpman

tcrf-warpman

THIS PROGRAM WAS
THE POSTHUMOUS
WORK OF SHOICHI
FUKATANI. HE
WAS ONE OF THE
BEST PRO

You finally get credit for your work, after you die, and the thoughtful message gets truncated in the final ROM.

Classic.

(Fortunately, his memory remains in Japan’s Wikipedia.)

23 thoughts on “Message in a Binary Bottle

  1. One of my favorite hidden messages in a game was the note that the programmer of the Dreamcast SEGA Smash Pack managed to get mastered into the GD-ROM for the echelon pirate group to find. In it he told them how to use the emulator to load any Genesis game up on a DC. The writing was on the wall for SEGA as a hardware company at that point and he wanted to see the console live on.

    http://dcemulation.org/phpBB/viewtopic.php?f=34&t=97250&fb_source=message

  2. In the courier POS system (Used at McDonald’s restaurants) roms (entire board of 512X8 roms 82S181’s, 16k if I remember correctly) was this message:
    “Not with a bang, but a whimper”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hollow_Men.
    I recognized the poem. I was poring over the 8080 roms in this system as well as the rest of the hardware functions after we scrapped all the 150 pound cpu systems which ran 12 registers. It had 2 complete cpu modules with lead acid batteries but suffered from a fatal flaw that scrapped the entire factory’s output over time. Shipping them back to Courier never got them repaired and cost hugely. The main power transformer (about 25 pounds itself) was soldered to plugs that attached to the system then siliconed over the solder. Of course the acid liberated removed all the solder from the connection as well as hid this fact. Walking by the system would cause it to crash. Unfortunately until I had completely scrapped all of them I did not discover this.

  3. In the late 70s I was working with CP/M computers and using the Wordstar editor. Configuration of the program, like setting # of rows and columns on your display, was done by hex-editing the wordstar.com file itself.

    When you went down into the program code itself and typed say D300 to display hex digits and their ASCII equivalents, this appeared:

    “Nosy aren’t you?”

  4. Easter eggs might not count but here goes. Brother worked for Viacom, they wanted to include 3 hidden videos in the beavis and butthead virtual stupidity, so they filmed it in quicktime, then changed the extension of .mov to .aiff. If you find a copy, sort all the .aiff files, find the 3 largest ones, copy to your desktop, and rename the extension to .mov. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world at the time, stuff like that slips right by the beta testers (who are usually in on the joke anyway).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Hh2NvsTccI

  5. On the Commodore PET, if you typed ‘wait 6502,n’ where n was an integer, it would print ‘MICROSOFT!’ On the screen n times

  6. Well, the Xevious text ends with “We prohibit reproduction of the contents of this text, and to reveal the existence of PS:. Observe!”, according to google translate. :o)

  7. Not sure if this was deliberately a hidden message, but in the Commodore Amiga computer’s ROM where a piece of code for handling system crashes (known to Amiga users as the dreaded “Guru Meditation”) resides, when its contents are read and displayed in ASCII, it reads:

    “The Amiga Users bring this power to you”

  8. I remember finding one in a ZX Spectrum game, where the developer went on to rant about how he was going to kick the S*it out of the B*stard who stole his car :)

  9. Not a hidden message, but just some crazy serendipity. A friend and I were nerding out going through my old Atari ST discs, and we pulled out one of my favourites: Microprose Golf. The duplication date marked on the disk: 17-3-1992. The date I had them in my hands: 17-3-2012. I just had to stand there for a while and reflect on the size of the universe.

    http://instagram.com/p/IRYFHuO6sY/

  10. BTW, I think I remember seeing the message from the coder in Blood Money when I did the crack back then. :-D Side note: It’s funny that the Scripted Amiga Emulator (HTML5) is using exactly that crack (and the one for R-Type). http://scriptedamigaemulator.net/

  11. I almost died of nostalgia. This is a reflection of our culture, a reminder of the good times :)

  12. In the beta to Domark, who were our publishers, I put up a single line message at the top of the screen that read ‘This game is shite’ that cleared itself if the frame rate was above 25fps.

    The only person who noticed, ie actually played the game, was the intern, Holly, who was pretty but not ‘hot’. She was smart though.

    The ‘Project Manager’ was a decent guy but didn’t really have a clue.
    He asked Holly out on a date and took her on a picnic.He never got a second date.

    I wished I had the gumption at the time to ask her out as I think she liked me.
    In ‘BadLands’ by Teque, published by Domark, if you enter your name as ‘HLY’ on the hi-score table it will be replaces by ‘LOV’

  13. I worked on an early Dreamcast game and was in charge of writing the code that displayed pictures on the VMU (if you remember the memory cards on the Dreamcast had little LCD panels on them and could be used as tiny, very simple game consoles). Anyway, we only used them to display static pictures during play, and an artist was meant to be making some icons for me to use. However, the artist in question was busy with other stuff so I turned my hand to some pixel art and did them myself. They turned out pretty well and it was decided to use them in the finished product.

    However, when writing the VMU display code, I noticed that although VMU could only display things in black and white, the API for displaying pictures actually accepted a 4bpp greyscale image. Values of 7 and under would show up black, 8 and above would show up white.

    I figured that this was a bit of future-proofing by Sega in case they wanted to release a more advanced VMU with a greyscale screen. It was then that I came up with a cunning plan. I made two images (one of a big grinning picture of my face, and one with my web address on it), rendered in 8-colour (3bpp) greyscale.

    So I then had two sets of images – the proper ones, which had values of 0 for black and 8 for white, and the ‘hidden’ ones which had values from 0 to 7. I added the two together, which gave me an image that would show the proper image on the standard VMU but would (presumably) show my hidden images overlaid if they ever released a greyscale VMU.

    Sadly, I don’t think Sega ever released a greyscale VMU.

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