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.)

The DAK Catalog

The Paper Life-Changer

It’s unbelievable.

When I was little, my favorite thing to read was the DAK Catalog. (Yes, I was an interesting kid.) I’d pore over them, page by page, usually at the dinner table, dreaming the technology inside between bites of Shake ‘n Bake.

Drew Alan Kaplan — DAK — felt like your personal connection to a world of overseas, cutting-edge technology, selling the 80’s to you every month, via direct mail.

Sure, the products were, or at least looked, amazing. But the true star was the catalog itself. Drew wrote every word of every page. Or was that part of the pitch? It doesn’t matter. He sold goods like his life depended on it.

Nearly every product got a full page. The photos were amazing. His copy always clever and concise. The strange, compelling headlines. The “$20,000 challenge” to a radar detector competitor. The electronics that were bargains because of “printing errors” or “missing switches”. You wanted to read it all.

I learned a lot from DAK. So I wanted to share it with you.

World’s Cheapest Time Machine

These catalogs are even more fun in 2012. Fax machines. Shredders. Graphic equalizers. So many phones. So much has changed in a short period of time. We’ve watched it happen.

But I discovered a shocking hole in the internet: nobody had these catalogs online that I could find. So I started buying them on eBay — about one shows up a year, and I am the only person who ever bids. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person who loved these pages. I might be. That’s why I scanned them all for you.

There’s something in here for everyone. If you’re a designer, you’ll appreciate the amazing product photography and layouts. If you’re a technologist, you’ll love seeing how far we’ve come. If you’re a writer, you’ll revel in the crisp copy. If you’re a humorist, you’ll laugh at the bear phone.

I hope you enjoy these catalogs as much as I did, and still do.

Click on any cover to download a PDF of that catalog (about 50MB).

(What happened to DAK? After some troubles with Tokai Bank, the money, and the catalog, went away. His amazing Y2K-special website tried to capture the essence of the catalog but just wasn’t the same. He declined my requests for an interview.)

If you have any DAK catalogs lying around, let me know and I’ll add them here!