Well, as I said, somebody told me on Reddit, and linked me to this story. But still, pretty fucking cool!
Hahaha! Yeah, my aunt and uncle would’ve been really thrilled if he had shared them with me
ohhh its cuz andi tweeted about it, it was retweeted by K.thor and exp magazine too
and i see jason scott in the replies
Holy shit, you’re kidding me… That means it was found on my birthday, August 1. This keeps getting better and better!
Thanks! Great present!
Have you tried looking at any other Channel F games? I’d be interested to know if he did this in other games he programmed.
I have pored over a disassembly of the system’s built-in games, but didn’t find any identifying stuff. (Interestingly, it looks like both Hockey and Tennis share the same main loop.) No idea who did it.
I don’t recall anything special being in videocarts 1-3, but I only looked at them in that graphics editor above – I didn’t do any code analysis.
I’ve made a half-finished annotated disassembly of videocart 16, Dodge It, but that game doesn’t have any identifying information either. It has a couple of unused things (the letters F A S T in its graphics set, a routine that makes the screen flash) that I’ve meant to document publically but haven’t. I suspect that game was made by the same fellow who made Video Whizball (Brad Reid-Selth) due to some superficial similarities, but I haven’t done any actual code comparisons to verify.
Most of the other games I haven’t really looked at too deeply. The trick with peeking with that graphics editor doesn’t work as well with later games that use their own bespoke rendering code instead of the BIOS’s routines, since the graphics aren’t always 8 pixels wide. Actually untangling the code on my own time is somewhat time-consuming, and I’ve burnt out a couple times when trying to balance that against school or work or marriage.
I’ll look into this stuff some more when I get back from vacation (or rather, back to my laptop).
Very cool. How common are these bit-pixel image easter eggs over all? Did it become pretty common at some point?
And thanks for dropping by, mkglass. It’s interesting to get even some personal perspective on who he was.
This is the best thread
Just wanna echo how fantastic this all is
Kudos to @RT-55J for doing this kind of painstaking games history work, and big thanks to mkglass for telling us about the person behind the easter egg! This is awesome.
Someone on the linked Twitter thread mentioned that any documents you find from your dad’s career may be of interest to the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. I’d like to back that up, it’s a great museum and they do put a big emphasis on game history.
Stanford also does great archival work related to games. Henry Lowood would be the guy to contact there. Archivists do great work in preserving and organizing old records, exhibiting them, and making them accessible to researchers. Papers or other artifacts related to the creation of early video games could have a lot of historical value.
Did some quick and dirty investigations various games preceding Spitfire.
The Channel F built-in games have graphics for the charcters 0 though 9, G?TMX-:, and various slanted lines. I’ve done enough looking at the code in the past that I’m confident this game doesn’t have a secret message.
Also, various carts use graphics and functions from the built-in games. If those games don’t have additional letters of their own, I’m going to assume they don’t have secret messages either.
Videocart 1 is a multicart with 4 (four!)
games pieces of software in it. Tic Tac Toe has a bitmap font that includes the following characters in this order:
Using that as a text table in a hex editor reveals that the game has 5 (five!) strings in a length-string format. All of the messages are used, although the -, C, and H in the font appear to be unused (in these strings, at least).
Length: 15 - _______________
Length: 10 - YOUR_TURN!
Length: 8 - YOU_WIN!
Length: 15 - YOU_LOSE_TURKEY
Length: 10 - ITS_A_TIE
(Yes, the game really does have a 15 character blank string. It appears to use it to undraw the text.)
(Also, yes, that is the game’s real loss message.)
The other three games on the cart don’t appear to have any notable graphics of their own.
Videocart 2 reuses the Shooting Gallery game from the previous cart, and that doesn’t have anything interesting. Desert Fox only has tank and playfield graphics, so I doubt it’s hiding anything.
Videocart 3, Blackjack, has some letters:
(Yes, a bitmap of the letter T is really included in the game 4 different times.)
The graphics for cut, hit, and bet are stored separately from the rest of the graphics, and each of those words is preceded by a byte that appears to determine the word’s color. Thus, it is unlikely those letters would be referenced by a string elsewhere.
As far as the other letters, I doubt they’re used for a secret message.
The Atari 2600 was released in September of 1977, months after Spitfire, so none of its games would qualify.
The RCA Studio II, however, debuted in January 1977, which means it (probably) predates Spitfire.
Taking a quick look at some of its games, I’ve noticed two things: (1) viewing the graphics in YY-CHR still works, and (2) aside from the built-in set of games, most of the games are half or a quarter of the size of a typical Channel F game (1 kB, or even 512 bytes). Nothing immediately stands out from what I saw. Maybe somebody familiar with its assembly language would know better.
As for dedicated Pong and Pong-like systems (1st gen stuff), I doubt they’d have any secret messages able to be seen by the end user. However, I think it’s very likely for that at least one of them has something whimsical or personal etched into the silicon itself. That research, however, is outside of my purview (who wants to decap antique electronic chips?).
Beyond that, there’s still several dozen video arcade games predating the Channel F Spitfire, and quite a few mainframe/terminal-based computer games. These kinds of games are not as well-documented as home console games are, and quite a few games from this era are lost forever (as far as anybody knows). Any of those games could be hiding secrets.
In conclusion, I had Quadra-Doodle from Videocart 1 running in the background as I was writing most of this post. This is what it looked like after an hour or two:
I just want to further encourage @mkglass to reach out to some preservation experts. If digging into your dad’s past feels like a big stressor a museum might even be able to take care of some of the labor for you or boil it down to just interviewing you or something.
To give you some idea of the significance of this (if you don’t already know), almost every every video game history book or article tends to mention “the first Easter Egg” in Adventure for the Atari 2006.
This kind of thing is considered a little bit more than an oddity, because it harkens to a historical period when game designers/coders were actively told they were not allowed to “sign” their work. Easter Eggs like these are seen as the first push by game creators to acknowledge that they were doing something creative–that their work has meaning beyond a temporary novelty. As it turns out, they were right: and many smaller games are well remembered as stepping stones to the the mature medium we have today.
I don’t want to pump you up too much: Adventure is also remembered because it was a very influential game, so to most gamers (even those weird enough to really care about video game history), your dad will probably be a curious footnote or trivia question. However, we don’t know what historians might find. If someone wants to write a book about the Channel F, knowing about your dad could unlock everything. Maybe his name will help find a coworker who’s still living. Maybe we can find out exactly what was going on in those offices way back when. It would be interesting!
So yeah: I’m sure whatever firsthand access you can offer would be really interesting to the right preservationist. And if you need help making those connections some peeps on here or Reddit can likely help!
This is kind of off topic for the thread, but I have a lot of fondness for the Channel-F because as a kid I knew somebody who had one and I had no idea what it was but the concept of video games was inherently cool even if the games were really simple.
So this shit is extra cool to me.
A good way to qualify the Easter Eggs, is that Adventure had the first one to be found by players while the game designer was still living; Spitfire’s similar egg was buried so deep as to be a time capsule.
Hence this comment thread.
(And yes, I’m another someone who signed up, just to post this comment. I’m not a gamer; the last game I learned was Backgammon, 7 or so years ago.)
If you like Backgammon, you might also like The Royal Game of Ur. It’s a bit older than Backgammon but prior to Backgammon’s propagation by the Romans was the killer app of the river vallies.
What if this thread just became discussions of pre-chess board games?