Defaced credits in the end sequence of SDI
If you read computer magazines in the '80s and '90s, you probably saw regular articles about how evil cracking groups installed viruses, added bugs not present in the originals, defaced title screens and replaced the in-game credits from games.
On the Amiga, a small number of the early games were compressed down to a single file and occasionally had their title screens removed (if the cracker didn't know what the hell they were doing). But the majority of these games retained their loading screens, and any vandalisation amounted to having the publisher's copyright message replaced with "cracked by xxx". As for viruses, I am sure that was a myth created by publishers and for some reason the magazines were happy to spread the rumours. A cracking group would be outcast as a bunch of lamers if their games regularly contained viruses. It just does not make sense! And very few games were not cracked correctly by the main cracking groups. I would imagine this would have affected a very small percentage of games (maybe 1-2%).
Perhaps due to single sided disk drives on the Atari ST, compact disks seemed to be extremely popular and these often had loading pictures removed (to save space) along with defacing the in-game credits. Having never owned an Atari ST, I can't vouch for the viruses aspect or badly cracked games, but I imagine it's a similar case to the Amiga.
You may wonder why am I going on about this? While writing the WHDLoad installer for S.D.I. (Strategic Defence Initiative) from Activision, I found a very strange ending screen on the original. I have been sent 3 different disk images of the original from 3 different countries over the years, and decided to check out the other 2 versions, along with the Paranoimia cracked version. All versions are the same.
I downloaded an Atari ST version of the game and extracted the ending screen to compare:
As you can see, most of the credits have been removed, replaced with the cryptic message "Now your numerical base is shifted by one" and "The barf is in your bucket". Coder Alaric Binnie's name has been replaced with "Do what?", and the artist Bryn Redman's name was removed.
And this is on the original version, not a defaced cracked version!
It is the first case I have ever seen where the team working on the game has defaced their own credits! So who was responsible for this mess?
I would like to state right now that this investigation is my own analysis and guesswork - and therefore may be completely wrong!
I managed to track down the graphics artist for the game, Bryn Redman, who kindly answered a few questions.
The rest of this discussion is from disassembling parts of the game and searching for various strings in the code.
Let's start with a comparison of the loading screen on the 16-bit versions:
The Atari ST loading screen specifically mentions the graphics artist Bryn Redman and programmer Alaric Binnie. The developer credit is clearly visible showing Source, which is short for Source - the Software House.
The Amiga version has all the developer information stripped out, and a cryptic THEM displayed instead. The sections that housed the developers look pretty clean images suggesting they had access to the original assets before the developer credits were added.
I asked Bryn: Do you have any idea who put the Amiga version together? And were you the only graphics artist involved in the game?
Bryn: As for the coding credit, I really don't know who put this game together. The graphics are all mine, but when I worked on the game it was ST only, so this has been pulled together outside Source. Although quite possibly by someone 'moonlighting'.
High score table
The next clue comes from the names in the high score table, along with the disk format:
The Atari ST version only shows 3 letters for each name, and several initials in the table stand out. AJB for Alaric J. Binnie, BRR for Bryn Redman, SAUL for Saul Marchese, ED for Eddie Gill etc.
Incidentally, I used the Pasti STX files to obtain the Atari ST image above, so hopefully that was a completely clean copy of the game.
On the Amiga, the top name has been replaced by TEHM (suggesting a possibly mis-spelling of THEM or vice versa) and the second set of initials ZZKJ offers a big clue. As far as the Hall of Light team are aware, ZZKJ is short for Zareh Z. K. Johannes who wrote quite a few Amiga games, most famously Super Hang-On. The disk format used by the Amiga version of S.D.I. is also identical to other games ZZKJ worked on.
Since ZZKJ is not the top name, my guess is that TEHM/THEM made the Amiga specific conversion and ZZKJ helped to master the disk.
Hidden Statue of Liberty screen
On the Atari ST, there are 2 files called LIBERTY1.PC1 and LIBERTY2.PC1. These files are called LIB1 and LIB2 on the Amiga version, as ZZKJ's disk format only allows 4 character names.
The Amiga version has "For credits..... see other end screen" written in the bottom right hand corner. Other than that, they are identical.
Curiously, this file is never used by either version of the game! It simply takes up disk space! Seeing as it has the number 1 in the filename, I tried to find any reference to this before the second image, but found nothing at all!
I asked Bryn: Do you recall anything about the picture with the World Trade Centre on etc? Was it supposed to be in the game, or was it not quite finished etc?
Bryn: I remember creating the screen with the WTC on. Like a lot of games at the time (and now) everything came together in a rush at the end and I guess the reason it isn't used is that the programmer forgot about it. I think it was based on a similar screen in the Arcade version of the game.
Visible Statue of Liberty screen and credits
When you complete all 12 levels of the game (in offensive and defensive modes), you are treated to an image of the statue of liberty along with the game credits, while a flock of birds fly across the screen from left to right in a sine wave pattern. This is the most heavily defaced screen:
If Alaric had done the Amiga version himself, I cannot imagine that he would have removed all those credits. Why on earth would he? Even if he was moonlighting, why would he remove the graphics artist from the credits? Obscuring his own name is one thing, but removing someone elses and writing all that garbage instead? It sounds like someone who was angry with the conversion job did it!
Back to Bryn for more information! I asked him if Alaric was the person he worked with for the ST version and if it was possible to contact him:
Bryn: Yes, Alaric worked on the ST version of SDI and may have created the Amiga one as well. He would certainly have had access to all of the assets. Alaric and I collaborated on a number of projects, he was also the programmer for the 16 bit versions of Tusker, we worked on the project freelance after leaving Source. Unfortunately you won't be able to contact Alaric as he passed away recently.
A preview for Tusker in The One for 16-bit Games issue 15 (December 1989) confirmed Alaric working on SDI. Unfortunately, it never specifically spelt out if he worked on the Amiga version. The Tusker preview simply states:
The man charged with translating the story (Tusker) into 16-bit is Alaric Binnie, otherwise known as 'Baldrick' to his 'friends'. Among his other projects, the most recently released was Activision's conversion of Sega's coin-op SDI, on which he worked in partnership with graphics artist Bryn Redman. Bryn's also responsible for the distinctive cartoon-style graphics of Tusker.
I asked Bryn: What can you tell me about the ending credits screen in S.D.I. with the birds?
Bryn: NEOchrome and OCP Art Studio on the ST were very much the tools of the trade until Deluxe Paint came along. The screen you sent through uses an image of the statue of Liberty that was captured from a photograph using a video camera, which I thought was an amazingly high-tech way of generating graphics back in 1987.
I used the same technique to create a loading screen for Predator and also scanned in drawings and sketches for sprite animations on other games.
With regards Tusker; the bulk of the graphics were produced by me whilst working freelance, certainly all of the in-game graphics. System 3 reneged on payment for my work, as a result I think some of the ancillary graphics (such as the loading screen) were finished in-house, possibly by the individual 'DOKK' you've identified. The spelling of my name in the credit screen is incorrect, it should be 'Bryn' not 'Brin'.
Restoring the missing end sequence
For the WHDLoad version, I decided to alter the end sequence code to display the missing Statue of Liberty picture showing the (now destroyed) World Trade Center.
I replaced the move instruction at $3efbe with a jsr _EndSequence call like so:
$3efbe move.w #0,$5f1c8 _EndSequence move.w #0,$5f1c8 ;Stolen code jsr $3efc6 move.w #$1a,d6 ;Load LIB1 image jsr $3efea ;End sequence with birds move.w #0,$5f1c8 jsr $3efc6 jmp $3efe6 ;LIB2 sequence
The game now loads the LIB1 image, and flies the birds over the screen. Once you hit the fire button, the existing routine runs which loads the LIB2 image and flies the birds over it!
When this webpage was published back in December 2013, this was where the investigation stalled.
Alaric had passed away several years earlier. Eddie Gill (one of the managers at Source) replied to several questions I sent him years ago, but never replied regarding this game. Bryn Redman was brilliant but only knew about the Atari ST version that he worked on. The initials 'TEHM' were in several places throughout the code, suggesting the initials 'THEM' on the title screen were actually a mistake. And I had no clue who the initials represented.
But 9 months later and completely out of the blue, a very interesting message arrived!
Neil Jackson to the Rescue
While attempting to solve this mystery, I contacted everyone I could find that was mentioned on the credits screen as well as the Source facebook page. I found the producer Neil Jackson on facebook and sent a message, but never received a reply (due to the way facebook obscures messages from people that are not in your friends list). Out of the blue, he got in touch in September 2014 and all but solved the mystery!
I am indeed the Neil Jackson from Software Studios/Activision/Electric Dreams, and yes, I was the producer responsible for SDI on all formats.
Initially, your webpage had me scratching my head somewhat - 1987 is, after all, a damned long time ago. A lifetime away, it feels. Sadly, as Bryn has already pointed out, we lost Alaric not very long ago, and he would undoubtedly be the best person to ask. I distinctly remember him saying, at the completion of the ST version (which was finished in the customary manner, on-site at Terminus Terrace in Southampton, home of the Software Studios, having dragged the programming team - i.e. Alaric - in-house to work on the project up to the very last minute, quite literally sleeping on the floor under desks, etc.)... he said "One number, Neil... it's hanging together by one number. If one number goes wrong... that's it! Kaboom!" I can still see Baldrick's (our pet name for Alaric at the time) cheeky grin as he said that. I've used that same phrase a thousand times since when talking about dodgy code - it was "Alaric's Tale" - sadly, now it's kinda his epitaph, but I'll never, ever forget him. He was such a great lad - full of fun and laughter, with a wickedly dry, wry sense of humour. I had the pleasure of working with him again almost a decade later at Argonaut, but that's another story.
Anyway... I'm pretty sure that the Amiga version was a very early 'port' - of sorts. Porting wasn't the kind of operation that was done that often back then - it may even have been our first. Hard to be sure. Certainly Amiga and ST architectures are vastly different, and it certainly wasn't a routine affair. As I recall, something happened which meant that Source (a contracted-in development house in Leeds, for whom Alaric worked, that was hired to do the ST version and possibly others - I can't remember) couldn't do the Amiga version, or it stalled in development, or something. I'm pretty sure Alaric was tasked solely with the ST version, but cannot recall exactly what happened with the Amiga, other than at a late stage, it was handed over to a very good friend of mine, ZZKJ (Zareh Johannes) and his friend Tris Mabbs, who wasn't, as such, a 'games coder' by trade.
I believe Tris (who is the TEHM in the high-score table) did the conversion of Alaric's ST code into an Amiga-runnable version, and is probably responsible for the strange end-credits. I do remember Tris and Zareh working closely on things (they were both based in Canterbury at the time, and Zareh still is), and this will certainly account for Zareh's Amiga loaders, etc, being in place. Like most of us at the time, Tris also had, shall we say, a heightened sense of the ridiculous, a great sense of humour and this smacks of him all over.
As I said, he wasn't a game developer, per se - I think he worked in Unix systems, and I remember him demonstrating some amazing Windows-based operating system code he'd been working on for some system or other (which I forget, sadly). He was a true oldschool 'hacker' (not a cracker - I'm using the original definition here - of someone who could make any sort of code work on any sort of system with a lot of hacking, sweat and tears). By Tris's definition, he wasn't really the coder - he was the converter, the translator, the means to the end. As such, he probably deliberately 'outed himself' from the credits other than by his secret code (TEHM).
Zareh was similarly known (or rather not-known) for his near anonymity, preferring only to be known as ZZKJ, so this kind of thing wasn't uncommon by any means. And there you have it.
We obviously missed some aspects of Tris's changes to the end-screen in testing (again, not uncommon)... or possibly we let them stand. We had senses of humour too, and to be frank, a lot of the time, we barely expected anyone to ever make it to the end-screen of a game, so many of the games of that era have little 'in-jokes' in them in various places. Trouble is, after so long, I've forgotten most of the references.
I do vaguely recall the 'Do What???' phrase being a 'gag' of the time - possibly about Tris's role, not exactly being coding, not exactly being programming. The "the barf is in your bucket" line, I'm less clear about. I have a feeling that it *may* possibly have stemmed from a song on an album we listened to a lot around that time, "Bottom Line" by Big Audio Dynamite. There's a snippet (on the album version) where someone says "the horses are on the track", and I have a feeling that this interjection formed the basis of this odd little 'barf' reference. Someone (possibly Tris, not sure, maybe Saul (Marchese)) may have got rather intoxicated at one point during out renowned wild parties, and well, you can imagine the rest - you know how these little one-liners end up being really funny to the groups that recite them, but totally confusing to outsiders. Such is the nature of in-jokes.
And of course, I may be talking utter bollocks and have that completely wrong.
If anyone knows, Tris does - and I've lost direct contact with him, sadly. I do still keep in touch with Zareh every now and then, and sadly I've not seen Saul or Nick (Dawson) for aeons, but I do miss them so. We all had such great, mad, impossible times back then, and seeing this SDI stuff emblazoned on a website so many years later like some crazy kind of Da Vinci Code controversy-hunt, well, it cracks me up, I must say. Happy days; happy daze.
I'll try and mention it to Zareh when I next contact him, to see what light he may be able to shed. His memory is no doubt as shot as mine, though... but his brain is the size of a planet, so maybe that's understandable! Thanks for getting in touch.
An amazing lead from Neil! The next job was to track down Tris Mabbs to confirm Neil's recollection...
Tris Mabbs concludes the story of SDI
In December 2014, Tris sent me a brilliant email with his memories of the SDI Amiga port. Over to Tris...
Picture, in your mind's eye, 1987. A buoyant and flourishing games market on home computers such as the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, with Activision extremely interested in exploiting it (and doing very well at it too - when Activision later folded, it was just stupid U.S. protectionist laws that meant the parent company had to shut down any overseas operation, such as the U.K./Europe operation which actually was making a very healthy profit, before losing a single U.S. job)...
Zi had a great existing relationship with Activision. In those days, if you wanted a road racing game (in particular, though that was far from the only thing at which he excelled) you got Zi if you wanted it to be any good at all. To make his life easier, he had written some very nice libraries which meant you could effectively compile the same game source on both ST and Amiga platforms with no change (except a single "#define" to determine the target architecture), so when he wrote a game he could write both platforms at once. I've had the privilege of knowing him since about 1984 (and still do; as Neil said, we're both based in Canterbury these days and still meet up regularly).
Given that experience, when Activision wanted an Amiga port of SDI, he was the natural person to approach. However, IIRC, he was working on at least one other project at the time and couldn't fit it in. He knew I had other development projects on, but mainly part-time (in particular developing a BBC Computer emulator for the ST for Atari UK; that became part-time when Atari, although delighted with the code and having demonstrated it - to some excellent write-ups, particularly from the technology editor of The Guardian newspaper - Jack <something beginning with 'G'>, IIRC - decided they wouldn't actually ship it because of the inherent problems getting code from BBC floppy discs onto the Atari itself, something which could only really be done over the RS232 serial ports and which was somewhat painful, and effectively 'impossible' for any protected software).
So he introduced me to Neil, Nick and Saul - AKA "The Good, The Badger and The Ugly" - not because Neil was particularly good (though he was - an excellent producer and a fine gentleman) or because Saul was particularly ugly (he wasn't), but we all liked Clint Eastwood movies and Nick had black hair with a white stripe through it, so "The Badger" was an obvious nickname and the rest of it just sort of fell into place... Activision needed someone who knew 68K architectures, in particularly the ST and Amiga; Zi knew I knew both and was available - seemed like a sensible idea :)
So I met up with "The Good, The Badger and The Ugly", and the SDI port to Amiga project kicked off...
Now, in those days, if you wrote code under contract you turned it over with the finished project. However it was the days when programmers were real programmers (and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri) and you *had* to know how the hardware worked, and how you could twist, turn and positively torture it to achieve something sensible from what now would be considered stupidly and impossibly small resources (unlike these days where you can train metaphorical monkeys to programme in object orientated languages, but the code you get reflects that; ask a lot of the current generation of programmers what size their cache is and they go and look in their wallet)...
So code was clever, and programmers didn't like the thought of anybody else learning their particular secrets. Hence code which was turned over would frequently be disassemblies rather than source, or if it was actual source then it would be very heavily be obfuscated. Add to that Alaric's own comments on the code as explained by Neil ("One number, Neil... it's hanging together by one number. If one number goes wrong... that's it! Kaboom!") and what eventually (I'll come back to that in a moment) came to me was what can only be described as a steaming pile. That's no reflection on Alaric - I never had the pleasure of meeting (or even speaking) with him personally, but I'm sure what he produced was the best possible given what were probably ridiculous time (etc.) constraints; take that and obfuscate it though, and it really was *nasty*.
Activision, of course, wanted the port "yesterday". Neil performed his role as interface between myself and Activision superbly, but he was inevitably caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. Activision's initial deadlines for the project meant (again, IIRC) it should be completed before they'd even given me the source code, yet whenever anything was pushed back (e.g., "Can I have the updated sound files please?") nothing (to Neil's frustration as much as mine) ever seemed to happen.
IIRC (in fact, rather than constantly scattering that little ETLA around, please just consider the entire message to be surrounded by figurative <IIRC> and </IIRC> tags) the first version sent for testing actually used sound effects borrowed from Zi's "Super Hang On" port (or was it "Power Drift"?), which must have amused the testers no end :)
That's why the cheat mode (in there primarily for the testers, though it was also pretty much industry standard practice to "accidentally leak" cheat mode information a few months after a game had gone on sale to revitalise interest in it) is activated by typing "inactivision" into the loading screen, a reflection on the inaction that would accompany any request (and again, I feel I should point out that that in no way reflects on Neil). It also meant "The ball's in your court" was an expression much bandied about, though given what was being worked with it soon metamorphosed into "The barf's in your bucket!" (for those unfamiliar with the word, "barf" is a British synonym for "sick", "puke", "vomit", "pavement pizza", ...). So that's where that particular little comment came from :)
We all had a deeply twisted sense of humour and were completely Becontree (2 stops past Barking) mad - speaking at least for myself, that still applies :)
So a steaming pile of illegible source from which to work, inaction whenever anything was requested, and deadlines which were "impossible" before the project even started - about average for a games project in those days :)
It took about 1-2 weeks for the entire project. Zi was an invaluable help, providing his cross-environment libraries (including the loader which, as Neil points out, is why that's what was used for the game) and assistance whenever I came across something which left me scratching my head (completely "Just WTF?!" moments...), and so 'twas done.
There was a lot else which could have been done to tidy things up, such as removing the redundant second end screen (the World Trade Centre image). However "tidying things up" simply wasn't in the mandate (Alaric's either, from what I remember of the code!) - just "get it done!", so it got left in; also, without performing a line-by-line analysis of the code, I couldn't be absolutely certain that some odd combination of actions during the game wouldn't cause it to load (the filename was never directly referenced, but Alaric could have had some code in there to build a specific filename under particular circumstances), and it really wasn't worth making that much effort to check. There might be some code in the filesystem somewhere to map any request for a "LIBERTY2"image into the "LIB2" one, to allow for that possibility (which might explain why the "FOR CREDITS..." message was added - again, "just in case..."), but again I really can't remember that level of detail from that far back I'm afraid...
Along the way, frustration (and, TBH, general - sometimes wrecked - silliness) meant some "changes" were made; the credits, for example, were something else which was pushed back to Activision as "Can you put what you want on this please and send the updated graphic?" but to which there was never a response, so it was "temporarily" edited so at least it was less inaccurate - the intention was that it would be replaced with a proper screen before production but somehow that never happened. Again, as Neil said, "we barely expected anyone to ever make it to the end-screen of a game" (and in fact I believe it was actually impossible in SDI, unless you used the cheat mode to do so) so although the testers will have seen it, it was obviously just one of those things which should have happened but never did, and, TBH, no-one would have worried about.
From the notes on your blog, the artist was removed as their name was intended to be replaced by the graphics artist who converted the file formats for the Amiga version; the coder (Alaric) was removed as again, it wasn't "his" code anymore, though as Neil suspected I wasn't going to put my name into it out of sheer embarrassment at turning over something which ultimately was so awful (quickly written, then obfuscated/disassembled source, then massively, and extremely quickly, hacked around, all on a ridiculous deadline). OK, so it all seemed to work, but I do have standards...
Probably wrecked, that screen was hacked around in the stupidly limited standard graphics tools on the ST (not even NEOChrome), with the "DO WHAT?!" and "THE BARF IS IN YOUR BUCKET" put in just to have something in the space; the "NOW YOUR NUMERICAL BASE HAS BEEN SHIFTED BY ONE" is a truly awful pun (Zi, in particular, is renowned for them - was, and still is :) about how mathematically "odd" can never be "even" - this was just a standing joke which summed up how entirely ludicrous the entire project was.
What is mildly interesting is that someone apparently did get around to editing it at some point, as the "MUSIC CODING" credit has been replaced with the correct (I assume - I really can't remember I'm afraid) audio engineer - "W. Beben" (c.f. "P. Summers" on the ST version) - we certainly didn't do that as we didn't have the tools to insert "pretty" text into the image (except by massively painful selecting, copying and pasting letters from elsewhere - not worth doing for something which was supposed properly to be edited before the production masters were cut)...
The high score table entries are indeed me (TEHM) and Zi (ZZKJ). I do remember being asked to raise the number of letters in the high score table from 3 to 4, and this made our initials obvious candidates for the initial table. So not a corruption of THEM, but these days THEM is what I frequently use as a screen name (as a corruption of TEHM), so good guess there.
BBOB was a mutual friend - "B*st*rd Bob" - who asked whether he could be included so we did. The DAVE I can't remember; NEIL, NICK and SAUL are obvious, but I'm not sure why DAVE is in the middle of them on that high score table in your article (though thinking about it again, Bob/Neil/Dave was another nickname for "B*st*rd Bob" - there were just too many Bob's in the same room one evening, so he was temporarily renamed to Neil, until another Neil came in as well at which point Bob/Neil was renamed again to Dave - so it could well have been for that reason with the NEIL serving a double purpose). PHIL, ANDY and the final ED I really cannot remember, I'm afraid, except for a vague memory that ED might have stood for Electric Dreams (and been included to test that shorter initials were still correctly handled), but that is just largely a guess.
So that's it - that's what I can remember. Hopefully that's clarified things a bit and answered at least some of your questions.
Have a wonderful Christmas!
PS: And finally... Neil also said "We all had such great, mad, impossible times back then" - I would absolutely agree; it was immense fun, and you simply would not believe some of what we all (individually or together) got up to... One particular memory I have is of Saul having let out an anguished wail of horror as his Amiga hard disc, full of his latest graphics project work for a game, crashed on him and wouldn't power back up (just those nasty little repetitive clicks of the heads not seeking correctly). So we trekked up to his tiny little room and, something rolled up (must have been a cigarette) hanging out of one corner of my mouth, opened it up and performed "Open Hard (disc) Surgery" manually to re-align the heads with whatever tools came to hand (and trying not to drop ash onto the platters). It worked (believe it or not) and Saul got all his data back, then we all went back downstairs and carried on watching a film, but not exactly your normal Saturday evening :) "Happy days; happy daze" indeed!
And there you have it - mystery solved!Â I must admit that when I published this article originally, I never actually thought that the mystery would be solved, so huge thanks must go out to Neil Jackson and Tris Mabbs for sharing their amazing memories from 25 years ago!
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