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Hidden messages in Amiga games (2017) (codetapper.com)
60 points by danso 63 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

Not copy protection related: the author of Prehistorik is just happy that someone is still playing their game after many years (message is displayed at startup):



I programmed Feud, my first Amiga game. I always wondered if anyone would find Ste Pickfords' message (hidden behind a bridge IIRC). It's nice to see that 30 years later, yes someone has.

There's a great wiki called The Cutting Room Floor that collects odds and ends found inside video games: remnants of cut content, differences between regions and revisions, and about a thousand examples of this sort of hidden message.


The hidden messages about piracy damaging the industry almost brought a tear. If only they knew where the end would come from...

Too bad that evident mismanagement bringing companies to self destruction isn't as illegal as piracy, and isn't sanctioned likewise. If it was, we probably would still have Commodore and many others around along with who knows what newer incarnation of the Amiga.

> Too bad that evident mismanagement bringing companies to self destruction isn't as illegal as piracy, and isn't sanctioned likewise. If it was, we probably would still have Commodore and many others around along with who knows what newer incarnation of the Amiga.

If the copyright laws did not exist, it would be much easier for these fanatic Amiga fans to develop, build, and sell a new incarnation of the Amiga.

I can only imagine how cathartic it must've been for some of those developers to write those messages, even if it ultimately didn't help them much in the end.

When people pirate stuff today it's easy to write it off as sticking it to (mostly) faceless corporations, but back then, most of these games were written by "hobbyists-turned-pro" or tiny outfits. Not unlike today's indie developers, though I'd say people back then probably had fewer opportunities to bounce back and even fewer ways of distributing their software. Especially in Europe where a lot of Amiga users (and creators) lived.

It's ironic, in some ways, that the very BBSes these guys rail against in the messages were the best channels for distributing games far and wide --- shame it came about in an era where most developers had no means to sell it "online" on the selfsame platforms.


It makes me remember some history - the absence of free and open source mentality in the hobbyist scene. All of these examples came from commercial games, which were meant to be sold commercially, and their hostility towards crackers is completely understandable and justified. But it was not limited to commercial programs, almost nothing was open source at that time.

An interesting historical fact everyone should be aware, is that before the popularization of the World Wide Web, there was a huge gap between the academic world of minicomputers, which brought us Unix, Internet, Usenet, 4.3 BSD, MIT-style hacking culture, free software movement; and the hobbyist world of microcomputers, which brought us CP/M, C64, BASIC, IBM PC, Amiga, BBS, Fidonet, Phreak/Whole Earth-style hacking culture (and some cracking), were essentially two completely different worlds in parallel. The division was largely caused by the fact that the formal world was inaccessible to ordinary people without special status.

The most striking thing was the absence of free and open source mentality in the hobbyist scene. There was a huge amount of free-as-in-beer software powering the entire world of BBS, and lots of helpful microcomputer communities, lot of system and development utilities, but almost nothing was open source. Many authors saw their programs as the work of personal dedication or an art, and believed no one but the author should be allowed to have control over the program development. Program source was sometimes released as "source-available" and the author may encourage improvements, there were also a lot of type-in programs, but most do not explicitly grant any rights of modification and redistribution (it's very problematic, only a few programs are generously relicensed under a free license or Public Domain, and today many other programs are still available online, often with source, but no 3rd-party hobbyist development at any scale is allowed due to its copyright status, they became effectively mere personal reading materials on the stone, and even as reading materials, the information you obtained by reading them is still somewhat toxic. And I heard the holding company of C64 KERNAL refuses to license the code to most community replica projects...). The community worked mainly by Golden Rule - in fact you can do many things based on those programs and code without authorization and licenses, as long as the original author is not offended, but almost nothing could be taken for granted! In today's world of GitHub, it was a virtually unimaginable time.

There were exceptions, and there were usually written by microcomputing enthusiasts with an academic background, e.g. Li-Chen Wang's Tiny BASIC had a copyright notice of "Copyleft, all wrongs reserved"; Ward Christensen's XModem was explicitly released to the public domain, and it became one of the most frequently-modified program in the entire history of microcomputer, and ultimately evolved into ZModem.

However, the free and open source philosophy remained largely unpopularized in the world of microcomputers, until Linus Torvalds' released Linux, an kernel written for a 386, under GPL, and when dial-up Internet access became more common. Only then, the city of hobbyists and the city of the academic became one, and the two strands of hacking culture fully merged.

It was not quite that segregated.

By the late 80's things like the Fred Fish disks included source for a lot of the programs, many ported from Unix systems with according licenses attached.

Microemacs, a variation of which Linus is a known longtime user, for example, occurs in various versions on multiple Fish disks.

I'm skeptical of attributing the crossover so strongly to Linus - e.g. while Aminet postdates Linux, I was used to source and sharing of source via Aminet well before I'd even heard of Linux, but before that also Fish disks and other of disks.

What is definitively true is that there was a big uptick as more people got modems and were getting exposed more to free software thinking.

> It was not quite that segregated.

Fully agree.

> Microemacs, a variation of which Linus is a known longtime user, for example, occurs in various versions on multiple Fish disks.

I knew Vim came from the Amiga community as a vi clone. But I didn't know Microemacs was originally a microcomputer Emacs clone. Thanks for your comment.

History is interesting, isn't it?

I keep wanting to systematically go through the old source archives available looking for gems.. There's so much to learn, be it history or interesting ideas. I remembered Microemacs largely because I once started collecting code from Fish disks that came with source, and it was notable for the sheer number of versions.

”However, the free and open source philosophy remained largely unpopularized in the world of microcomputers”

I thought it was fairly popular in the early times, at the Homebrew computer club.

I think it was more that, traditionally, universities did research using computers and personnel paid for by society. Software is a secondary outcome, so it need not bring in money.

At some time, companies entered the market that had to pay for their computer time and personnel, and wanted to make money.

Hobbyists followed suit, some of them only because buying computer hardware was extremely expensive.

If paying for software always was the norm for hobbyists, Bill Gates wouldn’t have needed to write his open letter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Letter_to_Hobbyists)

Also, I think the merging started way earlier than Linux. For example, Jim Warren, in 1976, wrote:

”There is a viable alternative to the problems raised by Bill Gates in his irate letter to computer hobbyists concerning "ripping off" software. When software is free, or so inexpensive that it's easier to pay for it than to duplicate it, then it won't be "stolen"”

(That was in an article about TinyBasic, the project that invented the word copyleft; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyleft#History)

> Also, I think the merging started way earlier than Linux.

Great historical review. Yes, it's not black-and-white, and the continuity between minicomputers and microcomputers always exist.

But IMHO, generation also plays a factor. On one hand, the Homebrew Computer Club was having its heyday in the mid-70s, on the other hand, a new generation of hackers just started to programming the Apple ][ or the C64 in the early-to-mid 80s, and many would become the later demoscener, offensive hackers, shareware writers, or famed developers. This part of history is also an essential part of the hacker culture as seen today, and it was merged into the mainstream hacking in the 90s.

I fully agree. And it still is like that today in the retro computer scene. Many Amiga utilities and libraries could have been open sourced years ago, which would have benefited the community but the authors rather die with the source code than share them.

What I miss from the Amiga days is the wide spread release of "public domain software". People would just write applications, tools, games and say "released as public domain" and that was it. Do what you want, have fun! These days it's all so much more complicated with licenses (even if it's FOSS licenses), everything full of text which only a lawyer can understand and no clear definition of what "derivative work" means. I miss those simpler times, before most software licenses were a complicated legal minefield.

It is a legal minefield either way; current FOSS practices are to put signs around the minefield instead of pretending that it doesn't exist.

For example, some jurisdictions don't have a way for authors to dedicate a work to the public domain and surrender all rights. Complications like that are why having explicit lawyer-vetted licenses are preferable, even if not all provisions of the license have been tested in court.

Yeah, you're right. I also wouldn't recommend to try just say "public domain" today for that reason.

It is similar to the "View Source" comments you see on some sites nowadays, but instead of the "Get out of here!" they figured it's more beneficial to say: "We're hiring! Come work with us".

> A message to crackers: Nobody wants copy protection. All it is designed to do is give a program a fighting chance. Now we realize that there is a great competition to see which group breaks this game first, however, if you do break it, please consider this: If you let this game out early after release, and there are few sales, it will be very difficult to justify followup games of this type. Nobody benefits; not the developers, not the users, and not the Amiga community.

Actually users benefit: they can get games without paying for them. Of course it's a short term benefit if the market dies because of that, but saying as a blanket statement that no-one benefits is just not reading the market well. Also hardware manufacturers benefit from people buying hardware to play games.

> Actually users benefit: they can get games without paying for them

That wasn't really the thing in the 80th and early 90th. The thing was, that especially on the C64 the games got streamlined by good crackers by being one-sided, fast-load added, and trained as well. This means, that cracks actually featured a lot more benefits than the original. That's why many of us refused to buy originals. There was one saying: "Good software is worth buying".

Sometimes the crackers even fixed bugs, added highscore savers, level picker etc. The list could go on and on.

This is comparable to DVDs and their silly copy protection warning vs mpegs without this thing.

Lotus Turbo Challenge II -------------- I don't know, It's not up to me. But if we did, it would be quite fun to release a compilation at a later date of all of the trilogy, called Lotus 1-2-3....

So many messages against piracy...and there are some people online saying piracy didn't kill the Amiga...

I really don't think it did. While it may have deterred some software houses, it also spurred hardware sales and without the hardware sales there'd not have been any software market. As an Amiga user at the time, I had plenty of pirated software, but I still spent most of my money on it as well.

The amount of piracy was pretty much the same across all the platforms, including the PC, which certainly survived...

What killed the Amiga was the severe Commodore mismanagement that meant e.g. the intended followup to the ECS chipset never arrived - the chipset we did get (AGA), too late to save Commodore, was started as a stopgap measure because the intended next generation was years behind schedule in a company that in the 70's had several times designed and built computers from scratch in 3-6 months. Commodore didn't figure out how to do product management and engineering management in the face of systems with vastly increased complexity where having a handful of engineers work on a single next gen iteration just didn't cut it any more.

In the meantime Commodore were also pursuing any number of dead-end projects that never saw the light of day (e.g. the "C65" Commodore 64 followup for example), and had totally failed to actually rebuild a dealer network (necessary because Tramiel figuratively burned the US dealer network to the ground right before leaving) and actually market the Amiga in the US, relying largely on European sales to carry the company when the 8-bit models sales were falling off a cliff.

Any number of things could have saved it at the time it collapsed, though seeing how Apple also struggled and nearly collapsed, it's not at all clear what chances it'd have had for the long term.

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