The video game historic record got an odd shake up Wednesday from Ed Fries, the ex-Microsoft executive who played a big part in the creation of the original Xbox. Fries took to his personal blog, which typically covers the world of retro gaming, to announce a crazy discovery: He had found the world’s earliest known arcade game Easter egg.
His hunt started with a tip from Atari game programmer Ron Milner about the game from 1977 spaceship 1. This tip came seemingly out of nowhere, as the duo talked about a very different 1970s arcade game, Gran Trak 10which Frisian examined separately. spaceship, Milner said, had a few special twists that didn’t all make it to the market, but one did: a secret message to players. The game would say “Hello Ron!” display when players enter the correct combination of button commands. This sort of thing is better known to game fans as an Easter egg, and more than a few Atari games had them as a way of incorporating the developer’s name (which Atari never put in games or on cabinets).
Milner hasn’t told anyone at Atari about the secret message for 30 years, he told Fries, and one of the reasons is that he’d forgotten how to activate it.
“No wonder no one has ever stumbled upon this ‘feature'”
Intrigued by the idea that this could be the first Easter egg in a video game, predating well-known examples such as Adventure, Fries set out to trigger it himself. What follows, as detailed in his blog post, is one of the wildest retro gaming goose chases in recent memory. First, Fries and Milner, with the help of another ex-Atari staff, used a hex dump of the game’s ROM file to create the “Hi Ron!” text in the source code. They then connected the dots in the machine language to find out what caused that call to appear on the screen (along with 10 free game credits).
After that, Fries learned how to add the correct set of custom commands to the MAME emulation version of the game to “incubate” the Easter egg on his home computer. Starship 1’s erratic control scheme was mimicked in a way that wouldn’t work with the egg trick: players had to drop a quarter while holding down two buttons, then release them and “slam” the game’s “slow” control lever. . “No wonder no one has ever stumbled upon this ‘feature’,” Fries wrote.
His success with the MAME version was posted to YouTube in February, but his confirmation of an arcade unit doing the same took another month. The arcade cabinet he ordered from a dealer in Vancouver, British Columbia, was delayed and arrived with problems that most arcade operators would never notice. In the case of Fries, however, he needed the quarter-drop signal to trigger the correct hexadecimal value. He remembered lying in bed suggesting adjustments to the machine with a dip switch (weird way of counting sheep, Ed), and the next morning he opened the closet and made the changes.
The result: Fries received the “Hi Ron!” message to work. With that, along with an investigation into the game’s release date and a look back at other hidden messages in classic computer programs, he issued the confident proclamation that he’d found the first Easter egg in an arcade game. But Fries is not necessarily interested in his discovery being the end of the story.
“Over a hundred arcade video games [were] previously released spaceship 1”, wrote Fries in the conclusion of the blog post. “Perhaps somewhere deep inside one of them lies an even older Easter egg waiting to be discovered. I hope so!”
List image by Arcade Flyer Archive