37-year-old bug in Three Mile Island

March 2nd, 2020 11:50 AM
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On, March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant became the site of "the most significant accident in United States commercial nuclear energy".

Later that year, Three Mile Island was released as a nuclear simulation game for the Apple II. It too suffered from its own kind of tragic accident: fatal crashes when trying to save your progress.

This bug wasn't present in the first version of the game Muse Software shipped, back when DOS 3.1 was the standard. But when the game was unofficially transcribed to DOS 3.3, incompatibilities between the operating systems introduced this fatal flaw.

Three Mile Island screenshot

She's gonna blow!!

Jorj Bauer didn't know that, though; all he knew was that this game had been broken for 37 years. Deciding that this bug has existed for 37 years too long, he set out to sleuth the problem and provide a fix. His three-part journal detailing his investigation makes for fascinating reading, akin to a good 4am crack.

You don't need to be a detective to enjoy the fruits of Jorj's labor: the fixed version of the game can be played in the Internet Archive, courtesy Jason Scott.

That's one fewer meltdown for the world to face.

(Hat tip to Lewin Day)

Two-player Karateka

August 13th, 2018 8:22 AM
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I thought I knew Charles Mangin: hardware guru extraordinaire, maker of connectors, adapters and miniature models. His RetroConnector brand has enabled Apple II keyboards to talk to USB-enabled machines, modern joysticks to be played on Apple II computers, and other interactions that span the eras. With a 3D printer, he's created miniature working monitors and Raspberry Pi cases shaped like a IIe. Well before I ever met him at KansasFest, I was blogging about Charles putting computers in Apple II peripherals. Creating intergenerational hybrids is Charles' niche.

Or so I thought. First, he started sharing his hardware knowledge in a video podcast series, How II. Then he was giving KansasFest sessions about music synthesizers. No 3D printers to be seen, but these topics could still be broadly categorized as hardware projects.

But now Charles is making a name for himself in a wholly new realm: software development. After tackling the significant task of teaching himself 6502 assembly, he released his first game, a Minesweeper clone. Then he innovated with an original title, Jumpy Guy. These are fun, simple games that demonstrate Charles' growth in this new role.

Now Charles is punching his way through one of the most famous games of all time: Karateka. No longer the tale of a lone gamer storming Akuma's fortress, Jordan Mechner's first published title has been patched to enable a second player to control Akuma's foot soldiers, putting some actual intelligence behind the hero's adversaries and making it more akin to the Apple II arcade port Karate Champ.

I would ask Charles to detail his patch in an issue of Juiced.GS, but he has already been thoroughly transparent on his website, detailing the mere 42 bytes that constitute the efficient patch. The updated game is playable online on the Internet Archive:

In the course of reinventing himself, Charles has reinvented Karateka. But gamers are a hungry lot, and some are already clamoring for more features, including joystick input and network play. I'd rather wait and see what Charles does of his own volition: like Apple Inc., he has an uncanny sense for giving us what we didn't know we've always wanted. Who knows where he'll take us — and himself — next?