For those of us of a certain age in the UK, Codemasters were a welcome beast of a games publisher. A large publishing house founded in 1986, Codemasters games were budget games that were available everywhere where games are sold, and a fair few where games weren’t. You’d often find a rack of them in chemists for example. These games would appeal to me as a kid as the bright boxes, often with colourful characters, appealing subject matters, words like “advanced” in the title and often hyperbolic language describing things as “Utterly Brilliant”. Little did I know later on in the years they were often written by Richard & David Darling, the founders of Codemasters.
Over time however the prospect of one game for pocket money price was not as alluring as getting four, and sure enough Codemasters then sought to increase the amount of games they sold with the “Quattro” series of games, released in the early 90s for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and even the NES. All these games were re-releases of games previously released by Codemasters, bundled together in one cart. Often with slight variations – the “4 Soccer Simulator” game was split into “11-a-side Soccer” game, or given new titles on the box with the old title in the game. It was a bit of a cash grab, but 4 games at 50p a pop meant you didn’t really care.
But what happened if you wanted more? What if you wanted six games?
Well, the purpose of the article, the video and the frankly weird journey I’ve been on the past week or so is to confirm a dim and distant thought I had in my brain: did a Quattro release have two extra games on it?
I must have been sometime in the early 90’s, I’d have been no more than 10 years old, and dipping my first toes into the world of retro gaming (or as it was known then, gaming), and unaware of things such as copy protection. The flicking through a manual to enter a word, or spin a disk to line up characters, oh no. This was too hard for my child brain. And Codemasters knew this. Because if you failed copy protection instead of taking you back to the main screen, they would instead throw you into the mini game instead.
Or did they? There was only one way to find out.
First I had to remember what Quattro compilation I remember playing. I do remember one such game being a tennis game. There may have been a rugby game on there, and after a while digging around The Centre for Computing History I found the game to be Quattro Skills).
And there-in provided the first problem: The Quattro games are compilations, rather than the actual games itself. The 11-a-side Soccer game is just 4-Soccer Simulator, and they are often listed as the originals of their part. The games are there, in most places, however they’re often the ones that are cracked. How can I fail copy protection when there isn’t copy protection?
I needed a new approach.
I turned to eBay instead, and sure enough after beginning the search I found an auction that was selling Quattro Skills. A quick transaction meant I had a copy of the game a few days later. A picture on the auction also confirmed that there was copy protection – a simple grid with letters assigned to rows or columns on the grid. I now needed to get it onto the PC.
Thankfully with a bit of help, I found the answer. The answer is to record it as a .wav file, using a Walkman attached to your line out, copy the sound file into something like Audacity and then use a piece of software to run it in an emulator. After borrowing a friend’s Walkman, getting the 5mm jack from my car, and making sure the Walkman still worked, I was ready to go.
After attaching a Walkman, and letting the tape run through (a process that took about 15 minutes to go through) I had a recording in Audacity ready to go. As it’s a compilation, we needed to split it into two different files – as both sides of the cassette had two games on it. Thankfully the inlay tells you where there’s a break in the games, and it’s easy to spot in the wave form.
After exporting it into a raw wave file (.wav) – which doesn’t have any compression – we then needed to convert it into a format that a Commodore 64 emulator can understand, which are generally .tap files. For this I used Audiotap, which is a small open source program that does the job. Loading one of the games into CCS64 (Pro Skateboard Simulator) and failing the Copy Protection means you end up getting Mr Naffo’s Sleepwalker, a version of the old game and watch game Manhole.
I said there was 2 games with copy protection, and there is. In the inlay is Pro Tennis Simulator with a similar copy protection, however no matter how much I tried I could get it working. There’s a bit of corruption at the start of each loading it seems and I’ve no idea how to fix it. But we still have a game – what of Mr Naffo’s Sleepwalker? Well as far as I’m aware the only digitised copy of the game exists on my computer. It is mentioned on sites and screenshots exist, however every rom dump appears to be corrupted or just plain missing. It seems to suggest that the game is public domain (probably why Codemasters included it), but the game it’s attached to isn’t, so I’m not sure how to distribute it or preserve it.
Any suggestions would be gratefully received.