Scientists still can’t figure out how to work this old video game

Older programs and, in particular, video games can be a valuable source of lost knowledge. The developers of the days of the Atari 2600 were constantly ran into hardware limitations, so they had to use ingenuity in creating unique software solutions. Some are so simple and paradoxically at the same time incomprehensible that baffled even modern specialists.

For example, the story of the game called “Entombed”, released in 1982. In it the player must navigate through the maze and to avoid contact with the monsters, but because of the shortage of memory to store the map of the maze anywhere. Therefore, it is created dynamically, layer by layer, scrolling vertically. The player can move in four directions within the screen, but he can’t know the structure of the maze, even a step forward. Because the program itself doesn’t know that.

Entombed in the maze extremely simple, the level consists of blocks that have value “wall” or 1 and “non-wall” or 0. The game has a module that handles the area of 5×5 blocks, and gives three solutions: to make the next level entirely from the walls, empty or random combination of walls and voids. This process should keep the passage from the previous level and not be dead ends. The principle of operation of this module depends on the whole gameplay, modern developers do not understand completely.

Scientist John Aycock from the University of calgary, Alberta (Canada), and the programmer Tara Copplestone from York University (UK) went through all the possibilities, even spent reverse-engineering, but without success. In the end, they turned to Steve Sidley, the developer of the original game, and he told a story. The design of the module instructed talented “ronin”, the programmer hired, not the state of the company. He sat on a task a few days after its decision to celebrate was so drunk that only a miracle saved the module itself, but to explain his work could not. He soon changed jobs and lost track of it, so there is a high probability that the mystery of the maze “Entombed” will remain a mystery forever.

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