Games coder Steve Howard discusses the console platformers, Terminator 2 and No Escape

Steve threatened he’d be back… though I didn’t count on him riding in on a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy waving a Winchester, clutching a list of never-seen-before cheats for the SNES Terminator 2 game!

…der-der-dun-der-dern…. der-der-dun-der-dern…

That was my phonetic rendition of the theme tune’s opening chords. I can see you’re impressed. Right, be like that then. Shall we get on with the Q&A?

Q. I was interested to discover that you worked on T2. LJN, now there’s a name that strikes fear into the hearts of gamers! Do you have any theories to explain why they’re still such a controversial publisher? Plenty of people (largely thanks to AVGN) think their rainbow badge is tantamount to a seal of doom.

It was the SNES T2 version with the less good reviews. From reading, LJN got the rights to lots of films and wanted quick game conversions for them and weren’t too worried about the result.

That aside, we actually put quite a bit of effort into T2, and some of the coding I did for it really stretched the hardware (although you wouldn’t notice). Mostly swapping loads of GFX data around on the fly to get around the limited amount of video memory. SNES GFX were character-based and you had a limited amount of characters. It also had zillions of frames of animation and one person using a tool I’d written to set them all up complained that he was going blind because of the amount of time he spent using it.

I think one of the main GFX complaints may have been down to the effort taken to re-use parts of the characters on multiple frames to save memory. Each animation frame for Arnie, T1000 etc. needed to use 8 or more sprites per frame because of their size and the tool I used to chop up the frames into all the individual sprites searched for matches so that bits of the frame could be re-used. This, however, meant that the artist would tweak their GFX to make more matches.

Although quite a lot of time was spent on T2, it was rushed towards the end, and the part of the game that gets the most criticism, the driving section was never properly finished. The general mechanics of it were sorted out reasonably quickly, but we ran out of time when it came to making it playable.

There are some cheats hidden in it. I wrote a mode that if you left the game alone for a while, Arnie would go into auto-defence mode. I was told to take it out as it was deemed that stuff happening without user input was bad, so I just added it to the game cheats. However, I was also asked to remove all cheats, so I added an extra layer of button presses. Sadly, I can’t remember what they are. I must have a look to see if I can find it in any of my old files.

BTW, because of the way I had written it, we managed to convert it to the SEGA Genesis in about a day.

Q. I’m intrigued by this auto-defence mode you created. It would have to be the most elaborate idle animation I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine why a publisher would deem that a problem. Critics always lapped up that sort of ‘neat touch’ nuance, drawing attention to it in reviews. What’s the likelihood of you working out how to activate it?

Sorry about the delay in getting back to you, I sort of got a bit obsessional about finding the T2 cheats. I couldn’t find any of the old source, although there is a chance it is on an old hard drive or floppy somewhere, so had to reverse engineer the ROM. Luckily some of the emulators come with a debugger, and that with the help of a hex viewer (the one in the emulator was a bit limited) I managed to reverse engineer them so you now have an exclusive. At the time I thought hackers found out the cheats, which is why some are so long, but now I know they are leaked by the publishers etc.

You can now see the auto-defend mode yourself. Make sure you have a weapon 1st. I think the shotgun looks good, but the minigun may be more impressive. I’m pretty sure one of the unknown ones displays a large orange dinosaur, but I think you have to be in the correct room on the correct level to see it.

joypad sequence (L and R refer to the shoulder buttons) function
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – B – R – L  initialise cheat mode
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – B  enable infinite health
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – A  disable infinite health
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – Y – Y  activate auto-defend mode (possession of weapon required)
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – select [sel][.sel] – start level select mode
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – start  complete mission objectives for current level
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – X  unknown
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – L – L – L – X  awards 999 ammo, though can prevent shooting entirely
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – L – L – L – R  skip to game over sequence 1
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – L – L – L – L – X  grants shotgun use
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – L – L – L – L – R  skip to game over sequence 2
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – L – L – L – L – L – X  grants auto-rifle use
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – L – L – L – L – L – L – X  grants mini-gun use
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – A – B – A – B – B – R – R – L – start  unfinished, temperamental cheat mode, only witnessed at truckstop so far
L – L – L – DN – L – DN – Y – X – Y – X – L – L – L – L – L – R  skip to game completion routine

dk: As it happens, the dinosaur Easter egg is actually a feature of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, another game Steve worked on. You can see it in action on YouTube, stalking its prey throughout the castle’s catacombs, or via the Cutting Room Floor site linked below.

You can also check out a range of the T2 cheats recorded by myself. I imagine me carrying out the activation procedures while the game is paused wouldn’t be very entertaining so I’ve limited the footage to showcasing the auto-defence mode once enabled. In the run-up, I was able to gift myself several weapons that you can’t normally find on the first level, and also to skip ahead to meet and blow away the T-1000.

Q. I’m staggered that you were able to pluck those cheats out of compiled code, that’s dedication for you. Also, how on earth do you complete a SEGA Genesis port in a single day! That must have taken some serious preparation.

Regarding the SEGA Genesis port, it may have been a couple of days, but whatever it was, it was very quick. We had a Genesis programmer come in so he knew the machine (I didn’t), but I had written the game so it was very data-driven, macro scripts for the AI etc. so the actual amount of source he had to convert from 65816 to 68000 was quite small.

Q. So up until now, there were no known cheats for Terminator 2, and you can’t achieve anything with the Game Genie?

Hmm, I have had a quick look but haven’t been able to find any, but I assume there must be some somewhere.

I’m not sure about standard cheats with Game Genie. Wouldn’t be too hard to find the health and set it to full and possibly give you weapons and ammo, but you wouldn’t be able to enable auto-defend or level skip, I think. To create, say a cheat for health, in the emulator, you look through memory for all, say 100s, and then get shot a couple of times and see if any of those 100s now match the new health. But it can only be done for things where you can compare memory before and after etc. so doesn’t work if you have no way of getting the after in normal play. Also, changing levels is done by calling some code, not just changing the value of a memory location.

These days I’ve had to add special code to protect things like high scores when I found people getting impossible scores on Steam leader boards etc. so now all important numbers in my games get a sort of encryption check, so if they are set directly by some sort of hack, they are not accepted. At the time, if anyone had found the cheat, my boss and Acclaim etc. would not have been happy, so I was a bit paranoid.

Q. I’d just finished writing a review of No Escape (the 1994 movie/SNES and Mega Drive game starring Ray Liotta) when I noticed you were involved with that one too. You certainly get around! What was your contribution to the project, and what was that experience like?

Ahh, No Escape, that and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein could be considered typical LJN games. They both used a lot of the code I had written for T2, but both were pretty generic film conversions. We did get to go to the set of Frankenstein as that was just on the outskirts of London, not sure if that helped at all though.

Basically, I wrote the core game engine, others did scripting using my engine and GFX and sound/music. And regarding the dinosaur, that could be in Frankenstein. They were all around the same time and an artist was practising doing frame animation, which I tested in the game… then sort of left in and hid.

I remember when coding Frankenstein and No Escape that we’d sort of moved to newly refurbished offices downstairs and for that, people on No Escape were along one wall and Frankenstein along the other. I sat on the Frankenstein side but would often wander across to the other side.

Q. Are you familiar with the Cutting Room Floor web site and the entries they’ve made for some of your games? There are some interesting crossover appearances with regards to the code amongst these. What was Itchy and Scratchy doing in No Escape for instance?

It’s probably worth trying to sort out a timeline and seeing who worked on what game. I think Itchy and Scratchy was started before I finished T2 and overlapped a bit on No Escape and Frankenstein although I could be wrong. But I guess someone just snuck it in. After Frankenstein, a lot of people then spent time working on a title for Philips CDi and PC. I think it was called New Day, although I remember it as Citizen Dwayne. Citizen Dwayne I think was just an internal working title, or could just have been a nickname we gave it. Lots of 3D image capture and it was looking pretty good when Philips canned it.

Appropriate, though this isn’t it. Actually a screenshot from Nihilist, also by Bits Corp.

 

“Bits corporation signs joint venture with Philips

London games developer Bits Corporation has linked-up with Philips Media to develop a range of new games for CDi and other platforms. Three titles are currently in development.

The first of these will be New Day, a futuristic adventure game, which is already in production and is due for release in the first quarter of 1996. The two other titles in development are Cartoon Academy and Riga.

“We are thrilled to enter a long term partnership with such a dynamic company”, says Philips Media president Scott Marden. By combining our expertise in technology and distribution with Bits’ creativity and strength in cutting edge production techniques, we can create some of the hottest new software in the market.”

In New Day, which is currently being filmed at the Roundhouse in Camden, north London, you take the part of Dwayne, who wakes up after a devastating explosion. He then takes a journey through the non-linear virtual world of the game to discover why he is under threat and how his murky past is tied to his current predicament. His quest takes him from London to Vietnam, home of his mother’s family and also of the electronics giant SEAcorp.

New Day features 60 real-life characters and is being filmed using 16 digital cameras on a 360-degree blue screen circular stage.

Foo Katan, president of Bits Corporation, says: “We have been working with Philips Media for the last year on New Day. I believe this venture will allow us to fully harness Philips Media’s distribution strength and support, enabling us to create highly innovative leading titles.” Bits has already worked on top game titles such as Terminator, Spider Man, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Aliens 3.”

CDi magazine (June 1995)

After that, I worked on a couple of titles of which I can’t remember the name and am not sure if they were published before leaving and going to King of the Jungle so don’t really know much about the other titles there. I note no T2 SNES. 🙂

Thanks again for taking the time to share your fascinating insider insight with the community, and especially for making Terminator 2 more accessible for the incompetent gamers amongst us. Not everyone is a pro like me. 😉

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