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Month: February 2024

Reverse engineering game code from Yar’s Revenge explosion

Reverse engineering game code from Yar’s Revenge explosion

It’s long been known that the graphical explosions and safe zone graphical glitchy area in Yars Revenge was the game binary code. Retro Game Mechanics Explained wondered if it was possible to reverse-engineer what the code was from this display.

He does an AMAZING job analyzing and dissecting the graphical patterns to determine not only how it works, but what the underlying code might have been.

It’s a wonderful bit of reverse engineering and definitely worth a watch.

Fort Boyard and Crystal Maze

Fort Boyard and Crystal Maze

Game shows aren’t just a US phenomenon; but it seems we don’t see the game shows from other countries like movies from other countries. I think game shows reveal tons about a country since they involve pretty ordinary people.

Nobody has crazier game shows than the Japanese; but Europe had some interesting gameshows too. I previously had known about Knightmare (wikipedia) in which kids would play through an adventure in front of a green screen and directed by their friends.

I recently learned about 2 new ones. Fort Boyard and The Crystal Maze. Both were aired during the 90’s and 2000’s and were created by Jacques Antoine.

Fort Boyard was originally a French gameshow. It soon spread to multiple countries and multiple languages, ultimately airing over 1,800 episodes during the 90’s and 2000’s. The game consisted of a team of 5 players completing a number of timed puzzles and physical challenges to collect word clues. When they collected enough word clues, they had to find the connection between the words and if correct would be given a short time to collect as many gold coins before the gate to the arena closed.

The Crystal Maze was a British game show that was based upon Fort Boyard. A team of contestants would complete a number of timed puzzles and physical challenges to collect crystals in 4 themed areas (Aztec, Industrial, Futuristic, and Medieval). When the time was up for the challenges, they added up the crystals which were converted to time in the crystal dome. The team would enter the crystal dome and they had to collect as many gold paper tokens being blown around and put them into the center letter box before the time expired. If they got over 100 tickets, they won the grand prize. 50-100 tickets they won some pretty decent secondary prizes. Less than 50, and you got nothing.

The puzzles seemed more diverse than the ones on Fort Boyard.

Roko’s Basilisk and the Dangers of Super-Intellgent AI

Roko’s Basilisk and the Dangers of Super-Intellgent AI

Here’s a fascinating thought experiment. While unlikely in it’s original form, it does lead to some other thought experiments that may well, or already are, be more plausible. The idea of Roko’s Basilisk first appeared on LessWrong:

Roko’s Basilisk posits that an otherwise benevolent AI system that arises in the future might pre-commit itself to punish all those who heard of the AI before it came to existence, but failed to work tirelessly to bring it into existence. The torture itself would occur through the AI’s creation of an infinite number of virtual reality simulations that would eternally trap those within it.

Roko’s Basilisk posits that the AI might pre-dispose itself to this behavior. In essence, just knowing about this theory but not acting on it to help make the AI make you more vulnerable to such a future AI punishing you. Hence the use of the term ‘basilisk’ which is a mythical creature that causes death to those that look into its eyes.

This isn’t entirely new. The 1967 novel “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream…” has a similar notion of a super AI that tortures humanity as does the 1988 short story “BLIT” that tells the story of a man named Robbo who paints a so-called “basilisk” on a wall as a terrorist act. The basilisk is an image that forces the human mind to think thoughts it is incapable of thinking – and it kills anyone that looks at it.

People are more widely discussing the dangers inherent in AI systems. It is clear that human-controlled bots are being using extensively in information warfare. A tactic that found great success in the widespread US riots of 2020:

The Committee found that Russia’s targeting of the 2016 U.S. presidential election
was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society.

US Senate Intelligence report on interference in 2016 election

Now, what if a super-intelligent AI reaches ‘singularity’ – in which is is better than human beings and can perpetuate itself indefinitely?

Some have posited the idea that a sufficiently super-intelligent AI would have unlimited persuasive powers to manipulate any human to do anything it wanted. Either as the most influential rhetorician in history, via psychological manipulation, or using force by simply blackmailing you with everything it knows about you or threatening to kill you/loved one’s by crashing their (or someone else’s) AI controlled car, flight, etc. You not even like you can hide at home – a huge AI controlled gas tanker truck could mysteriously just crash into your home at 80mph, a prescription changed to a lethal dose of something else, etc. It could manipulate any computer system in your life to potentially kill you.

xkcd: AI-Box Experiment

Or, such an entity could quietly be working in the background being nearly invisible and quietly manipulating the world via ever so subtle small nudges of our public opinion (via persuasive or inflammatory social media posts), control of politicians (manipulation or outright blackmail of political leaders), infiltration of government processes and computer controlled election results, changing industrial development or research advancement by hiding/revealing new ideas, and manipulating individual morality (via the tools of social media), computer controlled systems that affect worldwide economics (banks, investments, stock markets) to everyday systems (power, gas, flight schedules, pricing in stores, etc).

It’s not like this is hypothetical. Almost all of the above things have already happened by human agents using these methods. Why couldn’t a super-intelligent AI do it – and do it 1000 times better? Experts from Steven Hawking to Elon Musk have issues dire warnings of this very thing happening – and I for one do not find them implausible at all.

On the other hand, the singer Grimes started Dating Elon Musk after she included a line about Roko’s Basilisk in one of her songs. [Livescience] [Inverse].

The 10 Egyptian Plagues weren’t random

The 10 Egyptian Plagues weren’t random

Most people are familiar with the Old Testament account of the 10 plagues brought upon Egypt (Exodus chapters 7-11). The plagues, however, we not arbitrary. They were each in opposition to the Egyptian gods they worshiped – starting with their weakest gods to Ra and Pharaoh himself.

In this way, God was showing He was over all other gods – something that would have been very obvious to the Egyptians who worshipped them.

Plagues and the Egyptian gods they showed dominion over:

  1. Water turned to blood – showed dominion over the Egyptian god Hapi – the god of the Nile, the water bearer.
  2. Frogs from the Nile – showed dominion over the Egyptian goddess Heket (Heqet)– the Goddess of Fertility, Water, Renewal and had the head of a frog
  3. Lice from the dust of the Earth – showed dominion over the Egyptian god Geb – Egyptian god of the dust of the Earth
  4. Swarms of flies – showed dominion over the Egyptian god Khepri – Egyptian god of creation with the head of a dung beetle
  5. Death of cattle and livestock – showed dominion over the Egyptian goddess Hathor – the goddess with head/appearance of a cow
  6. Ashes turned to boils and sores – showed dominion over the Egyptian goddess Isis – the goddess of healing, protection, and magic
  7. Hail rained down in the form of fire – showed dominion over the Egyptian goddess Nut – the goddess of the sky and stars
  8. Locusts sent from the sky – showed dominion over the Egyptian god of Seth – god of storms and disorder
  9. Three days of complete darkness – showed dominion over the Egyptian god Ra – the sun god – the highest of their gods.
  10. Death of the firstborn – showed dominion over Pharaoh as a living son of Ra himself.


Google Maps new Immersive View and AR Live view

Google Maps new Immersive View and AR Live view

I love mapping software, and the Google Maps teams has done some amazing work. It’s not just mapping and route-finding to more incredible things like Google Earth and Google Earth VR. They’ve got features that auto-update store hours, update street speed limits by reading the road signs, how crowded transit routes are, and trips. Now they’re adding a new immersive view.

Say you’re planning a trip to London and want to figure out the best sights to see and places to eat. With a quick search, you can virtually soar over Westminster to see the neighborhood and stunning architecture of places, like Big Ben, up close. With Google Maps’ helpful information layered on top, you can use the time slider to check out what the area looks like at different times of day and in various weather conditions, and see where the busy spots are. Looking for a spot for lunch? Glide down to street level to explore nearby restaurants and see helpful information, like live busyness and nearby traffic. You can even look inside them to quickly get a feel for the vibe of the place before you book your reservation.

It starts rolling out in Los Angeles, London, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo later this year with more cities coming soon.

There’s also a new Live View that has AR elements to help you orient yourself to destinations. What’s interesting is that people with vision problems are now finding it very helpful.

It’s a reminder that really innovative things can come from helping those with disabilities and re-affirming the value of their lives. That’s a fundamentally different approach than the alternative.


Source Code for Infocom games – including the Zcode interpreter

Source Code for Infocom games – including the Zcode interpreter

Infocom games were THE games to play in the late 70’s through the 80’s, featuring such classics as Zork, Planetfall, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In 2019, Jason Scott posted all the source code for Infocom’s text adventure games.

Infocom’s interpreter source, however, remained obscure. ZIL (or Zork Implementation Language) wasn’t designed with a particular platform in mind but instead could be interpreted to work on a variety of systems using machine-dependent interpreters. The interpreters were well studied by enthusiasts who even made a modern Z-machine specification and an open-source IF interpreters.

That source was largely considered lost, despite Brian Moriarty donating the interpreter code for the TRS-80 Color Computer. That is until a few weeks ago when someone said they had the code and posted the original interpreter source code.


Royal Game of Ur

Royal Game of Ur

The Royal Game of Ur is a race between two players on a board of twenty squares. For three thousand years this was the most popular board game across the whole of the ancient Middle East, played by kings and commoners alike.

Understanding how it was played has been a detective story, combining archaeological evidence with ancient writings in Babylonian cuneiform and the recurring features found in traditional race games.

The amazing Dr Irving Finkel of the British museum is credited with finally deciphering how to play the game from a cuneiform tablet (which actually described a more complex version), and has a wonderful video about how it all was figured out:

If you want to give the game a try, there are modern replicas including one that the British Library itself sells.

Another option is to play the game for free online at

It’s definitely a game you could play today and find enjoyable. Tom Scott definitely did when he played Finkel

Play backup disks on an unmodified PS1 using previously unknown hack

Play backup disks on an unmodified PS1 using previously unknown hack

Modern Vintage Gamer
reveals a secret that would have blown the minds of anyone in the 90’s. The lack-luster game Alien Resurrection on the Sony PlayStation PS1 has a secret cheat code that enables you to play backup discs without any additional mod chip or soft mod.

It’s definitely not a simple or fast hack (requiring a lot of button mashing and menu manipulation), but it’s still pretty incredible. It’s caused copies of the game to go from $5 a copy to $100+ on eBay.

PS1’s have been hacked, modded, and emulated for a long time now so it’s not enabling something that wasn’t possible before; but it’s a wonderful bit of history and trivia.