Old software and especially video games can be a valuable source of lost knowledge. Developers in the days of the Atari 2600 were constantly running into hardware limitations, so they had to use ingenuity to create unique software solutions. Some are so paradoxically simple and at the same time incomprehensible that they baffle even modern specialists.
For example, history a game called “Entombed”, released in 1982. In it, the player needs to move through the maze and avoid contact with monsters, but due to the lack of memory, there is nowhere to store the maze map. Therefore, it is created dynamically, layer by layer, scrolling vertically. The player can move in four directions within the screen, but he cannot recognize the structure of the maze even one step forward. Because the program itself does not know this.
The maze in Entombed is extremely simple, the level consists of blocks that have the value “wall” or 1 and “non-wall” or 0. The game has a module that processes a plot of 5×5 blocks and gives out three solutions: make the next level entirely of walls, empty, or a random combination of walls and voids. In this case, the passage from the previous level should be preserved and no dead ends should arise. The principle of operation of this module, on which the whole gameplay depends, modern developers do not understand at all.
Scientist John Aycock from the University of Calgary in Alberta (Canada) and programmer Tara Copplestone from the University of York (UK) went over all the possibilities, even carried out reverse engineering, but did not achieve success … They ended up reaching out to Steve Sidley, the original game’s developer, and he told the story. The design of the module was entrusted to a talented “ronin”, a hired programmer, not from the company staff. He sat on the problem for several days and after solving it, he was so drunk with joy that he only miraculously saved the module itself, but he could no longer explain its work. Soon he changed jobs and the trail was lost, so there is a high probability that the secret of the “Entombed” labyrinth will remain a secret forever.