The year was 1985 and I was in the fifth grade. On the 3rd floor of my school, there was a small room at the end of the hall known as “The Computer Room”. This cramped space housed an impressive bank of Commodore 64s, a dot-matrix printer, and that odd smell of plastic and machinery. On certain Friday afternoons, our class would line up and adjourn to this wonderful place to learn about the BASIC programming language. The programs that we wrote mostly resulted in the computer asking you an important question like, “What is your favorite color?”, and then changing the screen to whatever color you specified.
This was all well and good, but a few of us knew the true power of these machines…the power to play games that looked and sounded better than what we had been playing on our battle-worn Atari 2600s. It was all very new and exciting. I always remember feeling that the C64 had great untapped potential. What happened next would reinforce my feelings.
On one dark and overcast Friday afternoon, me and a few of my colleagues stayed after school to play a few games in the computer room. The game of choice was Impossible Mission. It was at that moment I first heard the words, “Another visitor…Stay awhile, stay forever!” Amazing! The thing was talking to me! From the moment I saw it I was stunned, captivated, and enthralled. I knew the Commodore had some cool games, but this game had the best graphics, smoothest animation, and greatest sound yet. The initial concept was fun and easy to grasp…search rooms for stuff, and avoid robots by flipping over them. I was blown away and instantly hooked.
It wouldn’t be long before I found myself walking home from school with my own bootlegged copy of IM tucked neatly away in my math book. As my siblings and I worked our way through the game, the fact that we had to figure out what to do without the help of a manual actually added to the fun.
This is my original copy. Still works!
My brother and sister are 7 and 5 years older than me respectively and at the time we really didn’t have much in common. But we began to work together and contribute equally to the successful completion of the greatest game ever created. Without the instructions, it took a fair amount of deduction to figure everything out. It truly is two games in one in that you must have skill to avoid the robots and collect the puzzle pieces, and then also be good at solving visual puzzles.
I was truly addicted to this game. When I closed my eyes, I saw platforms, robots, and tiny elevators. There were a few games in my past that I had enjoyed in much the same way…Raiders of the Lost Arc for the 2600 was similar in my mind in that it involved more exploring and less shooting. And an Atari game called Mountain King had an interesting bug that allowed you to reach random levels floating about in the sky. Bruce Lee for the C64 was another one of my favorite games involving platforms, rooms, and exploration.
Raiders of the Lost Arc
But IM truly captured my imagination like no game had before. To this day, I still feel like there’s something left to be discovered about the game even though I’ve completed it numerous times. I even went so far as to play the mini-game (the rooms with the checkerboard screens) until finding its limit. Every time you play there are 2 rooms that contain a giant checkerboard. When you search the controls, three squares light up and each play a different pitch. You have to click on the squares in the order of lowest to highest pitch. Your reward will be a helpful password for putting the robots to sleep or resetting the lifts. The next time you play, 4 squares will light up. If you keep going it maxes out around 11 squares if I remember correctly.
Impossible Mission was programmed by one person, Dennis Caswell. According to Mr. Caswell the project took approximately 10 months to complete. The entire program was written in assembly language and there were no audio or graphical tools used. All of the graphics were designed on graph paper and then coded. The only thing that he didn’t do, are the vocal samples which were handled by Electronic Speech Systems. The voice of Elvin is an actual digitized recording of one of ESS’s employees doing his best to sound like a James Bond villain.
The game was released in 1983 (USA) by EPYX. During the 80’s EPYX was best known for the “Games” franchise consisting of Summer Games, Winter Games, World Games, and California Games. They are also known for developing a handheld called the Handy which was later sold to Atari and renamed Lynx. In 1989 they filed for bankruptcy and finally fizzled out in 1993. The company had a relatively short life, but released some damn fine games for the 64.
The Commodore 64 is the best selling home computer system of all time. It’s no secret that the thing was an outstanding game machine. In my opinion, the Commodore was also a great introduction into BASIC programming. I’m willing to bet that a ton of young programmers currently developing games for our modern consoles got their start on a C64. You could of course use it to type papers and create charts and stuff and there were many, non-game educational and scientific programs out there to play with. In addition to all of this, the C64 is also responsible for starting the “demo scene”. If you’re not sure what this is about, give it a quick search and check it out. It’s basically a friendly competition where Commodore enthusiasts get together to push the machine to its limits and make it do things thought to be impossible.
The best evidence in support of my opinion that the C64 is a great computer is the fact that it still has a huge following and people continue to create new software and hardware for it. There are even those who go so far as to surf the internet with their 64s! Awesome.
If you’re using Windows and you’d like to check out Impossible Mission (or any game) on the C64, here’s what you’ll need to do. The first step is to get a Commodore emulator. I recommend www.zophar.net for all of your emulation needs. My Commodore emulator of choice is called WinVice (there’s a version for Macs and it’s just called VICE). It will emulate the C64, C128, VIC20, and the PET series.
Once you get it downloaded and unzipped, you’ll need to find a disk image for Impossible Mission. I recommend the Blast Collection found here:
IM is located on Blast011. Download it, unzip it, and then do the following:
1. Open the WinVice folder and double click on x64.exe.
2. Click on the “settings” menu and select “joystick settings”.
3. Click on “config keyset A” and set it up how you like it.
a. I recommend assigning your arrow keys to North. South…etc.
b. No need to worry about NW, NE…etc.
4. Next, place Keyset A into Joystick port 2 and hit OK.
5. Next press alt+8 and find the blast011.d64 disk image. Hit OK.
6. Now you have a joystick on port 2, and an IM disk in the drive.
7. To load this file, you’ll need to type some commands into the C64. This might be a bit confusing because the location of the keys on a C64 are not what we are used to today. This is what must be typed:
b. You will actually type LOAD@]@,8,1
c. This is because to type quotes on a 64 you had to hold shift and press 2, and the asterisk was located where the ] key is on a modern keyboard.
8. Hit enter and it will load for a little bit. When is says “READY” type “RUN” and press enter again.
9. Hit 2 to select Impossible Mission from the list.
10. You get another colorful splash screen, hit your fire button and enjoy.
The instruction Manual for Impossible Mission can be found here:
IM is definitely my favorite game for the Commodore 64 and easily makes my personal top 5 games of all time. I will continue to play it now and then as long as my C128 and the disk survive. There are rumors of a new Impossible Mission game coming out for one of the next-gen consoles. I think I would prefer a 3d version of the original game with more rooms, more retro furniture and a few secret areas thrown in. But for me, nothing will ever replace the mystery and charm of the original Impossible Mission.