Nearly 30 years after its release on the Mac in 1993, Cyan’s Mystery is still as unstoppable as ever. As one of the most successful (but sometimes divisive) computer games of all time, it sold 6 million copies in boxes in the 1990s and later landed on more than a dozen platforms, with remakes counting for even more appearances, including a VR -version. Now, thanks to an unofficial hobby project by Vince Weaver, Mystery can add one more platform to the list: Atari 2600.
Vince Weaver is an associate professor of computer engineering at the University of Maine. Since last year, he has been working on a partial “demake” of the famous point-and-click adventure game that runs on Atari’s 8-bit gaming system, and has just returned to the project to make updates last week.
For those not in the gaming community, the term “demake” may need some unpacking. A demake is essentially the opposite of a remake: instead of upgrading a game to modern standards, a demake takes a modern or classic game and adapts it for older, less powerful hardware.
“Making demakes is a hobby of mine,” Weaver told Ars in an email interview. “In the past, I’ve mostly made them for the Apple II platform, but about a year ago I started making some for the Atari 2600. The demake sort of started when I kind of made a little proof-of-concept version of things as a joke, but then when I get positive feedback, I get a little carried away.”
The 2600 – a game console released in 1977 with only 128 bytes of RAM and a maximum resolution of 160×192 pixels – may seem like an unlikely home for the graphically rich multimedia extravaganza that was Mystery in 1993. It is a game that was once considered so great that it became a great app for CD-ROM. But the disparity between platforms is exactly the point, because the translation process presents an interesting challenge.
“The biggest challenge in doing a demake for something like Mystery are the graphics,” says Weaver. ‘In the 90s, Mystery was known for its stunningly beautifully rendered images. Translating that to old 8-bit machines is difficult. It’s even harder on the 2600 because you’re constantly racing the jet and have some extreme limitations. For example, in general you can only have two colors per line, and more than that takes a lot of tricky coding.”
Due to console limitations, Weaver doesn’t plan on porting the entire game to the primitive 8-bit console, but wants to get enough puzzles working to make it a “proper” game, as he writes on his website: ” The full game requires at least 800 scenes, which would be about 200,000, which would be both a pretty hefty cartridge and a lot of graphics to draw.