This is an entry for a long lost Atarisoft conversion of Joust for the Commodore 64, due for release back in 1984. The game had made it across to a variety of platforms, but the C64 game was to be caught up in the collapse of the company. Many believed that the conversion would end up being released by another company under the name of Jouste. However, this was just an unofficial clone written by Kim McCherry and not official at any stage.
Some years ago, GTW put up a photo of the C64 conversion that was on display at a show of some kind in the early 80’s. This proved that a conversion had been started and did indeed exist, but who was behind the conversion?
Sadly, it was unclear who the developer/artist was. The photo though had come from General Computing Corp’s Steven J Szymanski – so was it by him? Steven confirmed to GTW that it seems it was based on his very own Atari 800 version of the game, but not done by himself. He had no idea who was behind the conversion. Looking at other Atarisoft games, we suggested names such as Joe Hellesen and Tom Griner, but to no avail with regards to confirming when we tried to get in touch with them.
After hitting a bit of a brick wall, in late May 2020 – preservationist Ken Van Mersbergen got in touch and stunned us all by confirming that he had fully preserved the game. Ken explains how this happened and how he came to find the game:
“I was going through the archive of a retired programmer who used to work for Roklan Corporation and On-Time software. I was reading and converting some 8-inch CP/M disks when I came across a couple of files named JOUST on a disk containing the source code for C64 Popeye.
At the time I thought nothing of it as I was just converting the files for his digital archive. Months later I came across your site and saw that C64 Joust was never released so I sent back to the archive to see what system the Joust files were for. To my delight it turned out to be C64 Joust!”
The remarkable discovery was just the start of the hard work now involved. Ken now had to preserve the contents of the disk and try and get everything up and running once more.
“I copied the 3 files to my system and examined them. I was able to convert the HEX file to a binary file for testing and the game fired up in VICE with no problems. I then set upon converting the source code to a modern compiler (DASM). After a few days I was able to get the code to compile into a binary and run as a cartridge on a C64.”
As a result, GTW was able to share some proper screenshots of the game at long last. Ken would allow GTW to host the game, but first wanted to do a special presentation at a gaming event in the USA during September 2020. Attentions turned to trying to figure out who exactly had coded the game – sadly the source code gave no suggestions or clues.
Ken believed that Joe Hellesen was the developer at Roklan Corporation, and GTW did too – as his name was on an old Joust resource alongside the C64 conversion. Ken managed to get hold of Joe, who could not recall who programmed Joust. Attentions have now since turned to Cameron Shaffer (from On-Time Software) and GTW also wonders once more if Tom Griner may have had a part to play after all. Another theory could be that maybe it was the C64 programmer of Popeye – after all, it was found on the same disk! Hopefully in time the mystery will be solved on that front.
Well, in January 2022 it was confirmed that the game was indeed programmed by Jack Verson – who programmed the earlier iteration of Popeye that was recovered for GTW64 in 2021. This is thanks to contributor Michael and his comment added to this page.
In a video interview, he tells the story that another programmer was assigned Joust originally to complete within 5 months. He hadn’t managed to get far, so Jack had to step in, at which point he took the Atari version, disassembled it and ported to the C64 in just 3 weeks. The downside that Jack highlights is that the C64 version inherited the same bugs.
In August 2023, contributor Nick Guida was researching games that Joe Hellesen had created, and in his gameography from 2000 (for a company bio), he was listed as working on Joust as a programmer (see scans). It could be that Joe was the original programmer before Jack later took over and redid the game.
As for the game itself – GTW would wait for the release in September, but then COVID-19 would sadly see yet another show cancelled. Ken had planned to show the game at the VCFMW event, but due to the restrictions, it was never to be. As a result, Ken has very kindly allowed GTW to release the game earlier in July 2020 for you all to enjoy. Ken in the meantime continues to try and figure out who programmed the game. Here is a video of the game in action:
So finally after over 30 years, the official Joust conversion can now be played once more. It seems to be a complete conversion, with all of the key game play elements present and it is very playable overall. Quite possibly some aspects could have been better (such as the graphics and sound), which is easy to say nowadays, but it is an important piece of gaming history finally preserved none-the-less and should not be missed.
A huge thank you to Ken Van Mersbergen for his fantastic preservation work and for getting in touch with GTW to share his finding. Enjoy!
Contributions: Fabrizio Bartoloni, Kurt Woloch, Ken Van Mersbergen, Scott Stilphen, Michael, Nick Guida
Steve talks about seeing the Atarisoft conversion of his Atari game…
“OK, so this was my implementation of Joust running on a Commodore 64 computer. I know that because there were subtle details of the implementation I knew which didn’t match the original game perfectly because of limitations in the hardware. Problem was, neither I nor GCC did a version for the Commodore 64, and we certainly hadn’t been paid for it. Atari later apologised (and more important paid us).”
- 02/08/23 – Detail about Joe Hellesen likely developing the earlier abandoned version.
- 23/01/22 – Game confirmed to be developed by Jack Verson.
- 14/07/20 – Full game added to the archive
- 30/05/20 – Ok, so not Tom! … Game is recovered, watch this space for release!
- 20/01/14 – Confirmation that Tom Griner was the developer.