Status: Full Game, Findability: 5/5

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

Supporting content

Available downloads

Creator speaks

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).”

Update history

  • 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.
Posted in: GTW64 archive | Tagged: | 40 Comments

40 Responses to Joust

    • A lot of magazines used to advertise games that hadn’t yet been released. Similar happened with Murder! on the C64. This is very likely the case here too unfortunately.

  1. Jack Verson has confirmed that he was the programmer of this conversion in an interview with Kay Savetz. He tells the story that another programmer was assigned Joust originally, with a commitment of 5 months, he hadn’t gotten anywhere after 4 months. Jack Verson stepped in at this point, took the Atari cartridge, disassembled it, and ported it to the C64 in 3 weeks. He said the downside of this was that the C64 version inherited the same bugs :)

    Story here:

  2. Thank you to you and your brother for Paul for converting this to the C64, I genuinely mean that. I can’t remember where I bought it from, if a local computer shop in Bradford or if I bought it in Blackpool itself on a day out or if my ad picked it up as he did from time to time getting me a game here and there whilst he was out working. I never caught this in the arcade, I was more interested in Aliens and Altered Beast at the time along with Splatterhouse and a couple of racers, but it was so distinctive in my games collection that I do still remember Jouste very fondly, the closest game I can think of that is anywhere remotely similar is Ugh! just because of the controls, never played that full game but enjoyed the demo.

    Ever thought of coding a modern take on Jouste? Keeping the old game play, but with modern graphics? Maybe throw in an Easter egg of Rod Hull riding an Emu? Can’t beat a good Indie game on the xbox.

  3. I’ve just picked up my C64 games from my dads house, starting to transfer all my stuff now from my childhood and went through my game collection. I actually have a copy of this game in original packaging. I have to admit, I did enjoy it at the time and definitely a classic.

  4. My brother and I wrote the first conversion of jouste for the commodore 64 in 1984. A company called ijk marketed it for us.

    It still is a full working jouste game with ostriches trolls and pteradactyls and of course knights.

    In 1983 We spent many hours in blackpool arcades to ensure we simulated the game on the 64. We also wrote another c64 game in 1983 called KRazy Kars

    • Thanks Paul for sharing those memories. It was a brilliant game and made up for the lack of an official conversion from the arcade in spades!

  5. That’s a pretty good conversion! Having played the arcade original extensively, I can confirm that the controls are pretty much dead on, but the enemies are easier to tackle. And the sound is pretty bad… I’m pretty sure it wasn’t finished yet. Since the source code of this was found, are there plans to release the source code as well? I’d actually like to see if I can do something about the sound…

    • There isn’t at the moment i’m afraid, unless we get permission from the coder. Though there might be something on the cards in terms of an update. Can’t say any more at the moment.

  6. Great story and a good release!!! The existing “Jouste” Version from IJK Software was already good and now there is another one. Cool!

  7. Amazing work, all around! Me and my brothers played the heck out of the ‘Joust(e)’ knockoff back in The Day, but that title always felt more like an odd re-visualization of the arcade game, and it was always a mystery why there’d never been a more reverent ‘official’ adaptation for the C64. I think this version would have sold easily back in ’84, and it’s too bad that Atari’s declining fortunes left it to languish on a floppy for decades. But as the saying goes: better late than never!

    • Well, it seems that this version was based on the Atari 8-bit version by Steven J Szymanski of GCC, but they made it at Atari without asking him, and GCC wasn’t contracted to do a C-64 version (nor was it probably allowed to alter it after the fact to produce a C-64 version), so I guess there were legal troubles preventing the release of this version, and then in the end Atarisoft was closed down anyway when Jack Tramiel took over. Other conversions went unreleased as well, like Mario Bros. (later re-done by Ocean, but in a much worse way), Crystal Castles (later released by U.S.Gold alongside versions for other systems not done by Atarisoft) and Track & Field (later released by Konami itself).

  8. As a C64 owning school kid in the early/mid 80s I definitely had a copy of the Atarisoft version of Joust. I was most disappointed when I tried to find online videos of this game and couldn’t find a single one. It played really well and the sound was suitably excellent. I no longer have that C64 nor the dozens of disks I accumulated. I imagine there are many pirate copies of the game out there but I imagine the people who have it don’t know it’s missing. I had no idea it was never officially released.

    • Hi Gregory, did it look like the screenshot? Would be great if the game did leak out somehow, but currently no-one has come forward with a copy. There may have alternatively just been an unofficial hack of a pre-existing Joust clone with the Atarisoft name on as well? Here are a list of Joust clones on Gamebase64 – maybe one of them was what you played?

      • It absolutely did look like the screenshot. It was as near to Joust as the C64 could manage. I landed on this page because I was looking for a video of the game I played as a kid and non of them were right so I kept looking until that image popped up. I don’t think it will be rare in pirate collections. I genuinely think anyone who may have it doesn’t regard it to be missing.

        • I should be clear, the copy I had was a pirate copy supplied through a network that ultimately spanned Europe and the United States. Friend of a friend of a friend etc. We used to swap phone numbers, I used to queue at the phonebox to phone the lad who supplied me.

          • Hopefully someone will come forward with a copy of the game if it is out there still. Would be great to find the proper official conversion of the game.

    • I think what you had was the game Jouste, which was a clone. The Atarisoft version was never around. I never saw it and I was really into the scene. And have been since then.

  9. I actually had a copy of this game, can’t remember if it was on a compilation cassette or on a cassette on it’s own right. This title is dear to me because of the hours I played it on the C64 back in the 80s. I am actually surprised to see this title in this section. I should have the cassette somewhere back at my dads, assuming it still works as it has been packed away for 25 years, could be going on 30 years since last played this title.

      • I will have to try and locate the cassette when I get to my dad’s house next time. Got a right stash of games in original packaging. Bearing in mind it’s been about 30 years since I have played it I will have to check. This was one of my favourite games at the time.

        • It wouldn’t have been on tape, either cartridge or disk if released in the US at the time, so I suspect this is actually the IJK game.

          • That doesn’t say anything though… many games were “cracked” and converted to one-file loaders which you loaded like a BASIC program and then typed RUN and they started. Most officially released cartridges got that treatment as well so they could easily be spread on disks (and several games stored on one disk side) or saved to cassettes as well (which is usually possible for all one-file programs up to about 159 blocks if I remember right), Atarisoft would probably have released Joust as a cartridge, but I guess it never got to that stage of production and got leaked on a disk or tape and spread that way, though, seemingly, not very far in this case.

      • This version of jouste was written by my brother and myself in 1984 it wasnt written by Joe Elleson and he didnt do the graphics, No idea who he is. look at this youtube video, it shows our names

  10. I just learned of a version of Joust that was in development at Atarisoft and even shown at a CES, as you can see on this page:

    This, strangely, seems to be a “hack” of the Atari 8-bit version created by Steve Evens at GCC back then since he says he didn’t develop a C-64 version, so someone else at Atari must have converted his work to the C-64. As you can see, it looks quite different to Jouste, so I don’t think it’s the same game. I’ve played Jouste, and it doesn’t feel like the arcade at all, the physics are all wrong. On the right of that screenshot, by the way, you can see a portion of a screen of the version of Stargate that was initially planned for the C-64, but not released.

    • Sorry, I just noticed that the name of the Atari 8-bit programmer is Steven, but I don’t know his last name. I thought it was Steve Evens who did Stargate, but I’m not sure now. And I don’t know who did the “hack” for the C-64.

      • Thanks yet again Kurt! .. brilliant detective work and spot! I’ve added a list of potential coders, updated the details and added the screenshot and other bits. Really appreciated! Hopefully now we’ll manage to find something of this conversion.

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