Joust

Atarisoft

Status: Full Game, Findability: 5/5

Updates made

  • 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.
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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.

But at least the mystery of finding something of the game itself was pretty much solved. 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

Supporting content

Available downloads for this entry

  • Game_Joust
  • 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).”

    27 Responses to Joust

    1. Gregory Wolfe says:

      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.

      • fgasking says:

        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? http://www.gamebase64.com/search.php?a=5&f=5&id=197&d=18&h=0

        • Gregory Wolfe says:

          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.

          • Gregory Wolfe says:

            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.

            • fgasking says:

              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.

      • tjlazer says:

        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.

    2. My brother and I wrote Jouste for the commodore 64 in 1984 (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU3YpwMjof0)

      We also wrote Krazy Kars in 1983 (see http://www.lemon64.com/?mainurl=http%3A//www.lemon64.com/games/list.php%3Fcoder%3DPaul+McHerry)

      These were unofficial versions, basically we just went down to the local arcade and learned the games.

      • fgasking says:

        Thanks very much Paul – great to hear from you. I’ll ask the guys at Gamebase64 to update their credits so they are correct for both games.

        Did you both work on anything that never got released on the C64?

    3. A Bozhko says:

      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.

      • fgasking says:

        Sure it wasn’t this game? … http://www.gamebase64.com/game.php?id=3973&d=18&h=0
        This was an unofficial conversion, though the one in this review in particular is the official Atarisoft conversion.

        • A Bozhko says:

          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.

          • Mayhem says:

            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.

            • Kurt Woloch says:

              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

    4. Yet another great update to a fun game. Thanks guys.

    5. Kurt Woloch says:

      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:

      http://galleryszy.stevenanne.net/archives/2005/05/tsk_tsk.html

      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.

      • Kurt Woloch says:

        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.

        • fgasking says:

          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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