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

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Available downloads for this entry

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).”

32 Responses to Joust

  1. 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.

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

  3. 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).

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