Christmas 2013 will be fondly remembered by Amiga enthusiasts as a time of miracles! The Amiga version of Putty Squad was finally released, 19-and-a-bit years after being reviewed by all the major Amiga magazines. The game had received rave reviews and scores of 90% or more in the majority of magazines, and it was due to be released in late 1994. Readers were eager to get their hands on the game!
According to Mark Cale, the bottom fell out of the Amiga market about that time, and System 3 had trouble finding stores to stock the game. A SNES version was released, but the Amiga version never materialised. Time passed, and a dodgy outfit called Alive Mediasoft claimed to have the game available for sale around 1997. Orders were placed, money was taken, deadlines for delivering the game came and went, but the game was never released. It became the holy grail sought after by Amiga gamers.
Several Amiga enthusiasts managed to contact John Twiddy in the early 2000s and were told that the game was complete and stored on DAT drives. John appeared to be agreeable to releasing the game. Shortly after, email communication stopped, and no further information was known.
Fast forward to 2013, and System 3 announced the game to be released on a range of modern consoles, with graphics reworked for 1080p displays in 24 bit colour. The conversion job to modern platforms was given to veteran Amiga programmer John Jones-Steele, who informed me that he was working off the original Amiga source code!
October 2013 saw the release of issue 121 of Retro Gamer, which featured an interview with System 3 CEO Mark Cale. The interview had the Amiga community excited. as he stated that the Amiga version would be released with pre-orders as part of a collectors edition pack. People were extremely excited and tried to order this special edition, but nobody had any success.
In November 2013, Mark Cale appeared in a video interview with Eurogamer where he said that the Amiga version was only an idea that Retro Gamer were not supposed to have published, and that the game was not going to be released. This was due to mastering problems, a lack of floppy disks, hassles with faulty disk returns and problems getting permission from publishers to release the game. Once again, Amiga users had the game dangled in front of them, only to be snatched away.
One of the more famous members of the English Amiga Board posted a seemingly inocuous message asking if anyone knew Mark Cale's email address, so that he could impart his feelings on the matter. Galahad managed to contact System 3 and managed to convince them that he could help master the game!
How did you get hold of Mark Cale, and what on earth did you put in your communication to System 3 that started the ball rolling?
I contacted Mark via the System 3 website and Facebook, and it was the website he responded to. I wrote:
Dear Mr. Cale,
We've all been following your Putty Squad news with anticipation, and yes, especially the Amiga related news. We were heartened and then very saddened to learn that the distribution idea you had didn't work. However, a lot of us remarked at the time that it was a rather crude distribution method, whilst the Amiga is old in comparison to today's technology, the system itself has been continually been updated and, very few of us rely on disks as the medium of choice to play our games.
Hard drives are no longer a luxury, they are the norm, very few people would use their Amigas otherwise, and there has been a community of people that have done their utmost to convert most of the Amiga's back catalogue of games (System 3's included) to run from hard drive for instant loading and bug fixes that might have prevented previous A500 based software from working on accelerated AGA Amigas.
If you're SERIOUS about getting Putty Squad out for the Amiga, then I can help in that endeavour, no false promises, no nonsense, just plain FACT. I can ensure that Putty Squad gets released in a format that does NOT diminish the product, and is 100% what System 3 would be happy to have their name attached to.
Whatever format John Twiddy wrote the original disk system in can be circumvented to ensure that it can be distributed as a DIGITAL DOWNLOAD which can be installed on a real Amiga with hard drive. If it was still your wish for it to be written to floppy disk and run from there as well, that is ENTIRELY achievable.
Many free tools exist on Amiga now where disk images can be written back down to floppy disk with NO problems whatsoever, no disk costs to System 3, the user has to provide them, and there's always the backup option of installing to hard drive instead.
I make this offer for FREE, i.e. it will cost you and System 3 ZERO money whatsoever. I also make the offer that the game will NOT leak, and will be made available to System 3 to release as they see fit as a digital download. This is a SERIOUS offer and is NOT a pipedream, my experience with Amiga is still fresh, and I can realise this not only for System 3 but for the Amiga community.
I would state that its not untrue to say that System 3's reputation over Amiga Putty Squad has been somewhat tarnished over this, but that this is entirely fixable and a lot of good can still come from this.
It's Christmas soon, this can be done before then.
When did you hear back from Mark Cale/System 3 and what did he say?
His reply was pretty much "When do you want to come down then?"
Did you end up travelling to System 3's headquarters and meet with Mark Cale and John Twiddy?
The original intention was to travel to System 3's HQ in London, they offered to pay my expenses, but when John Twiddy informed me that the Putty Squad Amiga files and properties were now stored on a PC, it didn't make sense to bother. I guess the original intention was for John to show me what I'd be up against with regards interpreting all the PsyQ development stuff that littered the code, but I thought I'd take a look at what they had first and then if there were any really serious problems with getting it working, then I'd go to System 3 and speak with John Twiddy directly so he could try and remember what he did 20 years ago!!! Thankfully, I was able to understand enough to get it up and running from my end so that was a lot of time saved.
Did you have to prove your knowledge or skillset before they agreed to let you master the game?
No. I know others contacted them, but I don't think anyone else worded their email to them in such a way as to cover all bases. I said in quite forthright terms that it was something I could do, had done before for another software company, and that I was absolutely resolute and direct that I can do it, and do it for free. I basically removed reasons for not considering me as the person they should be considering for the task.
Personally I don't think the offer to do it for free was even a mitigating reason for me doing it, but I simply wished to remove ALL obstacles to them considering anyone else but me, and I think that paid off, because now Putty Squad on the Amiga is no longer a dream, it's a reality. It's not that anyone else couldn't have done it, I just made it clear if anyone was to do it, it should be me.
Did you have to agree to anything before they sent the game files?
I had to sign a non disclosure agreement by December 6th as that was the deadline they had set when they made an announcement on Facebook. I actually only just submitted it in time as my printer decided it was going to dick about, which meant I couldn't print out the NDA and sign it and scan it, so I had to work around that one, but it got done in the end, otherwise we wouldn't be enjoying Putty Squad on Amiga!
Did you have to give progress reports to System 3 as you went along?
Not at first, they were quite content to let me get on with it and get to grips with it, though I did make email reports off my own back to John Twiddy to let him know what I was doing, mainly to alleviate any concerns System 3 might have had about my abilities to actually see the deal through.
I think John was reassured soon after, because it was obvious I understood his code and what the game was doing, and reasons for junking his disk system and replacing it with something else, so he was suitably happy enough that they hadn't just passed their baby onto a moron!
After all, they'd made announcements on what was happening to it, and they obviously didn't want their trust to be misplaced.
Approximately how long did it take to master the game from the files you were sent? And can you please explain some of the mastering process?
It took around two days to get something up and running from what I was given. I had a big archive sent to me by John Twiddy, and had to sort out what was what with it. Should I go the source code route and rebuild, or take existing binary files and try and piece it all together?
Most of that time was deciding which route to take, and I started with source code, and abandoned that because of all the specific PsyQ development stuff, it was everywhere in the code. Of course I wasted nearly a day before I realised that wasn't the route to take.
So I went the route of using the existing binary files, and referencing the source code to make sense of what was supposed to be loaded where and at what time and from which disk, it wasn't altogether clear at times.
And then I had to remove all of John Twiddy's existing disk code and junk it, it was the same format as Aladdin, First Samurai, Cool Spot etc, where there was hidden information in the gaps of the tracks which served as disk identification, which would be absolutely no use in transferring onto a real Amiga.
To utilise that same system in emulation, would mean I would have to build copy protected disks, and then employ the help of SPS to create IPF's of the game, but then that would then alienate owners of real Amigas, so I had to redo it all from scratch.
Also if I did create copy protected disks, there would be the obvious possibility that someone would have to crack it for wider use, and I really wasn't too happy about the likelihood of multiple versions appearing of varying quality, so the choice was taken to make it AmigaDOS sector loading with no protection and no issues, so there should be no need for anyone to tamper with the disks, and System 3 gets to release the game as they intended.
Can you explain a little more about the PsyQ system?
It works in a similar way to SNASM or PDS which were other competing systems back in the '80s and '90s. PsyQ is a system developed by Psygnosis, and basically all assembly occurs on a PC, and the PC is able to assemble a game on the PC, and then send it over a download cable to an Amiga that is slaved to the PC.
It's not that the Amiga isn't perfectly capable of doing its own development, it's simply because if the Amiga crashes when running the game, it doesn't take the development environment with it. And it's a fact that PC hard drives and what not were a lot cheaper and more readily available than A500 hard drives.
PsyQ generates interrupts and all sorts of stuff for realtime debugging, it was used on lots of stuff other than Amiga, Playstation, Megadrive, Mega-CD, what goes for those systems, also went for the Amiga.
If you don't have the documents (as I didn't), it became a pain to work out what stuff had to be removed. Lots of code was written with macros that were relevant to PsyQ.
Did the original game code support changing disks or did you have to code that yourself?
The original was able to do disk swaps based on its disk format, which obviously going from a copy protected disk to a plain AmigaDOS sector loading disk was going to be a problem with the way Putty Squad originally detected a disk change. With the original disk format, it would simply just try and load from the sectors it was told to load. If the disk ID didn't match, it would demand the other disk, and simply carry on loading when it detected the correct format.
Initially I thought I'd have to have an ID on both disks, but that could potentially increase loading time as the loader stepped down to the ID mark to identify the disk, and then step back again to load, and this could potentially happen with every single time the loader wanted to load another file.
So I had to do something else, and I used the basics of the original system, except I modified the headers of every packed file on disks 1 and 2 so that the loader would simply just try and load from whatever disk was in the drive, but it would load the first sector, check the header of the file, if it matched the requested disk, it would carry on loading which removed lots of nasty stepping up and down the disk, and kept the loading relatively quick.
Obviously before the files were depacked, the header was fixed to remove the disk ID and replace with a proper depack ID instead. This also meant that even if the sector start of a file on disk 1 was the same as on disk 2, the ID header of the file would let the game know which disk was physically in the drive, and it worked brilliantly first time!
Were there any bugs you had to fix with the game or did it work as soon as you had patched all the loading system?
There was only one real bug and that was my first choice of loader for the game had to be abandoned, though I didn't realise why for nearly three hours!!! I couldn't understand why loading in game kept crashing the Amiga, and I tracked it down to the fact that the game and the loader were timed using CIA and the game was also using the same CIA for some operations and it clashed with the loader. Upon replacing the loader with one that was timed with vblank, it worked fine.
The other issue was the game had a lot of debugging code left in it to test collisions and a whole lot of other stuff, and this all had to be carefully removed as only some of the functions could be turned off at a source code level with a simple equate, lots of stuff was there regardless.
It took a while to safely remove it without affecting the game, but I got there in the end. Only thing left is a SFX test, but that doesn't affect the game so its a nice easter egg for people to discover.
Other debug stuff could trigger a crash (specifically an animation debug) so had to go.
Was there any kind of copy protection code in the files you were sent?
Yes, there was evidence of Rob Northen Copylock in the archive, and there was remnants of a doc check protection but that wasn't activated for that particular assembly. The Copylock wasn't implemented at all, but clearly that was the original intention, so if the game had been released back in 1994, it would have been a moderately well protected game, having doc check, Copylock and the disk format.
Did you have enough time to playtest the entire game to make sure all the levels and end sequence worked?
I checked the entire game from start to finish. There were a couple of crashes as one or two files were not mastered properly, but I had a basic debugger that printed out details onscreen as to the name of the file that was last loaded, sector start and sectors to read, so it at least gave me an idea of what the problem was.
One was a corrupt file, another was sector start was incorrect, and another was wrong amount of sectors read, and I was able to get through the entire game, including end game sequence, and it all worked, a great feeling.
How hard was it to keep everything a secret when you had one of the games of the century in your hands?
Very hard. Especially when some people were making some pretty negative comments online and I wished I could say, "Hey guys, it's actually happening, I have it here!" but I couldn't say a thing. But the longer it went on, the more I thought, "Actually, this is going to be pretty cool when it gets released" as no-one is expecting it.
And I'm thankful for the non disclosure agreement in a way, if I'd actually had free reign to tell people, I might well have done, and I'd have been hassled every bloody day for it, you only have to see the remarks on System 3's Facebook page, and various threads on the various Amiga forums to know I would not have been left alone.
The last thing I wanted was a load of people offering expert advice on how to tackle it. I did it my way, and my way worked and I was pretty much left in peace to get on with it.
Based on the filenames the game uses, the highest map number is 67, yet there are there are only 54 map files. Can you explain how the level numbering works?
According to John, they represent gaps in graphical sets (i.e. the different themes that run throughout the game) and were not used.
There are about 20 different themes which are used by 35 main game levels. Many of the levels include sub-levels accessible only through doors. The doors are hidden unless you are right over them or are using the sunglasses bonus, and when you leave a sub-level you come back to the main level.
Was there a level editor included in the code you were sent so that levels could be added or modified?
No there isn't, but having said that, if the construction of Putty Squad is in any way similar to John Twiddy's previous games like First Samurai, it's possible that Kroah's work on his First Samurai game editor might in fact be workable with Putty Squad.
There are references to Cool Spot in the code to Putty Squad (obviously sharing some common routines), but as to whether or not the similarities go beyond that, I have no clue.
Did you ask System 3 if you were allowed to add your name into the in-game credits for mastering the disks?
I asked if they wanted updated System 3 logos and stuff, but they were adamant that they wanted Putty Squad to be the same as if it would have been back in 1994, so, that's the way it was released.
Do you know if Mark Cale or John Twiddy are up to date with the state of Amiga emulation or the kind of hardware that current Amiga owners have?
They are now that I've advised them on what the current state of play is. John Twiddy now has WinUAE setup. But certainly when Mark announced the Amiga floppy disk initiative with the release of the PS4 version of Putty Squad, I think it's fair to say that he wasn't up to speed with what's been occurring in Amiga circles, and to be fair, why would he? System 3's last Amiga involvement of any kind was nearly 20 years ago.
There could be a massive underground scene for the BBC Model B microcomputer for all I know, I would assume they still use cassette tapes, and I would probably be wrong on that, so no I don't blame Mark or John for not knowing, but it's fair to say they know now.
Have you made John Twiddy aware of WHDLoad and hard drive installing games? :)
Only in passing, their main focus is the basic disk version that works on real A1200s and for emulation, they are quite aware that there will be various attempts to bring it to hard drive installation, but they are keen to release it as they originally intended.
Alive Mediasoft seemed to be one of the most dodgy Amiga publishers of all time (and that's saying something!) and during the late 1990s they claimed to have the rights to release Putty Squad. Did you get a chance to ask Mark Cale about this?
I can confirm that Alive Mediasoft did contact System 3 with a view to securing the rights to release the game.
However, Mark Cale refused the deal, and at no point did Alive Mediasoft have the rights or any rightful claims to be able to release Putty Squad on the Amiga.
What do you think System 3 hope to get out of finally releasing the game?
I think it will be great for System 3 as they've taken some flak in the past. I don't think people can be in any doubt that System 3 intended to do something special with the Amiga version, I just don't think they realised the problems they would have trying to realise that, and in all honesty, System 3 don't have to release anything for free. They would have been quite within their rights to hold onto it and never release it, but peoples persistence has been rewarded, and as far as gifts go, its a pretty special one.
Stuff like this will (I hope) generate lots of good press for System 3 as they fully deserve it, and if their example is copied by others, then whilst it's wishful thinking, nearly 20 years later we now have Putty Squad on Amiga, a case of when dreams come true!
You started a thread on the English Amiga Board regarding a store for digital downloads of Amiga games. Was there initial consideration to selling the game digitally or was it always going to be released for free once you were involved?
That had nothing to do with Putty Squad, it was simply an idea of finding out if there was enough interest for people to consider setting one up. It's always puzzled me, the Amiga was a hell of a popular machine, it's still thought of highly today, it's still got many people interested in it, yet in comparison to the C64, there's nowhere near the level of games and software being released for it that the size of the community would suggest there should be.
OK, in all honesty an original Amiga game might not sell very much, and might only generate a couple of hundred Pounds if it's lucky, but it's sure inspiration to get rewarded for your efforts. And it seems to me that System 3's experience with Putty Squad is a perfect complimentary example to that idea, that if System 3 did have the expertise to realise Putty Squad's release on Amiga themselves, there was no place digitally they could have released it.
And the same might be the case for other developers. If there was a physical Amiga Digital Download presence on the internet, others may well want to release stuff, and it would show that the Amiga has outgrown floppy disks, and shows that if someone still has something unreleased, that maybe they might be persuaded to get it out there.
The entire Amiga community thanks you for finally getting this game released! :)