Hacker Finds Easter Egg In Apple II Game That Was Hidden For 33 Years

Do you know that Gumball, a game that was released in 1983 for the Apple II and other early PCs, was never all that popular? However, this week a secret that was kept hidden for 33 years was discovered by anonymous hacker who not only hacked his way through extremely advanced copyright protection, but also became the first people to notice an Easter Egg concealed by the game’s creator, Robert A. Cook. What was more incredible that Cook congratulated them for their work on Friday.

The hacker known as 4a.m. for the last few years has been methodically cracking the DRM on old Apple II games and uploading them to the Internet Archive. 4a.m. is looked at as more of a game preservation hero than a bandit, since most of the games are entirely out of print, all-but-impossible to find, and run only on old computers.

He told Motherboard that he has cracked 683 games until now and several games that came out in the early 1980s can be insignificantly cracked with automated utilities. However, Gumball was different.

“Copyright protection developer Roland Gustafsson was legendary at Apple II copy protection. Roland was in a class by himself,” 4a.m. told Motherboard. “To give you a sense of how extraordinary it was, consider that this is my 683rd crack, and this write-up was almost twice as long as my previous longest.”

However, the DRM was not the only astonishing thing about the game. He noticed a cipher while he was cracking the game with his sometimes partner (who goes by “qkumba”).

“I stumbled on a site that had a vague reference to the initial step in revealing the egg. I told qkumba to try it, and he said it came back with these messages on screen after each level,” 4a.m. said. “I recognized it as a simple substitution cipher and put it into an online cipher solver I found through a quick Google search.”

The game makes you in charge of a gumball factory worker who evolves to become foreman, supervisor, manager, and vice president of the factory—if you hit “ctrl+z” during the cutscenes between levels of the game, you get different codes of the cipher. Solved, the cipher discloses this code:

ENTER THREE

LETTER CODE

WHEN

YOU RETIRE

During “retirement,” which is the end of the game, if you hit ctrl+z again there’s one final code: “DOUBLE HELIX.” 4a.m. and qkumba entered “DNA” at the end of the game and got this screen:

This is the first time anyone has ever solved the cipher or found this Easter egg, according to 4a.m. Cook also thought the same thing, when he 4a.m about it:

4a.m. has become a bit of a folk hero in the Apple II community, which is still going strong. He says he got the copy of Gumball on loan from a friend who was a former developer that worked with Broderbund. Apparently, this copy of Gumball came from a shoebox in famous game designer Jordan Mechner’s garage.

“I’ve never seen a copy of Gumball for sale on eBay or anywhere,” 4a.m. told Motherboard. “It really is quite rare.”

You can find the game here.

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