Friday, February 26, 2016

So-called "IBM" freeware games from the early '80s

(and the Cryptic Code Conundrum)

This is a question I've already raised in the usual suspect places, but without much success, so here it is again on the off chance that anybody knows anything.

Going through compilations of very early BBS-fodder for the IBM PC (shareware, freeware, public domain), I frequently see this bunch of games and programs that seem to have a few things in common:

  • They're all in BASIC
  • In their title screens, they all rip off the layout of IBM's PC-DOS demonstration programs (DONKEY, etc.)
  • From that design they retain the 'IBM' on top, but there's no IBM copyright notice
  • There's no publisher info anywhere within the program, although some do list the author
  • Some (not all) of them have a further "mystery code" on the title screen, with the format "XXX-5-5-Y"

A few of these games (e.g. ATTACK) are frequently misattributed to IBM itself.  While it's amusing to think of Big Blue sticking it to the Cupertino cabal with that game, the 'evidence' as such is hardly convincing - especially considering the amateur quality of the game (and the others in this group), and the lack of copyright messagse.  The snippet on the left (from PC Magazine, p55, April 17, 1984) seems to agree.

My best guess would be that some BBS, users group, or disk club simply slapped a few standardized title screens on their user-submitted software.  "IBM", at best, simply served to signify the platform, in the same way that software was referred to as being for "the Apple" or "the Commodore".  Since those early shareware selections were incredibly promiscuous with their offerings, it's incredibly hard to figure out where these titles came from originally.
So, does anybody have a clue?  And what could those cryptic XXX-5-5-Y "mystery codes" be?