By Nicola Ferrarese
*Thanks to Scott Stilphen for helping with the article.
Here's another game was never listed in any of Atari's catalogs or literature, and it was never mentioned in any gaming magazines at the time. As far as we know, it was never even listed on internal product number lists at Atari - apparently the game was never far enough along in development to have a CX# assigned to it.
This was a music game that Atari designer Greg Easter was working on, based on the Residents 1981 album of the same name. In one of his performance reviews at Atari, it was noted: "He designed an original game that was based on a current rock group album, a category of games that represent a new concept for Atari."
At least 2 prototype copies existed at one point. An early version (dated 3-25) was given to to the band, and a later version which the programmer kept (which unfortunately he no longer has). He estimates it was about 75% complete when he left Atari.
Greg described Mark of the Mole's fundamental thesis as thus: "First a line of music plays (one of the songs from the Residents' Mark of the Mole record) - you are a mole with a hammer who travels down into a cave and taps on walls with a hammer. Different parts of the cave make different musical notes, and when you find the next note you need to complete the line of music which was just played. You are building a song note by note, and you have to remember the tone of the next note you need in order to get it right. Each time you play the caves are different, so you can't just remember where to go. The game actually teaches you what is called 'perfect pitch' in music - the ability to hear notes and know where they are on the staff."
Greg also stated that, "Mimi Nyden did the graphics for Mark of the Mole as well. She designed the graphics of the mole character in the game, although 'designed' isn't really the right word, because she was copying it from a drawing. Her job was to make it look as good as possible on the 2600, which was always a challenge."
Below are Greg's only design notes for the game that he kept (click on the image for a full-size picture):
UPDATE: Actual footage of the game running has been found on an old Atari marketing tape. Unfortunately it's only a meager 1 second's worth, but it's as close as we can get until a prototype surfaces (click on the image below to see the video):
UPDATE: Greg Easter recently auctioned off all his materials for this game. Below is a copy of the auction page as it appeared:
Between 1982 and 1984, I developed games at Atari for the 2600 VCS system. One of the games which was about halfway done and (obviously) never released, was based on the San Francisco cult music band known as The Residents. Specifically, their album, "Mark of the Mole." I worked with the Residents personally on this project at the time. What I am offering here is a collection of related items. Specifically:
1. Original sheet music to several songs written by the Residents. They wrote this and gave it to me as a copy - this is the actual paper they gave me with the music in score.
2. Three Polaroid photos of the game screen, including the mole character displayed on the 2600 game system. These are the actual photos I took of the screen - not reproductions.
3. Two original business cards of mine from Atari.
4. A page of programming notes that I developed during the project to convert code into musical notes on the system.
Don't be deceived by our low starting bid and NO RESERVE. It is our policy to run true auctions in the spirit that ebay was founded, and unlike most other sellers these days.
WE INCLUDE INSURANCE AT NO ADDITIONAL COST (for packages within the U.S.)
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