Modding the Quake II Remastered source code

In 2021, a remastered version of the original Quake was released on the PC and consoles, a co-production of id Software, Night Dive Studios and MachineGames. 2021 was the 25th anniversary of the original Quake game so it seemed fitting to spruce it up a bit. It was announced during QuakeCon 2021, one of the three instances of the convention where it was virtual due to the pandemic and it was nice seeing them figure out a way to get people playing Quake at QuakeCon again.

It seemed logical that during QuakeCon 2022 they would announce a remastered version of Quake II, seeing as how 2022 was the 25th anniversary of that one, but they didn’t. With some of the clues leading into the event, such as Sonic Mayhem the composer of the soundtrack talking about going back and finding the original files for the soundtrack, and the theme in the shirts and merchandise being green (same as the Quake II logo) I theorized that the plan was to release a remaster but it got pushed back for some reason.

QuakeCon 2023 was the first in-person version of the event since 2019. I went to it and brought my PC, same as every year until the pandemic happened. During the event, they announced the Quake II remaster. Same basic deal as the other one – coproduction of id/NDS/MG, released for consoles, etc.

Something wholly unexpected, however, was the release of the game source code.

In certain corners of the gaming Internet, Quake II is a contentious game. A number of people didn’t like it as much as the original game, and more than a few people viewed it as an online-only game, enjoying the multiplayer games and the mods (which likely factored into why id Software made Quake III: Arena eschew the traditional campaign in favor of a multiplayer focus). Mods worked a bit differently in Quake II however.

The original Quake game compiled mods into a platform-agnostic file called PROGS.DAT. This is sort of like what a DLL is in that it’s dynamic code loaded in at runtime, but the original game was developed on a NeXT machine and shipped for DOS, they needed something generic. It did have the nice side effect of making mods be cross-platform by default so when the game got ported to things like Classic Mac OS or even the Amiga, everything came along for the ride. And at least for single player mods, they even worked most of the time with the remastered Quake.

However Quake II switched to using Windows for development and did not ship for DOS, or any other platforms for a while (the Mac version, for instance, didn’t come out until 1999). They switched to using DLL files which were not cross platform. Even today modern source ports use the platform-specific dynamic library files (so, .dylib for macOS, .so for Linux, etc.) It seemed logical that mods made for Quake II would not work with the remaster.

Which is where this source release comes into play. This is the equivalent of the mod source code for the original game. My guess is that they’re cognizant of how important mods were to the original game so they’re putting this out there, which like I said is still wholly unexpected but I’m absolutely applauding the maneuver. Sure it’s a game from 1997 but any modern game source release in 2023 I’m in support of.

One of the features of the modern re-released versions of id games like DOOM and Quake is that they have this curated section of mods and so forth that they allow you to run in the game. The PC versions of the games can, mostly, load whatever they want but on consoles it’s only what’s allowed by the game developers. By and large, game console development, or at the very least any sort of customization, is inaccessible to the end user. Quake shipped with the ability to play through the Nintendo 64 version of the game, which was basically the same as the PC version except the levels were scaled back for performance reasons (sections missing, geometry changed, etc.). Quake II shipped with the same thing, the N64 version of the game, except that game was essentially a different engine entirely with mods and graphics created for it to resemble the PC version. My hunch is that they’d like to do something similar with the Quake II re-release, giving it more mods and so forth, but it means people have to do the work to port them, it’s not an automatic thing like it is with Quake‘s mods. So if, say, the Rocket Arena 2 guys decide to make the RA2 code fit into the new code, perhaps they work with id/NDS to get that on things like the Switch, the Xbox, etc.

And it’s interesting how the situation has changed in the last quarter century since the original game. In 1997, to compile a mod for Quake II you either needed Visual C++, which wasn’t cheap or free, or you could use one of the free options like LCCWin32, except they tended to produce hit or miss results. Today, you can get Visual Studio 2022 Community Edition, which is the same as the Professional edition just with limits on who can use it (if you’re a company making money you have to pay for the pro version, etc.).

So what did I do during QuakeCon 2023? Of course I wanted to see how hard it would be to get a mod going. It’s weird, I’m behind on some stuff for Mac Source Ports but since I brought my PC, I figured I should mess with this instead.

First thing I figured out was how much development software I don’t have on my machine. I don’t remember how long ago but at some point the SSD on my machine took a shit and I had to reinstall Windows on a new drive to get back up and going. Whereas it used to be a ritual to periodically reinstall Windows all the time and then reinstall all your software, more or less since the advent of Windows 7 this hasn’t been a thing for me, and I’ve taken the attitude that with some exceptions, I don’t install software until I need it.

Looks like I did at least have Visual Studio 2019 installed but I went through and installed Visual Studio 2022 and uninstalled 2019 since why not. Then I figured out I didn’t have git or GitHub installed. There’s probably some way to get VS to handle this for you but I just did it manually.

Then came package management. The code release for this needs a couple of packages and they recommend vcpkg for it. I’ve never used vcpkg before but it wasn’t hard to figure out. At some point I had it building, so I made a copy of the deal and installed the GOG version of the Quake II remaster just to get any sort of DRM stuff out of the way (though it does look like the GOG version does tie into GOG Galaxy if you have it running).

I ran it and verified, it did run as a mod properly

So then, I figured let’s see if we can get some mod happening.

A guy on one of my gaming forums, a week or so ago when it was being rumored that Quake II was being remastered, went to go find his CD-ROMs with code and mods and maps on them and in the process discovered that his old site where he put stuff like this up was still online at I’m not sure what’s more amazing, that someone is still paying the server and domain renewal bills to keep online or that id never secured that domain name (or perhaps they did and then gave it to someone? dunno).

So when I go online to search for tutorials on how to do Quake II mods, naturally that’s where I find this positively ancient tutorial on how to add a bot to the game.

First thing you have to do is contend with the code being in C++ now versus the C of the original. C++ is almost a superset of C, though there’s valid C code which isn’t valid C++ code but most of it you can copy and paste. And then you have to contend with the changes. The README of the code release details a lot of them.

Some things have been renamed, and other things are just handled differently now. For example in the original game a lot of functions existed for vector math. However, now instead of having to pass things to these functions you can just do the math directly. I’m not sure if that’s overloaded operators or if that just comes with the latest C++ standards or what.

What I wound up doing a lot of was, when I found something that didn’t compile, I searched the original code (which they also include for comparison’s sake) and then looked for where that code was in the new code and did the same thing, whatever their changes were. One thing is that the refresh rate of the game’s logic changed so the handling in the frame time functions uses different syntax now.

In any event I got the thing to build.

The way this one is set up, you have to spin up a Deathmatch game and then in the console type “cmd oak” (so running the command “oak”) and it spawns a bot.

I did that and… it crashed. And the way the crashes work, odds are whatever did crash you don’t have code access to (like the GOG Galaxy DLL or whatever). But you can connect VS2022 to the game and set breakpoints, which I didn’t think would work but it does. I figured out the quirks like how binding methods to events in C++ has different syntax, so and worked through them.

At which point I was able to get into the game and spawn a bot finally… except other than the code running and giving me the on-screen message, nothing happened. No bots ever show up in-game.

But hey it doesn’t crash.

In any event that’s where I’m at with this. Not sure how much farther I’ll go but it’s a start, and it’s more or less the situation everyone is going to have to go through to get their old mods going.

Mac Source Ports Progress Report: September 14, 2022

I actually started a new post and progress report back in July, but I got sidetracked and didn’t finish it and a lot of things have happened since then so I’m going to just recap them all in this post. The one thing I will pull over from that unfinished post is that this is my development process in a nutshell:

Anyway since then, I’ve added several ports

Tyrian/Tyrian 2000 (via OpenTyrian/OpenTyrian2000)

This is a now-freeware (formerly shareware) SHUMP that has great retro gaming cachet because it’s legit an old game. The original game was Tyrian and the re-release with a fifth episode was Tyrian 2000 and they have enough differences that two source ports are necessary to play them both. I incorporated some new code in Objective-C that allows the executable to find the data in an app bundle but I’ve since learned about a method in SDL that does this already so in the future for things like this I’ll use that if the port already uses SDL.

Old School RuneScape (via RuneLite – third party build)

I’ll be honest I don’t get RuneScape. Not because it’s an MMO that looks like it could run on a potato but because the developer both maintains a new and old version of the game but also allows for third party open source clients. The business model is a head scratcher. Still, I’ve known people over the years who spend top dollar building up massive PC rigs and then the first game they play could run on a Pi Zero you could fit in your wallet. So whatever, they have signed and notarized (but not Universal 2) builds, so I’m linking to them. Also this helped me work out a system of being able to add multiple architecture versions to the site, code I had in place before but didn’t work well because nothing used it.

Cro-Mag Rally (third party build)

Another Pangea port from Ilias Jorio.

Theme Hospital (via CorsixTH)

Like GemRBCorsixTH has hurdles to being a Universal 2 build but unlike GemRBCorsixTH‘s use of something called Luarocks is difficult enough to work with that I decided it wasn’t worth it so I’m just releasing it as two builds. I figure future releases of GemRB I’ll do the same.

Unreal Tournament (via OldUnreal – third party build)

I’m irrationally excited about this one. The OldUnreal project has been maintaining the 1999 game for years now and they now have it native on Apple Silicon. It’s not open source, and I did chat with them about a couple of quirks of packaging for Universal 2, but they did all the work on this themselves and I’m just linking to it.

Fallout 2 (via Fallout 2 Community Edition – third party build)

This one is amazing – some dude just out of the blue reverse engineered the Fallout 2 engine and it plays the game perfectly. Despite the naming it’s not an official product, he did the DevilutionX thing where there’s two versions, one aims to be a recreation of the Windows 95 engine code, warts and all, and the other is designed to be compiled and run on modern machines. He just posted about it in /r/macgaming. I made a Universal 2 build and mentioned it to him, so he decided to do his own and I just link to that now. For years another project called Falltergeist tried to do something similar but stalled out, which makes this one even more impressive.

Arx Fatalis (via ArxLibertatis)

This one was kinda straightforward, though there’s still an issue with some menus and localization, but now you can play this old RPG on Apple Silicon natively.

Ultima VII: The Black Gate and Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle (via Exult – third party build)

I had looked at Exult months ago and it looked tricky to get going and was seemingly a long dormant project. Well apparently back in April they added Apple Silicon support of all things and they sign and notarize so I added the games to the site.

Super 3D Noah’s Ark (via ECWolf)

The one game ECWolf runs that I initially skipped, I went ahead and added it when I learned that not only did it support the game but the ECWolf guys working a deal with whoever owns the carcass of Wisdom Tree is the reason we have it on places like Steam and GOG now. So whatever, let’s add it

Bug Squish, Circus Linux!, Vectroids, Mad Bomber, Gem Drop X, Entombed, and Defendguin

These are odd, so bear with me – Bill Kendrick, author of Tux Paint, asked on Twitter if anyone wanted to port some old SDL games he had to the newest versions of macOS and I got tagged so I took a swing at it. These are seven small games, mostly remakes of older games on things like the Atari 2600 and they’ve been ported to damn near everything. Once I figured out the trick to building/packaging one I went ahead and did them all. I was going to just make one post with all of them but the formatting was wonky looking so I made seven entries. The author was elated, especially since at least one of these had never been on the Mac before.

These are unusual in that they’re games most people have never heard of, not modern ports of old commercial games, but it’s almost “MacSourcePorts as a service” so I went ahead and did them.

Heroes of Might and Magic II (via fheroes2)

This is a project that seems to have done the work necessary to bundle themselves so it was straightforward to get a build going

Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold and Blake Stone: Planet Strike (via bstone)

A couple of quick entries from this Wolfenstein 3-D engine game. Someone on my Discord mentioned that they were building fine so I added them

Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons, Commander Keen in Goodbye, Galaxy! and Commander Keen in Aliens Ate my Babysitter (via CommanderGenius)

Turns out CommanderGenius was doing the work already to make app bundles and look in the right places for data so adding these three games was easy enough. The third one is weird though since it’s not on any commercial services any more, so I debated whether or not to make it. But this is definitely a deal where making the website entries and the icons was more work than the build itself.

Hexen II (via uHexen2)

This one is sort of a perfect example of the conflicts I have on this stuff. Once I got their old build running and playing the game I wanted to get it going on modern hardware since it’s a fun game. But the OpenGL version doesn’t run on Apple Silicon natively for some reason and the Intel build occasionally doesn’t run. So do I hold off until it builds right? Get in there and fix it myself? Or do I put it up with caveats since at least in the meantime people can play it? I ultimately decided to put it up with caveats.

Because here’s the thing: the site has an anniversary coming up. And I’ve got this idea that I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull off but it would be cool if I did.

a) Have 100 games going by the time the first anniversary rolls around, and

b) I have something special in mind for game #100

Today is the one year anniversary, apparently, of me buying the M1 Mac mini (or maybe it was yesterday) and starting the process to make this site. It’s not the one-year anniversary of the site since it took a while to come up with it and launch it but a year ago I got the bug to start making these ports. Near as I can tell I launched the site on or around October 25, 2021. That gives me a month and change to see if I can get to 100 games. Since I list by games and not by ports, I can do things like the bstone source port powering two games. And those seven SDL games bumped up the number a lot too. Maybe that’s cheating, but whatever.

As of this writing I’m up to 82 games. So I’m not clear on if I’ll make the number by then. But we’ll see.

It is more or less the case that my focus has been on getting the number of ports/games up, not necessarily in making sure the ports are completely up to date all the time. I kinda figure after I’ve done 100 games and most of the ones on my to-do list that are feasible are done, I’ll spread the focus out, like making alternative ports for existing games (i.e., adding QuakeSpasm in addition to vkQuake, etc.) or in beefing up the site (a reworking, possibly using a CMS, is probably going to be due once we have a hundred entries).

In any event, that’s the latest.

Mac Source Ports Progress Report: June 21, 2022

I just added a build of GemRB to the site, a source port recreation of the Infinity Engine, so I’ve been able to add three new games to the site, Baldur’s GateBaldur’s Gate II, and Icewind Dale. Reportedly, Planescape: Torment is also playable but I couldn’t get it to run personally, and Icewind Dale II can reportedly run but not be completed so I just stuck with listing the three that GemRB seems to be confident about.

I was really trying to get OpenMW to work but I ran into some snags and I’ve not been successful at finding many/any folks who have had it working on Apple Silicon. The OpenMW guys were nice and helpful but they leveled with me: none of them have Apple Silicon Macs so none of them could really help.

So to switch gears to something that seemed more feasible I looked at GemRB which had the advantage in that it made its own app bundle from CMake files so I figured it would be a straighforward deal – build two versions, make a copy that has the resouces and lipo the executables and libraries together, bundle it up and call it wonderful.

And if you’ve looked at how long this post is you’ve probably guessed correctly it wasn’t that straightforward.

It almost was – I had it building two versions for the two architectures and it ran great. Cool, so let’s assemble this guy and get him out the door. This is where I ran into the first snag.

GemRB uses a plugin architecture. It’s actually pretty neat and pretty well done and I’m sure it’s instrumental in getting the project to support numerous games. However, while the project does use a .dylib for certain things, the plugins are all .so files. A .so file is akin to a .dylib on Mac or a .dll on Windows. So my first instinct was to lipo them together to make Universal 2 .so files. Which lipo happily did, and otool even showed them as having the architectures I expected. All was well.

Except they wouldn’t load. This is when I realized: it’s because .so files have no concept of a Universal 2 anything. If they were using .dylib files we’d probably be in business but they’re not, they went with .so files on macOS because they have the common denominator of being useful in Linux/UNIX platforms. What I’ve learned over the years (and I should have thought of this before I messed with the .so files) is that the Mac is pretty much the only platform with this concept of multiple architectures in a dynamic/shared library. This is mostly due to how Apple can dictate the platform, including how it switches architectures. So they invented this concept of a Universal 2 library that can hold both architectures and contains a header to point to where they start and stop.

So that means to do this I’d either need to figure out what was involved with switching the project to using dylibs on macOS (eventually I discovered it’s using dll files on Windows), or deliver two different apps, or copy over the two different versions of the plugins to parallel directories and load from there. I decided on that last option.

I try to change as little as possible but I wound up having to modify the CMake files to copy the items to the right directories, and modifying the code to sniff out where it’s running and load the files from there. It was a touch on the tedious side, and it violated to some extent my impetus to try and modify as few files as possible, but eventually it worked.

And then days later I had the more or less literal Shower Thought: maybe if it just uses .dll files on Windows, it could have used .dylib files after all. I don’t know how much of the process to load in a Universal 2 dylib is truly intrinsic to the operating system and how much it relies on code support. Lots to learn, but if I revisit this in the future I might see if I can get .dylib support working and/or how hard it would be.

Interestingly when I posted the build I noticed it wasn’t getting many downloads. Which is fine, I’m doing this as a hobby, plus GemRB actually does offer a Mac bundle on their site, just unsigned and for Intel only. When I posted to Reddit though, the first question was: I don’t understand, Baldur’s Gate already runs on the Mac, right?

Well, yeah it does. But, it’s kinda complicated.

All these games ran on the Infinity Engine from BioWare. They came out over a period of a few years from 1998 to 2002. Then BioWare moved on to other things – namely, the Aurora Engine for Neverwinter Nights which migrated from the 2D sprites of Infinity to 3D polygons. At some point when it became feasible to sell old games digitally, especially via vendors like GOG who specialized in older games, these games started appearing on places like GOG.

Then in 2012, Beamdog approached BioWare (now owned by EA) with the idea to license the Infinity Engine to enhance it and then sell enhanced editions of the games, which they did. The results were games like Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition. Places like GOG originally sold both versions but eventually they dropped direct sales of the original in favor of just bundling it as an extra with the Enhanced Editions.

GemRB requires files from the original version, not the Enhanced Edition. Which means if you don’t own it already you need to buy the Enhanced Editions, which includes the originals, but also means you now own a version that already runs natively on the Mac (albeit for Intel).

So what’s the point of GemRB? Well some people prefer the originals to the Enhanced Editions (I’m not really versed on all the differences personally). But also: to some extent the whole goal of this project is to make versions of source ports to run on modern and future Macs. A secondary goal is to make apps which can play games that might not be otherwise available but that’s not always the case.

Or to put it in Cave Johnson terms: “Science isn’t about why, it’s about why not!”

One area where GemRB might eventually shine: the one Infinity Engine game that does not have an Enhanced Edition is Icewind Dale II. The reason? The source code has been lost. You run into this in the game industry from time to time and often it’s the case that eventually someone stumbles on an old CD-R or an old hard drive someone thought was dead, or even the occasional floppy disk, and finds it. But as of right now Icewind Dale II‘s code is MIA, so there’s only two ways that game is going to run on modern machines: either they find the old code, or the game’s code and the differences to make it happen get reverse engineered. Beamdog seems disinclined to do the work themselves (not that I blame them, the amount of QA work for a commercial product is probably daunting) so if the support in GemRB matures it might be the only way to play that game.

In any event if anyone keeps up with my blog I started this entry weeks ago and didn’t finish until a week into July. Life’s been busy, I’ll blog again soon.

Mac Source Ports Progress Report: June 1, 2022

I’ve had some Real Life™ stuff going on so I haven’t been able to make a whole lot of progress on getting more source ports happening, but in the meantime I ran a couple of Twitter polls about something I mentioned a while back and the response on that, coupled with the lack of activity and something else I noticed, I decided to take action. Long story short I’m now linking to five (well, really three) third party builds that do not check all of the criteria.

To recap the criteria so far has been

  • Universal 2 (so, both Apple Silicon and Intel 64-bit builds in the .app bundle)
  • Signed by an Apple Developer certificate
  • Notarized by Apples notary service

This way,

  1. The games will run natively on both Apple Silicon and Intel 64-bit Macs (with the Apple Silicon thing being a particular strong point)
  2. The games will run after downloading them without stopping the end user from running them via Gatekeeper
  3. The code has been confirmed to be checked by Apple for malware

This is the goal as a minimum, but I’m also good with hosting or pointing to additional builds, like the build of ioquake3 that is Universal 1 (runs on PowerPC as well).

In particular, what I see and foresee happening a lot is this: a bunch of people are buying the latest Macs and all they know is they want to play games on them and they don’t know or understand anything of the logistical specifics of how Macs work post-2020. They know there’s this cool new M1 processor in them but they don’t know what that means, just that it’s cool and fast and battery efficient and all that jazz.

They have no idea what it means to have broken Intel compatibility. And to a certain extent they don’t really need to care either. If a game was running in 64-bit mode on an Intel processor on a Mac before, Rosetta 2 will let them continue to play it. For a while. Eventually Rosetta 2 is going away but it’ll be years down the line.

The other thing is I figured a bunch of people will just want an easy way to play Game X with as little hassle as possible. They don’t know what OpenGame32 is or why it will run Game X they just want to double-click on the thing and play the thing. That’s one of the primary functions of Mac Source Ports: to limit the friction of the experience of doing that.

However, I’ve decided that, especially at this juncture, the occasional compromise is warranted. That is to say: on a very select and curated basis I’m going to allow games that do not adhere to all three of the bulleted criteria above, but I’m going to make it very clear when I do.

The biggest reason is just that I think right now is a good time to highlight some impressive if imperfect (insofar as the criteria is concerned) work. I’m becoming a fixture on /r/macgaming/ which is a mid-to-lower sized Reddit community and I’m seeing all the time “what games are there to play on my M1?” and “how can I play Game X on M1″ where Game X is something on Mac Source Ports. The subreddit allows for daily self promotion and I’m… adhering to that.

But at the same time I’m thinking: there are five games right now which I could list and would be a great answer to the question “what games are there for my M1?” except they don’t hit all the criteria. What’s more important: sticking to the plan and never wavering or providing imperfect but suitable answers?

So with that, I decided what would be better for the Mac as a gaming platform would be to highlight the community work on occasion even if it doesn’t check all the boxes. I’ve added five games across three source ports.

Like I mentioned before the game Warzone 2100 is a great fit in numerous ways: it’s a 1999 computer game (1999 being something of a Golden Age for people like me – olds, in other words), it’s open source, the content is freeware now, and it has an outstanding source code project complete with professional looking website. It runs on Mac and it’s Apple Silicon native. The one and only issue is it’s not notarized, but rather Ad Hoc signed (so, someone ran the codesign utility on it but not with an Apple Developer certificate). I spoke with the developers and they had valid logistical reasons for it not being notarized (you can read about it here).

Being open source and freeware I could conceivably build my own version and host that, but these guys have done so much work I don’t want to steal any of their thunder. One of the things I’m cognizant of is if a source code project makes its own Mac build and then I make mine and siphon off downloads from them, they might look at the Mac port and say “well no one really downloads this thing so we can just drop support for it”. Quite the contrary, I’d rather drive downloads to their site if possible.

I’m still going to communicate with them and let them know of any solutions I run into, but in the meantime there’s this full, free 1999 computer game that runs on Apple Silicon, it seems like a waste not to add it. I’ve labeled it as Ad Hoc Signed so we’ll see how that goes.

In that vein, another game I get a lot of requests for is Re-Volt. This is a blink-and-you-missed-it racing game, also from 1999 (not kidding) that shipped on the PC and the Sega Dreamcast. From the outside it would just seem to be a typical kart racing game, albeit one with a cute twist (you’re racing small RC cars around full sized urban environments) but it has a devout following. How devout? They reverse engineered a source port with no existing code. The result is RVGL.

The problem was it wasn’t available digitally anywhere, and it was never released for free, so it tended to be the sort of thing where you’d get the files from *somewhere* and run it. But then GOG re-added it. Turns out there’s been some drama surrounding the game’s rights so it’s had intermittent availability.

And like Warzone 2100, it’s a deal where it’s native on Apple Silicon but it’s not signed or notarized. And unlike Warzone 2100 it would probably be a good candidate for me to rebuild and notarize, except for one thing: it’ not open source or source available. I’m not sure why but I’m seeing some reports that the authors might be concerned about getting in trouble for reverse engineering the code (after what happened to the RE3 project, it’s a valid concern) so they’re keeping it under wraps.

I’ve reached out to the authors but in the meantime I’ve gone ahead and added it with the Ad Hoc Signed warning since I’ve had so many requests to add it to the site. Plus if someone clicks the GOG link and buys it I’ll eventually receive a few pennies, which is nice.

And then there’s the OpenRA project. This one is basically the opposite situation – it’s actually signed and notarized. However, it’s not Universal 2, it doesn’t have native Apple Silicon support yet. It’s in the works and it looks like it’ll be in their next release, but in the meantime it works fine via Rosetta 2. So since it’s notarized and since Apple Silicon is in the works, I figured it would benefit the community to point out that it can play Command & ConquerCommand & Conquer: Red Alert, and Dune 2000. I had to add some scaffolding to the site’s code to handle showing the fact that it’s not Universal 2 or even 1 (no PowerPC support) and an Intel-specific icon but they’re there.

As if that wasn’t weird enough, it has a fairly novel if unusual approach to content management. Apparently at various points in time versions of Command & Conquer and Red Alert have been released as freeware. So if you don’t have the games or own them it can download a subset of data from the games to play. I think it skips video cutscenes and music for bandwidth reasons, but the other way is if you provide the game with either a pre-existing installation or an installation disc. Obviously there’s not currently a way to install it on a modern Mac (that I know of) so a disc seems like the next best thing – except of course for the lack of a disc drive on, well, every Mac these days (last model with a drive was like 2013 I think?).

But of course I had to try this and I saw that the release of the games under the title The First Decade (which itself is like 14 years old now yikes) was one of the discs that worked so I broke out the SuperDrive that I’ve carried around in my backpack for eight years and maybe used like five times and… yup, it works.

It’s like a floppy disk drive: you almost never need it but when you need it you *really* need it

The Dune 2000 port can do something similar and I’m not sure if Dune 2000 was ever released as freeware, but it’s almost definitely abandonware since it’s been out of print forever and EA likely doesn’t own the Dune license anymore anyway. So to me that’s a different situation than, say, Re-Volt. I guess one of the perks of linking to a source port like this that doesn’t include the data but can bootstrap it from sources is that the blame is elsewhere. Also this project has been around for years, and litigious EA hasn’t seen fit to put the smack down on it so it’s probably ok.

So yeah, I don’t see this becoming a habit but I decided to add five games using three source ports to the site even though they bend the rules on the criteria slightly, for the reasons I explain above.

Mac Source Ports Progress Report: April 28, 2022

I’ve added a build of j2mv to the site, it’s a multiplayer client for Jedi Knight II. The OpenJK project had a single player client for JK2 but not one for multiplayer. Daggolin was able to figure out the trick to getting OpenJK working on arm64, he was able to apply similar logic to j2mv, which I incorporated.

I’ve updated DevilutionX, the source port of Diablo, to the latest code. They had a formal release of 1.4.0 and this includes that, plus some stuff off the main branch. I’m not sure what my long term strategy should be yet, I think at some point I’ll want to make builds based off labeled or tagged commits but I’m not sure the best way to do that. As in, for DevilutionX they have a commit they tagged as 1.4.0 and then there’s like 60+ commits after that. My build includes the 60+ commits after that which, so long as they didn’t break anything, is probably fine. Maybe at some point I’ll have a “stable release” and “latest code” thing happening.

My focus at the moment is to try and get as many games/ports as possible going, with an eye on automation down the line. At some point I need to get releases packaged into .dmg files instead of just zip files of the app bundles. Not sure if this would be less likely to trigger the “this file is not commonly downloaded” thing Chrome does when (I assume) the zip file contains executable code for the first X number of downloads.

Someone pointed out that the dhewm3 bundle for DOOM 3 did not feature the code to run the Resurrection of Evil expansion pack. I rectified that and did a new upload.

Iliyas Jorio let me know that the fourth and final Pangea Software game he maintains, Mighty Mike, is now signed and notarized so I added it to the site as well. I wasn’t sure if I should have listed it as Mighty Mike (Power Pete) or not – it was released in 1995 as a commercial CD-ROM title from Interplay/MacPlay under the Power Pete name, in 2001 Pangea regained the rights to the game but not the name so they re-released it as Mighty Mike via shareware. Maybe I have my timeframes mixed up but I’m kinda surprised to hear there was still shareware happening in 2001.

And then on something of a lark, despite still trying to get ES3 happening, I decided to do The Ur-Quan Masters, aka Star Control 2. I’ve never been into this game but it’s one of those titles where it’s frequently on the lists of best games ever made, and subsequent attempts at sequels or remakes haven’t really been a hit, sort of a RoboCop effect.

I’m always fascinated by backstories like this – the developer is Toys for Bob which, unlike a lot of developers from the 90’s is still technically around, though for a while there they were stuck in licensed game hell. In any event, Star Control II was ported to the 3DO where they used the then-novel CD-ROM technology to add speech and different music to the game.

Apparently the source to the original DOS version is completely lost, but the 3DO port’s code was still available so they made it open source. Then at some point they made the content for the game be freeware under a creative commons license. The one thing they didn’t own and couldn’t release was the Star Control name, which is in some legal limbo clusterfuck that continues to this day, so the project is The Ur-Quan Masters, which was the subtitle of the original game.

Since the game uses very little if any 3D graphics (there’s some level of OpenGL in there but it’s primarily a 2D game) I figured it would come over to Apple Silicon fairly easily. And for the most part it did, with a couple of hitches.

Most of the source ports I work with use either Make or CMake to handle builds, with probably 2/3 or more of those being CMake. I’m still figuring out the best practices there but I’m coming around to liking CMake projects the most because they’re much closer to uniformity with what works.

There’s some outliers – a few projects use nonstandard stuff, like Ninja. The DXX-Rebirth ports used SConstruct which I’ve never even accidentally run into anywhere. The Ur-Quan Masters, however, uses its own homegrown build system. It’s not that bad, it is to some extent a scripted wrapper around Make, and they have another script that builds an App bundle, not entirely successfully but nothing I can’t work around

The problem is it has a menu system. You have to select a few things by specifying numbers, and even that’s no big deal except it requires intervention and I can’t automate it. Star Control 2 came out in 1992 and The Ur-Quan Masters started in 2002, so it’s a 20-year-old source project for a 30-year-old game. Maybe they’d do it differently today but a number of today’s practices either didn’t exist or weren’t mature in 2002.

Anyway without a ton of hassle I had it doing a Universal 2 build and even included the data files so it can be the full game (according to the FAQ on the website, this is permissible). But the problem was – the sound was fucked up on Apple Silicon. The graphics were fine, the sound had an issue.

There’s two or three libraries included in source code form that appear to be sound-related. My first thought was perhaps one of these has an updated version that works with Apple Silicon so I could just copy over newer code, but the UQM devs actually left a note to future developers that these were custom versions of these libraries, so that was out – no telling if a new version of the code would work at all.

Then on a Hail Mary hunch I figured – ok, so if it’s working on Intel Macs and screwed up on Apple Silicon Macs, could there be some sort of code in these audio libraries that’s being configured for Intel. So I did a search for “x86_64” and found two places doing an #ifdef thing. I added arm64 to the list of defined variables and it worked. Essentially it was two places that had to define a typedef for 64-bit machines and this code predates arm64 (or at least Apple Silicon). The website for the port says the 0.8 version released late 2021 was the first release in almost a decade.

In that vein, I added a new “Full Game” badge to source ports on the site to indicate releases that include the game data or at least don’t require you to download or configure anything out. Looks like right now with the Pangea titles, the Marathon titles, Star Control II and a few others, there’s a dozen full game releases on the site.

Mac Source Ports Status Report: April 16, 2022

So just to post something, here’s what I’m in the midst of with regards to Mac Source Ports.

I have the ioquake3-based game World of Padman building but it crashes when it connects to most servers. It appears the authors provide their own builds for Mac, but they’re the result of an automated process. Like a number of source port projects they don’t have someone involved with Mac experience. They’re working on a new version soon so I may hold off and try again when that ships.

I caught the attention of a Jedi Knight fan site named JKHub and someone from the site asked me to take a look at jk2mv which looks to be a port of the multiplayer for Jedi Knight II. As I’ve done the other Jedi Knight open source games and also ioquake3 it seems straightforward and I have an Intel build working but there’s a snag on M1 I’m trying to work out.

I’ve got a list I’m maintaining of the source ports I want to do, and I’m doing them in phases/passes. First pass, anything that builds into an app bundle (so, an “.app”) and that I can get going on Apple Silicon fairly quickly gets done. Second pass, anything that builds and runs on Apple Silicon and is cognizant of the Mac but isn’t doing its own app bundling, third pass, anything I can get to build that runs but clearly has no Mac-specific considerations. I’ve deviated from this a little bit (System Shock/Shockolate and Rise of the Triad/rottexpr would really be third pass ports) but I’m trying to prioritize. The holdups on those deviations were they didn’t have any code in them to look for data outside of some place like a subfolder of the executable location. It’s not hard to put code in there to look under Application Support, but it’s more work.

Back when I first announced the site on Reddit someone asked if I had a Discord. I didn’t but with a few taps on my phone, I did. It was absolutely an afterthought, but it’s turned out to be a surprisingly active thing, we have over eighty members now and some of the more active ones have gone and found more games to port or link to, so shout out to my Discord community.

One thing I was surprised to see had the potential to build out of the box for the Mac was the Serious Engine. Back in 2016, Croteam released the source to Serious Engine 1, which powered the first two games in the Serious Sam series, Serious Sam: The First Encounter and Serious Sam: The Second Encounter. Those games have been remastered/remade multiple times now but the original files work with this release. I haven’t completely worked through what’s going on yet but I was able to get it to build, however the exact arrangement of data files for the two games is a little weird. By default it wants to build the second game, but you can also have it build the first game, but then the first game won’t run without some files it appears are only part of the second game? It’s weird. But it’s got potential.

The big fish I’m working on right now and one I’d love to get going on the site is The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, courtesy of the OpenMW project. Morrowind was never open sourced but these guys have created an engine that can run it anyway. Lots of projects like this get started, very few make it to a playable state, OpenMW is an exception. I know people have had it running on Apple Silicon before and I have it building but I can’t get it to run, and out of the box the Intel version through Rosetta has issues (though, when you mess with stuff like this enough sometimes it’s not clear if it’s because there’s an out of the box problem or if you’ve messed with something and some preferences file hidden somewhere on your system is gumming up the works). Anyway I’m going to keep picking at it.

At some point I’m going to need to explore the possibility of letting either Intel-only games on the site or games that are maintained but not signed and notarized. Obviously the goal would be to get everything up to the state of being Universal 2 but at some point you have to think – what is the more important goal, having everything up to this rigid standard or providing access to source ports for Mac owners even if they’re not perfect?

For example Warzone 2100. This is a game that was released in 1999, open sourced in 2004, and then its data released as public domain in 2008. It has a fantastic open source project that has a slick, professional website with downloads for macOS, Linux and Windows, and it’s even a Universal 2 app. Should be a no-brainer to add them to the site as a Third Party Build.

So what’s the holdup? They’re not signed and notarized. Their app is Ad Hoc signed but it’s not signed by an Apple Developer account or notarized. These guys are so close to being perfect that instead of trying to do my own build I reached out to them. Naturally it’s not like they weren’t aware of the notarization thing, but the holdup seems to be: there does not appear to be a way, currently, for an unincorporated entity to get a paid Apple Developer account. You’d either have to get it in someone’s name or incorporate as a legal entity. Someone’s name means someone would have to get the account and no one on their project can or is willing to do this (and I’d volunteer but then I’d have to share my Apple credentials) and incorporating as a legal entity is a costly proposition for a non-profit project.

Indeed, all the signed/notarized builds on MSP that I make are signed by me, Tom Kidd. But if you didn’t know about me you’d check the signature and see it’s just “some rando” who signed them. I looked at the other third party builds I’m pointed to and yeah, all of them are just “some rando” as well. In some cases it makes sense (Iliyas Jorio personally maintains the Pangea builds so his name on them makes sense) but it’s sort of a flaw in the concept since if you’re firing up, say, dhewm3 it’s just signed by some random person.

The one exception I found was OpenTTD, they actually have a signed app whose signer is named “The OpenTTD Team” but it’s because they incorporated, in Scotland apparently, as OpenTTD Distribution Ltd. So, a legal entity.

As a side note, I was initially surprised that an Ad Hoc signature meant anything. So, there’s unsigned code where it’s not signed at all, and then there’s code signed with a certificate, like an Apple Developer certificate, and in the middle there’s Ad Hoc signed where you’ve run the codesign utility on it. I think Xcode just does this for you automatically, or it can. A big change with Apple Silicon was that on Apple Silicon you can’t run unsigned code at all. It has to be at least Ad Hoc signed (and even as I type that I’m not sure I have that right).

Thing is anyone can Ad Hoc sign something. There’s no proof of who did it or why you should trust it. So why is it a requirement now for Apple Silicon? My best guess is that, in addition to the fact that signed code (with a certificate) can tell you who signed it, it also tells you it hasn’t been tampered with since being signed. An Ad Hoc signature doesn’t leave an audit trail but you’re at least reasonably certain that it hasn’t been tampered with since whoever signed it did so. At least that’s my best guess.

My current thought process is: I want to get more stuff on the site, then I can consider letting in exceptions. I may need to reconfigure how the little cards work too, make it more clear that something is signed or just Ad Hoc signed, or is Intel-only, or whatever.

Granted if it takes as long to get Morrowind going as it did Ion Fury I may bend that rule a little quicker, we’ll see.

Mac Source Ports

On the one in a million chance that there’s someone out there who still reads my blog, or is still subscribed to the RSS feed despite me not posting in *checks notes* years, and does not look at the front page, here’s a post to point my latest venture: Mac Source Ports.

The short version is I’m using it to post signed and notarized app bundle builds of video game source ports for the Mac to run on Intel and Apple Silicon processors.

The long version is here.

So that’s the first reason I’m making this post.

The second reason is: I’m actually going to use the categories on this site to categorize thing. And by categories I mean category: one category for Mac Source Ports posts. I’m going to link to it from the main Mac Source Page.

I figure a blog to say what I’m working on and where I’m at with things would be relevant.

Why not just put that on I guess I could, but for right now I’ve got that thing hosted somewhere it would be nontrivial to say “and run a PHP site in this subdirectory, oh and can you even do databases?”

Right now is entirely custom code. I don’t know how long term feasible that is or how long before I’ll need to suck it up and move to a proper CMS, but for now it works and I can do anything I want with it, although it’s a touch on the tedious side.

Anyway, I’ve tried using this as a platform to put my thoughts out there and I’ve kinda fallen off of that, then I tried using this as a platform for my professional works and, well that kinda fell off too. So either this latest attempt at using my blog will really, no really, prove to be useful, or I’ll fall off of it, too. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, during the pandemic

I’ve not been able to concentrate on a real development goal very successfully. I’m not sure what it is, I actually have less time these days since the pandemic hit, even though working from home since March means I have those commuting hours back. It’s weird.

And the other thing is I keep losing focus. I have one game I tried getting running on the iPhone and was unsuccessful so I switched gears. I’ve looked at a couple of projects where there’s an iOS Xcode project file so I figure I’d just fire them up, but they don’t work so I figure I’d get them fixed up, but then I started to come to the conclusion on both that maybe iOS support was never finished, which makes the concept a lot more work all of a sudden.

One cool thing I did get working was a port of Disasteroids 3D to the Mac. This is a freeware game written in 2000 by Thom Wetzel. I’ve actually mentioned him before, he wrote the Bitmap Font Builder I used on the DOOM iOS port and I’ve met him before at QuakeCon. Anyway, Disasteroids 3D was a freeware and open source (or at least source available) game he wrote as an exercise to learn about OpenGL and DirectX. The source has always been available but he recently put it on GitHub which gave me the inclination to convert it to SDL (swapping that out for the DirectX parts) and got it running on the Mac.

So that’s kinda cool.

Earlier today someone emailed me asking about the Wolfenstein 3-D iOS port. They had error messages about broken symbols with StoreKit. I wasn’t sure what they did but I figure adding StoreKit back would fix it. Then I realized what’s happening is that the app wasn’t compiling because the “com.idsoftware.wolf3d” bundle identifier was already taken which isn’t an issue except that Xcode tries to register it for in-app purchases, which it can’t since that ID is taken, and removing the in-app purchases entitlement removes StoreKit. The game has in-app purchases to facilitate the purchase of the Spear of Destiny levels but that’s not really needed anymore (the link to the levels is in the code if you want to download them.) Why this wasn’t an issue before and it is now I don’t know other than something in Xcode must have changed.

When I started this project the goal was to make as few changes as possible so that id might use the pull request to fix the game on the App Store. But since that hasn’t happened and probably won’t, I went in and neutered the code needing StoreKit but then I ran into another issue, one that’s been nagging me forever.

When the game launches it does this “Assert” code to make sure a value isn’t something wrong and it bails if it is. You can get around it by just commenting out the assert but then, some of the time, it launches you in a weird spot in the level and you’re stuck in a wall or outside the bounds of the map or something. The heck of it is I wasn’t sure what caused it or what fixes it. It clearly worked on my phone at one point in time.

Anyway this sent me down a weird rabbit hole during QuakeCon 2020 of all things (the one where it’s all at home) but basically, a Wolfenstein 3-D level consists of a section that tells the game where the walls are, a section that tells where the objects are, including the player starting point, and a third of “objects”, whatever that is. The second and third sections (“planes” in the code) weren’t loading correctly, which is why the player would spawn in weird spots. Long story short, some code that populated an array of offsets of where to look in the level file for the three sections/planes was failing. Why it’s failing now and not consistently before I don’t know (could be something about iOS or Xcode changed) but after spending hours hunting this section down and then having a bizarre epiphany on how to fix it, which worked. So after being bothered by this issue for a few years now I’ve gone in and fixed it. Finally.

Let’s try this again

I’m not sure if it’s awesome or terrifying that I’ve been blogging here intermittently for almost twenty years now.

My first post is appropriately precious since I mention how it’s hosted on and how I’m concerned about turning it into a news site? Dunno. It was a long time ago.

I’ve recounted the strange history of this site before and not a whole lot has happened since then. My previous post was 2015 and I have several drafts of stuff I’ve never finished. Looking at some of those they’re so hideously out of date that they’ll probably just stay in the drafts folder forever.

At one point I had the tagline of this site as “still around for some reason” and it was more than just a smartass phrase – most of the people I know who blogged and had blogs have long since moved on. Some to other forms of social media, some to nothing in particular. Yet I just kept this site going. It’s not expensive to host or anything, like $5 a month or some crap (though I think that might be $10 a month – whatever it’s still not much) and I’ve been able to use subsites as test beds for other stuff.

And then in 2017 or so I got the idea to fix up some old games on the iPhone that were killed off in the 32-bitpocalypse but the source was available. It took a long time to do it, both because of the spare time nature of the deal and also because I didn’t know what I was doing. Once I got them working, I thought the whole process was interesting so I wrote an article on here about all the stuff I ran into. The original code drops from John Carmack had these Word documents in them that detailed the process of making them so I figured writing up the process of fixing them was appropriate, and perhaps useful to someone else.

Then I got into the process of adding features and porting other games, mostly id Software titles but a couple of other things as well. I’ve written up the id Software ports here, so I won’t repeat it all here but basically it became my pattern – do project, post code, post video, write article.

At some point I got some mainstream attention from gaming, tech and development sites and the resulting SEO has driven people to this site in decent numbers ever since. Not a ton mind you, probably within the range of rounding errors for major sites, but I get an email or two a week with people asking questions.

But the front page was still this one random post from 2015 with no links to the articles on the ports.

So I decided recently to do a few things – first, I changed the home page to where it shows off some info about me and this work, semi-resume style, and lists out the projects, including the non-id stuff like the Virtual Boy VR emulator and the port of the C++ version of VVVVVV. I tried to make them a little bit slick looking with mockups of the devices and stuff. It kinda worked.

The second thing is I’m going to blog again but probably not write much more in the way of wordy, profound posts. I mean I might write up some stuff like that (this post is starting to get long now that I look at it), but I’ve hit this point where I figure little things are worth writing about too. Stuff like this:

I’ve modified the Quake II and Quake III: Arena ports to more properly handle SDL. For some reason I was reticent to include the code wholesale like most projects do but now I’ve changed my mind and I’ll probably be doing this to the other SDL ports of mine soon.

I wrote to Brendon Chung of Blendo Games and asked for the source code to the Mac port of Thirty Flights of Loving. He sent me the code and I fixed it up (since, last year, the Mac had its own 32-bitpocalypse). I posted the results here.

I contributed to the ioquake3 project by fixing up the Xcode project, which last saw attention in 2013. I’m also looking to help them with other things as time permits.

For no particular reason I added a software rendering target to the Quake II project. Just wanted to see what it would be like to play Quake II on your phone but pretend like you’re running a Pentium 90 with no hardware accelerator card.

I was able to get LatestChatty, the iOS and iPadOS client for the discussion forum at Shacknews, to run on macOS via Catalyst. I don’t have an article for this and outside of the community of people on Shacknews no one is going to care but it was just neat to see that with not a whole ton of effort this iOS app that was more or less started at the dawn of iOS development can come along to the Mac. I’m coordinating with the author to get it on the Mac App Store, which will be neat once Universal Purchases for macOS/iOS apps are in place like they are for iOS/tvOS apps.

Anyway that’s it for now. I have no idea who reads this anymore but in any event here it is.

August 11, 2015

When I was growing up in Texarkana there was a local guy named Bobo the Magician. He was indeed a magician, and we would sometimes go to the auditorium or theater in whatever school I was in and watch him perform magic. In hindsight it seems sort of weird to take a bunch of kids and have them see a magician perform instead of being in class but whatever, it was entertaining and I sure didn’t mind getting out of a class.

I seriously remember seeing this guy my entire public school career. I saw him do shows in elementary, middle and high school. I would see him at the grocery store, where he had card tricks at the ready. I also remember him being incredibly old every time I saw him. I graduated from high school in 1995 and according to what I can find he passed in 1996 so he basically performed until the end (though he probably scaled back in those last few years).

There’s one occasion that has really stuck with me though.

I was in middle school and he was giving us a performance in the auditorium. For some background and context, the middle school I went to in Texarkana was called Pine Street Middle School. The actual campus and buildings themselves, however, used to be the local high school, called Texas High School (as a side note, people sometimes think I’m making that name up but the school was really called “Texas High School”, and it’s the only high school in Texas called that. I have no idea to this day how we secured the name before and to the exclusion of every other high school, but the rival high school on the Arkansas side of the same city was called Arkansas High School so maybe that’s part of the reason). In the 70’s, Texas High School moved to a larger building complex and they re-purposed this older school as a middle school. I don’t know how old the buildings really were but if it’s any indication, the rooms were heated by metal radiators. Which a row of seats was always next to. And that I burned myself on at least once. Hopefully only once.

So anyway I want to say this happened in my 7th grade year (so, the middle year of middle school). The show is your pretty typical magic fare – the oddly folded newspaper that tears apart and re-assembles, the locking rings, and of course rabbits in hats. I have to think that part of the deal with Bobo as a magician was that he wasn’t trying to be innovative or new, he was just trying to entertain kids, and maybe even get some inspired to try out magic themselves (which worked, I think, I knew some kids who got into it over the years) so the cliched old standards were part of the gimmick.

Then he did a trick that, for the most part, was also a standard thing except for one aspect which I’ve never been able to forget. It was the typical “is this your card?” deal where you have a person on stage pick out a card from a deck and then you will find their card from the deck in an implausible way, often feigning failure beforehand. He had the girl on stage (I think it was just a student and not a teacher) pull out a card (let’s say it was the seven of diamonds – it was a red suit card at the very least), then he broke out a black Sharpie marker and had her sign it (so that the resulting card can’t be just any seven of diamonds). For reasons that didn’t seem immediately obvious he also put a rubber band around the deck. He then does the “is this your card?” bit loudly and produces the wrong card. She says no, everyone laughs, Bobo pretends like he’s failed. He does it a second time. Still not the card. Bobo feigns frustration.

He then says “well then…” and throws the deck of cards, with the rubber band around it, into the air. But I don’t mean he tossed it up a few feet, when he threw it, it went all the way to the ceiling of the auditorium. This place wasn’t a Colosseum but it was a good two stories. The stage area he was standing on was pulled out from the main stage area so above him was the ceiling of the entire building, not just the stage area. The ceiling was basically a giant painted surface, no tiles or anything. And it’s been a bunch of years but my memory of this card toss is such that it didn’t seem as if he had just hurled it really hard, it was as if it was being guided up by a wire or a rubber band or a pulley or something.

When it hit the ceiling it came back down, except that one card was stuck to the ceiling. “IS THAT YOUR CARD?” he proclaimed, and indeed, it did appear to be the seven of diamonds with the girl’s signature on it. At least, as far as we could tell seeing as how it was very far away from anyone sitting in seats at the bottom of the auditorium. Big applause, let’s have a hand for (girl’s name), everyone is impressed. He somehow got the deck to hit the ceiling and a card be seemingly removed from it despite being wrapped in a rubber band.

But for a lot of us kids in the audience there was a bigger question at hand. I was wondering it to myself at the time but many kids in the audience started shouting the question and even pointing upwards: “how are you going to get the card off the ceiling?”

Bobo responds: “Oh, that’s your problem!”

Big laugh from the audience, the show goes on for however much longer it goes on for, applause at the end, then we all get up and go back to class.

Here’s the thing, though: he wasn’t kidding. The card stayed up there. Several more times over the next couple of years I would be in that auditorium for various reasons, including I think a couple of occasions where I would go back after moving on to high school to see my sister doing something like a play or something and it was still there. In fact I’m not sure if Bobo ever performed there again but I always looked up and the card was always there. No one ever took it down. I’m not sure how you would have taken it down – I don’t know if they made ladders that big back then and I’m not sure if you could have gotten a scissor lift in there if you had to – besides being old, it really wasn’t designed to let things like that in. Bobo himself was pushing 90 so he sure wasn’t going to get on anything high to get it.

A few years ago I was back home visiting my grandmother with my family and as I left, since I was by myself (my wife was home for some reason) I decided to drive through some places I used to know just for the heck of it. For the last couple of years of high school we had actually moved to a suburb of Texarkana called Wake Village where my grandmother also lived, so I actually had to specifically drive back to Texarkana to see anything like my original house or what not.

It was an overcast day and it just so happened that Pine Street Middle School was on the way, so I decided to drive past it. When I got there, I discovered that it was closed down for good. There was a large makeshift fence around the entire place with “NO TRESSPASSING” and “KEEP OUT” signs all over. Many windows had been boarded up with plywood. The windows in the band hall were cluttered with old desks piled up. The gymnasium across the street looked flat out condemned from a long time of disuse.

Apparently, a few years back the Texarkana Independent School District decided to consolidate the middle schools together (there were at least two, maybe three) and migrate the whole operation to the site of an old (but newer than Pine Street) elementary school under the name “Texas Middle School” (I guess they scored that name too). I don’t know that I would have gotten out of the car and had a “used to be my playground” moment there but it was out of the question now. I vaguely remembered hearing something about a new middle school but I had just not put together what it would have meant so I really wasn’t expecting to find my old stomping ground condemned. Combine that with the dreary overcast day and it was just a really weird feeling. But it’s always a weird feeling to go back home. I later stopped by the local shopping mall to discover that just about every non-anchor store I ever remembered was long gone. Even the McDonald’s went under.

This had to be several years ago – my grandmother passed away in 2010 and this was a little while before that, so maybe 2008-2009ish. Since Pine Street Middle School is no more, it’s hard to find information about it online outside of autogenerated Yelp pages that just mimic some data dump, or empty Facebook groups for former students. The most recent thing I can find is this 2014 article that says it was still standing at that time but that the owner (which isn’t TISD since 2005) hasn’t done anything with it, but wants it on the National Registry list, meanwhile the neighbors want it town down since it’s an eyesore. That’s a far cry from here in Dallas where attempts to tear down the 108-year-old Dallas High School are routinely shot down by locals (it was recently bought again to be re-purposed)

But something occurs to me – I wonder if that card is still there? I mean, it stayed there while the place was still being used, I can’t imagine someone went to the trouble of removing it.

And getting back to that magic trick, how did that work, exactly? I mean yeah I know magicians don’t talk about what they do and the whole thing is supposed to be mysterious, so I’m not supposed to know how he propelled that deck of cards to the ceiling. I figure it wasn’t a string attached to the ceiling since if they could attach a fishing wire up there somehow then they could have gotten the card down too. Perhaps there was some invisible slingshot thing happening. Perhaps I’m underestimating an 80-year-old’s ability to throw a deck of cards.

And even if we ignore the how of the trick, I have to wonder – did he clear that trick with the school? Did he warn them he was going to stick a card to the ceiling of the place? Did they approve? How did the card stay up there to begin with? It wouldn’t take a ton of glue to stick a single playing card to the ceiling but kind of impressive that it just stayed there. What did the school officials think of him gluing a playing card to their ceiling? Were they pissed at him? Is that why he never played there again? (assuming my memory of that is right). Why did no one ever try to take the card down? Was it too hard? Was it just that it would be too much hassle for such a small thing? Were they worried it would take down some paint with it? Did they just not give a shit?

And hell, did anyone besides me even remember it was there? I mean, maybe no one else looked up. Maybe no one else remembered the trick like I did. It would be sort of typical for me to focus on the damndest things.

And I wonder if anyone else has done a trick like that. I mean, like I said the “is this your card?” thing is very common but I’ve never seen anyone else do the ceiling thing before. Maybe this was Bobo’s specialty trick.

Maybe this was his way of leaving a mark. And maybe it’s still there.