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Rare Parsec Facts - TI-99/4A
Saturday, April 15, 2006
By: Matthew Doucette

Intro:

Parsec is perhaps the most popular TI-99/4A game, ever.  Here are some cool Parsec facts, some very rarely known, from our own extensive experiences with the game.

To play Parsec on your PC use Classic99, a free TI-99/4A emulator that includes ROMs under license from Texas Instruments, including the Parsec ROM!

 


 

Rare Parsec Facts:

If anyone has a chance to verify these facts on real TI-99/4A hardware, please contact us.  We would love to hear from you.

  1. My brother, Jason Doucette, and I discovered that if you press the joystick button and the corresponding "fire" button on the keyboard simultaneously, the laser never overheats and leaves trails of itself all over the screen which you can crash into sometimes.  You can also achieve this by using more than one fire button on the keyboard, too, but there might be a limit to the number of keys the TI-99/4A will register as depressed at one time.  (Please contact us if you know more about this.)  In fact, you do not crash into the laser trails, but some unknown invisible thing that is created when you leave laser trails.

    NEW:  On the Classic99 emulator, I was able to accomplish this trick without a joystick, and by holding down the "q" fire button and the "." fire button at the same time.

    Also, the invisible Bynites (which were actually not invisible, but drawn in black) would become visible over all the laser trails!


    (Laser trails and invisible Bynites made visible.)

  2. As mentioned previously, the invisible Bynites in level 2 and on (they become invisible after being hit once) are not invisible, but instead drawn black.  Here is a very difficult screenshot showing an "invisible" Bynite being drawn as black over the ground:


    (Invisible Bynites not invisible after all, they are cleverly disguised as black!)

  3. Also, when you paused the game (by pressing "P") it said, "Time Warp Activated", which was very original and cool at the time.

  4. A special enemy, the Killer Satellites, would only come out at the beginning of the 4th Level.  The Parsec manual says it was the end of the 4th.  Some people believe the Killer Satellites came and the end of the 3rd, not the beginning of the 4th.  The color change, which indicates a new level, always occurs before the Killer Satellites come out.  In their first appearance, it is directly after the ground changes from red (3rd level) to blue (4th level.)  Also, if you have the speech synthesizer hooked up, it says, "Advance to next level," directly as the ground changes color and before the Killer Satellites come out.  The Killer Satellites set off no alarms, unlike all other enemies.

    "Advanced Play

    Following the asteroid belt in Level Four, a type of alien appears that is not seen in the first three levels. Killer Satellites, worth 400 points each, appear for a surprise attack, as they are able to elude the sensing devices of your onboard computer. They need only be hit once to be destroyed. However, they attack a randomly generated number of times. You never know how many you will meet in a single attack."

    - Parsec manual (incorrect description of when Killer Satellites appear)


    (First appearance of Killer Satellites at beginning of 4th level.)

  5. Another cheat is holding up allows you to pass through the screen forwards and backwards. This allows you to gradually speed up more and more, if you wish, as you can continually go through the screen. The cheat is, if you time it right, you can get "stuck" on the left side of the screen with your engine blast (the blast coming out the backend of your ship) on the right side of the screen, making you unreachable by enemy shots.  This is very difficult to do as if you are not far enough back you can get hit with enemy shots, but if you are too far back you wrap to the other side of the screen.  It takes some playing around with.  When you get it right, enemy shots will both not hit you and hit you, depending on their distance from you, so it is not 100% effective.  Let us know if you find out more information on this.  One more thing, all enemies that pass through the screen will always still hit you.

    (NOTE:  If you are using a TV, chances are it cuts off the edges of the TI's display.  On a TV, you can make the back half of Parsec, the starship, "offscreen".  On an emulator showing the full TI display, your ship never "half" disappears off the left side of the screen.  it shows up in full until it wraps, as a whole, to the right side of the screen.)

  6. Using the "pass through the screen by holding up trick", you can actually get behind Urbites and Bynites (and theoretically Dramites and Killer Satellites)!


    (Behind an Urbite.)

  7. We stopped playing Parsec when my brother, Jason Doucette, mastered it. He played it past level 16 (level 16 repeats forever), wrapped the score (past 1,000,000), and was accumulating lives faster than he was losing them. Level 16 would have to be played approximately 15-18 times to achieve 1,000,000 points (based on the highest [65,600 point] and lowest [55,200 point] level 16 scores by Jason in a recent Parsec game played on the Classic99 emulator; He reached level 31 when his computer hung up due to a Windows XP hibernation crash; He averaged 56,081 points per each level 16.)  Jason died on purpose multiple times, over and over again, until the screen showed that he only had a few lives left. He then continued to play and was able to accumulate many lives again. He repeated the dying procedure over and over. It became apparent that the game was "beat". All of this was done without any cheats and he eventually just gave up due to boredom.  Anyone who has played Parsec knows this is far from a common occurrence.  I recall one of the Parsec programmers, Jim Dramis, only acheived a maximum score of 77,000 points.

    "When I was finished for the night, I found I had come close to beating my old score from back then. My top tonight was 35,800. My old score was in the low to mid 40K range. I can't remember exactly." - Otter

  8. Dramites and Urbites were named after Parsec's programmers, Jim Dramis and Paul Urbanus.  (Jim Dramis also programmed Car Wars, his first TI video game project, and Munchman.)

  9. Jim Dramis and Paul Urbanus also put references to their names in the Parsec ground. The letters JED and URB both appear. Thanks to Tunnels of Doom: An Interview with Kevin Kenney for reminding me of this.


    (The markings of Jim Dramis (JED) and Paul Urbanus (URB) found in the ground.)

    "JED stands for programmer James E. Dramis, while URB is the nickname of Paul Urbanus who helped Jim Dramis program the game as a college intern at TI." - TI-99/4A Videogame House

  10. Although I did not recall it on my own, Stage Select's larsoncc's Parsec review reminded me that you can level warp if you crash into the ground before you "press fire to begin". The ships larsoncc refers too, that "look almost square", are Killer Satellites.

    "There is also an obscure way to cause a level warp. Yes, this game, produced at the dawn of the eighties, has a LEVEL WARP. Before you begin the game, you have the opportunity to fly around in your craft, blissfully unaware of the impending attack. Now, if you choose suicide, rather than fight, there's a chance you'll be WARPED to a random level! Crash your ship into any area of land, and you stand about a 1 in 20 chance of being level warped. I don't know if it was intentional, but if you crash into specific objects, you'll get further in the game. Among the hills, there is a water tower with 2 ships next to it. These ships look almost square. Crash into those, and there is a chance that you will fight them first! (or immediately after the first round of ships.)" - larsoncc / Stage Select

    "I also discovered that the old crash and warp bug wasn't just a false memory, since I just got it to work on several occasions. For those who are wondering what the hell I'm talking about, it works like this...

    Start the game by crashing into an object on the ground instead of pressing fire. You will then get the first wave of Swoopers. If you survive that wave without losing any ships, there is a random chance that you will warp ahead a few waves. Tonight, I managed to warp all the way to the first Bynite wave. I'm not sure if there is an actual method to it or if it is totally random what wave you get. I remember back in the old days, I actually got to warp all the way to the first killer satellite wave. I'll need to experiment much more to see if I can figure out a pattern." - Otter / rec.games.video.classic


    A video showing Parsec's warp cheat (fast foward to 9:43).
    Special thanks to Ian Fishwick (youtube) for capturing this rare cheat.

  11. If you move into the ground objects that were one pixel thick vertical lines you will not crash sometimes. It helps to move your ship backwards at the exact speed that the ground is scrolling.  Here is a picture from Jason that shows this:


    (Inside the ground without dying!)


  12. All one-pixel thick vertical lines in Parsec's ground were the same color as the ground, but appeared to be lots of different flickering colors on the original TI-99/4A hardware due to its imperfect output.


    (Parsec on actual TI-99/4A; Note multi-colors of the ground's vertical lines.)
    (Screenshot by Stage Select.)


    (Parsec on perfectly emulated hardware; Note no multi-coloring of one-pixel thick ground.)

    The Classic99 TI-99/4A emulator now supports video artifacts.  It uses Shay Green's NTSC video filtering libraries.  Specifically, Classic99 uses Shay Green's sms_ntsc filter (originally for the Sega Master System, which has the same video artifacts as the TI-99/4A).  Here is the image above applied with Shay Green's NTSC filter:


    (TI-99/4A emulator Classic99's emulation of video artifacts.)
    (Note: This screenshot is the same as above, with video artifacts added!)

  13. There is a rumor that there was a graphics tweak used in order for the TI-99/4A to display the multi-colored "GAME OVER" text, background stars, and Parsec's laser beam.  Tursi (the creator of the amazing Classic99 TI-99/4A emulator) has helped squash this rumor. Here is Tursi's reply to my email concerning this tweak:

    "> If you do not mind, I have a question. The "GAME OVER" text of Parsec is multi-colored! I do not remember this at all! It surprised me. Is this an emulator bug, or do I just not remember it correctly?

    When I first saw it, I was surprised, too. It runs the same way in other emulators and, sadly, I don't have Parsec to try on my real machine. I have to assume that's correct (I only ever had a black and white TV back in the day ;) ).

    > I have been toldthere some sort of programming tweak or something that makes it multi-colored (in such a fashion that it looks like it has more colors that the TI-99/4A can display.) I figured since you programmed the emulator, you could shed some light on this mystery of mine. I also heard that the stars are programmed to be white, and are multi-colored by this same programming tweak.

    I can confirm that these rumors are both false - there are no tricks going on in Parsec to fool the video chip. You may get some additional sparkles on a television set just due to the way the video is encoded, but the multiple colors and blinking of the stars is all there in the code. Parsec was one of the first titles to use Bitmap mode on the TI, though, which probably led to a lot of rumours about it. Bitmap mode was not available on the TI-99/4, so maybe that's why people were talking about more colors and the like.

    Bitmap mode lets you define the colors on a per scanline basis, so that's another reason the GAME OVER looks like more than the TI can do - normal graphics mode can't change the color each line like that.

    The main tricks in Parsec are the scrolling ground (a scroll routine was apparently copied into the 256 byte console RAM for additional speed), and the fact that speech runs during the game (a task that was apparently declared impossible before Parsec came out ;) )."

    - Tursi's reply to Matthew Doucette's email

  14. If you enter the refueling tunnels by placing your ship as far right as possible, you can then back out of the refueling tunnel, after refueling, without having to travel through the rest of the refueling tunnel.  All three refueling tunnels have different but relatively easy entrances, so this trick made the more difficult refueling tunnels almost as easy as the first.  This was more than just a trick, it allowed you to skip the remaining, very long and very hard, ending of the third refueling tunnel.  The third and most difficult refueling tunnel was so long, that when you did this trick, the rest of it would be abruptly cut off (a bug) and continues to normal ground graphics.  This cut off bug would also occur if you crashed during the early stages of the third refeuling tunnel, so it was a bug that was potentially noticed by regular players of the game not trying to do any tricks.  If you do this trick, depending on what enemy comes out after the refueling tunnel, you can dip back into the tunnel and travel through the cut-off version of the tunnel!  But be warned, certain terrain types that appear after the cut-off version of the tunnel make it impossible to exit.


    (Exiting third refueling tunnel via entrance,& third refueling tunnel cut-off.)

  15. You can skip (parts of) asteroid belts and the intro of certain enemies by using refueling tunnels, if one happens to still be on the screen.  Although this is a cool trick, it is not really useful.  Skipping the intro to the Saucers might help, because they come out from behind, but the difficulty in timing this trick for the Saucers is harder than learning how to memorize the intro to the Saucers and beat them regularly!  As mentioned elsewhere in this article, refueling tunnels #1 and #2 repeat automatically, refueling tunnel #1 will repeat forever if you do not come back out (if you do not stick your Parsec ship high enough so that game play resumes), refeuling tunnel #3 never repeats.


    (Skip asteroids or certain enemies by using refueling tunnels.)

  16. The third refueling tunnel (there are only three types), is twice as long as the first two.


    (Third, double-length, refueling tunnel in Parsec.)

  17. If you wait to shoot the last non-shooting enemies (Swoopers, Light Triangular Fighters [LTFs], and Saucers) in the first level, and waste all your fuel during the waiting, you can actually visit the third refueling tunnel in the first level!  I remember this being an "expert move" to accomplish as a child.  At the time, to see a yellow third refueling tunnel was very odd.

    Jason accomplished this and sent me screenshots to show you.  This are composite images, constructed out of various time-lapsed screenshots:


    (First refueling tunnel in level 1.)


    (Second refueling tunnel in level 1, very rare.)


    (Third refueling tunnel in level 1, extremely rare.)


  18. You cannot shoot if your laser (would be) below the maximum height of the ground.  You are forbidden to shoot the ground!  Here is a picture of the loweset possible Parsec laser:


    (The lowest possible laser shot in Parsec; You cannot shoot the ground.)

    Also, at the beginning of the game, when you are supposed to press fire to begin, if you go below the ground and shoot (so that nothing happens from being too low), the game will still begin.

  19. If you do not "leave" the first refueling tunnel, after refueling, it will appear over and over again.  By "leave" I mean poke the top of your Parsec ship barely above the top of the (flat-topped) refueling tunnel so that game play resumes.

    Due to a large rock at the beginning of the second refueling tunnel (there are three refueling tunnels) you cannot stay underneath the maximum height of the ground (you are forced to "leave" the tunnel.)

    The first two refueling tunnels repeat until you enter them, if you accidentally do not to enter the first chance you get.  The third refueling tunnel does not repeat, so you only have one chance to enter it!  This picture by Jason shows this is true, as you can see that he is out of fuel waiting for the next entrace of the third refueling tunnel:


    (Third refueling tunnel does not repeat even if you miss the entrance.)

    The third refueling tunnel does not repeat no matter what you do.

    Also, until you "leave", no enemies will attack and you will be unable to shoot your laser.  One trick is to poke your ship out ("leave" the tunnel) and the bring it back in.  Depending on the enemies that are coming out next, you will have a safe hiding place (the next repeating refueling tunnel) for while the enemies come out.  This helps if the enemies are the Saucers, as they come out from behind and can hit you without warning.

  20. Bynites become invisible after they are hit once, starting from the second level onward.  (In the first level, one hit kills them.)

  21. Bynites, Urbites, and Dramites start to appear closer and closer as you reach higher levels.

  22. "Parsec" is a unit of measurement.  1 Parsec = 3.08568025E16 meters = 1 Astronomical Unit / tan(1 arcsecond).  It stands for "parallax of one arc second".

    Here are some links:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsec
    http://www.google.com/search?q=parsec (and look at calculator results above main results)
    http://www.google.com/search?q=au%2Ftan%28arcsecond%29 (and look at calculator results above main results)

  23. "Parsec" was used incorrectly in Star wars, A New Hope, by Han Solo.  He claims the Millennium Falcon made the "Kessel Run" in less than twelve parsecs, but parsec is a unit of distance, not time.  Here's a link that explains it in detail:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alleged_inconsistencies_in_Star_Wars#Parsec.

  24. 2013-JUN-13 Update: This fact comes straight from Parsec developer Paul Urbanus himself. Truth be told, I also remember this one. Make me wonder how many cool tricks about Parsec I have forgotten. I'll quote the email with permission:

    From: Paul Urbanus
    Date: May 19
    To: Matthew Doucette

    Hi Mathew,

    That's a very nice write-up on Parsec. I'll send Jim a link, he'll enjoy it.

    As you've documented, once you've mastered the game there are second order challenges that one can do just for fun an variety. You already mentioned backing out of the refueling tunnel. Have you ever tried backing *in* to the refueling tunnel. If you go to the right edge of the screen (same as if you were going to back out) then wait for the end of the tunnel, you can back in. Of course this doesn't work for the longer refueling tunnels :-)

    ********************************************
    * "Great shot, Pilot!" - Parsec, 1983 *
    ********************************************

  25. 2013-JUN-13 Update: The refueling tunnels share the same graphics. Here is refeuling tunnel #2 overlaid on top of refeuling tunnel #3:

  26. Another gem direclty from Paul Urbanus, Parsec developer, is a promotional poster that was made for Parsec that he found years later and has framed and displayed on his wall:


    Rare Parsec promotional poster.

 

First Game Since Childhood:

Here's my score of the first game I played since I was a child.  I played it on Easter Sunday, April 16th, 2006.

I did not play on native TI-99/4A hardware, but instead used the amazing Classic99 emulator that comes with licensed ROMs (including Parsec) from Texas Instruments.

The "GAME OVER" text color is multi-colored due to Parsec's use of TI-99/4A's bitmap mode.  It allows unique colors per each pixel row of graphics.  If you look close enough, you will see that the stars are the same color as the "GAME OVER" text when comparing pixels on the same row.  (There have been rumors that Parsec made use of a special hack to achieve such effects, but, as already mentioned elsewhere in this article, this rumor is not true.)

The score is 104,900.  I reached level 5.  I should note that I died multiple times on purpose and died multiple times due to inexperience with the emulator (i.e. not knowing the fire key) and due to inexperience with the unresponsiveness of the game (i.e. if you click and let go too quickly to change your speed, it will not change at all.)  It was the very first game I loaded and tested out.  I'll play another game to see how far I can actually go soon.  I have a feeling I can "wrap it" and play forever, but we'll see.


(First Parsec game since childhood! Level 5, 104,900 points.)


(Second game since childhood! Level 7, 184,200 points.)

Jason, in his 4th game of Parsec since childhood, has wrapped the game.  (I have yet to play my third game.)  He reached level 31 with 1,558,000 points, when the game hung up after he tried to un-hibernate the computer.  The game was obviously wrapped.

However, there is evidence (which I will showcase at some point) that the game may eventually become impossible as the Urbites, Dramites, and Bynites start closer and closer each level.  Eventually, after a very long time, they may start so close that they are impossible to beat.  I would love it if someone had enough patience and skill to document this.  An emulator with save states would certainly help prove this.

 

Beyond Parsec:

A little known fact about Parsec is its two-player sequel, "Beyond Space":

 

"With Parsec's popularity, I felt a 2-player version would be a sure hit. I created a storyboard concept and began coding the software as a submission to TI. The concept was two ships in a moveable asteroid field. The asteroids would move if they were fired upon, so they could be used as both an offensive and defensive weapon. I used the sound effects created for Parsec and submitted it to TI. They loved it and accepted it as a Class A submisstion. But TI announced they were killing the home computer. They released the software back to me with the condition that I did not use the Parsec name. So, I renamed the game "Beyond Space."" - 99er.net - John Phillips Software

 

Parsec Cannot Be Wrapped Indefinitely?

The best Parsec player we have run into (so far), Barry Boone (of DealHunting.com), contacted us.  It raised something Jason and I questioned for a long time:  Can Parsec truly be beaten (and played forever), or does it eventually become impossible?

Barry's first email:

I read your parsec page with interest, and wanted to let you know my own experiences.

I can verify that the laser trails do occur on the real TI. I have not played the game in many many years, but I can tell you that I once rolled the score over 1000000 myself as a teenager.

One thing I do recall on a real TI, and I'm not sure if its on your page, is that when you got far enough into the game, the enemies would start flying backwards across the screen, at high speed at first, and then slowing. The reason for this is that Parsec used the sprite automotion feature of the TI, which is a signed 8 bit integer, with a range from -128 to +127. In essence once the speed of the enemies exceeded +127, they reached -128 and started flying the other way and gradually slowing, and eventually would even start going the right direction again. It was very cool to get to that point in the game. I wonder if the emulators faithfully replicate that bug. But once I played the game long enough to roll past a million, I pretty much was done playing. that took hours, and teenage reflexes.

Thanks for reminding me of those times :)

Barry

 

I replied:

Barry,

Thanks for the email. You have obviously played Parsec further than Jason and I ever did, to wrap around the "speed integer". We do not recall that happening in our games.

We have often wondered if the game was truly beaten, or if it eventually got too hard to play. One reason we thought of (which I have yet to publish on my site yet) was the Bynites/Urbites/Dramites start closer and closer each time. Jason has screenshots to showcase that. Potentially, they may get too close beat, and that's the end of the game. Do you remember anything like that?

Thanks!
--
Matthew Doucette
http://xona.com/  

 

Barry replied:

Hi Matthew,

Indeed, the wrap effect is part of what did me in to start killing me off on that game, that and the steadily closing enemy ships. But ultimately yes the game becomes unplayable past a certain point, and no amount of skill would help, as it was just not programmed with the possibility of someone getting that far into the game. It pretty much burned me out on the game, I was 15 or so at the time (this was 24 or 25 years ago), and never played it much again after that. Thanks for putting up that page, it brought back a lot of great memories to me from back in the dawning of the home computer era.

Thanks!

Barry

 

Your Own Parsec Facts?

If you have any Parsec facts to add, please contact us or post in our forums. Here's some feedback:

 

Fan Feedback (Preserving Fuel Tip):

Hi Matt,

I was just playing Parsec on the Classic99 emulator, and then was reading your page. Hey, I have a "rare parsec fact" to share. If you already know it or it is common knowledge, my apologies. I used to find it occasionally useful.

When you enter the fuel tunnel, your fuel level is "frozen", and doesn't decrease as it normally does. You've almost certainly noticed this. What I found is this is controlled by height, not necessarily being in the tunnel ! This means you can "freeze" your fuel and save it, even if the tunnel is a long way off.

So occasionally, you might be very low on fuel and the game says "Refueling tunnel ahead" but you aren't sure if you will make it. By flying very low, you'll hear the "ding" sound effect, and the game will act like you are in the tunnel, thus preserving your fuel so you can make it to the fueling tunnel.

I can't say it helps a lot, but I know back when I topped the game out back in the day on the endless level 16, I used this trick to save a life, and have maybe two other times.

well, thanks for the page, and I hope you are great.

Neal Razi

 

2009-Nov-10 UPDATE: Parsec Lamborghini Countach:

As a huge Parsec fan, I made a Parsec Lamborghini Countach 5000 QV design in Forza Motorsport 3 (Xbox 360):


Parsec Lamborghini Countach showcase (Forza 3; Xbox 360).


Parsec Lamborghini Countach race (Forza 3; Xbox 360).

You can buy this design from storefront, inside Forza 3. Search for my Xbox LIVE GamerTag, Xonatron.

 

External Links:

 

More Tech History Articles:

2013/Sep/17 Running CityDesk on Windows 8
2013/Sep/09 Our Own NES Game Genie Codes
2013/Jun/03 Munch Man - TI-99/4A
2013/Jun/03 TI Invaders - TI-99/4A
2012/Nov/21 Nintendo Love
2006/Jul/29 Turbo Pascal's 64-bit comp Type
2006/Apr/15 The TI-99/4A Home Computer
2006/Apr/15 Rare Parsec Facts - TI-99/4A

 

About the Author: I am Matthew Doucette of Xona Games, an award-winning, indie game studio that I work at with my twin brother. We make arcade-style intense retro games. The incorporation, our games, our technology, and we as competitive gamers have won prestigious awards and received worldwide press. The incorporation has won $180,000 in contests. Our games have won contests, have ranked from #1 in Canada to #1 in Japan, have become #1 best sellers in multiple countries, and held 3 of the 5 top rated spots in Japan out of all indie games on Xbox LIVE. Our game engines have been awarded for technical excellence. And we, the developers, have placed #1 in competitive gaming competitions relating to the games we develop. Read about our story, our awards, our games, and our blog.


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