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CoCo3 Easter Egg
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The Color Computer 3 contained an easter egg.
The above picture is universally recognized by Color Computer 3 owners the world over! It has been called by various names ("The CoCo Three", "The Three Mugateers", "The Three Amigos", "Wasted Space", etc.) and can be displayed on every Color Computer 3 ever manufactured. Interestingly, the sequence on how to bring it up was kept secret until shortly after the release of the CoCo 3 in July of 1986. That is what makes it an Easter Egg.
To see the picture hold down the CTRL and ALT keys the CoCo 3's keyboard while powering up. Alternatively, hold down CTRL and ALT then press the reset button on the back right of the case. This sequences put the CoCo 3 into a special mode where the only thing it can do is display this picture. A nifty side effect of this easter egg is now there is an easy way to to generate a cold restart of the machine. Pressing the reset button again will produce the standard Color Computer 3 power on sequence.
Fertilizing the Egg: Tandy Contemplates a "CoCo 3"
For years, Color Computer users pined for a newer Color Computer that would compete with the likes of Amiga and Commodore on a more even footing. The antiquated 32x16 character screen on the Color Computer and Color Computer 2 was seen as a drawback, as was the limited graphics and color capabilities.
In 1985, the design and development of the Color Computer 3 began in earnest. It would eventually arrive in Radio Shack stores in August of 1986 and become a worthy competitor in the home computer arena.
But few knew what was lurking inside...
Microware "Comes Into The Picture"
During the design of the Color Computer 3 hardware, Tandy commissioned Microware to extend the internal BASIC interpreter with new commands and functions. This proved to be somewhat problematic, since the BASIC ROM code was licensed from Microsoft. While there is no concrete knowledge of why Microsoft wasn't tasked with revamping their BASIC interpreter to support the features of the new Color Computer 3, there's conjecture that:
- By that time, Microsoft was too busy and important to do work for the Color Computer 3.
- Tandy and Microsoft may not have been able to agree on a price.
- Since Microware was doing OS-9 Level Two for Tandy anyway, a deal may have been cut for Microware to extend the BASIC interpreter as well.
Whatever the reason, in the end Microware was tasked to write code patches which would extend Color BASIC to support the new features of the CoCo 3. This approach of "patching" was an interesting one, and was specifically employed to prevent any perceived licensing violations between Tandy and Microsoft.
The three people pictured in the Easter Egg are Mark Hawkins, Tim Harris and Todd Earles. They were Microware employees who worked on the additional functionality of the internal BASIC interpreter.
Were they the only ones? Why were they included in the picture? Did they work on OS-9 Level 2?
The Egg is Hatched
It didn't take long for word to get out that the Color Computer 3 contained a cleverly hidden picture of three of its software designers. Within weeks of the CoCo 3's release, Radio Shack stores began seeing the picture of the mugateers emblazened on their CoCo 3 systems on display thanks to prankish customers. In the December 1986 issue of Rainbow Magazine, managing editor Jim Reed dedicated a great deal of his column to the phenomenon, even announcing a contest in which one winner from each state would be rewarded if they could find an alternate way to bring up the "Gang of 3."
The folks at Tandy Towers were not amused at this apparent "undocumented" addition to their new Color Computer 3. Ex-Tandy employee Frank Durda IV put it this way in a message posted to comp.sys.tandy on March 13, 2003:
You don't know how many internal projects got put under the microscope by hardware management after that stunt, looking for what we now call "Easter Eggs" and as part of the witch hunt, killing what hardware management was calling "trivial" or unapproved functionality. A lot of good things died as a result of that stunt. It probably helped doom the Deluxe CoCo project too.
While Durda's information generally seems to be in step with what is "in the know", there are some inaccuracies in his post. First, the code enhancements to the CoCo 3 took about 8K, not the 2K that he claims. Also, the Deluxe CoCo project was cancelled before the CoCo 3 was released, so it is unlikely that Tandy canned that project due to the Easter Egg.
Fact & Folklore About The Egg
It is pretty much established fact that the Easter Egg was put in by Microware employees who, by keeping the egg secret, made Forth Worth quite upset. What hasn't been known until recently was the motivation for creating the Easter Egg and exactly how it was done.
The Easter Egg craze reached a frenzy of sorts in March of 1993, when the Mid Iowa & Country CoCo (MI&CC) hosted the one and only Mid-America CoCo Fest in Des Moines, Iowa, the home of Microware. Terry Simons, president of MI&CC, invited Mark Hawkins and Todd Earles, still Microware employees at the time, to attend the fest. Seeing an opportunity to make money, Terry offered attendees to take a digitized picture with two of the "Three Amigos" for a fee. Although the pictures weren't of the best quality, the promotion proved to be a hit. Almost all of the attendees stood between Mark and Todd to pose for the mock picture, effectively taking the place of Tim Harris, who had left Microware by then.
Former Microware employee Boisy Pitre states, "Back when I worked for Microware, I asked Mark Hawkins to tell me the story about the picture in the ROM. From what Mark said, they used a digitizer on the CoCo to take individual pictures, then someone pasted them together into one image. The logo was added by hand, and he and Todd even had the exact same jacket on." The discovery of "The Mugs" Disk" in September 2005 corroborates Mark's assertion.
Boisy continues, "Mark also said that at the time the CoCo 3 was being developed, Tandy insisted that Microware fill any unused space in the ROMs with 'random junk.' The guys thought that a picture would qualify as random data, and thus the idea of the Easter Egg was born."
Mark Hawkins himself attended PennFest 2000, a CoCo Fest held August 19-20th, 2000 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During a Q&A session held there, Hawkins answered questions regarding the Easter Egg.
- Allen Huffman: What was the picture done on?
- Mark Hawkins: Someone was selling a digitizer card at the time and Tim [Harris] got ahold of one. And the digitizing was done in part on a CoCo. Which is kind of neat and kind of unique and kind of interesting. We could never admit what-- how we'd done it. Somehow there was a conflict of interest with Tandy selling it or not. So we could never say it. And we actually got asked a couple of different times: "Did you use this digitizing card." Well we don't remember. But now I can tell you, we did. So it was done on the CoCo. But, what's also interesting is big M behind Tim's head doesn't exist. It was built. It was pixeled in later. It actually came from our logo on our business cards at the time. But he actually built it, he didn't scan it or anything. And then the other thing that is kind of interesting is that there are two people wearing a coat. The same coat. Not the same kind of coat-- the same coat. Which kind of tells you where I was going. They were actually shot individually and Tim pasted them all together one evening in his basement and came in... And that's the story of the picture. It could have been just a big Microware Logo, It could have been Shakespeare, it could have been who knows what else we could have come up with. We ended up with the picture.
Today, as in the past, the Egg remains a source of humor, curiosity and even criticism. Many CoCo users have scoffed at the idea of filling the ROM with a picture when more useful features like a full screen editor could have been placed in the unused space. The truth is, it was Tandy's specification which drove the features of the CoCo 3, including the idea of filling the unused ROM space with garbage. Even if there were no picture, the space would have contained no useful code anyways.
A Fascinating Discovery
In August of 2005, a special floppy disk ("The Mugs Disk") was discovered. This 5.25" disk was the actual disk used to create the Easter Egg image in all Color Computer 3s, and contained the many raw graphic files. You can obtain the DSK image of the actual Mugs Disk here: mugs.dsk
Here are the three pictures that were stitched together:
On the same disk, pictures of other Microware employees were found. Perhaps some of these were considered for inclusion in the infamous picture? We'll likely never know!
Other Color Computer 3 Easter Eggs
The second Easter Egg is brought up by issuing a CLS (clear screen) command with a parameter from 9 to 255 on the 40 or 80 column screen. (A similar egg exists in the original Color Computer 1/2 modles, though it reads "Microsoft".)
The third easter egg is brought up by switching to the 40 or 80 column screen and issuing a CLS 100. This only works once, unless the machine is reset. Typing the command again just displays the Microware message.