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CoCo3 Easter Egg

From CoCopedia - The Tandy/Radio Shack Color Computer Wiki
Revision as of 03:04, 15 September 2005 by Boisy (talk | contribs) (→‎The Egg)
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The Color Computer 3 contained an easter egg.

The Egg

CoCo3 Easter Egg.png
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 made. 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 on the CoCo 3's keyboard and press the reset button on the back right of the case. This puts 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"

In 1985, the design and development of the Color Computer 3 began in earnest.


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:

    Microware demanded and grudgingly got an 8K ROM budget, then they used 2K for the ordered improvements and almost 6K for the photo. Tandy hardware and R&D management were really, really irritated with Microware over this once it was discovered, as they could have put a cheaper 2K ROM in instead and gotten the wanted fixes. (In those days, the difference in price between the 8K masked ROM and 2K masked ROM was significant.)

    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.

    Former Microware employee Boisy Pitre was told by Mark Hawkins himself that the Egg picture was actually a composite of three separate digitized pictures of the participants. Only after the three pictures were taken was a single graphic image created with the three images overlayed. The discovery of "The Mugs" Disk" in September 2005 corroborates Mark's assertion.

    According to Boisy, Hawkins further stated that Tandy insisted that Microware fill any unused space in the ROMs with "random junk." The Microware engineers thought that a picture would qualify as random data, and thus the idea of the Easter Egg was born.

    Mark Hawkins 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.
    Include transcript.

    A Fascinating Discovery

    In August of 2005, a special floppy disk ("The Mugs Disk") was discovered. This 5.25" disk contained the actual raw pictures that were used to create the Easter Egg image in all Color Computer 3s. Here are the pictures that were stiched together:

    Mark Hawkins.png Tim Harris.png Todd Earles.png

    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!

    Walden Miller.png Walden Miller Robert Dogget.png Robert Dogget Mary Marturello and Andy Ball.png Mary Marturello & Andy Ball Mark Hawkins 2.png Mark Hawkins Larry Crane.png Larry Crane Ken Mizuno.png Ken Mizuno Ken Kaplan.png Ken Kaplan Ken Kaplan 2.png Ken Kaplan, again Eric Miller.png Eric Miller Eric Miller 3.png Eric Miller, again Eric Miller 2.png Eric Miller a third time Bob Sorensen.png Bob Sorensen Bob Moore.png Bill Moore