8-bit Heroes: IMPOSSIBLE MISSION - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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8-bit Heroes: IMPOSSIBLE MISSION

But... but... it talks!!!!

"Another visitor. Stay a while... stay forever!"
So began the game of Impossible Mission. Titled quite aptly as I don't know anyone who ever completed it or progressed that far through the gameplay. But boy was it addictive, and even if it wasn't the fact that it included synthetic speech, and decent synthetic speech at that (an absolute rarity within a 1984 video game for an 8-bit home computer) made you want a copy.

Taking control of a secret agent with an task of utmost urgency, Impossible Mission came with a time limit - 6 hours to collect, reassemble and decrypt 36 puzzle pieces to decipher a 9 letter password and gain access into evil genius Professor Elvin Atombender control room and foil his dastardly plans. Those puzzle pieces have to be assembled in groups of four, and they overlap each other so it's possible to assemble three pieces before discovering they don't actually go together and you have to start again. Plus the pieces could connect in any orientation, so after collecting you might have to rotate them horizontally or vertically to make a mirror image to fit.

"Destroy him, my robots!"
And just to add to the impossible in Impossible Mission, the rooms, map and puzzle pieces were all randomised at the start of every game, and every time you got caught by an enemy, robot, hovering electrical ball or fell of a platform into a pit of despair (accompanied by a chilling death scream) you lost 10 minutes of your play time.

That 6 hours of play time doesn't turn out to be as generous as you might first think!



As nifty and impressive as the synthesised speech was, Impossible Mission was smooth to play, thanks to some impressive animation especially in regard to the acrobatic secret agent character. Designed by Dennis Caswell for the Commodore 64, and published by Epyx in 1984, the animation was the first aspect he worked upon. Some years later Caswell spoke with Retro Gamer magazine about the development,
...designer Dennis Caswell lifted [the sprite animation] from a library book about athletics. Caswell recalled, "I animated the somersault before I had any clear idea how it would be used. I included it because the animations were there for the taking ..."
Inspired by the 1980 Unix-based mainframe system dungeon crawling video game Rogue, developed by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman, Caswell included the randomised rooms layout. More inspiration came from the electronic game Simon for the musical checkerboard puzzles, the hovering balls were inspired by the Rover "security guard" from the Prisoner TV series.

The game's title was one of the last elements to be settled upon. According to Caswell,
"The choice of a name was delayed as long as possible, and Impossible Mission was more resorted to than chosen. It was, at least, somewhat descriptive, and the obvious allusion to Mission: Impossible was expedient, to the extent that both the game and the TV show involved high-tech intrigue."


A huge hit upon release, with the readers of Zzap!64 ranking it first in their list of best Commodore 64 games, Impossible Mission was ported to the Apple II, Atari 7800, ZX Spectrum, Acorn Electron, BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC, and later the Sega Master System. Naturally a sequel followed, Impossible Mission II arriving in 1988 and further complicating the quest with new traps and items. Professor Atombender's stronghold also grew in size, divided into a number of towers which the player had to traverse, all the while picking up ever more complicated pieces of the password.

Impossible Mission's legacy continued beyond the 8-bit era with Impossible Mission 2025 was released for the Commodore Amiga in 1994. Essentially just an updated version of the previous games, tidying up the graphics and audio, 2025 gave players the chance to choose their character. Perhaps understanding just how iconic that 1984 Commodore 64 version was, it was decided to include the original as a bonus game within the purchase price.


However, tracking down Caswell;s source code proved an impossible mission in itself as it had been lost in an earthquake! Programmers Tim Cannell and Paul Dunning then decided to hack the Commodore 64 version of the game and retrieve its assets so that the game could be included in Impossible Mission 2025. Thank goodness they did, as what a loss to 8-bit history that would've been.



"AAAAhhaaaahhAAAAhhaaaahhAAAhaaah"
The Commodore 64 was a pretty nifty home computer, aided by having its own onboard SID chip taking care of the sound, which was advanced for both the time and machine's price point. Caswell certainly took advantage of that chip in Impossible Mission but it's not his voice or coding work in the synthesised speech. Rather, it was provided by the company Electronic Speech Systems (ESS). Caswell recounted:
"I never met the performer but, when I supplied the script to the representative from ESS, I told him I had in mind a "50-ish English guy", thinking of the sort of arch-villain James Bond might encounter. I was told that they happened to have just such a person on their staff.

When I was given the initial recordings, the ESS guy was apologetic about them being a touch hammy, but I thought the over-acting was amusing and appropriate, and they were left as is ..."
...and the rest is 8-bit gaming history. Except to add that after witnessing Impossible Mission's huge success, ESS drastically raised their prices!

Did you ever play Impossible Mission? Did you ever just throw your secret agent down gaps in the floor to hear that death scream? Let us know your memories of this 8-bit hero in the comments below, and view all our 8-bit Heroes articles here.

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