Everything started in 1994. It was a terrible fall, dark sky, non-stopping rains. Yards were empty; kids preferred to stay at home rather then play on muddy pitches. One day, my father brought me the greatest technological wonder I have seen in my life. At least what I thought back then. Pegasus. Small white box you could hook to your TV and play games – my family couldn’t afford buying me a home computer back then, so it was my first experience with video games. I was astonished by the fact, that I can control a character on a screen. Week later, my best friend got Pegasus as a present for his birthday, followed by few other boys from my class. We’ve often traded games, chipped in for new titles we’d seen on the street market (since it was the only place where we could buy games) and visited each other, spending whole evenings playing Super Mario or Contra. I stopped playing Pegasus three years later, when I got a PC as a Christmas present. I was shocked again, this time by the quality of the graphics and I quickly forgot about my previous system. Few years later, when I finally managed to beg my father to install an Internet connection, I’ve learned the truth about my most precious childhood toy – Pegasus was just a cheap Taiwanese ripoff of the Famicom, a console better known in the West as Nintendo Entertainment System, sold along bootleg games manufactured in some former Soviet republic. Yeah, all boys countrywide got nuts about a decade-old device running pirated games, but we had no idea about it back then. The hours of playing games on my TV are one of my best childhood memories, but still, there was one event I keep thinking about, even today.
It was few months after my dad bought me the console. I was bored with the games I had and wanted something new. I’d managed to save a bit from my pocket money, so I decided to visit a street market on my way back home from school. Since there was no way to test a game before purchasing, I used to choose the game by the sticker on a cartridge. My favorite seller has had a simple pricing scheme: popular games with catchy sticker were the most expensive, more average looking were a bit cheaper while cartridges with some weird sticker (or even without it) were the least expensive. I quickly counted my funds and realized, that I could only afford the cheapest alternative. I chose yellow cart with dark-brown sticker, on which blue circle, plus sign and “ttttt 4 :” was printed. I couldn’t figure out, what it could mean, but I since the sticker often didn’t match the game, I thought it couldn’t be that bad.
I went back home and immediately tried to insert my new game into Pegasus. It didn’t fit. I quickly realized, that the cartridge shell was larger than usual. There was no screw on the back, so it was impossible to disassemble it into two halves, as it could be done with any other game. It was a problem, since I couldn’t put it into my console. I took a risk and smashed a cartridge shell with a hammer, trying not to damage a circuit board inside. Success. I carefully inserted a circuit into a slot. Another disappointment: after turning Pegasus on and tuning my TV to proper channel, I saw only the black screen – zero reaction. I removed a circuit board, wiped it with a piece of cloth, blew it, cleaned the inside port of the console, but with no effect. Eventually, I accidentally pressed “reset” and, to my surprise, some tune began to play and I saw a title screen. Out of sheer curiosity I removed the game and tried to turn it on again, conventional way this time. It displayed a black screen and didn’t work until I pressed “reset”. I thought it was some strange glitch, but I was so excited about playing my newly-bought game, that I ignored it and started to play.
The gameplay wasn’t anything special. As far, as I remember, the player controlled some short guy with a spear, killing snakes on trees. The problem was, that ALWAYS after about 5 minutes sound stopped, often some minor graphical glitches started to appear and then the game simply froze. It hampered gameplay a lot, so I’ve never got far. Graphics weren’t very good, same for animations and sounds. I cannot give you any content, plot or even title, because the whole text was displayed in some Asian language, most likely Chinese.
The game ended up being played from time to time, when I was really, really bored. Usually I stopped playing very quickly, due to technical problems, but one day I’ve discovered something new. There was one spot in the game, where the player had to jump from one branch to another. The character was able to jump quite far, so it shouldn’t be a problem for skilled gamer. Once my finger slipped on the button and I accidentally jumped waaaaay too early, so I was heading towards the pit between branches. I should have fallen down, but instead, the character stopped on the empty space between trees, as it was a solid ground. A second later, all graphics glitched up and music stopped. I kept pressing “jump” button hoping it would somehow fix the game. As a result, black screen appeared and disappeared. A moment later, I heard a loud “BEEP” and column of text appeared on the screen. I didn’t know the language it was written in and I had no idea what had I found. I pressed “jump” button again, another “BEEP” was heard and textwall was replaced with another textwall. I pressed again – another wall of text. After third time, a black and white map some names and few spots marked with red. I kept pressing “jump” button and new maps kept appearing on the screen. Up to this point, I was almost sure I’ve discovered some secret hidden by the developers. But then, another map was displayed. Since I was always interested in geography, I’ve quickly recognized that one: it was showing the Black Sea region. Flashing red point was located on a border between Russia and Georgia. Then another textwall appeared, “jump”, small textwall and some graphic. It was male’s face, looking like police mug shot, It was pixelated, but I guess it would be enough to recognize a man. Below the photo, 4 small skulls, slightly bigger then single letters, were displayed next to each other. “Jump”, black screen, 3 beeps and that was it. Black screen, no reaction. I was staring at the TV with my mouth widely opened. I couldn’t believe what I’ve just seen.
When I pulled together, I restarted the console to see those weird things again, this time, with a calm mind. The game however, appeared to be broken. When I tried to play, the game crashed after few seconds. Week later, it didn’t even start at all and later I just threw it away as broken and useless.
Years after that, still keep thinking about what happened that afternoon. I assume now, that most likely this cartridge was meant to be an encrypted data storage device for criminals or even some terrorist or seditious group. By some strange coincidence, it hadn’t reached its destination but instead, it found its way to Central Europe with a batch of other games and ended up in hands of a boy who looked for a way to spend an afternoon…