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Mark of the Mole is an incomplete and unreleased video game for the Atari 2600, based on the 1981 album of the same name by The Residents. Designed for Atari by Greg Easter between 1982 and 1983, it was never completed, as Easter left Atari in 1984 when the video game industry went into recession.

Although at least two prototypes are known to exist (and one has circulated privately among a small number of Atari enthusiasts), the Mark of the Mole game is noted as the first known example of The Residents' interest in producing video games and interactive media, as well as an early pioneer in music-based video games.

History

Notes, sheet music and Polaroid photos from the development of the game, sold by Greg Easter on eBay in 2008

In 1982, Atari designer Greg Easter developed the idea of a video game for the Atari 2600 based on The Residents' 1981 concept album Mark of the Mole when he listened to the album while developing another game based on Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.[1]

The development of Snow White had been plagued by management indecision, and Easter ultimately shelved it in favor of Mark of the Mole, apparently intending to return to the earlier game when management had made a decision in regards to what type of game they wanted it to be.[1][2]

Mark of the Mole would have been one of the first music-based video games, as well as being one of the earliest video games based on the work of a contemporary music group - in an Atari performance review of Easter, it is noted that "he designed an original game that was based on a current rock group album, a category of games that represent a new concept for Atari."[3]

The Residents provided original art and hand-written sheet music of several songs from the album for use in the game, including "The Hole-Worker's New Hymn" and "Don't Tread On Me". The game's graphics (in particular the sprite of the protagonist mole character) were designed by Mimi Nyden, though Easter noted that "'designed' isn't really the right word, because she was copying it from a drawing. Her job was to make it look as good as possible on the 2600, which was always a challenge."[3]

A Polaroid photo of the game's Mole character sprite

It is publicly unknown what plans Atari had for the release of the game; there are no direct references to it in any known internal documentation, aside from one second of gameplay footage which was featured in Atari's 1983 second quarter in-house promotional video.[4] It was never close enough to completion to have been assigned a CX catalog number, and is not known to have been referenced in any gaming magazines, or in any of Atari's promotional catalogs at the time.

By September 1983, Atari's fortunes had declined significantly following a series of failed releases, resulting in the notorious burial of 14 truckloads of unsold Atari 2600 games in the New Mexico desert,[5] and reported losses of over $130 million over the year. By mid-1984, Atari's internal game development for the 2600 had shut down completely. Easter left the company around the same time, leaving both Snow White and Mark of the Mole permanently incomplete and unreleased.

Easter later estimated that Mark of the Mole was around 75 percent complete at the time he left Atari.[3] He auctioned all of his materials related to the development of this game on eBay in 2008, including his design notes, Polaroid photos of the game in action, and The Residents' hand-written sheet music.

Gameplay

Only known existing gameplay footage

Like the album it derived from, Mark of the Mole would have focused on the Moles, a hole-dwelling, hard-working race who are driven from their homes by a severe storm, seeking refuge from the Chubs, a lazy, materialistic and shallow race who live by the sea. Designer Greg Easter described the gameplay of Mark of the Mole thus:

"First a line of music plays (one of the songs from The Residents' Mark of the Mole record) - you are a mole with a hammer who travels down into a cave and taps on walls with a hammer. Different parts of the cave make different musical notes, and when you find the next note you need to complete the line of music which was just played.

You are building a song note by note, and you have to remember the tone of the next note you need in order to get it right. Each time you play the caves are different, so you can't just remember where to go. The game actually teaches you what is called 'perfect pitch' in music - the ability to hear notes and know where they are on the staff."

Prototypes

The Residents' prototype of the game, dated March 25th 1983

At least two prototypes of the game are known to have existed. An early prototype (dated March 25th) was given to The Residents,[3] and is presumed to remain in their archive. A picture of this prototype was released to a Residents fan page in 2007.[6]

A later, more developed prototype was kept by Greg Easter for some years. It has since passed from Easter to an unidentified Atari enthusiast. This version of the game included a "pitch only" option, and also implemented the Chubs (the antagonists of the Mark of the Mole album).

The second prototype is known to have since been "dumped" to a digital ROM, and shared among only a "select few",[3] though to date it has not circulated among either the wider Atari or Residents fan communities. A small number of screenshots have circulated on the Internet, presumably captured from this ROM.

See also

External links and references

Motm-transparent-sml.png Mark of the Mole
Part One of The Mole Trilogy
(1981)

Side A: Hole-Workers at the Mercy of Nature
"Voices of the Air" · "The Ultimate Disaster" · "Migration"

Side B: Hole-Workers vs. Man and Machine
"Another Land" · "The New Machine" · "Final Confrontation"

Personnel
The Residents · Nessie Lessons · Penn Jillette

Related works
The Mole Trilogy (The Tunes of Two Cities · Part Three · The Big Bubble) · The Mole Show (Live At The Roxy · Mole Show VHS · Live In Holland · Mole Bag) · Intermission · Mark of the Mole video game (Greg Easter) · Assorted Secrets (Res Dance '82) · Mark of the Mole novel (T.D. Wade) · "Mole Suite" · Mole Box

Related articles
Ralph Records · The Cryptic Corporation · Grove St. studio · Porno Graphics · Moles · Chubs

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