Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors

Years ago, I’d heard about a mythical unreleased videogame developed by Penn & Teller for the Sega CD and 3DO. The game was supposed to be an oddball adventure game, with some cruel magic tricks and minigames thrown in for good measure. This Absolute Entertainment press release from March 1995 sums it up nicely.


The most infamous part was “Desert Bus,” a “VeriSimulator” in which you drive a bus across the straight Nevada desert for eight hours in real-time. Then you drive it home. Also, I’d read the bus veers to the right, so you can’t just leave the joypad propped up. The rumor was that if you won the game, you got one point. (March 25: Someone finished the bus trip twice, and sent me photos! See below for update.)

I’d assumed for years that the entire thing was a hoax, but last September, Frank Cifaldi (founder of Lost Levels) received a backup CD-ROM made by a fellow videogame writer of a review copy he’d received a decade earlier. He posted extensive screenshots and a review to the Something Awful Forums. He eventually added a torrent, but it’s long since dead.

So here’s an active torrent, seeded locally from my server for as long as I can. Did I mention it has cameos by Deborah Harry and Lou Reed?

Download: Penn_and_Teller’s_Smoke_and_Mirrors.torrent (810 MB)

Instructions: If you have an actual Sega CD, just burn the disc images and you’re set. Otherwise, you’ll need a copy of the Gens emulator and the Sega CD BIOS to play. After unpacking both archives, start the emulator and go to the “Options: BIOS” menu. Set the “Sega CD BIOS: USA” directory to the folder you saved the BIOS file in. Then use “File: Open ROM” to open “PTSM1.bin.”

If you beat Desert Bus, send me a screenshot! (One SA commenter claimed he played for four solid days, taking turns with a friend, to get a high score of 12.)

March 1, 2006: Penn Jillette talked about the game today on his podcast! He talks extensively about, among other things, the background history behind “Desert Bus” and the secrets behind some of the minigames. Tons of great trivia, including the tidbit that they were planning a massive Vegas trip prize to the person (or group) with the highest score.

The entire episode can be downloaded from the iTunes Music Store, or I’ve posted the relevant part right here: Penn_Jillette_Podcast_on_Smoke_and_Mirrors.mp3 (2.5 MB). Frank transcribed some of the best parts on this Game Set Watch entry.

March 16: Jeff H., a former EA employee, provided unreleased copies of the Smoke and Mirrors manual, promotional video, Desert Bus contest form, and more. Finally, all the secrets of the original game exposed! Download it all at PennFans.net.

March 25: T. Frost finished the “Desert Bus” trip to Vegas, then spent another eight hours driving back to Tucson. He says, “Here is the exciting conclusion when you get to Las Vegas. No bright lights or casinos, or even a cheesy full motion video for that matter making fun of you for doing it… Only Thing different on the trip home is night falls around 7:00 PM. No other reward.”

He sent three screenshots of the Tucson to Vegas trip — the bug splat, the winning screen, and starting the trip back. Also, three from Vegas to Tucson — dusk, nightfall (with bug splat), and the final timeclock.

October 18, 2010: Penn & Teller talk about Desert Bus at Comic-Con 2010.

75 thoughts on “Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors

  1. I remember this!! I read about it in EGM about 10 or 11 years ago. They had screenshots of the ‘Desert Bus’ game, too. Crazy! I never had a MegeDrive, though…

  2. I remember the magazine VideoGames (formerly videogames and Computer Entertainment) did a piece where the editors spent all day beating the bus simulator game. The only highlights were one bug splatting onto the windshield on the way there, and making it to the destination to get one whole point. Then they had to make the return trip, but a few miles in the bus overheated and the game was over.

  3. I’m sorry you thought it was a hoax! I could have told you otherwise.

    Please list to me all known urban legends and myths you think exist and I will immediately verify them for you.

  4. Actually, I’ve been keeping my old torrent alive from time to time (as recently as last night), but I’m much happier being relieved of it here. Thanks for the link, it’s appreciated!

  5. I didn’t know you were a Something Awful forums member.

    Desert Bus sounds like a wonderfully hilarious, satirical videogame, at that. Now, if we just took one avid World of Warcraft player and gave them this instead…

  6. I’ve only recently become an avid WoW player. It runs on my dialup, you see, but unfortunately this torrent will take me well more than those eight hours to download. Is it only the Sega CD version? I’d be so happy to have a new 3DO game, finally.

  7. Myself and a group of SJSU CADRE students are going to be playing Desert Bus to completion this semester as part of a project, and we’ll be doing a documentary on the process. I’m sure we’ll share it with the Internet, so for those of you who don’t have the stomach to take the trip yourself, you’ll have a chance to see the “ending”.

  8. Oh my god! Oh my god!!! I never knew this actually existed, I just assumed it was a joke. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

  9. Penn mentioned this on his radio show today (3/1) and just had to go looking for it. Thanks for keeping the Torrent alive 🙂

  10. Nice find – my guess is with the tons of visitors you are getting, your server probably feels like it is taking that bus ride to Vegas.

  11. Crap, I didn’t realize that the compressed disk image was that much smaller or I would’ve torrented that instead. I figured multi-part RAR would just add an additional layer of complexity, but that’s a huge space savings. Damn.

  12. Yeah, disk images of games are generally pretty compressable. If you want to you can post a link to my torrent next to your torrent. It’s seeding from my server so the torrent should stay alive for quite a while.

  13. I can’t remember when I first heard about this game, but I’ve always been disappointed that I didn’t get to play it. I know what I’m doing this weekend. -)

  14. I used to work for Absolute Entertainment. I believe I was there the first day Penn and Teller came to our offices in northern New Jersey. They made a big day out of it. I also remember going to the men’s room and seeing Penn in there. I’m surprised that this high profile game never came out. Absolute’s fate started to turn sour soon afterwards and I guess this game was part of the countless casualties that got caught in the company’s meltdown.

  15. ? I got the files, got gens, and got the US BIOS, but all it does is come up with a radio that I can tinker with that doesn’t play any sound (the intro plays a splash sound with the Sega logo)

  16. I’ve got everything pretty much working but my keyboard mapping is real spotty. Fer instance, in Desert Bus, it starts up, I can turn the wheel right & left but I’m unable to move forward. Any ideas or suggestions?

  17. I was working at Electronic Arts when Absolute Entertainment was going down the tubes. I was asked to evaluate this (among other projects) to see if it was worth picking up and publishing. It turns out that only the Sega CD version was actually finished; there were PC and Mac versions that were partly done, but probably needed a few more months to complete.

    By the time I reviewed it, the Sega CD was already a dead system, and there was too much work left on the other versions to make it worth the effort.

    In the packet of stuff I have is videotape of promo for the game…including Penn on the Today show talking about it.

    There’s also a complete user guide that tells you how to play (from the final layout that was ready to go to print.) One of the mini-games involved with this was a standard-looking videogame that secretly allowed you to cheat and get ahead. The label on the outside of the case was printed on both sides, so you could turn it inside out and make it look like a regular videogame instead of a Penn & Teller game.

    And yes…I can scan all this and add it to the torrent. Someone email me to collaborate.

    jeffhaas@netzero.net

    Jeff

  18. Wow, that’s incredible. You may be the only person in the world with that marketing material and video. Send it all to me, and I’ll give it a permanent and loving home. Let me know if you need help!

  19. Oh man, thanks for the torrent, been looking for this for years. Now to dig out the old Sega CD.

  20. does anyone know a emulator that’ll run this on a Mac?, it would be very helpfull, and save me from having to dig up the old windows 98 PC i have burried somewhere…

  21. WOW. This is sweet. I only did the “Guess Your Sign” minigame so far, but not only did it get my sign, but it was one day off my birthday.

    Thx

  22. I used to work at Absolute Ent. as well. If memory serves me correctly, the Desert Bus bit would flash an address up on the screen(where the now defunct Absolute Ent HQ was) if you completed it, where you could send for your free prize. What you received back was a signed certificate from Penn & Teller informing you that you were the world’s biggest idiot (or something like that) for wasting 8 hours of your life!

  23. Oh yes, I forgot: I think we never released it since it wouldn’t work across all Sega CD platforms. I remember the list of materials that P&T needed for the bluescreen shots: Two gallons of fake (edible) blood, a stuffed hedgehog (took me two weeks to track that one down), a bucketful of fake cockroaches, etc.

  24. I figured out my problem. I downloaded the torrent with a Mac and FTPed the files over to a PC. What I needed to do was zip the files up so that they didn’t lose any information in the transfer

  25. I’ve been trying to figure this game out for a while now. On the smoke and mirrors game it seems you always get stuck no matter which way you go. If you go to the left you eventually hit a wierd machine thing that says you are conned, and if you go to the right you eventually get to a man who keeps asking you to pick a card. But you can’t get past either of these things. Anyone figure out how to get past this? And yes I tried the Pann Joker trick to make Teller crawl past him, but once past him you can stand up or anything so it is pretty pointless.

  26. You can get through the Streets at the beginning of the game by walking through the alleys (push up) like you walk into the buildings. An alley right of your starting point actually takes you to a completely different road, but I get to a point where I either need an umbrella to get through one door, or an autograph as a bribe to get through another…Any help? Oh, and Teller’s not supposed to crawl past the guy you’re distracting. You distract the guy, get Teller in poistion, and then push the guy on top of Teller, if that makes any sense.

  27. As a matter of fact…got this from the SomethingAwful Forums..hope it helps:

    “To trip the guys in black with Teller, you have to crawl into them from behind and press the action button again – the timing on a lot of the moves can take a while to get used to. One of the alleys has a doorway (other than the one with the guy in front of it), go in there and defeat Escapo by using Penn’s umbrella to bounce straitjackets back up at him – then you’ll get tickets to the carnival, which you take to the travel place. To get P&T’s autographs (you need six to get the Lou Reed autograph, which you’ll give to the guy in the alley so that he’ll let you into the wax museum), you need to give them to the fans who ask for them (guys in white shirts and black caps, they’re wandering around the various levels), then use Teller’s joker card to distract them and use Penn to steal their autographs back. It’s a kinda complicated game…

    You’ll need several slot machine tokens (from putting rabbits into the chipper-shredder machine) in order to open a secret passage in the Vegas level, but that’s way in the future…”

  28. Does anybody here know how you hire the stunt doubles? I’ve played this all the way through and I never had the option to do so.

  29. Interesting to know about a guy who claimed to play four solid days. It’s becoming like in Taiwan where kids are singing Karaoke while performing an “Super Mario One” walk through in ten minutes.

    Absolutely crazy !

  30. OK, so I’ve got the scanning and digitizing done.

    I’ve emailed the webmaster here to find out how to post it, and I’m uploading the zip to PennFans.net so they can host a torrent too.

    Here’s a list of what’s in the zip file:

    – Manual

    – Package liner (this was reversible, see the manual!)

    – Desert Bus contest entry forms and rules

    – Press reviews

    – The section of Absolute Software’s catalog for Fall 1995 which features the game

    – SEGA Visions cover story

    – MPEG of the promo video for the game

    That’s everything! It gives you the most complete picture of what might have been.

    Jeff

  31. I would just like to say thanks for posting this. Very funny stuff; classic Penn and Teller.

  32. go over to pennfans.com and they have the manuals and eveything some worker of at EA sent them to Penn and trickled them down to his fan site.

  33. Has anyone passed the entire game? I’ve been trying to get through this a few times and now I’m really stuck. I got into the wax museum, grabbed the lighter fluid, and called Skippy, but nothing happened. Also, the bearded lady gave me a stethoscope and I have no idea how to use it.

  34. I’ve been trying to find this game for years. I was always confident that someone would have it in some form or other. I am insanely greatful to the people that made this possible

    Here’s my problem I was able to download the manual and the game file using a mac. I now have a folder with 5 files PTSM1.bin,

    PTSM2.bin,

    PTSM1.cue,

    PTSM2.cue and readme.txt.

    When I double click the bin files stuffit expander runs but nothing happens. Also the total of the 2 files exceeds 800mb. How do you put that on a CD with a capacity of 700mb. Any help with this would be greatly appreciated.

    I’m so close yet so far.

    Thanks

    lenny

  35. You can get through the Streets at the beginning of the game by walking through the alleys (push up) like you walk into the buildings. An alley right of your starting point actually takes you to a completely different road, but I get to a point where I either need an umbrella to get through one door, or an autograph as a bribe to get through another…Any help? Oh, and Teller’s not supposed to crawl past the guy you’re distracting. You distract the guy, get Teller in poistion, and then push the guy on top of Teller, if that makes any sense.

  36. I’ve just downloaded the torrent and it’s being seeded! Whoever’s doing this, I love you!

  37. Thank you so much for keeping the torrent active. It’s been quite awhile since you first posted it, huh? Haha.

    I’ve been lookin’ around for info on it for awhile!

  38. Cheers for this, I know you posted it years ago but I have only just found your site, now I’m off to smash the record and 100 points!!!

  39. This ALONE makes WAXY.ORG one of the COOLEST websites in existance.

    Add to that your recent INFOCOM treasuretrove revelation & there you have it.

    I know when I see the Vectronics machine in your logo that I’m in the right place.

    It takes me right to San Francisco where I play with one on the counter of this cool store that just sold geegaws of any type.

    It’s not like an electronics store or a videogame store or 99 cents store — they just sell cool stuff no matter *what* it is. lol

    I think the name’s “Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe” or somethin’ like that.

    I play with it & the guy wouldn’t shoo you away or give ya dirty looks or whatevr — he’d just let ya play with it.

    *Now* look — I’m gonna get misty ….

  40. desert bus is a fun game for 5 years old and I like it because you drive a bus for 8 hours

  41. Hehe i just played the Bus game for the first time because my friend at work brought it up. it is very funny and got quite a bit of fun out of it. only penn and teller could pull this off.

  42. Have you guys thought of releasing it on the PS3 with HD-graphics?

    Just to mock today’s gamers?

  43. If you can’t get the Sega CD Emulator to run Penn and Tellers Smoke and mirrors, make sure the path to it is less than 255 Characters.

  44. Is the manual PDF still available anywhere? I’ve googled and waybacked all over the place, but I can’t find any links that are live in 2016, nor any that were saved at archive.org.

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