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.