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An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Fri Feb 08, 2019 8:21 pm

As most people familiar with Hulabee Entertainment probably know, the company existed from mid-2001 to the end of 2005 when Shelley Day was jailed for fraud. (In case you didn't know about that last bit, you can find the details here.) However, their last widely known game, Piglet's Big Game, was finished in November 2002, and released in March 2003. So that leaves us at a point approximately three years before the company's demise. This topic deals with my findings of what they did afterwards. Or at least the parts where they actually interacted with the public in some capacity.

A lot of this is going to be painfully boring to read, so feel free to just skim through anything you don't care about. I just wanted to leave this all this information here for those who really want to know the full story, or at least as much of it as I could uncover.

For over a year after Piglet's Big Game, nothing seems to have been made that ever got released to the public. March 2003 appears to have been not only the point where that game was released, but also when Asia Europe Americas Bank of Seattle had their lawyer contact Disney and realized Shelley Day had lied to them. It would hardly be surprising if this prompted Disney to terminate its partnership with the company. Considering all four of their adventure games had been published by them, that could've had disastrous consequences. Combined with Shelley Day now being caught up in a lawsuit that would ultimately last until December 2005, and Ron Gilbert's departure at some point before July 2003 (my source on that is one of the comments he left here), it honestly wouldn't be surprising for the company to have become completely paralyzed. Their next sign of life didn't occur until June 2004, and it merely involved their site being wiped clean, safe for a logo, clearly implying that they no longer had any control over their old games.

This is where things took an unexpected turn. After a few months of radio silence, Hulabee suddenly unveiled an online storefront for casual games. Press releases like this one explain that this was a joint effort with two other companies called Shooter Group and Oberon Media.

And right off the bat, three new games made by Hulabee themselves were available for purchase: Mah Jong Jr, Flip Out Jr and Touchdown Madness. Strangely however, they disappeared just a few months later. A fourth game, Casper's Spooky Swap, became available in August, but for reasons that I'll explain later, it had clearly been developed alongside the other three and just held back from release for a while.


Now the part you've all been waiting for: The games themselves. Though Hulabee's own site never saw much traffic, their games were also available at a few other places, including the very similar storefront of their partner Oberon Media. And the Wayback Machine archived free trial installers for all four of them. I was unable to post their links here without two of them getting altered in a way that breaks them, so head to this Pastebin to find them.

Seeing how these are free trials, they have DRM that will prevent them from running after an hour has passed. Thankfully, it has an incredibly obvious loophole: If you directly run the games' actual executables rather than the launchers, they won't take note of how long they've been running. Sadly, this doesn't work forever. I'm not quite sure how it happens, but to my understanding, after a long period of time has passed since their first launch, they will consider themselves expired and refuse to operate without activation.

Alternatively, Mah Jong Jr was also included in a physical bundle of games known as the MahJongg Variety Pack 2. Copies of it still aren't too expensive on Ebay and Amazon. The game's build on there is probably DRM-free. I just ordered a copy myself and will post an update here when I have it.

So then, are the games any good? Not really, no. You can tell that things weren't looking good for Hulabee at this stage of their history. They're all very barebones and have poor production values even by the standards of lightweight casual games from the mid-2000s. Mah Jong Jr and Casper's Spooky Swap even have two music tracks shamelessly recycled from Moop and Dreadly. I get the impression that the company was desperately trying to stay afloat with virtually no money in its pockets, and so they chose to embrace the casual gaming industry as a last resort. This would honestly strike me as a pretty good business decision in such a situation. The casual market was booming at the time, and games in it required much less of a budget. Plus, despite the mostly family-friendly nature of these games, not a whole lot of them were really made specifically for children. But unfortunately, it seems Hulabee was already in such a poor financial condition at the time that they couldn't even pull that off properly. Perhaps if they'd had more resources available (and if they had somehow managed to remain operational even with Shelley Day in prison), they could've finally found their niche and become if not a worthy successor to Humongous, then at least a decent company in its own right. Instead, these low-budget and low-effort games are only worth the look for historical reasons.

Here are some details about the individual games, starting with Mah Jong Jr:

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment Mah_jo10

I already wrote about this one back when I originally discovered it several years ago, but this is basically a generic Mahjong game. As in, not a simulation of the real thing, but a simplistic matching game inspired by it. There are lots of those games, and this one does little to set itself apart. Just about the only thing noteworthy about it is its large selection of different tile sets, some of which are clearly geared towards children. That's all the game does to justify the "Jr" in its title. Despite this, it honestly doesn't strike me as a terribly kid-friendly game. Even when playing with the right strategies, you can easily end up losing through little to no fault of your own. Unless you abuse the shuffle feature, which for some reason can be used indefinitely without penalties, effectively breaking the game.

Flip Out Jr:

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment Flip_o10

This game has two modes. Concentration mode is a total waste of time. It's literally just Concentration with a scoring system. Flip Out mode on the other hand is actually a rather innovative take on the game, with time pressure, a constantly changing playing field, and powerups to spice things up. Though it sounds interesting on paper, it didn't really work for me. The game's various gimmicks made it really hard for me to remember anything, so I found myself often just rapidly and randomly clicking everywhere. If your memory can handle the game better than mine, then this game could actually be a decent highscore chaser, though. It's the only one of the bunch that had some genuine creativity put into it, rather than feeling like a lesser version of something that had already been done before.

Touchdown Madness:

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment Touchd10

A simple football game in which you only on the offense. I wasn't really able to get into this one due to my lack of familiarity with the sport. Basically all I know about it comes from some video footage of various Backyard Football games. For the most part, it just seems to be a heavily simplified version of the 2D games in that series, although with a simplistic progression system that has you earn cash that can be used to buy better players for future matches.

Casper's Spooky Swap:

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment Casper10

Easily the worst of the bunch. A Bejeweled rip-off whose only unique elements only serve to make it worse. Instead of falling down, tiles in this game try to move toward the center following some rather confusing rules that take a while to grasp and are difficult to utilize effectively. Furthermore, there is an extreme abundance of the color white among many of the tiles, combined with some extremely similar character designs, making a lot of them really difficult to tell apart. Depending on the level, it can get much worse than seen in this screenshot. Why the developers thought the key to making a kids version of Bejeweled was to more add confusion and eye strain, I don't know. Despite all this, most of the game is just mind-numbingly boring. Its main mode suffers from "Junior Arcade Syndrome" in that it's drawn out like crazy without enough additions to keep things fresh. But unlike those, getting a game over here means starting all over. Which can easily happen, because getting extra lives is so difficult it's borderline luck-based. The other mode is a short but unremarkable race against the clock. (On a final note, the game's internal name is "Casper2" for some reason. Perhaps there was an earlier Casper game that never saw the light of day?)


One thing that's rather strange is that the files for all four of these games have nearly identical timestamps from 29th December, 2004. If all four of these games were finished no later than that, then this still leaves us with nearly one year before Shelley Day's prison sentence. What Hulabee was doing in that time is largely a mystery. They clearly had some games in the works at the time it happened, seeing how she unsuccessfully tried to convince her judge to delay enforcement of her sentence so that Hulabee could finish what they were working on at the time. But it would still strike me as somewhat surprising if those games were all the company had worked on in 2005.

On a final note, it's interesting that Hulabee's storefront was not yet shut down by the end of 2005. In fact, it remained operational until well into 2007 before it began redirecting people to Oberon's site. Even Casper's Spooky Swap remained available until the end. Updates to the site stopped happening long before that, though. Perhaps Oberon or even Shooter Group had acquired the remnants of the company and kept its site on life support as long as it still received a bit of traffic?


Whew, this post ended up being way longer than I'd planned. And probably over five years too late to have any realistic chance of reaching someone who is an obsessive enough HE nerd to actually care about most of what I just wrote. Oh well, at least I now have all this information gathered in one place.


Last edited by SomeRandomHEFan on Sat Feb 09, 2019 10:10 am; edited 1 time in total

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Post by Onfy Fri Feb 08, 2019 10:04 pm

A very nice write-up. It reached me, anyway!

I think I'd like to see how hard it is to crack these games' DRM.
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Post by LittleToonCat Fri Feb 08, 2019 10:11 pm

Very interesting read! It's sad how such a very good potential adventure game company have turned into a generic "pay, download and play" puzzle company of the mid 2000s.

Hopefully we can find a DRM-free version of those games someday, or like Onfy said, cracking them.

Looking forward to any new developments.
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Post by Onfy Fri Feb 08, 2019 10:25 pm

By the way, the links for Touchdown and Flip Out don't seem to work right, though I've no idea why.

Edit: Well, my initial, and perhaps rather obvious idea, to swap EXEs with a game without DRM, doesn't work. I guess there were different versions of Sauce.

Edit 2: Well, I tried figuring out how the launcher tracks how much time is left and whether or not it's registered. I'm totally stumped. Just hope it won't mess up my computer.
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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Sat Feb 09, 2019 8:03 am

Okay, I get what's wrong with those two links. For some reason, this forum butchers them by removing a part of them. I can upload the installers to Mediafire in a few hours.

BTW, I actually found something that should deal with the DRM for Flip Out Jr, Touchdown Madness and Casper's Spooky Swap. I just didn't mention it because I didn't know if you'd be okay with me spreading such information here, even if it's just for abandonware. If you are okay with that, I'll spill the beans.

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Post by Onfy Sat Feb 09, 2019 2:36 pm

Yes, go ahead! I don't think there's anything wrong with breaking the DRM on these.
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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Sat Feb 09, 2019 5:46 pm

Gotcha. Apparently, the DRM doesn't use online verification, so you can still activate them with valid combinations of email addresses and keys. And I was able to find some for three of the games.

Do note that I activated them all while offline just to be safe, so it's possible the DRM only refrains from communicating with a verification server when it can't connect to the Internet. Feel free to test if it still works when online.

Here's what you need to enter:

Flip Out Jr:
gamesforvn@hotmail.com
7B60-8EEE-4842-2604-4DFA-69BA-A72D-8A43-55E6-179A-3C81-29D8

Touchdown Madness:
gamesforvn@hotmail.com
7B66-461C-68AA-6ED0-09D9-FBAE-9618-B3BF-BE59-9044-FF3F-09F5

Casper's Spooky Swap:
OberonGames@Aol.com
3028-E40D-8328-1E65-D0B2-BE41-7A4A-22D3-C924-CFDC-D9CA-A9B2

This leaves Mah Jong Jr as the last problematic game, but the MahJongg Variety Pack 2 still offers an alternative way to get it. I bought my own copy for less than £10 from this seller, but I imagine shipping is going to be more expensive for those who don't live in or near the UK.

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Post by Onfy Sat Feb 09, 2019 5:54 pm

Well, serial keys aren't what I expected, I'd have thought there'd be a way to make it think it's registered without one, or remove the check entirely. Guess I'll allow it, because I doubt there's anything left of them, either to go after us or to even sell the games in the first place.
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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Thu Feb 14, 2019 8:46 am

Okay, the MahJongg Variety Pack 2 arrived. Its copy of Mah Jong Jr seems to lack any DRM. It works without activation and doesn't check for the CD's presence. The CD itself also doesn't seem to be copy-protected.

Also, your idea about replacing the executables was actually not that bad. It seems all four of Hulabee's dark age titles use the same version of Sauce, so the DRM-free executable found in the MahJongg Variety Pack 2 works with all of them. It doesn't work with any prior games, though.

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Post by sickiepooh444 Tue Dec 24, 2019 4:52 pm

After I had my heart attack this game Casper's Spooky Swap actually was therapeutic for me lol. My kids hated it but I loved it. I bought it from Oberon Games and had it on my PC but it stopped working years ago. I wish I could find it again or something very similar to it in every way possible. Candy Crush isn't the same. Any ideas on how I can get it again?

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Tue Dec 24, 2019 10:18 pm

Download the free trial from the corresponding link in this Pastebin.

Its DRM will eventually prevent it from running, but you can get around that by entering the activation information from one of my posts above. Or you can buy the MahJongg Variety Pack 2 and copy the executable for Mah Jong Jr to Casper's Spooky Swap's directory.

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Post by sickiepooh444 Wed Dec 25, 2019 4:05 pm

I want to give you my heartfelt thanks for this. You've made an old lady really happy. This game got me through therapy and rehab after my heart attack in 2006. My now adult kids got a good laugh helping me install this. You are awesome for doing this. Have a great holiday and a happy New Year to you and your family. Best Regards. 😊

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Post by humbledeer Mon Mar 01, 2021 4:30 am

The company (Hulabee) did indeed release more things after these you mentioned here. I have samples of games that were either made for specials or never officially released; on my sample disc they're dated 1/09/2005.

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Mon Mar 01, 2021 3:50 pm

That's very interesting to hear. Is there anything you can share about those games?

It's really hard to find any information on what Hulabee did after 2003. Judging by the resumés I could find, almost everyone seems to have left the company that year.

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Post by humbledeer Tue Mar 02, 2021 5:59 am

Mostly everyone did leave the company, that's quite true. But the principal programmer of the Hulabee Engine was still 'available'; I won't as of yet share any information until I have enough confidence that this does not hold any NDA responsibilities anymore.

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Wed Mar 03, 2021 9:09 am

I see. I'm not surprised that Hulabee retained one of their programmers in some capacity. Would explain why the four games I discovered still use their engine.

Regarding the risk of breaking NDAs, I think it's very unlikely there would be any consequences for sharing further details. Plenty of people who used to work for Humongous and Hulabee have shared some content related to unreleased games over the years.

Though of course, I don't know your specific situation. If you'd rather stay on the cautious side, I can respect that. I don't want to press you for details you don't feel confident in sharing. Either way, thanks for the information.

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Post by humbledeer Wed Mar 03, 2021 12:12 pm

I'm mostly keeping it to myself for now regarding NDA's because I am involved with the game myself.

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Wed Mar 03, 2021 3:16 pm

That's fine. I figured you had to be either that or a former business partner of the company. You don't have to go into specifics if you don't want to. Feel free to come back if you ever change your mind at some point in the future, but no pressure.

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Post by TOMYSSHADOW Fri Apr 30, 2021 5:10 am

Hi, I see that the last post was over two months ago, so I apologize for digging up an old thread, but I stumbled upon it while researching and was intrigued.

Hulabee Entertainment developed at least three other games not mentioned in this thread for the Disney Game Downloads service, which released in 2005: Little Mermaid Bubble Blast, Stitch's Blazing Lasers, and The Lion King Grubalicious. I signed up to create this post and so I can't give a link, but the Lost Media Wiki article on this topic has a link to my MEGA folder at the bottom of the page, which has all of the games with the trial limitations removed.

The games themselves do not have any credits, the websites they were distributed on do not mention Hulabee Entertainment and I can't find any press releases or articles confirming this. However, the games are undoubtedly by Hulabee Entertainment.

Little Mermaid Bubble Blast includes a utility named HulaTech which appears to be a tech support tool, and it directly mentions Hulabee.

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment Hulabe10

This screenshot also reveals something else interesting: this game was shipped with the ActiveMARK SDK included by mistake - oops! I found the installer for this game via the Wayback Machine on GameNext, a member of the Oberon Games network. So what I think must have happened was they provided the game to Trymedia first, and then later when they provided the game to Oberon Games they forgot to unlink the ActiveMARK SDK.

The game itself is nothing to write home about. It's a Zuma clone, and an uninteresting one. It has derpy looking Ariel and Sebastian animations (I thought it was Flash animated at first, but upon further inspection it probably isn't.) At least the voice work is more convincing than Mermaid Pinball.

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment Little10

The other two games have nothing directly linking them to Hulabee Entertainment but I am 99% sure they were also created by them. In Stitch's Blazing Lasers you play as Stitch as you fly around in a space ship. It's a basic space shooter where you have to destroy enemy space ships. The game controls decently but there was nothing to indicate I was making any progress. The game seems to be simply about surviving as long as possible and the enemy patterns don't have a tonne of variation. I got bored fairly quickly.

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment Stitch10

The final game, The Lion King Grubalicious, is my favourite of the bunch, although it's still nothing amazing. It's a match 3 game where you need to match bugs together. There are bonus levels to spice things up, including a mode where you have to try and match only specific bugs together, or avoid matching particular bugs together. The soundtrack is this funky disco music which wasn't really what I was expecting, but it's pretty groovy and fits the game well. It also has voice acting - Simba, Timone and Pumbaa all have lines of dialogue. To me, they sound identical to the movie, but I can't confirm it's the same actors because the game has no credits.

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment The_li10

Anyway, I was curious if this was documented anywhere. Maybe you'll find it interesting.


Last edited by TOMYSSHADOW on Fri Apr 30, 2021 5:23 am; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : clarification)

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Fri Apr 30, 2021 11:49 am

No need to apologize. This forum is nearly dead, so it's completely normal for posts to be spaced out by months. And it's well-worth making a new post for something as significant as this.

This is a great find. Thanks a lot for the info. I was able to find the link fairly easily, but I'm not sure it's okay to post here, given that this stuff is owned by Disney. I'll do it if Onfy is okay with it. Will send her a PM.

All three of these games are undeniably Hulabee's work. When a game's assets are stored in .PAN files whose filename consists of the executable name followed by a dash and six digits, that's a dead giveaway for their engine (which has been named eSauce, Sauce and Saucepan by conflicting sources, so I have no idea what its official name is). If you stumble upon any other games with such files, let me know.

HulaTech.exe is a simple tool for accessing the .INI files for Hulabee's games. From my own experience, it only seems to support two of their earliest games, so it probably slipped into here by accident.

Two of these games seem to run on the exact same engine build as the four games from my original post. Mah Jong Jr's DRM-free executable from the MahJongg Variety Pack 2 seems to work perfectly with them. The odd one out is Little Mermaid Bubble Blast. That game's assets are incompatible with any other Hulabee executable I have. It's also the only Hulabee game I know of that can't be launched in windowed mode with the parameter -w. If the timestamps of its files are accurate, it was developed in mid-2006, which implies that Hulabee was somehow still operational during the period where Shelley Day should have been in jail. Well, one of humbledeer's posts implies that they may have relied on contractors for their last titles, so I guess it wouldn't be unthinkable.

It's also certainly surprising that Disney continued to partner with them after 2003. Though the lawsuit may still have played a role in the company's downfall for other reasons. Things clearly went horribly wrong for them that year. It's no longer online, but I've seen Tim Royal, one of the many employees who left in 2003, mention on his site that he didn't get paid for almost the last six months of his employment. It's been archived here. That site also mentions several games that I couldn't find any further information on.

As for the games themselves, I haven't played them for too long, but they do at least seem somewhat better than the other games from Hulabee's dark age that I'm aware of. Little Mermaid Bubble Blast is pretty repetitive, but it does deviate from Zuma's formula in some mildly interesting ways. Stitch's Blazing Lasers seems to be a pretty mindless shoot 'em up, but it gets the basics done. Compared to some of the shoot 'em ups from Humongous Entertainment, it's an improvement. The Lion King Grubalicious actually uses the same core mechanics as Casper's Spooky Swap, which I'm not a big fan of. But it does have more variety and uses tiles that are far easier to distinguish.

It's also somewhat notable that the last two of these games use the internal names "Stitch2" and "grubalicious2," much like Casper's Spooky Swap was named "Casper2." I doubt that Hulabee actually made an earlier game with the word "Grubalicious" in its name, so perhaps the 2 was just added to their names at some point during development.

While I'm at it, this art gallery by another former employee, Derek McCaughan, also has a number of backgrounds from unknown games, some of which were apparently based on Disney properties as well. I only recognize two backgrounds from Piglet's Big Game and Treasure Planet Training Academy.

Edit: I just managed to locate another one of Derek McCaughan's backgrounds in the data for Treasure Planet Training Academy, so that leaves only four backgrounds that seem to be from unknown games. One of them is apparently from a game starring Mickey Mouse, while another is based on the Disney movie The Haunted House. The remaining two backgrounds are probably from original IPs, given that Hulabee Entertainment is listed as the sole owner of their copyright.


Last edited by SomeRandomHEFan on Mon May 03, 2021 9:23 am; edited 2 times in total

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Post by TOMYSSHADOW Sat May 01, 2021 6:27 am

Taking a quick look in IDA, I am going to guess that ESauce is the name of the engine, Sauce is the name of the scripting language and Saucepan is the name of the file format it uses. That's only a guess though, based on the strings in the executable.

I could remove the trial limitations for the other games from Oberon Games. I plan on sending them in a private message after I've gained the ability to send links (requires waiting seven days after signup.) I can't legally give a tutorial on how to remove this protection, but the information is out there. It used to be a state of the art protection, but in the modern day it can be completely removed in less than five minutes if you know how.

Many distributors had the Disney Game Downloads, including Yahoo Games, CNET Downloads, and BoontyGames. One of the distributors was Trymedia. Trymedia had their own protection called ActiveMARK. ActiveMARK's big selling point was that purchasing the game would turn the trial into the full game, without needing to download it again, but if the full game was copied to anyone else it would appear as a trial for them, encouraging others to buy the game if it was shared.

By default, ActiveMARK trials had a 60 minute time limit, and this was the only difference between a trial and a full game. However, ActiveMARK also had an SDK which allowed developers to integrate ActiveMARK into the game itself and gate off particular features if the game was playing in trial mode. As I mentioned, Little Mermaid Bubble Blast is the only one of these games to use the ActiveMARK SDK, and certain modes can only be played in the full game. I suspect this is why it is not compatible with older ESauce versions, because the ActiveMARK SDK (amsdk.dll) was linked to the executable in order to accommodate this.

The thing is, while Oberon Games did use protection on their games, they did not make use of ActiveMARK protection. So, because I downloaded the game from their network - even though the ActiveMARK SDK is linked - it effectively does nothing and always reports the game as a full version. The Oberon Games download behaves like the full game even when being played as a trial.

This is purely speculative, but I'm guessing Disney was trying to get as many casual game developers as they could to back their new Disney Game Downloads platform, and maybe they were having trouble getting people on board. Because Hulabee Entertainment had recently entered the casual games market, had worked with Disney before, and both were on good terms with Oberon Games, they were in the right place at the right time for Disney to work with them again despite their past. It's impossible to verify when resources that mention the Disney Game Downloads service are scarce to begin with, however.

I found out today that some of the other Disney Game Download titles were created by another developer called Schell Games. I updated their metadata in the MEGA folder.


Last edited by TOMYSSHADOW on Sat May 01, 2021 6:35 am; edited 2 times in total

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Sat May 01, 2021 7:13 am

Yeah, that naming convention could make sense. All that I know for certain (thanks to Richard Moe's self-written entry on MobyGames) is that SAUCE is the name of the engine's scripting language, so perhaps it's like with its spiritual predecessor, which is commonly referred to as SCUMM, even though that's just the name of its scripting language, with the interpreter being named SPUTM.

I doubt the ActiveMARK SDK plays a role, unless it was somehow incorporated into more than just the executable. In case it wasn't clear, what I did was replace the executable itself with one from another game from Hulabee's dark age. This works with every other title, even when DRM is involved. That said, I suppose it's not impossible that traces of the SDK are present even in one of the DLL files. Maybe I should try replacing those as well.

I guess it would be nice to have properly cracked versions of the executables for the games I found, but I personally don't really need them. I already have a DRM-free build of the ESauce version used by six of these seven games from the Mahjongg Variety Pack 2. Wouldn't mind uploading it here if Onfy is okay with it.

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Post by LittleToonCat Sat May 01, 2021 11:18 pm

These are fascinating!  I think I've played some of Disney games back while they're on Disney's Blast (especially Stitch's Blazing Laser)!

I would love to see the Sauce engine properly reversed engineered at some point (and an implementation in ScummVM, maybe?).  There's this pan file extraction tool created by cyxx, one of the ScummVM contributors, this is a good starting point.
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Post by Onfy Sun May 02, 2021 12:40 pm

I think it should be ok to post the link here. Here it is for your convenience, sorry you weren't able to. https://mega.nz/folder/5khQmKpQ#pWBvYaEa90RzM7Ma3QtykQ
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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Sun May 02, 2021 1:28 pm

Does the same go for uploading the DRM-free executable from the MahJongg Variety Pack 2? It works with six of these seven games, removing the need for them to be cracked.

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