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An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment

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Post by TOMYSSHADOW Sun May 02, 2021 7:28 pm

SomeRandomHEFan wrote: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 can confirm that the DLL libraries are NOT protected with anything. It is possible to protect DLL files, but they opted not to in this instance.

SomeRandomHEFan wrote: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.

You seem to misunderstand what I am saying here. With most games that use protection, the protection is completely opaque to the game; the game behaves exactly the same when it is a trial or when it has been purchased and is the full game. The only difference in most cases is a time limit, which is handled entirely by the protector, NOT the game engine itself.

Little Mermaid Bubble Blast is the odd one out between these games, because the game itself changes when playing as a trial to lock out certain game modes. The game engine was modified to accomplish this and link to the ActiveMARK SDK so it can communicate with the protection it expects to be there. You'll notice it creates an AMSTATUS file because without the ActiveMARK protection actually there, it is running in the SDK mode meant for developers to use.

In IDA you can see the function they added to accomplish this, it's there despite the protection being gone, because the game engine itself needed to have that capability.

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment - Page 2 Ida_sa10

So, replacing the executable with one from another game wouldn't work, because if the PAN File has a script which expects to get the license status, the older engine version of that other game won't have that feature, and it will be missing the function the script wants to call. Therefore it would not support this game.

Now, note that, that's how it is intended to work. It's supposed to test the license status to see if all features should be enabled or not. In reality, while Oberon Games did use protection, they did not use ActiveMARK protection in particular. As a result, the game never disables features in the trial that was available from Oberon Games. They shipped the wrong build.

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Post by Onfy Mon May 03, 2021 3:21 pm

SomeRandomHEFan wrote: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.

I'd say so. Removing DRM is legal here in Canada and in France where I believe the forum host is.
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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Mon May 03, 2021 7:56 pm

Okay, here's the DRM-free EXE. Don't forget to remove the Adfly stuff from the link. mediafire.com file/4888k6tni2lasqg/RealMahJong.exe/file

Note that I haven't tested it very extensively with the two Disney games, so I can't rule out the possibility that it doesn't fully support those after all.


As for why Little Mermaid Bubble Blast doesn't work with any other executable, I guess it's possible that one of the SAUCE scripts tries to make use of a feature specific to ActiveMARK. But there are several factors that indicate that the actual cause may instead lie in the game using a later version of SAUCE:

#1: To me, the error message I get when replacing the executable sounds more like something else went wrong:

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment - Page 2 Bubble10

#2: The game uses a completely different set of DLLs than every other Hulabee game I know of.

#3: Like I said in an earlier post, this is the first ESauce build I've encountered that refuses to run in windowed mode. (I can't test particularly old builds due to their poor compatibility with modern hardware.)

#4: If the game's timestamps are accurate, it was developed a good deal after the six other games, so it wouldn't be too surprising if some engine changes had occurred in that time, even if Hulabee was basically on life support during this period.


BTW, I don't know what you're talking about with Stitch's Blazing Lasers not doing anything to indicate progress. I only played for maybe half an hour on the lowest difficulty, but I kept progressing from level to level with brief intermissions between them. The gameplay elements also kept being expanded.

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Post by TOMYSSHADOW Tue May 04, 2021 1:12 am

I suppose it is possible there are multiple reasons why it is incompatible. It was just what came to my mind because I know the ActiveMARK function is not there in previous engine versions. It's interesting about the windowed mode as well. I'm not sure why they would snip that feature. Perhaps worth a deeper investigation.

I am a little distrustful of the timestamps on the files because they all were modified the exact same minute (excluding the executable, but that modified date can be disregarded; it changed when I removed the trial limits.) If they were all modified at the exact same time, including the PAN File, it would suggest that the PAN File was created as part of the engine build process - which is not impossible I suppose, but a very strange workflow.

I wonder if, for example, the files were sent in an email to someone at Oberon Games (possibly from someone at Disney, mind you, not necessarily Hulabee Entertainment themselves,) and the modified date changed when the files were downloaded on their end, which is why they are all at the same time. In that case it is reflective of the date the games were added to the Oberon Games network, not necessarily the development date. The fact the game has the ActiveMARK SDK linked tells me it was most likely available on Trymedia's website first.

I must have simply not played Stitch's Blazing Lasers for long enough to see any progression. I expected that there would be level design I'd move forward through and encounter ships lined up in different ways, but to me it felt like they were just repeating the same pattern over and over. I figured that's all there was and I thought that was quite boring.

Also, one other minorly interesting thing. According to one of the LMW article sources (the 7th citation, on ITNews) both Lion King Grubalicious and Stitch's Blazing Lasers had English, French, German, Italian and Spanish versions. Though I am going to guess these would be near impossible to recover. They were distributed through Boonty and Macrovision on their websites in those countries.

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Tue May 04, 2021 5:46 am

Managed to find (Adfly warning) another build of The Little Mermaid Bubble Blast.

Its PAN file is slightly different, and its executable doesn't use the ActiveMARK SDK. This version can still be run with the cracked executable you provided, but not with any others. So the game most likely uses a different version of SAUCE. The timestamps are from 2007, so they're probably inaccurate. Which casts even more doubt on the validity of your build's timestamps. Do we even know for certain that the game is from 2006 at all? 2003-2005 would make a lot more sense.

The omission of support for windowed mode is indeed odd, but it was only ever intended as a developer feature. For some reason, the idea that some players might want to use it never seems to have occurred to Hulabee. For the longest time, I was under the assumption that ESauce lacks any support for it, given that no Hulabee games have an in-game option to switch to it. Until I saw that LittleToonCat uncovered a number of debugging features for certain games. Not all of them seem to work, but there was at least one option that made the engine run in windowed mode among other things. Which made me curious, so after some experimentation, I discovered that ESauce can also be made to run in it when launched with the -w parameter.

Interesting to hear about the existence of foreign language versions for the two other Disney games. You don't happen to know what names they went by?

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Post by TOMYSSHADOW Fri May 07, 2021 12:23 am

The games website Gamesrocket has a thumbnail of the French version of The Lion King Grubalicious, which is apparently called Le Roi Lion Insectovorace. It doesn't list Stitch's Blazing Lasers though.

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment - Page 2 28879_10

SomeRandomHEFan wrote:Managed to find (Adfly warning) another build of The Little Mermaid Bubble Blast.

??? It's the same executable, byte for byte identical to mine. It even has the same modified date and filesize.

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Fri May 07, 2021 7:27 am

Whoops. Looks like I made a mistake. I replaced the original executable with yours in order to test the game, and it seems I forgot to revert it before uploading it. The actual executable does indeed seem to be different. Granted, I don't have the uncracked version of yours to compare it to, but this one lacks the ActiveMARK SDK's DLL. The PAN file also has a slightly different size.

I'll replace the link in my previous post in a minute.
Edit: Didn't even need to do that. The old link now points to the new file.

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Post by TOMYSSHADOW Fri May 07, 2021 4:09 pm

Ah, and this is what I suspected.

Yes, I was aware of this alternate download, which is on a few sites such as Smallgames. The thing is, you may suspect, because the AMSDK DLL is not there, that it is not ActiveMARK protected. But no, that's not how this works - this download of this game originates from Trymedia, and actually is ActiveMARK protected, and was cracked at some point (very sloppily - in CFF Explorer you can see the dozen leftover sections from when they dumped the memory and didn't do any cleanup.) It's also why this file is a bit larger than my own one, and why it crashes on Windows 10 (whereas mine does not, because the protection is totally gone there.) This particular crack uses the approach of disabling the timer and browser window, rather than actually removing the protection completely. The problem with using this method is that the protection is still actually there, and still poses compatibility problems.

Like I said before, you're not supposed to include the AMSDK DLL with your game. That was a result of them providing the wrong build to Oberon. How it's supposed to work is when the file is protected with ActiveMARK, it then inlines those functions. If you look in IDA at the same memory addresses where those calls to the DLL used to be, now you can see it points into some obfuscated code in the ActiveMARK section which gets the license status. It actually calls into a Java class to get this data, which is quite slow.

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Fri May 07, 2021 5:24 pm

I see. Well, if that build still uses ActiveMARK, I guess it would still be possible that some of the SAUCE code inside the PAN file is dependent on ActiveMARK-related features of the executable.

Though given the completely different set of DLLs, I still think it's likely there's more than just that that sets this ESauce build apart from the rest. The absence of Mp3dec.asi is also surprising. I believe literally every other SAUCE game I've seen uses this file. Perhaps either Hulabee or Disney didn't want to continue paying for the right to use MP3 technology (which I believe you still had to do back then), so they switched to a different audio format. I have no way of confirming this, though. This is one of the few PAN files the extraction script crashes on, so I don't know much about what's inside.

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Post by TOMYSSHADOW Fri May 07, 2021 5:51 pm

SomeRandomHEFan wrote:Though given the completely different set of DLLs, I still think it's likely there's more than just that that sets this ESauce build apart from the rest. The absence of Mp3dec.asi is also surprising. I believe literally every other SAUCE game I've seen uses this file. Perhaps either Hulabee or Disney didn't want to continue paying for the right to use MP3 technology (which I believe you still had to do back then), so they switched to a different audio format. I have no way of confirming this, though. This is one of the few PAN files the extraction script crashes on, so I don't know much about what's inside.

Entirely possible. I believe that Mp3dec.asi is a plugin for the Miles Sound System (which is also included with the other games, MSS32.DLL.) That's not present here either and makes me think that maybe they couldn't use Miles Sound System anymore for some reason.

It is true that MP3 is a patented format so you do need to license the patent to use it. There does exist an alternate implementation called LAME, which the documentation makes clear is for educational use only - otherwise it would be infringing on the patent. This is why some softwares like Goldwave will ask you to download LAME separately because including it in the installer would be breaking that license.

With that said, in some cases that bill is being paid by someone else further up in the chain. For example, Windows Media Player can play MP3s because Microsoft licensed the patent in order to be able to play MP3s. Because Windows Media Player can be embed into other applications, there are some applications which use Windows Media Player internally for audio playback, "piggybacking" off of Windows Media Player's ability to do this without also needing to license that patent. This is also why it is fine for websites to embed MP3s in webpages, for example, because the burden of licensing the patent falls on Firefox/Chrome/etc. and not on them. In this case, I'm not really sure if the responsibility would've actually been on RAD Game Tools or if Hulabee Entertainment would need to license the patent to use MP3s.

The inclusion of libpng would suggest that they wanted to switch to open source alternatives instead of relying on proprietary software like Miles Sound System. Had I been in charge I probably would've opted to use OGG Vorbis for the audio, as it's the most obvious alternative to MP3, but its DLL is not present. I wonder what they opted to use for audio instead.

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Post by Onfy Tue May 18, 2021 12:46 am

For reference, with Miles you'd pay RAD to be allowed to play MP3 in your product. They would in turn make sure all relevant lawyers are properly bribed.

All patents on the MP3 format are expired now, so this doesn't matter anymore.
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Post by TOMYSSHADOW Tue May 18, 2021 1:01 am

I wasn't aware the MP3 patent had expired. It certainly would have been relevant at that time, though.

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Post by humbledeer Fri Jun 18, 2021 7:53 am

Hai, it's me again.

I'll shed some light on some things that passed by here since my last post:



SomeRandomHEFan wrote:
#1: To me, the error message I get when replacing the executable sounds more like something else went wrong:

An investigation into the forgotten dark age of Hulabee Entertainment - Page 2 Bubble10

#2: The game uses a completely different set of DLLs than every other Hulabee game I know of.

ESauce has these "errors" built in. ESauce internally exists out of multiple DLL's. However, if you look for those inside the DLL that is the base engine, you'll find that the engine is herein referred to as just 'sauce'. The class names of the original project show this too, as many of the debugging features call functions "Sauce methods", and methods is just another word for functions. Among their own native classes, there's also imports such as fLint, a C++ library for arithmetic.

When scrolling through the debugger specific functions(methods) you can clearly see some of the base features of Sauce. It's a garbage collected engine and it holds your hand. It will provide useful debugging info about why X or Y feature didn't work -- one of those is the errors you showed. Other features are verboseness, vram management, management of assets etcetera. It's a very abstracted engine, evident by the many distinct looking games made with it. There was much more time for design when there was no tedious code to be done. Its debug features heavily relied on a HTML page based 'interface' that divided the debug features into rows/sections for people working on it to use. It uses a link protocol to run certain commands in the engine, which hints to Sauce being a more integrated solution than just a set of source files. That's also why Shell32 is so heavily used. Sauce also has its own class handlers, memory handlers, array and object virtuals, thread management, .. Everything from main menu to game interface was abstracted into methods.

Sauce Engine was built with Microsoft Visual C++ and uses DirextX DirectDraw preferrably but also for fallback GDI for its screencalls, rendering etcetera. Also further proven by the headers inside the executables (which are PE's, compressed with PECompact) and some clues that C++ programmers know all too well, such as templating (vector). The classes and functions use Hungarian notation, as usual.

PAN files, the archives used by the engine, are structured in a very specific way too. They contain a top level folder "Hulabee" with then a subfolder that has the game's name. In there, a lot of the files are .sob, which are object files used for the game engine. They define much of the struct-based behaviours of things that are specific to the game developed -- not the engine.

MSS32.dll and mp3dec.asi are two files necessary for the Miles Sound Subsystem, licensed by RAD.

Any more questions? I'd be glad to try and answer. These are just things currently in my head(space) and I might remember more soon-come.

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Post by LittleToonCat Fri Jun 18, 2021 7:38 pm

This is some fascinating information of how the Sauce engine works, thanks for sharing!

humbledeer wrote:Any more questions? I'd be glad to try and answer. These are just things currently in my head(space) and I might remember more soon-come.

I am always interested on what the Sauce game logic code looks like.  The only clue about it is from an old Game Programmer job listing from the company's first year:
Game Programmer
We are seeking game programmers to work in a proprietary game programming language that is very similar to Java and C++. It is a structured object oriented language with specific features for the development of games.

You don't have to share any code from the actual games or something that would break any NDA's, I'm only curious of what the syntax would look like (and if it's similar to C++ or Java as the listing describes). You can make something up if you could remember it, but if you don't, no worries.
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Post by humbledeer Mon Jun 21, 2021 4:28 pm

I don't actually have any code to share, even I wanted to!

Regarding syntax, it's likely a pretty standard mix of OOP and PP. Hungarian notation would mean prefixing your objects (classes, variables, pointers, etc) with their type e.g.: cSauceArray for a class that does array things (this is an actual class in the engine.) C++ is pretty pedantic. What was clear back then should still be to this day.

as for the job listing: they are asking for programmers to USE the engine, not work on it. The people making the engine and the people making the games with it are two different groups. The 'similar language' is the sauce proprietary language, which is likely just modified c++/java because it allows for very very abstracted routines. Basically the same reason c# exists

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Fri Jun 25, 2021 1:29 pm

Thanks for sharing these technical details about the ESauce engine. I'm still in the process of learning how to program, so I'd be lying if I said I fully understand them, but this stuff is still interesting to hear nonetheless.

I do indeed have some questions. Feel free to ignore them if you're not comfortable answering them. I'm also not sure if you're even the right person to answer the last two, given that you were clearly involved in the technical side of things, but it's worth a shot.

First of all, am I right to assume that Sauce (Or is the right spelling SAUCE?) is the name of the proprietary language Hulabee used, while ESauce is the name of its interpreter? (Much like how SCUMM was the language used by LucasArts and Humongous Entertainment, while the interpreter was called SPUTM.)

Second, I take it you're still unsure if you're at liberty to mention any currently undiscovered games Hulabee made? This art gallery by former employee Derek McCaughan shows four backgrounds that seem to be from unknown games. I would assume two of them are from original IPs that may have never seen the light of day, while two others are clearly from games based on the Mickey Mouse and The Haunted Mansion IPs.

Third, thanks to a ScummVM developer releasing a tool for extracting PAN files, I managed to find a number of images in the company's adventure games that are clearly related to debugging features. I made a topic about them here. A lot of games from Humongous Entertainment had similar features, but they were often still functional even in the final builds if you knew what to put in the INI file. Do you have any idea if these debugging features can also still be used?

Fourth, do you know if there was a demo for Piglet's Big Game? A debugging image shows that it was at least planned to get one originally, but I can't find any confirmation of its existence.

Fifth, I was surprised to find a demo for Mike's Monstrous Adventure with completely different music that wasn't even composed by the same person as the full game's soundtrack. Do you have any idea what made the company decide to switch composers?


Last edited by SomeRandomHEFan on Sat Jun 26, 2021 7:38 am; edited 1 time in total

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Post by LittleToonCat Fri Jun 25, 2021 8:21 pm

SomeRandomHEFan wrote:Second, I take it you're still unsure if you're at liberty to mention any currently undiscovered games Hulabee made? This art gallery by former employee Derek McCaughan shows four backgrounds that seem to be from unknown games. I would assume two of them are from original IPs that may have never seen the light of day, while two others are clearly from games based on the Mickey Mouse and The Haunted House IPs.
Ooooh, some of these Disney ones actually rings a bell to me.  If I recall correctly, some of these games are actually developed and released for their Disney's Blast service around the mid 00's.  Can't exactly remember all of them, but "Mickey's Picnic" definitely stands out the most.  I think you'd have to click on correct items that were on the screen, dunno, it's been a while.  Interesting that they've commissioned Hulabee to develop these games for them.  That's where I also played Stitch's Blazing Lasers back then.
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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Sat Jun 26, 2021 7:40 am

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any game with that name. Are you sure that's what it was called? And that the screenshot is from it?

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Post by LittleToonCat Sat Jun 26, 2021 7:23 pm

SomeRandomHEFan wrote:Unfortunately, I couldn't find any game with that name. Are you sure that's what it was called? And that the screenshot is from it?

Yeah, most of these games are considered lost media at this point. I've also tried finding them myself, no such luck.
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Post by TOMYSSHADOW Tue Jul 06, 2021 6:59 am

I've occasionally seen Disney's Daily Blast service brought up in forums and places. I never used it, but as I understand it, it was a subscription service, so playing the games required a login - they weren't made public anywhere. The idea being they were short little games of which they had new ones every day. My understanding is that it was web based, so I don't know how Stitch's Blazing Lasers would've been on there, unless it could be played via Shockwave. Seems somehow unlikely to me.

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Post by LittleToonCat Tue Jul 06, 2021 6:36 pm

TOMYSSHADOW wrote:I've occasionally seen Disney's Daily Blast service brought up in forums and places. I never used it, but as I understand it, it was a subscription service, so playing the games required a login - they weren't made public anywhere. The idea being they were short little games of which they had new ones every day. My understanding is that it was web based, so I don't know how Stitch's Blazing Lasers would've been on there, unless it could be played via Shockwave. Seems somehow unlikely to me.

They had an ActiveX plug-in around the mid 00s that downloads and starts up non-flash and non-shockwave based games, including Stitch's Blazing Lasers.
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Post by xpy Wed Jul 14, 2021 4:47 am

What a crazy find. I was just about to head to sleep and came across this thread after I got a question about some Hulabee stuff on YouTube. I was actually the primary developer (Chris Blackwell) of the core Sauce engine (it’s just Sauce, not ESauce, that was just the namespace.) I’d be happy to answer any questions that I can, it’s been a long time, so my memory of details is not all there.

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Post by SomeRandomHEFan Wed Jul 14, 2021 6:41 am

Nice to see another developer show up. If you're able to, I'd appreciate if you could answer any of the four remaining questions I had for humbledeer. No pressure, though. As an engine developer, you may not even know the answers.

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