The time I excavated a Power Glove dinosaur

by Frank Cifaldi February 8, 2018

So after yesterday’s discovery of an undocumented Spinnaker game hiding in a pile of 90s GIFs (you did read that, didn’t you?) I was inspired to dig a little further into the GIFs Galore CD. And what I found, and brought back to life, was a lost Power Glove dinosaur.

Sort of.

Let’s back up for a second. I’d like to introduce you to someone who, if you’re a fan of pixel art, shouldn’t need an introduction. This is Jim Sachs.

Or more specifically, this is a self-portrait of Jim Sachs, drawn on a Commodore Amiga. Jim Sachs is, hands down, one of the greatest pixel artists of all time. In terms of games, he’s probably best known for his work on the original Defender of the Crown on the Amiga.

If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and spend some time looking at the Jim Sachs gallery on the Amiga Graphics Archive.

Going back a little further to his Commodore 64 days, among Sachs’ various independent projects was a game called Time Crystal, which looked like this:

A demo is floating around, but the project itself was never completed. Sachs explained the concept to Matt Barton in a YouTube interview two years ago:

“You have built a time machine, which is powered by a rare crystal. On your first outing, the crystal shatters into several pieces, which are hurled into different times. You can’t get home again until you go to those specific times and retrieve all the parts of the crystal. One was in the Age of Dinosaurs, one was in Medieval Europe, one was in the future, etc. Once you safely land the time machine in each era, you would proceed on foot through various challenges to retrieve a crystal shard.”

Development on the game was dropped, according to Sachs, due to the C64’s rampant piracy. Sachs moved the project over to the Amiga, but that version of it has never been seen…at least, not in a way where it was identified as an Amiga game!

Flash forward to 1989, where a picture of what is clearly an evolved version of Time Crystal appears in a rare promotional booklet for Mattel’s Power Glove accessory for the NES. We have one of these in the VGHF library, so I was able to make a fresh scan. The game is shown as an upcoming title for the accessory, though oddly it isn’t named. See for yourself:

(Side-note: I suspect that the reason Time Crystal isn’t named is because the person who laid this out put in the wrong photo. Three screenshots are shown and three games are described: Super Glove Ball, Glove Pilot, and The Terror of Tech Town. At a glance you’d think that Time Crystal was renamed to The Terror of Tech Town, but we have video documentation of what Tech Town was meant to look like, and it’s a completely different game.)

I’d always suspected that this screenshot was NOT running on an NES, and was probably an Amiga mockup. When I finally saw it in motion, thanks to a wonderful Power Glove documentary by The Gaming Historian, that suspicion was all but confirmed. There’s no way this is footage of an NES game:

This all brings us back to yesterday when, while digging through the GIFs Galore CD, I came upon some Jim Sachs art. This isn’t surprising: the GIFs Galore CD is full of hundreds of random GIFs pulled from BBS boards at the time, and Sachs was known for sharing his artwork liberally, passing around disks to drum up interest. Here’s a piece that I recognized right away: an image Sachs drew on the Amiga of his dream house.

Because of this, I already had Jim Sachs in the back of my mind when, flipping through the rest of the (hundreds!) of images, I came across a familiar-looking T-rex:

If you look closely there are some minor differences (the head’s a little rounder in the screenshot I scanned, and in the video, you can see that its tail is arced down instead of pointing up) but that’s clearly the Time Crystal Amiga dinosaur. And in case further proof is needed, Aegis Development was the publisher of Ports of Call, a game for which Sachs contributed artwork.

I brought our friend back to life by timing his movements to correspond with the C64 version. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do.

And that’s how I excavated a dinosaur and brought a lost piece of Power Glove history back to life.

Sort of.