Insert Disk collects Hareraiser Prelude / Hareraiser Finale for the BBC Micro / Spectrum.
Today’s retro game review is Hareraiser Prelude / Hareraiser Finale for the BBC Micro / Spectrum. This retro gaming classic is a rare chance to witness a real life mystery and treasure hunt. After the initial armchair mystery of the book Masquerade by Kit Williams a new challenge arose in the form of a computer game Hareraiser Prelude and Hareraiser Finale. Thought by most to be a publicity stunt and an unsolvable riddle this week I’ve taken a look at the code that lays beneath to try and get a definitive answer on the Hareraiser mystery. Join me in this special feature length 100th episode of Insert-Disk as we go down the rabbit hole in search of answers. Will we find the truth or an elaborate hoax?
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Can you believe it Insert-Disk has reached episode 100. I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank all of my subscribers and viewers that have had such an interest in retro gaming and computing. I started this channel really just as an outlet for my hobby and to produce some somewhat regular episodes to help older collectors reminisce and give newer gamers the opportunity to get in to retro gaming. No crazy screaming or reaction videos, no fancy graphics. Just the games as the star of the show, re-visited in their original physical form.
Now usually I’d be bringing you a review of a classic retro game from my collection. We’re going to shake things up today though for a special feature length episode. Expect classic literature, prizes, mystery, controversy, a retro game and a journey deeper in to the code of a BBC Micro game than anyone has ever gone before to try and crack a decades old computing mystery. Today we try to crack the code of Hareraiser in search of the Golden Hare.
I have to preface this one that many of you will already know the story of the Golden Hare very well and will appreciate that there are quite a few small details that I’ve had to glance over due to not wanting to make this episode a huge epic. I have tried my best to get all of the key points in here though and tried to fact check as best as I can with the available sources. Gather round now and make yourself comfortable for our tale of mystery. Our story starts back in 1979 with the release of a picture book featuring a hare on a mission to deliver a treasure from the moon to the sun. It was a rather pretty picture book, 32 pages of finely illustrated drawings for children. The picture book was called Masquerade by author Kit Williams. The picture book was no ordinary book though. It not only held clues to a secret mystery to real buried treasure in it’s drawings, its existence also unknowingly set off chain of events that would lead to the creation of a two part computer game, Hareraiser Prelude and Hareraiser Finale. This amazing set of circumstances resulted in one of Britain’s most formidable modern day mysteries before falling in to legend. Today I’ll be going down the rabbit hole in search of the Golden Hare.
Now I won’t be covering the events of the Masquerade treasure hunt in detail as there are already several books and documentaries about the events surrounding the hunt for the Golden Hare. However, I will need to cover at least the origins and overview of the story to give you context for the later mystery. For those of you interested of the Masquerade mystery I highly recommend the BBC Documentary: “The Man Behind Masquerade”. I’ll put a link to the video in the description.
So, let’s start with the book Masquerade. In 1979 a British artist called Kitt Williams created the book Masquerade. It was a picture book that could be enjoyed by all ages. However, infused in its artwork were a set of clues to buried treasure. Kitt had created a golden hare bejewelled with various precious stones. The golden hare was sealed away and then placed within a leather pouch. Kitt then proceeded to bury the golden hare at an undisclosed location in the middle of the night. Well known British TV presenter of the day Bamber Gascoigne was the sole witness to the event and a very credible guarantor that the treasure really had been buried. The stage was set and the hunt was on. The treasure hunt became a national obsession for some. Kitt would receive stacks of mail on a daily basis. It wasn’t long before suggestions from as far away as Japan came in. Somewhere within these pages were all the clues expert sleuths would need to unlock the mystery of the Golden Hare’s location.
However, it wasn’t until 3 years later in 1983 that Kitt received a sketch from a treasure hunter claiming to have found the prize. The letter was from a Mr “Ken Thomas” a pseudonym of Dugald Thompson. It appeared though that that all was not as it seemed. It had appeared that Ken Thomas had found the solution by luck rather than correctly solving the clues within the artwork. Nevertheless Kitt told Ken Thomas to dig. The golden hare had been found. It wasn’t long after that Williams received a correct solution sent by two teachers, Mike Barker of William Hulme’s Grammar School and John Rousseau of Rossall School. The pair had seemingly unearthed the prize themselves when digging at Ampthill, but had not noticed it inside its clay box; Thompson discovered it in the dirt piles they had left behind.
On December 11, 1988, The Sunday Times printed a story accusing the winner of the Masquerade contest of being a fraud. “Ken Thomas” was revealed as a pseudonym of Dugald Thompson, and Thompson’s business partner, John Guard, was the boyfriend of Veronica Robertson, a former live-in girlfriend of Kit Williams. Guard had allegedly convinced Robertson to help him because both were said to be animal rights activists and Guard promised to donate any profits to the animal rights cause. “The Sunday Times alleged that while living with Williams, Robertson had learned the approximate physical location of the hare, while remaining ignorant of the proper solution to the book’s master riddle. After supposedly finding out from Robertson that the hare was in Ampthill, Guard and two assistants were said to have started searching for it using metal detectors. After searching for some time with no success, they drew a crude sketch of the location, which Thompson then submitted to Williams as “Thomas”, and it was this that Williams acknowledged as the first correct answer”. Kitt is quoted as saying: “This tarnishes Masquerade and I’m shocked by what has emerged. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to all those many people who were genuinely looking for it. Although I didn’t know it, it was a skeleton in my cupboard and I’m relieved it has come out.” Robertson has always maintained her innocence in the matter, insisting that she never knew the location of the jewel or even which part of the world it had been buried. Robertson says she had never wanted to know the location of it and was very shocked and upset, not only by the accusations made against her but also by the way she was treated and misquoted by the press at the time”. The Golden hare was now in possession of Thompson and Guard.
So as not to spoil the book for anyone I won’t show the solution in this video but it is a really great set of clues and does have a logical methodology. For most this is where the story ends, all wrapped up. The mystery of the treasure hunt solved and the golden hare’s location now known. Many are unaware of what happened next in this tale. It’s at this point a national treasure hunt mystery became a retro gaming legend. Now having obtained the Golden Hare treasure through less than honest means there would be a twist in the story that very few know about to this day. Thompson founded a software company called “Haresoft”, and offered the jewel as a prize to a new contest which took the form of a computer game, Hareraiser. The company and its game (which many believe to be unsolvable with only meaningless text and graphics), were unsuccessful, yielding no winner. Thompson’s newly founded company Haresoft released a new challenge to great frustration of gamers. The man that used deception in the Masquerade treasure hunt was to now become the riddle maker.
This game “Hareraiser” was released across a number of the platforms of the day. It came in two instalments Hareraiser Prelude and Hareraiser Finale. At £8.95 each, gamers would have to buy both tapes for the full set of clues. Many believe that the games are completely unsolvable, just tantalising clues, statements and almost random patterns. Having already been known to be a less than honest business partners Dugald Thompson and John Guard offered a £30,000 reward to the person that solved the game. The game is incredibly basic. Typically the screen loads a hare, a few trees, sun and a clue. The player can press a direction key for the next screen. To be honest, that’s about it.
To this day no-one has solved the clues as it’s likely that they are unsolvable. As such I thought that I would contribute my skills to try and get to the bottom of all this. So, I played around with the game for some time. Quite frankly I came to the conclusion that it was all smoke and mirrors but with a few interesting patterns emerging here and there. Before I get in to the methodology I used it’s worth me saying that I’m a big fan of puzzles, riddles, mathematical problems and generally have good head for this type of thing. As a child I grew up with a Commodore Amiga and the technology bug never left me. Back in 1997 I was a member of the after school programming club, programming 386 Nimbus’s in RM BASIC and I was also a member of the chess club.
I went on to join the UEA in 2000 studying Computer Science and gained a useful foundational year in programming in Java, computational mathematics and programming Motorola 68000 chips. I also met the boys and a lot of drinking and mischief happened. During this time I repaired a 1980’s arcade cabinet and continued collecting any redundant hardware and software I could. After switching to a degree in the Psycho-Social Sciences I’ve worked as an analyst for more than one multi-national company. I’ve also got a soft spot for 1980’s micro computing. I’m lucky enough to own a factory fresh condition BBC Micro and of course 8 variants of C64, various Spectrums a Dragon 32 and goodness knows what else. I’m not a professional coder by trade but I’m not afraid to reveal I’ve got a few coding skills up my sleeve. At least enough old school skills to give this challenge a good go. I like to think of myself as the perfect storm of geeky code/puzzle breaker. Which is partly what drew me to the Golden Hare mystery. A 30 year old game mystery that has never been solved.
I began with looking at the obvious. In play, tree positions, symmetry, order, manual, overlays, compare to spectrum version etc. Note any patterns. Ultimately though I came up a little short and generally concluded that if there was a solvable set of clues in here then it was generally too obscure to solve. Other than the standard set of behaviours the game really doesn’t do anything special or unexpected. So, if you can’t beat ’em, cheat. That’s right, I’m also an old school gamer so this is just second nature. On the surface the game really doesn’t present any logical solution, just vague semi-solvable statements.
What I tried next was to reverse engineer the code. Typically games will be coded in BASIC and then compiled in to object code. It was first necessary to get to this code by decompiling. All in all not too much of a challenge. I chose to emulate the code in this case as the loading times would have seriously impacted my progress. Once you have this code it’s like viewing the Matrix, before me I could see the code staring back at me and potential answers. This is only half the battle though, to decide if there was a hidden message it would be necessary to trawl the code for tell-tale signs of hidden messages (again, another good reason to initially emulate this code on a PC). There’s a few approaches to take.
Method 1: Read the entire program. Timely but thorough.
Method 2: Look for key operators (IF, Then etc.). If you can find a condition that indicates a desired input from the player you may be on to a lead. For example if the user presses a correct set of keys in order then show “X”.
Method 3: Look for bad practices such as using “Go To” statements. Out of the ordinary code could indicate a lead towards a hidden message. It also potentially helps identify lines of code that are otherwise orphaned.
Method 4: Know the programmer, their previous work/style. Are they known for any particular style that they may reuse here. What’s their coding calling card?
Method 5: Compare to other computer versions and look for similarities. From this triangulate any similarities or points that stick out.
The findings: Well, as you might imagine. I found absolutely nothing unexpected. The game essentially just loops and loops with the clue statements. I found absolutely nothing at all to indicate any further hidden messages were within the code, annotated or otherwise. I was however able to extract all of the text strings to confirm all of the clues.
But the story didn’t end there…
Haresoft announced a 2nd instalment of Hareraiser, Hareraiser Finale. This tape is rarer than the first and if you felt ripped off by part 1 there’s no way you would stump up yet another £8.95 for this sequel despite being told that you needed both cassettes to claim the prize. Again by playing the game there’s little to be gleamed in the way of a solution, treasure hunt or otherwise. There are a few small differences in the presentation but really only minimal changes. Nothing at all of any value. Many hunters have put forwards some compelling suggestions. However, none fully explain a full blown answer or provide a lead to another piece in the puzzle. The question being, how or where do I find the Golden Hare? Sadly, the mystery appears to be a bit of a damp squib. Many citing the whole exercise as a wild goose chase and that there is no definitive answer to be found in the games.
Now just for due diligence I looked at the source code for Hareraiser Finale on the Spectrum. I did have some small issues calculating the line breaks between the text so you may find that I cave combined a couple of sentences together in these examples. I’m far better off coding Commodore 64’s and BBC Micros so the Spectrum tape was a bit of a challenge. I was however able to extract all of the text strings that I believe are hidden within the game. As you might expect, as with Hareraiser Prelude there’s not too much unusual about the code itself.
There was one clue however that I never actually managed to find in the game itself. Only by looking in to the code could I find this message. That message was: The Great Truth Is 867783869684. Intrigued by this clue I took to the Internet to understand if there was any more to this number. Perhaps a phone number, a fax machine number or even an accurate grid reference. This was certainly an interesting lead. I did investigate all of the above without any success. Since I’ve never heard anyone talk about this clue I thought I would include it as part of this video. Almost certainly this will be another red herring in the Masquerade and Hareraiser story. However, this may be that small piece of the puzzle that helps someone out there investigate further.
If you hadn’t drawn the conclusion by now then it’s most likely that this was all just one big publicity stunt.
Not long after Hareraiser Finale Haresoft went out of business and filed for bankruptcy. Any hope of winning the Golden Hare was over. The interest in the prize naturally dwindled and story faded out of the public’s interest. Hareraiser Prelude typically sells for under £10 to this day. What I have here is a mint condition factory sealed edition of the game. It is rare but due to the number of retro collectors actually searching for it the price hasn’t rocketed as you may expect. Hareraiser Finale on the other hand. Well, this is perhaps the final twist in the story. Since sales for Prelude were not great and Haresoft not wanting to put too much investment in to Finale these have become true rarities. What I have here is Hareraiser Finale for the Spectrum. The case contains the important cassette tape and also a registration card. There’s a whole list of competition rules stating that you must submit parts 1 and 2 to claim the Golden Hare or £30,000 in cash. There’s also a nod that no direct or indirect employees are eligible to win the prize.
The sleeve acts as a registration card and has a recap of the rather vague text that acts as the starting point for the clues. As you might have guessed Hareraiser Finale does not come cheap. The Spectrum edition will run to about £40. There are rarer editions though. Recently a bidder paid £77 for the Atari 8-Bit edition of the game. It’s perhaps satisfying to know that those that held on to their copies of Hareraiser can now more than get their money back if they decide to sell their copies. Even sweeter though is perhaps knowing that Haresoft itself had to file for bankruptcy having failed to con enough people with their wild goose chase.
So, we have some closure. The Golden Hare was initially found and auctioned, we know what happened to Haresoft and its likely that the whole Hareraiser Prelude and Finale was just a stunt. Over the years the events surrounding the Golden Hare have been covered on TV, Magazines and Books. But, what of the Golden Hare itself? After Haresoft filed for bankruptcy it had to liquidate its assets and that included the Golden Hare. We last saw it as it was sold at auction in 1988 and disappeared. “The hare was auctioned at Sotheby’s in December 1988, selling for £31,900 to an anonymous buyer. Williams himself went there to bid, but dropped out at £6,000. The golden hare disappeared in to legend and Masquerade continued to sell for it’s artwork. The treasure’s whereabouts remained unknown for over 20 years, until it came to light in 2009. The BBC Radio 4 programme, The Grand Masquerade, broadcast 14 July 2009, told the story of the creation and solution of the puzzle. Williams was interviewed and presenter John O’Farrell claimed that this was the first time Williams had talked about the scandal for 20 years. During the interview Williams expressed the desire to see the hare again. Hearing this, the granddaughter of the current owner arranged for Williams to be reunited briefly with his work. This was featured in a television documentary, The Man Behind the Masquerade, which aired on BBC Four on 2 December 2009”.
From a children’s picture book to a national treasure hunt to missing Golden Hares to mystery tapes and beyond. The Masquerade and Hareraiser mysteries turned in to a national modern day thriller. The final solution of the game tapes though is the final mystery yet to be solved. I’ve taken my best shot at it for now but can only conclude that the clues are meaningless. From my side I’m officially calling this one a hoax in my opinion. However, it just maybe that that this story has one final secret to give up though. Could you be the person that unlocks the final solution of Hareraiser Finale? Is it solvable? Is there even a riddle to be solved? Only time will tell.
I’m sure that this is a topic that many will have an opinion on. Although I personally believe that the games have no definitive solution as to finding the Golden Hare it really would be great to hear your thoughts on a possible solution. Have you tried to solve the clues and did you unearth anything interesting? Until next time, happy collecting.