Demo File Functions

The demo data is a stream of bytes that represent the state of the keyboard during each frame of a gameplay session. This data can then be replayed, simulating keypresses in lieu of actually reading the hardware, to play the game automatically.

Demo data is stored in a file named PREVDEMO.MNI. Each episode ships with a factory-default demo inside the VOL group file, but user demos can also be recorded and saved to disk. By removing the factory demo, user demos could be played back in their place.

The principal demo functions consist of LoadDemoData()/SaveDemoData() (which are responsible for moving data from the disk to memory and back) and ReadDemoFrame()/WriteDemoFrame() (which translate between the in-memory demo format and a sequence of keyboard states).


The LoadDemoData() function copies the data from the PREVDEMO.MNI group file entry into system memory. It is called immediately before the game loop starts, but only if the game is in demo playback mode.

void LoadDemoData(void)
    FILE *fp = GroupEntryFp("PREVDEMO.MNI");
    miscDataContents = IMAGE_DEMO;

    if (fp == NULL) {
        demoDataLength = 0;
        demoDataPos = 0;
    } else {
        demoDataLength = getw(fp);
        fread(miscData, demoDataLength, 1, fp);


The function begins with a call to GroupEntryFp() to create a file stream pointer to PREVDEMO.MNI. miscDataContents is then set to IMAGE_DEMO as a status flag – this serves as an indicator that miscData is being rewritten with demo data.

Next is a null pointer check. If fp is null, the demo file did not exist. Set both demoDataLength and demoDataPos to zero in response. These would actually already be zero from an earlier call to InitializeEpisode(), but it’s explicitly restated here.

Otherwise, fp was opened successfully and the data can be read. The first 16-bit word in the demo data contents is the length of the data, in bytes. Read that into demoDataLength. Next an fread() is issued to read that much data into the miscData memory block.

Finally, fclose() cleans up the file pointer. Note that it’s entirely possible for fp to be null here, and fclose(NULL) is undefined behavior, so, uh… try not to let that situation occur, I guess.


The SaveDemoData() function flushes all of the in-memory demo data to the PREVDEMO.MNI file on disk – it does not modify any group file contents. This is the complement of the LoadDemoData() function.

This function is called at the conclusion of a gameplay session where demo data was being captured. The demo data is held in the miscData memory block, and has a length of demoDataLength.

void SaveDemoData(void)
    FILE *fp = fopen("PREVDEMO.MNI", "wb");
    miscDataContents = IMAGE_DEMO;

    putw(demoDataLength, fp);
    fwrite(miscData, demoDataLength, 1, fp);


The function starts with a call to fopen() the PREVDEMO.MNI file. This does not consider the write path, so the file will always be created in the current working directory. This also does not check the return value of fopen(), so it is possible for bad things to happen if the current working directory is not writable or some other failure occurs.

miscDataContents is then set to IMAGE_DEMO – this is arguably not the best place to be doing that; it should probably have been set while miscData was being written and then checked here as a guard.

The demo data contents are written next – a call to putw() to write the 16-bit length header, followed by an fwrite() to flush the demo data held in the miscData block to disk.

fclose() cleans up the file pointer, and the function returns.


The ReadDemoFrame() function reads the next byte from the demo data and updates the global input command state. If a demo is being played back, the keyboard handler calls this function during each frame of gameplay in lieu of reading from the keyboard hardware.

If this function returns true, the end of the demo has been reached and the caller must prepare to stop gameplay mode.

bbool ReadDemoFrame(void)
    cmdWest  = (bbool)(*(miscData + demoDataPos) & 0x01);
    cmdEast  = (bbool)(*(miscData + demoDataPos) & 0x02);
    cmdNorth = (bbool)(*(miscData + demoDataPos) & 0x04);
    cmdSouth = (bbool)(*(miscData + demoDataPos) & 0x08);
    cmdJump  = (bbool)(*(miscData + demoDataPos) & 0x10);
    cmdBomb  = (bbool)(*(miscData + demoDataPos) & 0x20);
    winLevel =  (bool)(*(miscData + demoDataPos) & 0x40);

    if (demoDataPos > demoDataLength) return true;

    return false;

The demo data contents use a sequence of bytes to represent keyboard input over time. Each byte of the data represents a frame of gameplay, and the low six bits in each byte represent the pressed/unpressed state of each of the six input keys. Each bit is isolated using a mask, and stored in its corresponding input command variable.

The bit in position 6 is written to the winLevel variable, permitting demo playback to advance to the next level at any arbitrary point. This function runs early enough in each iteration of the game loop that this assignment does not interfere with the functionality of any of the usual level exits, which can be used to advance the demo levels if desired.

Once the input has been parsed, the read position indicated by demoDataPos is advanced. If the position overruns the end of the data as measured by demoDataLength, return true to indicate to the caller the demo mode must end.

Otherwise, return false to let the caller know that gameplay may continue.


The WriteDemoFrame() function captures a snapshot of the global input command state (from the keyboard or joystick) and encodes it into a stream of demo data bytes. If a demo is being recorded, the keyboard handler calls this function during each frame of gameplay after interpreting the user’s input commands.

Normally this function returns false, indicating that the demo is being recorded correctly. If the demo runs long and runs out of storage space in memory, this function returns true to inform the caller that it must stop gameplay.

bbool WriteDemoFrame(void)
    if (demoDataLength > 4998) return true;

    winLevel = isKeyDown[SCANCODE_X];

    *(miscData + demoDataPos) = cmdWest | (cmdEast  << 1) |
        (cmdNorth << 2) | (cmdSouth << 3) |
        (cmdJump  << 4) | (cmdBomb  << 5) | (winLevel << 6);


    return false;

The function starts with a check that the offset of the demo data captured so far (tracked in demoDataLength) is 4,998 bytes or less. This results in a maximum allowable demo data size of 4,999 bytes. Once the data reaches this size, the function returns true to indicate to the caller that it must stop the game – no more demo data can be stored.

Otherwise, the function proceeds. The base state of the global winLevel is set to match the state of the X key on the keyboard. If the user presses this key, the level unconditionally ends and the next level in the progression starts. This function runs early enough in each iteration of the game loop that this assignment does not interfere with the functionality of any of the usual level exits, which can be used to advance the demo levels if desired.

The state of the six global input command variables is packed into a byte, with each bit position mapped to a specific input as defined by the demo data format. The winLevel flag is also packed into the bit in position 6. The resulting demo data byte is written to the miscData data block at the position indicated by demoDataPos.

Finally, demoDataPos and demoDataLength are incremented in tandem, preparing this function for its upcoming call during the next frame. A false value is returned, informing the caller that it may proceed with gameplay.