Analyzing The Code From The Terminator’s HUD

The T-800, also known as the Terminator, was like some kind of non-giving up robot guy. The robot assassin viewed the world through a tinted view with lines of code scrolling by all the while. It was cinematic shorthand to tell the audience they were looking through the eyes of a machine. Now, a YouTuber called [Open Source] has analyzed that code.

The video highlights one interesting finds, concerning graphics seen in the T-800’s vision. They appear to match the output of various code listings and articles in Nibble Magazine, specifically its September 1984 issue. One example spotted was a compass rose, spawned from an Apple Basic listing. it was a basic quiz to help teach children to understand the compass. Another graphic appears to be cribbed from the same issue in the MacPaint Patterns section.

The weird thing is that the original film came out in October 1984 — just a month after that article would have hit the news stands. It suggests perhaps someone involved with the movie was also involved or had access to an early copy of Nibble Magazine — or that the examples in the magazine were just rehashed from some other earlier source.

Code that regularly flickers in the left of the T-800s vision is just 6502 machine code. It’s apparently just a random hexdump from an Apple II’s memory. At other times, there’s also 6502 assembly code on screen which includes various programmer comments still intact. There’s even some code cribbed from the Apple II DOS 3.3 RAM Disk driver.

It’s neat to see someone actually track down the background of these classic graphics. Hacking and computers are usually portrayed in a fairly unrealistic way in movies, and it’s no different in The Terminator (1984). Still, that doesn’t mean the movies aren’t fun!

Thanks to [Stephen Waters] for the tip!

38 thoughts on “Analyzing The Code From The Terminator’s HUD

  1. > It suggests perhaps someone involved with the movie was also involved or had access to an early copy of Nibble Magazine

    Or, hear me out, maybe the T-1000 is a time-traveler!

    1. Or perhaps the consultant they found to provide them with realistic-looking movie code happened to be doing the project for Nibble as well, and since it didn’t matter what the content was for Terminator he just gave both clients the same code?

      1. According to James Cameron’s commentary on Terminator 2: The full designation is “Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800”. CSM 101 refers to the living tissue (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Fans speculate that Series 800 (AKA T-800) is for the endoskeleton.

    1. They didn’t! When the T-800 was built, they made new silicon that implemented the 6502 instruction set due to one of the lead engineer’s affinity for 1970s CPUs. The simple instruction set was one of the key pieces of magic in the crazy-ass AI implementation they had to fit entirely inside an armored skull.

  2. I think the real take away from this is that every our robot overlords see the benefits of good solid 8 µm process technology (used for the 1975 MOS 6502). Damn thing is a lot more reliable in a radioactive wasteland than the latest and greatest 4nm process (or smaller) would ever be without a lot of graded-Z shielding. When you could spend more of your weight budget on faster, higher torque servos.

    1. Yeah, like lots of robotics, you’re gonna find plenty of 30-year-old microcontrollers running motors and sensors, stuff that has been battle-proven. I guess the only part which would require cutting-edge 2029 circuitry would be stuffed in the head and shielded. Or wherever they decide to put the brain.

  3. Back when Terminator was first shown in theaters, I was working on a computer game, part of a small team.

    We took an afternoon off work to see the film, and as the visual effects for the robot’s view were rolling up the screen I can remember one of the programmers say, “Hey! That’s 6502 code!”.

    So a few of us knew what it was from the beginning.

  4. Hm. I see. So the conclusion is that the Terminator evolved from a C64? I knew it, these litte guys had a dark side. The whole drama wouldn’t have happened with a Z80..

  5. I had the September 1984 Nibble on my watch list for TWO years because of this. And finally a month ago, I got one in perfect condition for $34. Totally worth it. Such a cool movie memento since my first computer was the Apple II and Terminator is one of my favorite movies.

  6. James was predicting quite a lot with the terminator given how much you can and cannot do with general purpose transformers, maybe a glimpse at how future atlas and spots would see the world and adapt. Oh one last thing, it maybe checking for data corruption from damage.

  7. Two points:
    A) Back in the day, subscribers often received magazines 2-3 *months* before their cover date, so filmmakers didn’t necessarily have to wait until September to incorporate Nibble’s content into the film.
    B) On the other hand, turning a magazine article (or several) into graphic overlays to incorporate into a feature film was not a rapid turnaround process in those pre-CGI days. Plus, producing the prints and delivering them to theaters also took considerable time. I’m curious whether having the September magazine, say sometime in June, would be far enough in advance of the film’s October release for all of that to happen.

  8. Obviously the T-800 computer is a massive array of 6502 cores with four-way interconnectivity and local and shared memory. Such an architecture would be high speed, low power, robust, and scalable. 8-bits is plenty for most of what needs to be done, you can use recursion on those rare times when you need more than 8 bits.

  9. With all due respect, but the video analyzes and explains barely anything, it just scratches the surface with a generic explanation of what assembly code is etc. It also explains binary horribly incorrect. Finally: I’m not sure about this but a lot of the “T-800 vision” appears to be fan-made and not from the original movie. At 0:56 for example it clearly shows a Dutch supermarket (there’s a pack of “Servetten” -> Napkins on the shelves and earlier other typical Dutch things).

    Ofcourse I can’t find it now (or it appears to be deleted: which was referenced here: but there was a much better, more insightful, deeper in-depth video about the code. It’s a shame I can’t find it anymore…

  10. Nibble magazine. What a great resource! I actually noticed the nibble code after I watched it on vhs tape a few times. I should say I didn>t pin it down to nibble but knew it was code fro ma magazine.

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