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Classic Games (Games)

The Rise and Fall of the Cheat Code 178

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the iddqd dept.
An anonymous reader writes A new feature published this week takes a deep-dive look at the history of the cheat code and its various manifestations over the years, from manual 'pokes' on cassettes to pass phrases with their own dedicated menus — as well as their rise from simple debug tool in the early days of bedroom development to a marketing tactic when game magazines dominated in the 1990s, followed by dedicated strategy guides. Today's era of online play has all but done away with them, but the need for a level playing field isn't the only reason for their decline: as one veteran coder points out, why give away cheats for free when you can charge for them as in-app purchases? "Bigger publishers have now realized you can actually sell these things to players as DLC. Want that special gun? Think you can unlock it with a cheat code? Nope! You've got to give us some money first!"
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The Rise and Fall of the Cheat Code

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  • First (Score:5, Funny)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @09:32AM (#47314399)
    First up, up, up, left, left, down, right, down, right, up, up.
    • by halivar (535827)

      Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start. So Select. I never needed it. (*sob*)

      • At least with Contra, you pressed Select before Start if you wanted local multiplayer (I say "local" as if there was a viable alternative back then...).

      • by Megane (129182)

        I have actually implemented a slight variation of the Konami Code (no A B or Start, so I used other buttons) as a secret unlock code in an actual product. It's just hard enough to do with a rubber keypad that it often takes more than one try. I can't be the only one, anyone else out there done this?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...for old time's sake

  • Don't leave children
    Dangling like crickets,
    Dark legs chained.
    • downloadable content. Day one downloadable content is the real cancer where you don't get the whole game unless you pay extra.
      • by ihtoit (3393327)

        pisses me off when they do that. It's why I don't buy games-on-disc anymore, you don't get what you already paid for. If it's not a standalone like KSP or a free persistent MMO like Battlestar Galactica, fucking keep it.

        • Re:DLC? (Score:5, Informative)

          by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wSLACKWAREorf.net minus distro> on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @11:38AM (#47315445)

          pisses me off when they do that. It's why I don't buy games-on-disc anymore, you don't get what you already paid for. If it's not a standalone like KSP or a free persistent MMO like Battlestar Galactica, fucking keep it.

          Well, then you don't know the gaming industry. Basically people work on a game and then get laid off.

          This was fine back in the days where once you release, you can't patch (which was really helped because consoles of yore were a lot simpler to test for - nowadays you have to check out your 3D models and for glitching that could let players walk through walls because a/b/c/d/e was just right). Then there's the gameplay breaking bugs where if you save at the wrong moment, you can't restore.

          Problem is, you can't patch the game if the developers aren't there anymore, and there's about a 2 month leadtime between submission of a game and when it appears on the shelf - pressing discs can easily be a month (your disc is just another one in the big press queue), and distribution another month (from disc factory to factory to distributiors and then to retail warehouses, etc).

          So you have a team of devs sitting idle for two months. Well, you could put them on fixing some of the more egregious bugs found (leading to day 1 patches) because they have an extra 2 months to fix it, and the other devs (and artists, etc) can work on making extras (day 1 DLC). Because the moment the game is released, gamers might find a bug and you need to get people fixing it.

          Developers can't sit around idle, and if a game's done, either you reallocate them to a new project, or lay them off. Either option doesn't work if you need to fix bugs. That's why you have day 1 patches (extra 2 months to fix bugs), day 1 DLC (2 months to generate content), and day 1 gamebreaking bugs.

          And once someone is reassigned to another project, it's damn near impossible to get them to go back and fix issues with the existing code (just getting them back up to speed and building the code can be challenge all in itself).

          Very few games get patched after the first month as that gets treated as the official close of the project. Unless there's a business case to keep DLC going in which case you'll have a small team for that. But that's it, and most games on the shelves are dead after the first month.

          • Re:DLC? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @12:53PM (#47316297)

            Well, then you don't know the gaming industry. Basically people work on a game and then get laid off.

            And all this has just about zero to do with the comment you replied to. Which I agree with, by the way.

            THIS is the reason I don't buy many competitive games anymore. When you can buy your way through them, then who gives a shit at getting good at the game?

            I don't give the slightest damn about the gaming industry's internal problems. I didn't create them. I'm a customer, and I don't like their product.

            Period. It's that simple. Make a product I want to buy, or I won't buy it.

          • by dj245 (732906)

            pisses me off when they do that. It's why I don't buy games-on-disc anymore, you don't get what you already paid for. If it's not a standalone like KSP or a free persistent MMO like Battlestar Galactica, fucking keep it.

            Well, then you don't know the gaming industry. Basically people work on a game and then get laid off.

            This was fine back in the days where once you release, you can't patch (which was really helped because consoles of yore were a lot simpler to test for - nowadays you have to check out your 3D models and for glitching that could let players walk through walls because a/b/c/d/e was just right). Then there's the gameplay breaking bugs where if you save at the wrong moment, you can't restore.

            Problem is, you can't patch the game if the developers aren't there anymore, and there's about a 2 month leadtime between submission of a game and when it appears on the shelf - pressing discs can easily be a month (your disc is just another one in the big press queue), and distribution another month (from disc factory to factory to distributiors and then to retail warehouses, etc).

            So you have a team of devs sitting idle for two months. Well, you could put them on fixing some of the more egregious bugs found (leading to day 1 patches) because they have an extra 2 months to fix it, and the other devs (and artists, etc) can work on making extras (day 1 DLC). Because the moment the game is released, gamers might find a bug and you need to get people fixing it.

            Developers can't sit around idle, and if a game's done, either you reallocate them to a new project, or lay them off. Either option doesn't work if you need to fix bugs. That's why you have day 1 patches (extra 2 months to fix bugs), day 1 DLC (2 months to generate content), and day 1 gamebreaking bugs.

            And once someone is reassigned to another project, it's damn near impossible to get them to go back and fix issues with the existing code (just getting them back up to speed and building the code can be challenge all in itself).

            Very few games get patched after the first month as that gets treated as the official close of the project. Unless there's a business case to keep DLC going in which case you'll have a small team for that. But that's it, and most games on the shelves are dead after the first month.

            Day 1 DLC is still idiotic. It raises the cost of entry for the gamer and doesn't do anything to foster goodwill. Have the devs make DLC during the lull time if you must, but delay that DLC until 3-5 months after release.

          • by WiPEOUT (20036)

            So you have a team of devs sitting idle for two months. Well, you could put them on fixing some of the more egregious bugs found (leading to day 1 patches) because they have an extra 2 months to fix it, and the other devs (and artists, etc) can work on making extras (day 1 DLC). Because the moment the game is released, gamers might find a bug and you need to get people fixing it.

            Developers can't sit around idle, and if a game's done, either you reallocate them to a new project, or lay them off. Either option doesn't work if you need to fix bugs. That's why you have day 1 patches (extra 2 months to fix bugs), day 1 DLC (2 months to generate content), and day 1 gamebreaking bugs.

            Sounds like the answer is staring the gaming industry in the face: when preparing the game's business case, incorporate the outputs of those two months into a free patch/expansion patch, and set the price accordingly (or define the initial feature set accordingly, if price needs to be X). Of course, it's easier to be greedy and generate an additional revenue stream (paid DLC).

            • by jafac (1449)

              Yes.

              At it's root, the problem is that the product manager is not familiar with real engineering practices, and does not have the ability to plan a project lifecycle beyond; 1. code features, and 2. get paid. Too bad it's the industry standard.

    • For me in the type of games described in the last sentence, it was DownLoadable Crack.

    • by Zynder (2773551)

      Don't leave children
      Dangling like crickets,
      Dark legs chained.

      ...Burma Shave

  • It may be a bit dark, but I don't think I'm likely to be eaten by a grue

  • by qbast (1265706) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @09:42AM (#47314457)
    So cheat codes are alive and well - they just now start with $ sign.
    • Only they've worked a little harder on inventing games that are totally unfun without cheats.

      Intentionally including busywork in games so you can pay to avoid it.
      Slowing your rate of activity down to fewer decisions/hour than playing chess against your granddad. So you can pay to speed it up.

      • by qbast (1265706)
        Isn't it great? First you pay for that irritating slow grind, then you pay again to avoid it. Now we just need to way for marketing geniuses to figure out how to make you pay for the third time.
        • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:16AM (#47314687) Homepage Journal

          Pay to stop playing, of course.

        • by Thanshin (1188877)

          Season Pass
          Complete Edition
          Legendary Edition
          GOTY* Edition
          HD Remastered Edition
          Ultimate Pack

          If you enter the Steam store [steampowered.com] right now you have an example of several of those in the very front page.

          *:game of the year

          • What is really annoying is when the 'Complete Edition' or whatever ends up being released before the last of the DLC, and then remains on the shelf as 'complete' despite not being so(and, when discounted bundlings of the actually-complete version do come along, you either take the bundle and pay for the initial 'complete edition' again, or you pay full release-day price for the DLC because you aren't buying the bundle).

            Europa Universalis III did that particularly egregiously (a pity, I found it otherwise
          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            Nothing wrong with GOTY as it usually just means it is all the expansion packs prerolled into the game and GOTY sounds better than "For all that passed on it here is the game and all the expansions at one low price!" when it comes to marketing. The same goes for HD remasters when they are REALLY a remastering of an old game NOT when its just last year's game with a few new textures.

            As far as the others? I honestly can't tell by the title WTF they are and I would say THAT is the problem, if somebody who ha

    • I've heard this accusation before, but I'm not seeing much evidence of a trend.

      Goggling "pay DLC cheat codes" brings up a few examples that I then looked into with gamefaqs. Dead rising 2 has some cheats you can pay for, but there were no cheats in dead rising one. Saints row 3 appears to have other cheats for free that are roughly the same thing. Sleeping dogs cheat DLCs appear to simply be shortcuts, like buying in-game money.

      It seems to me like more games are simply cutting out cheats altogether
      • by jxander (2605655)

        They code part has given way to monetary transactions.

        Instead of typing idkfa to get all the weapons, you can buy those guns for a dollar each as DLC.
        Instead of typing the Konami code to get extra lives, you have to buy them with micro-transactions.

        The "code" is now your credit card number. Type that in, and get extra power.

    • by Quirkz (1206400)

      The almighty $ has always been life's primary cheat code.

    • by mjwx (966435)

      So cheat codes are alive and well - they just now start with $ sign.

      And this is why I steadfastly remain a PC gamer.

      Bypassing the $ sign for DLC is a quick and painless process.

  • One of the reasons we don't get many cheat codes any more is that the platforms don't like undeclared code running in games they approved for publishing.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      You're forgiven for the conflation of cheat code and hack, because it's in the summary as well. Cheat codes are not "undeclared code". Cheat code is functionality without an obvious user interface, but they are part of the original program nevertheless. Pokes on the other hand are hacks. They're not part of the original program. Pokes changed memory content (counters, branch instructions) without any help from the program.

    • by fisted (2295862)
      Cheats are useful both for developers and testers. You're thinking easter-eggs
  • Yesterday I got several Google results with "deep dive" in them. Today I turn to a Salon story and there it is in paragraph 1. Now Slashdot. Looks like a new catchphrase has hit critical mass.
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:02AM (#47314575)

    We get to have cheat codes whenever we want and you can go shove your DLC up your ass. Just fire up a memory editor/debugger, CheatEngine being a free purpose designed one, and you are good to go.

    The whole "selling cheat codes" thing is just so scummy. Particularly since I think it can lead to the "pay2win" mentality of "Maybe we should make this harder, so people need to give us money for cheats!"

  • Honestly, this is not really commonplace, at least not on the PC platform (no idea about console). There is only a handful of games I seen that sold cheatey DLC's (and with cheatey, I'm thinking of godmode esque cheats). Where does the idea that it's common came from, rose tinted nostalgia glasses?

    Cheat codes are a bit less common sure, at least game specfic ones. Some games still got a dev console you can use, but it's usually engine rather than game-specfic cheats.

    • by Hussman32 (751772)
      One where I see it is 'Hay Day' on the iPad. I downloaded it to play with my nieces and nephews (the Daughter loves it too at five years of age). It's a farm resource management game, and they have inventories that can only be upgraded when you randomly receive objects. However, if you pay for diamonds and money, you get the upgrades. Only once did I pay to get my daughter something, and I realized that this would be a never-ending money pit.

      It is a pretty fun game if you're into that genre though.

  • I see cheating as gaining an unfair advantage over another player. I do mean player and not bots or the computer (no moral dilemma) I remember in Age of Empires 2, you could enable cheats for all players and those games got crazy. (despite using cheat codes, I did not see this as cheating because no one was at a disadvantage) My general rule was play it through the first time with out cheating, then cheat to your heart's delight. The two worst cases of cheating in multiplayer games was Diablo 1 and Coun
  • And this ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:13AM (#47314647) Homepage

    Bigger publishers have now realized you can actually sell these things to players as DLC. Want that special gun? Think you can unlock it with a cheat code? Nope! You've got to give us some money first!

    And this is why my XBox isn't connected to the interwebs.

    I'm not interested in your damned in-game economy, and I have no interest in getting my ass kicked by a 12 year old playing on-line.

    I'll stick with my off-line gaming, thank you very much.

    • by Dins (2538550)
      I'm with ya, brother...
      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        I'm with ya, brother...

        separately and not connected of course.

        • by Dins (2538550)
          Of course! I'm with him in spirit, as I play my single player games blocked from net connectivity via firewall. :)
    • by DiEx-15 (959602)

      Bigger publishers have now realized you can actually sell these things to players as DLC. Want that special gun? Think you can unlock it with a cheat code? Nope! You've got to give us some money first!

      And this is why my XBox isn't connected to the interwebs.

      I'm not interested in your damned in-game economy, and I have no interest in getting my ass kicked by a 12 year old playing on-line.

      I'll stick with my off-line gaming, thank you very much.

      I couldn't agree more!

  • by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:15AM (#47314667) Homepage
    this may just be my opinion as a greybeard, but back in my day of commander keen and blake stone: aliens of gold, Cheat codes existed but players rarely used them. part of the games replayability was its challenge; its where nintendo users patented the phrase 'nintendo hard.' Sure, you always knew the kid down the block with the Game Genie, but there was a certain pride and honor to beating Duck Tales without using it.

    my question is when will DLC stop? I already bought the game, and back in my day that meant half or a quarter of the content. some can argue shareware was analagous to DLC but thats a stretch. Shareware originally came on BBS systems and was a form of advertising. it convinced you to mail in a check for $25 and get that sweet copy of Duke Nukem 1. DLC just serves to segregate players by monetary class, effectively voiding any reason to care about prowess in gameplay. Some trustfund kid in hawaii will always be able to kill you with his microtransaction-approved skill enhancement that doesnt get flagged on multiplayer servers as cheating. Turning my playing field into an ayn rand capitalist paradise will certainly make me reconosider your games.

    tethering me to a multiplayer universe serves only two purposes I can think, perhaps 3. Its a way to ensure you rent me a product instead of me buying it, and it prevents me from using your game without you knowing exactly how and when i decide to play it. Sometimes im not here to collaborate and that should be OK. i should be allowed to selfishly play a game by myself, i shouldnt have to 'authenticate' with your servers and i should be allowed to avoid entirely your rich tapestry of trash-talking 13 year olds and perhaps multitask with a bit of quake in one window, and code in the other.
  • by Joe Gillian (3683399) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:17AM (#47314691)

    I think the reason they don't have cheats anymore is not because they can sell them as DLC, but because they CAN'T sell them anymore. If you look at it, cheats were first invented as a method of copy-protection, rather than a testing device.

    It's most evident in a lot of older NES games (usually ones that were made before battery-backed saves) where the most commonly used "cheats" were so-called continue codes - button inputs that could be used to continue after a game over. These things were all over the place, and were usually listed in the way back of the game's manual. This was mostly a tactic to stop rentals and re-sale, since there was no easy way to look up the codes and unless you had the manual or knew someone who did, you'd be out of luck. Even the Konami Code is an example of this: unless you are very highly skilled at Contra, which was one of the first games to feature the code, you are probably not going to finish Contra without the extra lives granted by the code.

    • by Megane (129182)

      Pretty sure that was more so the developers could test their code without having to play through an hour of all the other levels. And for the testers, too.

      There has been a lot of evolution of cheat codes.
      At first the game companies probably just left them in because it was easier than removing them. (conditional compilation and debug/release targets? what's that?)
      Then they left them in because they became cool.
      Then they made games with hundreds of them so they could monetize them in various ways like "o

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        I think a lot of the problem has come with game ratings. The old Mortal Kombat blood code is a good example. The SNES version had no blood, and no cheat to obtain it, mostly likely because Nintendo demanded it. The Sega Genesis version on the other hand had a cheat code to enable blood. Having hidden content that you have to type in a secret code to get to probably makes it difficult to give ratings to games, even if the cheats only reveal things like infinite lives. The existence of cheat codes would pro
        • I don't know why saved games are even exportable on current consoles. Really they should just be backed up to the internet

          Because console makers want to attract users who buy consoles because they work without an Internet connection. This includes people living outside the range of cable and DSL as well as privacy-paranoid gamers, who are possibly overrepresented on Slashdot. Notice how much goodwill Xbox One lost when Microsoft announced that the console would have to phone home every 24 hours to renew the cached receipts for disc games. (For comparison, Steam can stay offline for a couple weeks.) Microsoft had to backpedal h

          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            Well, obviously the saved game would be stored locally on the machine, so you could still play without an internet connection if you wanted. The reason for connecting to the cloud is for backing up in case the hardware dies.This is added functionality, and not really necessary to play the game. It also wouldn't have to sync every 24 hours. You could sync your saved games once a week or once a month and not lose that much play time if you aren't a heavy gamer. Allowing the user to copy the saved games to
            • by tepples (727027)
              It's also for bringing your accomplishments with you if you travel to someone else's house and play local multiplayer. Plenty of games for PlayStation, Nintendo 64, PlayStation 2, and GameCube took advantage of two or more memory card slots, as player 2 could plug in his memory card and use the character that he created in his own campaign on his own copy of the game.
    • by Nyder (754090)

      I think the reason they don't have cheats anymore is not because they can sell them as DLC, but because they CAN'T sell them anymore. If you look at it, cheats were first invented as a method of copy-protection, rather than a testing device.

      It's most evident in a lot of older NES games (usually ones that were made before battery-backed saves) where the most commonly used "cheats" were so-called continue codes - button inputs that could be used to continue after a game over. These things were all over the place, and were usually listed in the way back of the game's manual. This was mostly a tactic to stop rentals and re-sale, since there was no easy way to look up the codes and unless you had the manual or knew someone who did, you'd be out of luck. Even the Konami Code is an example of this: unless you are very highly skilled at Contra, which was one of the first games to feature the code, you are probably not going to finish Contra without the extra lives granted by the code.

      From the wiki: The Konami Code was created by Kazuhisa Hashimoto, who was developing the home port of the 1985 arcade game Gradius, a scrolling shooter released on the Famicom and NES in 1986. Finding the game too difficult to play through during testing, he created a cheat code to give the player a full set of power-ups (normally attained gradually throughout the game)

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      The code was no copy protection, that is the lamest claim I've heard yet. Not to mention when Gradius ca

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Some things feel backwards too. Finished playing Tomb Raider Anniversary, where it has cheats, but you must first finish the game before being able to use them. Making the cheats sort of pointless (if you can finish they game you don't need cheats, and if you do need the cheats you can't get to them).

  • Not a cheat code per se, but when you play Armored Patrol on your TRS-80 Model 1, there is a 'trick' that allows you unlimited energy.

    If you back your tank up to the edge of 'the universe' and then point your barrel back into the arena at bad guys you can just keep shooting and shooting and get an unlimited score - You'll never run out of energy and no tank or robot can kill you.

    I remember leaving for school in 1982 with the space bar taped down, and then coming home to a zillion points.

    https://w [youtube.com]
  • Another reason cheat codes existed is that without them, a lot of players couldn't finish the game. I think there are several reasons for this: the arcade roots, a larger percentage of hardcore gamers, the need to prevent the player from finishing an expensive game quickly after buying or renting it and game design being a much younger discipline.

    Don't get me wrong, I actually prefer today's easier games, but it does mean that you don't really need a cheat code anymore to finish most games. Instead of havin

  • by chad.koehler (859648) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:52AM (#47314921)

    Isn't it B -> A? The article's title has it as A -> B. I find this quite distracting.

  • by Bender Unit 22 (216955) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @11:06AM (#47315039) Journal

    Some pinball machines easter eggs and some even gives you extra points.
    http://hem.bredband.net/b25718... [bredband.net]

  • The advent of all games involving a "social" context, requiring access to the internet, and the use of DLC and micropayments, is what made me give quit gaming entirely. The cheat code business is a side-effect of this. This is one of the items on my short list of things that the internet has made worse.

  • PC multiplayer games still have cheats. They just have to be set from the console, by an administrator.
  • To return to a simpler time, just say "XYZZY".

  • Inthe 70s, Zork on PDP11s had GDT (game debugging tool). It allowed you to manipulate the arrays of objects, locations, etc. It had a password prompt, that demanded your name, cat and zip code. I recall that the name was supnik, the cat was barney, and I've forgotten the zip code. Bob Supnik was the DEC engineer that translated ZORK frm MDL to Fortran.
  • Most DLC is in the game already... its just hidden... right or wrong you can unlock it really easily either by modifying some of the files yourself or downloading a hack.

    And then you have all sorts of game mods that change the game works indifferent to content. Maybe you don't like a boss at the end of the game... you freeze his AI so he just stands there if you want... or whatever.

    That is the new cheat code.

    Not DLC.

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