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It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Games: Top 8 Video Game Cheats, Hacks, and Codes

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment

In this final whirlwind post of the “It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Games” series, our dear readers will be hit with a rainstorm of cheats, a blast of hacks, a hurricane of codes to rival the freak storms that have been pummeling the American East Coast in recent weeks and preventing some loyal players from feeding their troops. Let the games begin.

8. White Treasure Ship in Super Mario Brothers 3

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This cheat is great not only because it appears in one of the greatest Mario games ever but also because it’s just so damn complex. A far cry from simply mashing the right series of buttons at the right time, the coin-laden White Treasure Ship appears only if you are in World 1, 3, 5, or 6; one Hammer Brother is on the world map; the last two numbers in the number of coins you possess is a multiple of 11 (for example, 33); the tens digit in your score is the same number as the last two digits in the number of coins you have (in this example, 3); and you finish a stage in a time that ends in an even number. Only then may you board and collect the bounty of this ghostly pirate ship—and, even then, you have to make sure you can access it on the world map. Phew! [1]

7. Talking Crab Merchant in Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

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“Where is the talking mudcrab?” is a question raised by countless Morrowind players on forums across cyberspace. Apparently this clever arthropod resides on a small island southeast of another island called Mzahnch, and the ability to walk on water is a prerequisite for reaching it. But why venture to the far corners of the map just to converse with a nondescript crustacean that, by some accounts, looks like a rock? Well, because it is not only a talking mudcrab but also a trading mudcrab, and since it lives in such a remote place, it will buy your goods at a very favorable price! [2]

6. Doom God Mode

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The God Mode to end (or, rather, begin) all God Modes, this fear fest of invincibility (barring attack involving telefrags or extremely powerful weapons, usually found only in mods) can be unlocked with a simple but cryptic “IDDQD” typed in during gameplay. Doom II brought the advent of Hell on Earth, perhaps, but this sounds like heaven to me. [3]

5. Syndrome

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One of the first and most successful hacking programs in a series of illegal World of Warcraft mods, this program gives abusing players myriad unfair advantages ranging from extra speed to immunity to fall damage and teleportation powers. While we certainly can’t earnestly call unfair infractions of MMO rules a “best” cheat, Syndrome still deserves a spot on this list for being notable in its own right.

4. Mortal Kombat Blood Mode

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Thanks to the ever-present and oft-superficial moral traditions of conservative American society, Mortal Kombat developers Midway decided to censor the blood in the Sega Genesis release of this fighting hit (no pun intended; I swear). But they did not, however, forget to include a cheat code that enabled the return of the gore with a quick press of ABACABB on the Code of Honor screen, allowing MK to pander to our Puritan parents but also make at least some contingent of bloodthirsty gamers happy. Normally, making a game more graphic and violent might not seem to be a good thing. But in the name of independent thought and free choice, the Mortal Kombat Blood Mode deserves a spot on this list. [4]

3. Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, (Start)

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Immortalized in a catchy rock song by the Ataris and named the number 1 cheat code in video game history by Cheat Code Central, this familiar sequence of buttons is best known as the Konami code. It first appeared in Gradius for NES with the effect of giving the player a fully equipped ship but is perhaps best known for its appearance in Contra. [5], [4]

2. Game Genie

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All right, not a single cheat or hack per se, but who can forget this lovely add-on to early consoles like NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Sega that enabled you not only to swiftly enable a library of hacks for countless games but also program your own cheats? Its design was admittedly cumbersome (fitting it into your NES with a game attached was about as easy as rubbing a real genie out of your living room lamp), but its results magical (who could forget moonwalk Mario?).

1. World of Warcraft Kinect Hack

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Aiming for something much more worthy than a silly teleportation bot, a team of researchers at the University of Southern California have built a software interface between Kinect and World of Warcraft called Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST), which allows you to substitute body motions for keyboard hotkeys and literally immerse your physical body in, well, the world of Warcraft. While the technology is currently primitive and, as developer Eric Suma reports, “isn’t going to be a substitute for your keyboard and mouse,” it is a step in a direction of some very compelling possibilities, among them more active and generally healthier gaming. And it’s open-source; hooray! [6]

And that’s it for our brief series of It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Games. Through it, we’ve time-traveled back to a variety of classics and favorites, checked out some console-eating and even OS-killing errors and patches, shaken hands with metal primates and Nintendo’s very own gloved Master, and, we hope, gained a greater appreciation for how difficult and complex an endeavor it is to churn out something like Call of Duty, Imperial Warfare, or even just Fruit Ninja—because, truly, it ain’t easy makin’ games.









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The Wikiddiction of Online Games

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

It seems nowadays that any online game—or really any production of popular culture—worth its salt has at least one Wiki: Eve Online, World of Warcraft (you knew I was going to mention it), Final Fantasy, the Matrix, Game of Thrones.

This isn’t surprising. The most captivating games, like the most compelling books, movies, even paintings or pieces of music, are ones that draw you into their worlds in such a way that you can’t completely pull yourself out, even when you’re not playing. A guitar riff on the radio might call up a snatch of the opening theme; an interesting building facade, a glimpse of your favorite dungeon; a certain laugh, memories of the villain’s last cut scene—the game wraps itself around your mind, seeping into the deep reaches of your reward centers like a dopaminergic drug. And this addictive condition, this beautiful enslavement to something otherworldly, makes you want more. You stretch your mind and memory to the edges of the game world’s contours and hunger for knowledge about its unseen histories, backstories, possibilities. And at the same time, you brim with yearning to actualize the lovely excitement that the game inspires, to heighten its presence by making it explicit and recognized by others. You need a massive data reservoir to provide the answers you seek, and, at the same time, some concrete project into which to bleed off all this wild creative energy.

And what better place to feed both curiosity and creativity than the game Wiki?

Read the life histories of secondary, tertiary, hardly mentioned or nonexistent characters. Hypothesize about the drop rates of your favored items in every possible scenario. Publish your fan fiction to a steady stream of hungry visitors. Feast on a cornucopia of screenshots, concept art, fan art, and myriad perspectives on every corner of the universe you just can’t get out of your head. And express your effusive excitement about these discoveries by writing about them. Unlike physical guides, Wikis are cheap to store and can be filled to bursting: The Guild Wars Wiki alone has more than 17,000 pages, despite being an unofficial fan-based supplement to the official version—try fitting that onto a bookshelf at Barnes and Noble without taking out the Amazon (rainforest, that is). And unlike official online novice guides, Wikis can turn over new data from tergiversating game worlds just as fast as the data are produced by frequent updates and expansion packs: A quick glance at the World of Warcraft Wiki activity page shows a steady stream of new content added about every ten minutes. And, the best part is, the data come from you, the players hungering to mesh the world of your beloved games ever more tightly with the other aspects of your lives.

For a game to be successful, it has to be become an identity-defining lifestyle for at least some of its players. And by offering not only a massive amount of satisfying input but also ample opportunities for creative output, Wikis are a powerful tool for actualizing this scenario.

So why don’t y’all just step over and give the Imperial Warfare Wiki a nice big hug?


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It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Games: Easter Eggs So Old They’re Rotten

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

For the last few installments of this segment, we’ve examined what happens when inconsistencies and outright errors are inadvertently introduced into both console and computer games. This time, we’ll go back to looking at the same kind of complexity—only now it’s intentional.

From a completely new quest in the NES Legend of Zelda for main characters named “Zelda” to the John Romero boss in Doom II, intentional oddities in video games—sometimes referred to as Easter Eggs but often just called cheats—actually lend verisimilitude to a game by making its world just a bit more unpredictable and thus nearer to our own. Sometimes the hype surrounding an Easter Egg becomes more real than the cheat itself—like the apocryphal cow level in Diablo (finally followed up by a real one in Diablo II) and the fabled but impossible nude cheat in Tomb Raider. While some may decry the way such cheats pop the fantasy bubble that helps us suspend our disbelief, they’re definitely a good way to keep even the most experienced gamers on our toes. The cake, after all, might always be a lie.

9.  Waverace Blue Storm: Sarcastic Announcer Voice

Usually this column focuses on cheats or features that are particularly memorable or at least well known, but this one is striking for the exact opposite reason—that it was left unnoticed for nine years after the game was released.

In the Waverace Blue Storm racing game for Gamecube, apparently pressing “Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, A, X, Z” on the sound options screen after setting the sound visualization mode to “vertical rising fog” by tapping “Z” changes the race announcer from a perky professional to a sarcastic and bored-sounding dude who heckles at more than encourages you. “You don’t have an inferiority complex; you’re just inferior,” stands among the gems that this man throws at you.

Except nobody cared—for nine years. Too bad.

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It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Games: When Console Games Turn Evil

This time in It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Games, we’ll return briefly to the world of consoles for not one but two system-hacking equivalents of the Windows-killing Anarchy Online 11.2 patch, one for the Nintendo DS and one for Playstation. Alas, nobody’s perfect, but is it really that hard to make a game that doesn’t wipe your entire PS memory card?

11. Pokémon: Fushigi no Dungeon Kills Other Gameboy Advance Games

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This (yet another) Pokemon spinoff came in two releases: Blue for the DS, and Red for the Gameboy Advance. You could plug your old Red version into the Gameboy Advance Port in the DS and use the advanced Blue system to play the Red file with better graphics and sound. This was good. The same technology that allowed the DS version to access the Gameboy Advance port for the Red save files, however, tended to erase the data of any other game plugged into the port while the DS Blue version was running. This was bad. Very, very bad.

Nintendo’s solution? Free replacement of the Blue version within about three weeks of game release. I guess a time machine for recovering lost data was too much to ask.

10. Playstation Underground Demo (Holiday 2004 Edition) Kills Your Memory Card

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I remember fondly my first Playstation Demo disc, the bright red artifact that whisked me gently into the exotic worlds of Um Jammer Lammy, Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider, and some intriguing puzzle game that involved being smashed by rolling cubes. One reason that these memories remain fond is that unlike Capcom’s Viewtiful Joe 2 demo on the 2004 Holiday PS Underground disc, the games on my own disc did not spontaneously wipe my memory card, obviating hours—days!—of Elnoyles hunted, Cool Boards collected, and Hall of Hero weapons unlocked in one swift kick of programming ineptitude.

PS Underground’s solution? Remove your memory card before using the demo disc, duh.

Interestingly, this demo disc is now known as one of the only ways to reformat a corrupted Playstation memory card, as seen on this help forum:

Guess level freezes and the occasional system crash aren’t really so bad after all.

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It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Games: When MMOs Kill Windows

After a short adventure into the world of vg music, it’s time to return to some examples of just how hard but important it is for a good game to also be reliable and loophole-free.

The need for well-constructed technology and mechanics is even more vital for MMOs than it is for the mostly single-player pursuits we’ve discussed thus far. Hacks in multiplayer games are necessarily less benign than their counterparts in single-player ones because they touch on issues of fairness left alone when you’re the only conscious entity affected by your cheating. The cost of loopholes is extremely high in massively multiplayer games, in which the abuse of bugs, hacks, or bots can disrupt slow-burning game mechanics across an entire server, forcing data rollbacks and creating lost time, energy, and money for thousands of players around the world. Still, the thought that every piece of gold hacked into your account coffers might deal a devastating blow to the game economy doesn’t stop many MMO players from getting their hands dirty on the illegal benefits doled out by the right (read: wrong) scripting.

For this reason, MMO developers need to be even more careful, perhaps, than developers of other games when closing up loopholes and fixing bugs; any small leak in the system is an opportunity for unscrupulous people to ruin the experience for everyone. It ain’t easy makin’ games, but some games are definitely harder to make than others. Just ask Funcom, the developers of Anarchy Online (2001).

12. Anarchy Online Kills Windows 

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 One of the worst bugs in MMO history was the fabled Anarchy Online 11.2 patch, released during the game’s beta testing in 2001. Purported to “increase stability” in testers’ systems and fix another bug that caused items to disappear, the patch actually blew out the user’s Windows OS, causing failure to start upon reboot. Jump into the wayback machine to check out the firsthand user reactions to this so-called “Beta Patch of Doom”:

Unfortunately, the Windows killer patch wasn’t the only problem in Funcom’s fated beta, which has been widely ascribed with one of the most failed launches in MMO history. Aside from its numerous technical problems—from invalid CD keys and client timeouts to intense lags and random crashes—the game also required credit-card subscriptions on a server that initially wasn’t secured with encryption. Oops!

Nonetheless, the Funcom team was able to remedy these problems in due haste, and AO remains to be on one of the most widely known and longest-running MMORPGs to this day, 10 years later.


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Freedom is Slavery: An Argument for Old-School Video Game Music

August 15, 2011 1 comment

Writing an 8-bit OST that lasts for years in the gaming community’s collective memory is like riding a broken bicycle to win a road race against a tricked-out Porsche.

Maybe I’m being unduly influenced by the neurochemistry associated with nostalgia to put on my Luddite hat here, but something in me prefers the few-track, fewer-instrument harmonies of the NES and Gameboy eras to the complex and realistic orchestrations being written into games today. It just seems to me that greater restrictions on an artistic production demand more inspiration to make it emotive and catchy; memorable tunes cobbled together from harsh and simple substrate, therefore, have a much bigger “wow” factor than those molded from harmonically complex sounds that themselves lend beauty to a song. So, to borrow everyone’s favorite Orwellian quip: In video game (or maybe any) music, freedom is slavery—a composer’s freedom of nearly infinite choice in high-quality sound effects enslaves him or her to an audience that pays attention to the sounds themselves rather than what is being done with them.

One of the best OSTs I have heard—and that includes games on the market today—is Mappy Land (1988) for the NES. While the other aspects of this home console adaptation of a 1983 Namco/Midway arcade favorite have been crucified in many a review, the music of the NES version is doubtlessly one of its finer points. The ten-some different songs in this production are all composed of two tracks—a melody track and a rhythm/accompaniment track—and have been described as having a cheerful “ragtime” personality, which seems apt for a cute little game about a mouse being chased around the world by a group of evil cats. The most striking aspects of these songs are that while they’re extraordinarily repetitive, they’re also catchy, motivating, and all rather different despite their nearly identical instruments, and end up fitting their respective levels (which take place in locations as diverse as primitive jungles, moving trains, and haunted graveyards) quite appropriately.

I’m apparently not the only one to admire the prowess of a well-constructed arcade or first-generation home console ditty. One of the most widely recognized and remixed songs in the world is Koji Kondo’s Super Mario theme, which first debuted under the name “Ground Theme” with the 8-bit arcade game Super Mario Brothers. And the original 8-bit Legend of Zelda (1986), Final Fantasy (1987), and Dragon Warrior/Quest (1986) leitmotifs have managed to undergo relatively few changes despite several advancements in auditory technology. If anything, it’s the newer games that seem to have more variable soundtracks, even if the series themselves have proven almost as timeless (look at the central melodies of the original Tomb Raider (1996) versus the Tomb Raider Underworld (2008) theme, for example).

That’s not to say that today’s video game compositions are rendered worthless or forgettable by the realism and complexity already built into their instrument palettes. Quite the opposite: Modern VG music is undeniably multifaceted and beautiful in a way that sets it on par with other types of instrumental music enjoyed in many circles of society. The Halo III OST (2007), for example, uses live recordings from a 60-piece orchestra and 24-voice chorus, a first for the series and even many AAA titles at the time; it’s now sold in a two-part disc series as a product separate from the game. Rhythm games Dance Dance Revolution (1998) and Guitar Hero (2005) slowly broke the already-softening barrier between Top 40 Hits and the synthesized “bleeps and bloops” (still inevitably mentioned in most articles on video game music; why should this one be any different?) that people tend to blindly associate with video games even now. And Squaresoft god-composer Nobuo Uematsu has smashed almost every box in the VG music world with a stunning range of enthralling, stimulating, and atmospheric pieces for several RPG series, most notably Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, that have been rendered on countless non-gaming cultural platforms including live classical concerts, digitally distributed remixes, and his own progressive rock band The Black Mages.

This VG music industry’s burgeoning interdisciplinary tendencies have caused its productions to demand more respect from increasingly mainstream circles. Since 2004, for example, MTV has been awarding an annual VG Music Award, and starting this year, the Grammies will be explicitly including video games as a viable category for entry in its more general “Visual Media” awards. The renowned British Ivor Novello awards for musical composition also established a video game music category in 2010.

So the universe of video game music is maturing into something much more expansive than it was before—but, perhaps akin to the chasm in artistic quality between awe-inspiring flops like Reign of Fire (2002) versus low-tech classics like Metropolis (1927), this “progress” doesn’t necessarily spell “improvement,” at least for some Luddites like me. Dear reader, what do you think?


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It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Games: Military Robots in Age of Empires?

August 5, 2011 1 comment

Let’s move away from console games for this installment of “It Ain’t Easy Makin’ Games” and get back to our roots with some good ol’ personal computer RTS action. So get ready to crack open your history book and flip back to the Ensemble Studios masterpiece that started it all: Age of Empires. Aside from inspiring an explosion of babies named Omus, Rogan, and Wololo, this jewel of an RTS helped us all pass junior high by prematurely enriching our vocabularies with words like “hoplite” and “composite bow.” No, mom; I swear I’m studying for my history quiz.

Luckily for those who suffer sweaty-palm mind-blankness when “Shang changes diplomacy status from Ally to Enemy,” the game is chock-full of simple resource and unit bonuses to be ordered up with the stroke of [Enter] and a whimsical cheat code or two. I’ll let you look up the more conventional ones on your own; listed below are a few cheats with more, uh, inspired results.

13. Age of Empires Conversions and Summons

  •  Turn mounted archers into mysterious black riders: During gamplay, press [Enter] and type BLACK RIDER
  • Control animals only: During gameplay, press [Enter] and type GAI
  • Turn birds into festive red and blue dragons: During gameplay, press [Enter] and type KING ARTHUR
  • Turn Archers into Stealth Archers that can walk on water and change into trees when immobile: During gameplay, press [Enter] and type DARK RAIN
  • Summon a white sports car equipped with a rocket launcher: During gameplay, press [Enter] and type BIG MOMMA
  • Turn Priests into super-unit St. Francis, who can hit close-range enemies with lightning: During gameplay, press [Enter] and type CONVERT THIS!
  • Summon photon-gun-carrying military units: During gameplay, press [Enter] and type PHOTON MAN
  • Summon nuke-carrying military units: During gameplay, press [Enter] and type E=MC2 TROOPER
  • Summon a military robot: During gameplay, press [Enter] and type STORMBILLY. Some people say this is only a hoax; it’s the only one I didn’t verify on my own computer. I’ll let you discover for yourself whether it works.
I have a nice digital stack of screenshots on hand, but I prefer to leave y’all guessing—you have to test the codes yourself if you want to see kind of tree the Stealth Archers turn into.
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