The deception code

September 21, 2010, Author: Trent Pyro

Cheating sucks! When you work really hard at something, put your all into it and give 150% and then some sneaky bastard pips you to the post through underhanded activity it hurts. No-one likes a cheat in real life, but opinions on cheating in games have been divided for as long as the ability to do so has been there. I’ve always used cheats, I make no bones about it. My number one goal is to enjoy my game, no matter what the cost. Others feel differently, so I thought I’d delve into the history and culture of cheating and see if I can get to the bottom of it.

Cheaters never prosper… Or do they?
The issue of cheating in games usually splits gamers into two distinct groups. Those who think it’s okay as long as it doesn’t ruin it for anyone else and those who think it’s bad and an insult to gaming.

The first group, let’s call them the Cheaters for lack of a better term, are all about one thing, enjoying the game. They’ve payed £40 plus for a slab of fun and they want to get their monies worth. If they feel that the game is unfairly hard or has control issues that make it unnecessarily tough, they will happily bash in a code or get out the old Action Replay. They feel no remorse or guilt for doing this; after all, it’s their game, they bought it and they can do what they want with it. Cheats don’t just happen; they are usually codes planted by programmers to smooth out the Quality Assurance process and allow testers to quickly skip to levels or reach areas where there may be possible bugs. If one tester can’t beat a boss, how is he supposed to find out if it animates properly when it dies? Many developers leave these codes in the game, accessed by a specific button combo or password, to allow gamers to use them if they wish. No-one forces them to, they just do. No-one forces every gamer to use them either; the option is there. The issue is expanded, however, when you take into account online gaming. While cheating in single player has ramifications for you only, cheating in multiplayer affects other people’s enjoyment of the game. They get angry, then jealous and finally get fed up and leave. Now while most online components have no cheats or codes embedded in them for this very reason, glitches can be rife. To many, “glitching” is tantamount to cheating and is treated with the same scorn and hatred.

Now let’s look at the second group, The Haters. These gamers despise cheating and Cheaters. They are the purists, some say the ‘hardcore’ although that’s debatable. Cheats are for losers, people who can’t play the game properly. To them, an unfair difficulty is a challenge, a goal to be reached. Something they can brag about, rightfully, for years to come. They spend hours enduring punishment and hardship to reach the end of a level or beat a boss. The misery dispensed upon them in the act is worth the joyous feeling of accomplishment that comes with success. These are the guys who say things like ‘I beat Castlevania with no continues. It took three years and a million hours of pain, misery and sometimes boredom but I did it. Hell yeah’. Or ‘Well I beat Gears of War on Insane without dying once so you suck’. Even though much of their gaming time is spent dying, failing and generally losing, it’s all worth it in their minds. Sometimes this group even actively avoids games with well known cheats, like GTA4. Sometimes they target these games specifically, just so they can say they beat said games without using the cheats. While their powers of endurance and dedication to the art are unquestionable, many who are not part of this group do not understand them. They are the mysterious knights, torch-holders of the old-school and standard bearers to the old ways.

Cheating works in real life too, don't it George?

Which group is right? I have no idea. I count myself as a Cheater I suppose, which may make me biased, but as most gamers are part of one of these groups it’s hard to find someone who isn’t. Cheats have been around almost as long as games, so let’s take a look at where they came from before we go any further. Maybe understanding the cheat will help us get to the bottom of whether they should exist.

POKE, you’re it!
Cheating in games began its long life under the guise of the POKE. A POKE was essentially a way of altering the code of a game as it was loading into the memory of the computer, granting you all manner of advantages like infinite lives or infinite ammo. Usable in the ancient times of the Commadore and Spectrum, it required a game to be programmed in the now archaic PEEK language and was a nightmare to apply. Those with little to no programming knowledge were stumped by seemingly random characters, numbers and letters. Along with having to have specific equipment to freeze the game while it was loading, POKEs were a stretch too far for many. Some computer magazines like Amstrad Action and RUN, listed POKEs for numerous games in an attempt to make it easier. Even so, the act of POKEing a game was considered to be something programmers did, and not user-friendly enough for the average gamer. Bring forth the advent of the cheat code!

As mentioned before, many games have codes or button combinations programmed into them to allow testers to reach the upper echelons of a game without spending weeks battling through it. Whether the first cheats were left in as a mistake or on purpose is difficult to know. As soon as the gamers got word however, they cried out for access; hence the cheat code. It started as early as the NES and Sega Master System and many codes were listed in magazines such as Nintendo Power. Many were passwords, entered at the screen usually used for restoring your game before save points became commonplace, but some involved holding down buttons or pressing them in a certain order.

Cartridges were also released, based on the freezing hardware of old, to allow gamers to twist a game’s code before it was loaded into the console memory. This granted them similar abilities as before; invincibility, infinite lives, infinite ammo, etc. Before the arrival of the internet, codes for these systems had to be updated through quarterly newsletters posted to users. Game Genie, probably the most famous cartridge of the 8-bit generation, was simple to program and easy to use. Simply plug the Genie between your game and console, turn it on, enter a short sequence of letters and you’re away. Updated through the aforementioned newsletters and occasionally Nintendo Power, it revolutionised the way people played games.

The granddaddy of cheat cartridges, the Game Genie.

Now is probably a good time to make a distinction between different types of codes. There are three different kinds, and everyone calls them different things. In my lexicon, a cheat which uses button presses is a Button Cheat. One that uses a password screen is, obviously, a Password. One that must be programmed into a cheat system like Game Genie is a Cheat Code.

As button cheats became more and more common, with every new console came a fresh way of cheating. Datel, known for producing peripherals for the old home computers, created the Action Replay cartridge. This made cheating even easier. It slotted into the back of a Playstation and interrupted the disc loading, allowing you to input codes. It also had its own internal memory and allowed you to store and name codes for later use. It had never been easier to cheat. In my opinion, this was the golden age of cheating. All you had to do was pick the game’s title from a list, tick a few boxes and hit Start. Simple and effective. Later versions even had game detection, so you didn’t even have to find it yourself. This was truly the age of the cheat and I revelled in it. My natural co-ordination issues made it very hard for me to play many games, and Action Replay gave me the ability to survive long enough to get better. I’m glad it did, because the time of cheating would soon come to an end.

Every good thing must come to an end…
Online gaming ruined cheating. It’s a fact. As soon as playing online became commonplace, cheating ceased to be so. I understand the reasons. With the creation of Achievements for the Xbox 360 and Trophies for the PS3, gamers had a way of showing off how good they were without ever saying a word. In a few seconds, every other gamer in the world could see just how good you were at Gears of War or Call of Duty. This new feature made it imperative to crush cheating. How could the Achievement mean anything if the player cheated to get it? It was a fair point, but as usual, the big bosses overreacted and took the act of cheating from one extreme to the next.

Some developers got it right. Cheats in GTA4 disabled any Achievements that would now be easier to get. Want to get the Achievement for staying alive for ten minutes with the top wanted rating? Don’t use the refill health cheat then. It made sense and worked great. Most developers however, either due to personal overreaction or Microsoft breathing down their necks, tore cheats out of their games completely. Any that were left in were just for fun, and disabled All Achievements. The days of Action Replay were over, killed stone dead by the Achievement wave. My cheating habits lay in tatters around me as I put my head in my hands. What the hell was I going to do now?

Man up, that’s what. I had gotten so used to cheating that the first time I got a game where I could not (Gears of War incidentally), it felt so wrong. Every death was like a kick in the ribs, every loss blown way out of proportion. It was a struggle for me to get back in the game as it were. My skills had evaporated; I’d gotten too used to the safety net of infinite health and infinite ammo. I’d been relying too much on the Action Replay, throwing myself head-first into every game, much of the time flicking the cheats on before I’d even started. Only now did I realise how hedonistic I’d been. I’d sacrificed days of hard work and skill development for a few hours of fun and had lost the feeling of truly beating a game. I had to adapt and quickly.

So I did. Within a few short months, cheating was a thing of the past. I’d learned to deal with rejection and loss and reaped the reward of a good, honest win many times. I still missed cheating though. You see, if it hadn’t of been for Action Replay and the button cheats in the back of Official Playstation Magazine, I wouldn’t have enjoyed gaming nearly as much. Games back then were so much harder and all but the most praised ones were plagued with bugs, control issues and bad programming. These days, most games are so clean that if you’re losing it’s because you suck, not because the game is badly made. So maybe the need for cheating has passed. Maybe technology has almost caught up with us now and developers can make games that respond so well and look so real that we can connect almost subconsciously with them. This would allow developers to give us tougher challenges and bigger rewards.

So where do we stand?
In my opinion, cheating has lost its purpose. The advent of Achievements and mass online gaming removed the possibility and better game development removed the need. We don’t really need cheats any more, or so I thought. Every time I pick up an old game, the niggles creep back. After playing the ultra-responsive, brilliantly built supergames of today, older releases really start to show their cracks. Having honed my skills to the point where I don’t think about what button I need to press, I just react instinctively, a game that doesn’t respond well is incredibly jarring. Far from being better at it due to extensive, cheatless playing, I am in fact worse off. So I break out the cheat books, I Google the game title with the word ‘cheats’ stuck on the end and quick as a flash I’m back to the old ways.

Cheating may have no place in today’s gaming world, but it certainly played a big part in the history of that world. Cheats allowed many gamers, like me, who didn’t have the time, effort or determination to battle through countless days of suffering to still reap enjoyment and entertainment from their games. I still stand by my previous statement; it’s my game and I will do whatever it takes to enjoy it. The same applies today for most people. Many games have multiplayer components, but not everyone plays them. The single player experience is enough for some. The choices we now have in games have been another contributing factor to the dismissal of cheats from our lives. Don’t want to get shot by some Americans? Fine, don’t play the multiplayer. Don’t want to start a family in Fable 2? Don’t, just quest for gold or fame or simply be a bastard and kill a lot of innocent people! As soon as games stopped funnelling us down a single route, they presented us with more ways to win. Ways other than cheating or perseverance.

What it all comes down to is how you look at life. If you’re the kind of person who wants something for nothing, who’s always looking for the fast-track or the short-cut, you most likely indulge in a good cheat. If you’re the kind who appreciates the value of hard work and dedication and knows that nothing worth having comes easy, it’s probable that cheating is just not an option for you. Each to his own I say. It annoys me that the option has been removed for us Cheaters, but at least developers have given us choice and decision to replace it with. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get on with my next Digging for Gold bit. Now, where did I put that cheat book…