Cheat codes originally emerged out of the necessity for bug testers to experience (and attempt to break) every level and aspect of a game so any issues could be identified and ironed out long before they were released to the public… or so the theory goes. Later, however, such aids were also issued to games critics to allow them to review products in their entirety, even those who weren’t in possession of 133t ninja skillz (TM).
It’s often assumed that glory-chasing, bug-tester oiks would leak these codes to the magazines, who would relish the opportunity to publish them in their regular hints and tips segment, much to the dismay of the developers.
The concern I imagine was that their products would be misinterpreted as not representing good value for money if they could be completed overnight. Perhaps gamers would borrow the disks from a friend, finish the game in record time, and as a consequence, not buy their own copy. You would also have to placate the parents whose money most likely went towards funding little Johnny’s hobby. Publishers were eternally under fire for allegedly ripping off the public as it was, and didn’t need anyone throwing fuel on pyre.
Another factor, as a developer who has poured their heart and soul into producing a (hopefully) professional, well-crafted piece of software, is the artistic merit inherent in letting a story unfold naturally, along with a satisfying sense of discovery. We all like to think our efforts are appreciated, and software developers are no different.
On the contrary (this flowed nicely before I inserted that long side note above), no espionage was necessary because the magazines were already part of this ‘inner circle’ and received the cheat codes by default… which makes you wonder why at the recent Guardian reunion, some of the Amiga Power crew were so mystified as to how the postal submitters came by the cheat codes. Did every magazine on the planet receive regular wax-sealed, top-secret manilla envelopes except Amiga Power?
Had they not been in the loop, it’s a given that the information would be gouged out from the woodwork sooner or later by hackers scrutinizing the code, either for educational or cracking purposes, so attempting to shield them from prying eyes in a nuclear bunker would have been a fruitless exercise.
To that end, locking them down indefinitely was never the goal. The developers merely wanted to give gamers – and retailers – a fair crack of the whip before they destroyed the magic, so to speak. Let’s face it, finishing a game using cheats is the numero uno way to guarantee you never revisit it. The trick is only to seek them out when you can be certain you wouldn’t anyway.
Some developers, Ocean and the kings of indecency, Team 17, for example, would implement cheat codes so obscene and tasteless they assumed the magazines wouldn’t be permitted to publish them.
Well that dabble with blue-sky thinking quickly turned overcast; the magazines printed them regardless, replacing a few vowels with asterisks to shimmy around the censors.
This would generate a flurry of complaints from disgruntled parents, and in some cases the cheats were cleaned up for the budget re-releases. In New Zealand Story, for example, the x-rated keyword became the much more ‘U’ for universal, ‘FluffyKiwis’.