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Opinion: I Want Passwords Back
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Opinion: I Want Passwords Back
by Roberto Alfonso on 04/01/09 11:39:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I remember very well a game titled Bananan Ouiji no Daibouken, or Banana Prince. The game itself was really good, it was long, it was complex, it had rings as currency and shops where to buy new weapons. Platforms, weapons, and even a Japanese trivia. And quite a lot of secrets. I must have played it for a couple of months non-stop.

Besides a number of weapons, the player could expand the character's health with extra energy containers or "bananas". The combination of current level, weapon and amount of extra bananas generated a unique password.

Password? Do you remember them still? Before memory, before batteries, passwords were the only way to record the current level and items in console games. They consisted of letters, numbers and symbols, sometimes specifically created, sometimes generated based on the inventory of the character.

In this game, it was represented by 8 bananas in 4 different states of peeling, for a total of 65,536 different passwords. With zero to four extra bananas to obtain, 21 levels and 16 weapons available, there were 1,680 valid passwords.

One day, I pondered: are all of them valid? The best weapon in the game could only be bought in the last stage, 7-3, just before facing the final boss. Could it be possible to get a password where the character obtained it before the last level?

The passwords varied slightly from level to level as long as you maintained weapon and amount of extra container, so there was a chance. 1,680 valid passwords in 65,536 passwords would mean a 2.5% chance of randomly hitting one. Or in other words, one in every forty passwords.

Since there were no penalties for trying a wrong password (other than a beep), I started choosing random bananas at random positions and kept pressing the A button after every change. And indeed, after a while one was accepted, one that took me to a later stage with an early weapon. A few more tries, and I was in an early stage with a weapon that was not yet available there.

This was the start of my career as "game password analyzer". I spent the following weeks generating random passwords, advancing the game, and analyzing the different combinations. Indeed, some time later I was able to generate any password, including the two most appreciated ones: the first stage with the best weapon and the most energy containers, and the final stage with the worst weapon and the least energy containers.

I enjoyed the game twice: playing it the way a gamer plays it, and playing it the way a programmer does.

I repeated the analysis with other games like Kick Master, Captain Tsubasa 1, Captain Tsubasa 2 and many others with different degrees of success. Games that were supposed to be played once lived again and again, as new challenges like starting the first level with all the items, or the last one with none, made the game more interesting. In some games there were even bugs to be found: there were passwords for the Game Boy version of Chessmaster where all pieces in a side were Kings and all the pieces of the other were Queens, for example.

Saving features make it easier for everyone to play the game. Nobody wants to write 100 or more characters for a single password. The gamer in me appreciates it. But the programmer in me doesn't. He wants to go where the game designers never thought possible. The game is not just what the designer wants, but also what the player wants.

This is why I want passwords back. You can start Resident Evil 4 with weapons you had at the end of the previous session, but you cannot start it in the last fight without items and your original energy container. Imagine playing a stage with weapons you were not supposed to obtain yet, or without the necessary items to end the stage. Endless possibilities, limited only by our willingness to write down in a paper.


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Comments


Joel McDonald
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I like the idea of this. Of course, it doesn't have to be constrained to simply passwords. Why not have a new "sandbox" menu option that unlocks once a game has been completed? They do this is sim-style games like Rollercoaster Tycoon, but why not do it in an FPS? The player should be free to load up any scenario in the game, with any weapon/upgrade/XP loadout he so chooses. This opens up an entirely new avenue for extending the life of a game. Sure, a lot of games have secret cheats to enable this kind of stuff, but once you've beaten the game, why not make it readily available to the players in the menu?

Roberto Alfonso
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There is a slight difference with passwords: the passwords are always active. So, it can be trivial for someone to obtain the password even before playing from the first day. This may worry game designers, who expect the player to play through the game as they planned at least once. But it doesn't prevent those who would do so from playing, it just lets others who may have not the time or the skill to play it.



However, I agree with the idea that once you have beaten the game, you should be able to play it the way you want, even if that means starting from the final level and going downwards, or choosing weapon combinations that would not be available within the game.

Mac Senour
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I like the idea... but maybe it needs a new name? "Passwords" remind me of saving the status of a game so I can return to the same place. From reading this I think they're more like "unlockers" or "Enablers". If we come up with a cool sounding word... well, the rest is history.



Mac



http://aboutmakinggames.blogspot.com/

Roberto Alfonso
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I actually feel it is not as complex. For example, let's imagine a very simple password system where the first number from 0 to 9 determines the current level, the second number from 0 to 9 determines the amount of extra lives, the third from 0 to 9 determines the current weapon, and a fourth from 0 to 9 which is equal to the sum of the previous three numbers; if the result is double digit both digits are added until a single digit is obtained. By default, the game will give you a 0000 password for the first level without extra lives and without weapon. Weapon 9 may only be attainable in the last level, but password 009x (first stage without extra lives and the best weapon) would exist as long as we hit the right CRC number. In our case, 0099 would be the password we are looking for.



That is what I always loved in old games: the password systems were always a backdoor. The developers would play the game as they thought it would work, but they would never test password consistency. Maybe we can change their names could make them less repulsive to a generation that grew with the ability of saving games.

Ron Newcomb
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There's another use for the password system: modifying the game's difficulty level for those of us who can't finish the game as-is. I used a custom password for _The Guardian Legend_ to make it easy enough to play the game to completion. It's a great game, but it has the difficulty of... well, a Japanese shmup.

Roberto Alfonso
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Indeed, a good password allows you to modify many of the game parameters including difficulty. Passwords are for a console game what trainers are for computer games. The sense of achievement you obtain when discovering a password you haven't obtained (either by chance or by analyzing them) is as intense as beating a tough boss.


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