Where Have all the God Modes Gone or, Little Changes, part one.

Monday, July 20, 2009
The video games of our youth were cold and unforgiving opponents. Like vindictive fathers, any game we set out to play against them was met with stiff rules. If you died, that's it, game over, no cumulative score, you suck, go to your room and cry into your socks. Fired off the last of your rocket ammo and you still haven't killed that big nasty monster? Sure you can kill it with your SMG, but I hope you have all night.

Nowadays with all the checkpoints and unlimited continues, cheats have seen a steady decline. We've all noticed the differences but no one has bothered to really ask why. That's where we come in. This is the first part of a larger series (as always) on the changing face of our industry. What will set this apart from the countless articles regarding this subject matter is that our focus will remain on those elements that don't get the same kind of press as things like narrative and graphics.

Today we examine the slow death of cheat codes. Cheats began as tools tor the developers during testing, These proto-cheats could only be activated by changing the code for the games, This of course meant that most people were unable to use said cheats. The technologically gifted were the masters of this domain. Back then, being a cheater was almost a mark of pride. Proof that you were savvy enough to break the code and put yourself in the same shoes as the developers.

Eventually, games began incorporating more accessible cheat codes. Thank god they did too, or most of us would never have beaten Contra. This new breed of cheats were often intentionally left by the dev teams for players to discover and use should the game get a little too difficult for them. Remember, many of the games from those days didn't aspire to some higher narrative or particularly involved story. I know some of you will argue this with me, but I have yet to meet anyone that can make Doom make any damn sense.

Often, the games that employed these cheats had loose stories to begin with, so a cheat that gave you every item wasn't a big deal because no crucial plotpoints would be skipped. Most recreational gamers would almost expect you to use cheats, while the more serious, hardcore crowd regularly frowned on them.

There were other ways to cheat of course. The Game Genie and it's derivatives ruled the console market, bringing unlimited lives and ammo to Super Metroid and the like. Most of these little cheat machines died out before during the last generation of consoles but the Gameshark soldiered on. Though it's now meant more for backing up game saves and other media it STOL maintains an illustrious cheat disk history.

Cheats today are rare. Sure, EA regularly includes cheats for their games (if you call paid for game breaking items cheats) but by and large cheats have disappeared from the games we play. It may not seem like a terribly big deal to some of you, but you have to ask yourself; How did we not see this happen?

It seems like it just happened overnight. One night I was playing Empire Earth, happily nuking neolithic societies and the next I was slogging through Rapture, fearing every alien noise. I think I know how it happened but I can't put my finger on when.

When the last generation of consoles was new, there was a movement to make games appeal to a wider audience. Some would say that with that swing came a distinct loss of difficulty in games. This could well account for the loss of the cheat code. Easier games wouldn't need cheats to help the player through. Simple, right? Not quite.

While the idea that games got easier to accommodate people other than the hardcore geek crowd is quaint, it's ultimately flawed and selfish. People seem to forget that the industry turned it's focus from arcade cabinets fairly recently in the grand scheme of things. The old ways of numbered lives and final game overs were more a marketing tool than anything. Those things were a way to get you to spend all of yours and/or your parents money. With a move towards a home-based model, that strategy doesn't make sense. Have you found a coin slot on your 360?

I'd say that with the move to the checkpoint/vita-chamber method of gameplay, the cheat has simply been outmoded. It isn't necessary anymore because the games we play have more or less perfected the checkpoint system. The old cheats from Doom were a product of an imperfect system.

More than anything though, games have ditched the cheat code as they adopted more multiplayer options. The point of codes was always to get a one up on the computer, not on another person. In an industry dominated by mutiplayer titles, the old ways just don't fit. Most developers with serious multiplayer titles employ equally serious anti-cheating tools to ban cheaters from the game, sometimes even the platform.

The cheat as we knew it is nearly dead. It will not be killed or kidnapped but die of natural causes. There will always be a way to cheat, but the days of dev teams sowing the seeds of immortality in their games are swiftly drawing to a close.