What makes a cheat code magical?

Completing a game with the aid of infinite lives—even if the means of achieving those lives were made available by the original programmers—is, by definition, cheating. -Why Do We Cheat?

When I registered this domain a little over a year ago, the idea of “infinite lives” as a euphemism for cheating had already occurred to me. Maybe I’m in love with the notion of having unlimited chances to get something right, to pursue the best possible outcome. In real life, you have one chance. Entering a code for infinite lives is like time travel—it’s breaking the rules of time and space. It is, essentially, the ultimate cheat.

I’d been trolling 61 Frames Per Second, a rather young games blog, for posts by my friend Nadia Oxford. And via this post, I arrived at her recent article, Why Do We Cheat? It isn’t only a history of cheating-in-games; it is a rumination on cheating’s wherefores. After all, everybody cheats.

From the article’s introduction:

Every game has rules and a means of breaking those rules. Videogames, which are among the most complex games on the planet, feature suitably complex means of cheating. There are in-game codes, hacks, mods, code-altering devices, algorithms, walkthroughs, and many other means of breaking down a game in order to do what you’re not supposed to do.

To cheat in a game without a code or walkthrough requires real talent. I once witnessed Jeremy Parish and Jane Pinckard’s lengthy, animated discussion of Scott Sharkey’s admirable game-breaking genius. There is always a way to force a sprite outside of the boundaries of a screen or into actions that, according to the laws of the game, aren’t really permitted (or even possible). The trick is finding it.

Why do we cheat? When is a cheat code magical? Read on.

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I keep thinking about the back-blog—that’s a web-log back-log—but for reasons unclear even to me, I’m exhausted. So: Here are the things I’d like to be typing about.

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Cooking Nightmare

Gordon Ramsay superimposed atop fireI am completely in love with Gordon Ramsay. He is tall and intimidating and he has great hair. I love it when he shouts. I love it when he curses. Sometimes when I am slicing potatoes and celery for a pot roast, I imagine Chef Ramsay shouting at me angrily. I can’t help but beam. “Wipe that stupid grin off your face!” imaginary Ramsay shouts at me.

But there is such conflict in his brow, such tenderness in his soft blue eyes! He calls women “love” and “darling” in this perfect, inoffensively sexist way, except in the kitchen, where he’s all growls and snarls and pepper and fire. But he looks so sheepish when he accidentally breaks a plate—he cannot stop apologizing. He tries to disappear, but he can’t, because he is over six feet tall.

In the kitchen, Chef Ramsay is a benevolent dictator. “Would you just listen to him!” I shout at the television defensively. I cry during every episode of Kitchen Nightmares, and also at one episode of The F Word, the episode where Gordon Ramsay has to decide whether to slaughter a pig. I cannot understand how he is capable of furrowing his entire face; my heart breaks.

I think the reason I prefer Hell’s Kitchen to all the American Idols and Top Designers is, I have no opinions whatsoever. In Hell’s Kitchen, the only person I’m cheering for is Gordon Ramsay. Every contestant is a mess, and it isn’t as if I can taste the paella the Red Team bungled (“This is shit! Utter shit! Take off your apron! Get out!”). Until Magnavox invents Smell-o-vision, I’ll have to take it on Chef Ramsay’s word alone that the Red Team’s paella is shit. My only opinion is Gordon Ramsay’s.

In fact, my Hell’s Kitchen fandom is wholly predicated on my trust in Gordon Ramsay. He is impeccable; he has perfect judgement.



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NeoGAF: serious political business

The other day, screenwriter and video game enthusiast Larry Madill was sifting through the NeoGAF forums. He was reading a discussion thread, itself in response to Denis Dyack’s recent comments about NeoGAF—yes, game industry news is an ouroboros—when Madill spied a peculiar banner ad just beneath the thread’s subject line.

Now, when I visit NeoGAF, all I can see is a Toyota advertisement powered by Doubleclick. But the proof is in the pudding, I suppose, and Mr. Madill captured a screenshot of said pudding:

Larry Madill’s screenshot of the McCain-funded political ad

The banner ad depicts presidential candidate Barack Obama alongside Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. Perhaps the ad contains notes of racial and cultural scaremongering; Madill, an Obama supporter, found it offensive. The ad’s text reads, “Is it OK to unconditionally meet with anti-American foreign leaders?” The text is supplemented by two ‘buttons’, Yes and No, although the banner itself is obviously a flat click-through image.

This detail actually made me giggle. The question of when and how to negotiate is obviously a polarizing one. This is a very serious, somber campaign advertisement, but it posits its little quiz question in true Myspace Banner Ad form (“Who is this party girl? A. Lindsay B. Britney C. Tara”). And if you’re wondering, John McCain’s campaign takes the credit for the ad in its bottom right corner.

Not that any of this really matters. Whether or not the ad itself is tasteless, one fact remains: Larry Madill spotted it on NeoGAF, a game industry discussion forum.

Madill writes,

Either the management of NeoGAF is grossly incompetent and doesn’t know whose ads they are running, or [they] have a blatant political point of view that they are content on advocating through advertising. [...]

But exposing simple incompetence isn’t enough for me. For a site that counts members from major game developers and console makers to video game journalists and the average gamer, NeoGAF needs to be held accountable for playing politics instead [of] playing games.

Is this a reasonable assessment? Certainly politics do play a part in many videogame discussions—not that this little banner ad is the same thing, even by a long shot, since I doubt NeoGAF is aware that the site is running the ad at all. Should websites and other media be held accountable for the advertisements they run? And even if this really were deliberate on the part of NeoGAF, are publishers and editors obligated to pretend they are unbiased when discussion turns to something other than games? When a game critic blogs about politics rather than games, for instance, oh, how the complaints pour in.

In his blog post, Madill also wonders what nefarious shadow entities stake a claim in NeoGAF’s ownership. I wondered, too. A little research reveals that the owner is none other than some dude in his mid-twenties.

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    New Introversion Game!!

    I’m kind of lying. It’s a slow news day. I can explain.

    I was IM’ing my friend Arne. He mentioned a book he’d just finished, and recommended that I read it, too. So I recommended The Red Star, which I’ve recently been playing again. In another window, though, I was trolling through my daily RSS feeds. “Man,” I typed into the chat window, “what is with the dearth of game news?” Like, the only real news blurbs on my radar—and even then, this is all literally yesterday’s news—are the just-announced Elebits for DS, as well as the launch of that one (admittedly interesting) new iPod Squenix music role-playing game whatever. Arne suspects the news dearth is part of the “pre-E3 media blackout.” I think the entire game industry is just hungover from the Fourth of July weekend.

    Finally, though, I found some news worth squealing over! Today at Rock, Paper, Shotgun: New Introversion Game? The question mark is RPS’s, by the way; Chris Delay (Introversion Software’s founding designer) confirms only that their tiny game company has been offered funding for a game they’ve been wanting to make. I think everyone is being much too tentative and so, simply for the sake of cheerleading and irresponsible journalism, I have reappropriated Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s headline and added two exclamation points to it. Two.

    No matter what wishful punctuation I use, nothing is official, even though the game Chris Delay is not necessarily making has already been named Chronometer.

    Perhaps Introversion ought to hold off on development, though, even in spite of my enthusiasm. The company has always been notorious for its unhurried, deliberate game-making and now, with three projects underway—Darwinia+ and Multiwinia, both long-due XBLA titles for 360, as well as the upcoming Subversion—Introversion must be stretched to its limit.

    Still, I’m pleased that everything is coming up roses for them! Introversion Software is the small, brilliant team behind, to date, just three titles (including my favorite game of 2006, DEFCON).

    Edit: Channel 4 is funding Chronometer’s “production proposal,” which I assume is the proof-of-concept that immediately follows the “pitch.” (Alice Taylor clarifies.)


    Aquaria Cosplay

    I have been waiting for, like, ever, for Aquaria to be ported to Mac. It’s this brilliant indie adventure sidescroller that, at the beginning, looks and feels a little like Ecco. Naija, the heroine, is a green-skinned creature with a pixie haircut and cute webbed feet.


    Naija Cosplay!


    Laser-etched tattoos

    Once upon a time, my laptop was stolen off the desk of my then-cubicle. It was months until I could buy another laptop. And I was so relieved to have a computer again, I seriously considered getting the shit etched out of it. Like filigree, maybe Godzilla, maybe a cowgirl riding on a rocket, definitely my name and phone number…

    Laser-etching looks especially good on MacBooks, but on hands and arms, not so much.

    Instructables robot burned into hand

    Tetranitrate, a user at Instructables, shows his devotion to the DIY/tech/how-to website by searing the Instructables robot mascot into his hand. His friends opt for Pac-Man and Space Invaders tattoos. Here is their video.

    The video is compelling in the same way Fight Club is compelling. The industrial-grade engraving machine moves the laser beam back and forth, like an old dot-matrix printer. The image blisters into view, line by line. And—I don’t think this is my imagination—you can see the skin burning.

    Here’s the how-to. Tetranitrate’s other Instructables projects include Flame Whip, Flame Cannon, Firebreathing, Fire Shaving, and the Lighter Rocket.

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    Incredibly hip baby

    Pew-peeeewwww! Pew-peeeeewww!

    Sorry. It’s just that I have Galaga sound effects stuck in my head. More specifically, my brain is trained on the sounds of evil bugs flitting menacingly toward the bottom of the playfield. I think Galaga might be my favorite arcade game, after Arkanoid and, uh, Gyruss.

    Poesy in a Galaga Tee

    Oh, my god! Puttin’ the “childlike” back into “childlike wonder”!

    The La La Ling website has really, really good copy, all these ridiculous and distinctive product descriptions. And La La Ling’s baby jumpers and t-shirts are just so rock star.

    In related clothing news, my Playing God t-shirt already has a hole in it.

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    Fact: PR frequently mails weapons to games journalists

    In videogame journalism, it is totally normal to receive weapons in the mail. I am not making this up.

    So I was a little surprised this morning when my friend at Hearst sent me a link to a Popular Mechanics blog entry, in which a Hearst writer is shocked—shocked!—that someone at Rockstar Games would be so stupid as to send a bat! In the mail! To the office!

    Lady Marmalade

    Perhaps most damningly, someone in Rockstar’s PR really gored up the swag by smearing it with, that’s right, orange marmalade! Ugh! Disgusting!

    I was strangely offended by the time Kotaku picked up the story. Seriously, isn’t this Rockstar at its least confrontational?

    After the cut, Scott Sharkey lists different weapons sent to his office as promotional tie-ins for video games!

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    Identity in Second Life: part one

    A few weeks ago, I loaded up Second Life. It was the first time I’d touched the game in about a year. I halfheartedly installed all the updates.

    If you’ve ever tinkered with Second Life, this probably comes as no surprise: the service manages to hemorrhage almost all of its potential new customers, quickly. In fact, most new users are alienated by the whole experience within their first hour, thanks to an unnavigable interface loaded with super-cryptic nomenclature.

    Perhaps the most unwelcoming aspect of the initial user experience is your avatar’s own appearance. It is textureless, low-tech, doll-like, and it brands you as a Linden newbie (until very recently, the default avatars were just terrible). And although the character creation tools are actually great, they take time to learn. I remember it seemed every attempt at designing a realistic body resulted in a bubble-ass. And at any length, the default hair is a she-male’s pompadour.

    How could I have known during my very first hour of play that I was able to purchase not just clothes and toys, but also hair and skin and eyeglasses? The average new user has no idea how mutable his appearance really is—and by extension, how mutable his sense of identity is.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    This week’s Monday Miracle: Retro Reality

    This week’s Monday Miracle is Retro Reality, in which 16-year old Lee Vidal cleverly superimposes game sprites atop real-world locations.

    “Retro Tower: Donkey Kong,” my favorite image manipulation from the series, is below:

    Retro Tower: Donkey Kong, by Lee Vidal

    It’s well worth noting that the stock photographs Vidal employs as backgrounds are absolutely ghastly. Somehow, the blandness of the photos makes them perfect for reappropriation as the game sprites’ playgrounds.

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    Soopa Coin-Up Bros.

    Recent reconnoitering of the Rotofugi webstore turned up this gem. Erick Scarecrow’s Soopa Coin-Up Bros. figure Soopa Coin-Up Bros DIY toy at Rotofugi.comis, essentially, an arcade cabinet with feet. And at US$30, it is blank and consummate for the stroke of your genius.

    To accommodate the less artistic, of course, Soopa comes prepackaged with lots of stickers.

    But prepare to be totally inspired! More than 30 gorgeous custom figures were exhibited at the “Soopa Show” (which coincided with New York Comic Con this past April). Most of those Soopa customs are truly works of art, to be sure, but Jude Buffum’s “Cock Blocker” is maybe the raddest:

    Cock Blocker by Jude Buffum

    Splendid! (The i am 8-bit curator already bought it.)


    Catch Retro Game Master in NYC this weekend!

    Yesterday, Wired’s videogame blog, Game Life, posted my blarticle, “Japan’s Cult Retro-Gaming TV Show Debuts in English.”

    Last weekend, as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, moviegoers were treated to screenings of Retro Game Master, a lovingly localized version of Game Center CX. I happened to be in the city at that time, so there you are.

    I hope it’s OK that I post this—I think the sound of the U.S. audience giggling at Shinya Arino in a theatrical setting is what really makes this so charming.

    As for the event itself, the screenings were only half-hour clips, and derived from episodes I’ve already seen (without subtitles, of course), and not many people were there. “But!” I said to Emily Balistrieri, “the real thrill is what it all could mean.”

    You can still make Retro Game Master part of your weekend plans:

    If you’re in New York City, you can catch an encore presentation of the Retro Game Master episodes. The Mystery of Atlantis episode will be screened Saturday at noon. The Ghosts ‘n Goblins episode airs at noon Sunday and again at 11:30 a.m. July 2. Admission is free.
    IFC Center 323 Sixth Ave., New York 10014 Box office: (212) 924-7771


    Shawn Smith’s DIY plush toy: launching tonight!

    The Ninjatown cast of characters is already pretty diverse: there’s a Zombie Ninja, an Anti-Ninja, even a Baby Ninja. But what if you could design your own ninja? A Chef Ninja, a Bunny Ninja, a Ninja Librarian…?

    Plushform Launch Event and Gallery Exhibit - flyer

    Shawn Smith’s Plushform is a blank, customizable canvas, a DIY ‘plush’ toy that shares the Wee Ninja’s iconic silhouette. And at 20 bucks, he’s pretty cheap.

    Plushform launches tonight, June 27, at Rotofugi in Chicago. For the event, artists from around the world have customized their own Plushform, which will be on exhibit in the store’s gallery space. If you live in or near Chicago, there’s really no excuse to not go.

    Rotofugi Designer Toy Store and Gallery
    1955 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago
    June 27, 6-9 P.M. (CST)



    Play Super Mario Bros this July (for a good cause!)

    Hey, New York City!

    Beginning July 1 (it’s only a week away!), VideoGamesNewYork is hosting a month-long Super Mario Bros. tournament. The scant $2 entry fee benefits Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play.

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