Cheat Codes

Betsy and I were playing Neverwinter again a few nights ago.  We were having trouble with some metal behemoths.  It seems our tactics and weapons were having no effect.  We would have had a better weapon, but it was accidentally sold at the last merchant and we could not afford to get it back.  The game has a huge discrepancy between what it will buy things from you versus how much it will charge you for the same item; about an order of magnitude difference.  We should have reloaded after the mistake, but that would have meant slogging through a tedious encounter, so we sucked it up and just went on.  Later we realized we were stuck. We didn’t know how to continue, so we cheated.


The game lets you manipulate a figure called a Dungeon Master if you so choose.  I took control of the Dungeon Master and had him re-supply our missing item, and a few extra baubles I had my eye on.  It’s not really cheating.  After all we were running our own game.  What you do in the privacy of your own home is your own business.  It’s not really that much different than toggling the difficulty level on the options menu.  It’s all about whether you are having fun.  If you are not having fun, something is wrong, so hack it.


I’ve had this perspective on games since I was young.  Back then, hacking a game meant stealing fake money from the Monopoly bank when no one was looking.  When the game itself no longer provided a challenge, my brothers and I turned the game into a game of deception; clearly superior.  Technically, that was cheating by the rules, but it became a new form of a game for us to play.


Later when I started playing computer games and developing programming skills I found newer ways to hack the games I played.  Even back then, with meager graphics, games had the same set of shortcomings.  Sometimes games turned out to be more puzzling that the makers intended, or bugs, actual bugs, kept you from completing them, or having fun.  I had problems with the game, Temple of Apshai that ran on the Apple IIe and Atari.  After a while, the slow pace of the game became tedious, and no longer fun.  So I turned to the game of hacking the game.  To do that, I had to reverse engineer the save file.  After a few hours of study eventually I understood enough that I could write a program to edit certain aspects of the game.  I could change just about any attribute of my in game character, and try out all sorts of bizarre combinations.  The fun was just beginning.


Then there were cases such as Ultima II that had a bug in the Atari version.  You could not complete the game, and it’s not like today where you can just download a patch over the Internet.  You were just stuck.  So I reverse engineered that save file too, and built a program to edit all sorts of settings.  I put this one up on bulletin boards, so you may have seen it.  No?  For a few years, this is the sort of things I did after I became bored with or stuck inside a game.  The real game/challenge/fun came from hacking the game itself.


Eventually, with college and a career, free-time became scarce.  I stopped playing so many games and definitely had no time to tinker with cheats programs.  So you can image how I felt after playing games like Baldur’s Gate a few years back and discovering that the playing community had built save-game editors.  It brought a tear to my eye. It was just like old times. 


Now with a game like Neverwinter, you don’t even have to bother.  There is no point in modifying the save-game file.  You can call up a Dungeon Master and have at it.  You don’t have to spend hours scratching your head over hex dumps.  You don’t have to tinker with programs, user-interfaces, etc.  You don’t have to do any work at all.


Now that’s cheating!


But I digress.