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The History of Cheating in Video Games

Last Updated August 17, 2022

Video game cheating is when a player uses a variety of strategies to gain an edge over the game's conventional rules, usually to make it simpler. A cheat code implemented by the game's original producers may be used to trigger a cheat. However, they can also be developed by third-party software (such as a game instructor or emulator) or hardware such as cheat cartridges). They can also be achieved by taking advantage of software flaws; depending on whether the fault is well known, this may or may not be regarded as cheating. All numerical values in a computer game are kept in memory "as is." Before the game launched, players could modify a small portion of it. 

It was common to practice when it came to videogames for many eight-bit computers to download games into storage and change specific memory addresses before starting them to cheat by gaining an infinite supply of life, money, resistance, stealth, etc. POKE statements were used to carry out these adjustments. With the suitable cartridges or Multiface add-on, players could pause a running program, enter POKEs, and then restart on the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC family, and ZX Spectrum. 

The Multiface was attempted to be detected by several games, and if it were, they would not load. The earlier versions couldn't "hide." Later versions generally had a toggle, automatically hid, or checked to see if the interface had already been opened and shut before starting the game.

History of cheating in games

Cheat codes were created to aid game makers in testing their creations when they first appeared in the early 1980s. '80s developers had to try their games to ensure everything was working correctly, as they do now. However, they weren't always strong enough to win against their workers. They would therefore incorporate little workarounds that would grant them infinite lives or superior equipment so they could advance through the games fast without requiring numerous restarts or years of rigorous training. 

In other instances, the codes were intended to assist testers in repeatedly playing the same part of a game in quest of elusive bugs. Cheat codes could make it easier for a tester to get to the difficult part of a game rapidly so they can try to reproduce the bug frequently. 

Many early cheat codes, such as those found in Manic Miner, were highly private to the developers because they were only intended for internal usage. Based on an article in Retro Gaming News, the "6031769" barcode from programmer Matthew Smith's driver's license may be used to access a folder of every stage in the Bug-Byte adaptation of Manic Miner. 

Video game cheating is when a player uses a variety of strategies to gain an edge over the game's conventional rules, usually to make it simpler. A cheat code implemented by the game's original producers may be used to trigger a cheat. However, they can also be developed by third-party software (such as a game instructor or emulator) or hardware such as cheat cartridges). They can also be achieved by taking advantage of software flaws; depending on whether the fault is well known, this may or may not be regarded as cheating. As soon as the home console was introduced, cheat software and cartridges for video games started to appear. These applications could be bought, installed on consoles or PCs, and used to tweak practically every aspect of games, including bugs and stats. Although most gamers are familiar with 1990-released tools like the Game Genie, there are records of companies peddling cheat software as early as 1981.

Within a few months after Wizardry's 1981 release, $25 applications like WizPlus and WizFix were available to gamers to enable them to change their status and free characters from jail. Similarly, advertisements for "The Great Escape Utility" allowed users to customize "any aspect of the game." Put an end to chest waiting, starting crashes, and delays. Get anything, in any amount. Start at any rank and in any room. Limit your aim. Even more things."

These items were sold without the express developer's consent and originated from independent companies. As cheat codes were more widely known, some developers concluded that players preferred the option to cheat. Games began to include purposefully packaged available cheat codes as a result. 

Through the time the 1990s arrived, game designers started to have cheats for various reasons. Some were pointless, such as NBA Jam's giant head mode, which didn't alter gameplay but was somewhat silly and entertaining. Other times, censorship was circumvented via cheats in video games like Mortal Kombat by concealing graphic violence until players entered the correct code. 

Later, thousands of cheats for video games like GTA and Goldeneye appeared, offering flaws like invincibility, undiscovered bonus levels, and quick access to powerful tools and vehicles to prolong the game's life. Due to the complexity of early exploits, technologically savvy players took advantage of cheating. However, the packaging and sale of hacking as a product led to the emergence of a cheat industry as gaming systems advanced. Cheat-enablers like cheat manuals, game guides, and cheat cartridges contributed to the development of the gaming industry and made cheating a cultural norm.   

Cheating was not, however, widely tolerated in the early days of gaming. The gaming publication Amiga Power denounced cheaters and claimed that it went against their commitment to fairness. They also extended this the other way around, saying that games shouldn't be able to trick players. 

It's debatable if using walkthroughs, guides, and tutorials to finish games counts as cheating. Unless used to unlock specific hidden bonuses, cheat codes have mostly been eliminated from many contemporary games. Real-time achievement tracking was implemented to make cheating by one person unfair. Cheating is discouraged in online multiplayer games and frequently results in a ban. 

However, if a player meets a specific requirement, some games may allow single-player hacks. Yet other games, like those powered by the Source engine, let server administrators or single-player players use developer consoles to enable a wide range of hacks. Even more, concentrated on the finer details of cheating was Tips and Tricks, which also initially went on sale in 1995. Along with its coverage of the "lifestyle" of gamers, it also published anything from lists of the most used codes to reviews of the newest POKE cartridges. Indeed, there was even a Television program devoted to video game hacking. In 2002, Cheat! Premiered on the G4 network and ran for an incredible 174 episodes until 2009. 

Although none of these publications are now in circulation, their widespread use helped pave the way for the abundance of online (and print) strategy manuals, walkthroughs, and tip sites available today. PC game developers in the 1990s kept including time-saving development codes in their products as a part of the creative process during this celebration of subversion. Consider the Quake of 1996.

While playing, tapping the button opened the developer console, where players could enter various codes to modify the game. Noclip, fly, god mode, status effects, and level selections could all be accessible and key-mapped for quick access. Unsurprisingly, that practice still exists today. During testing, the game's different areas and scenarios still require quick access by developers, and resourceful players keep looking for ways to get ahead. A similar array of cheat codes may be entered using the command line in Doom (2016) on PC. 

Players can select god mode, obtain improved equipment and weapons entirely, or disclose any unknown regions of the mission map after pressing Ctrl+Alt+ to visit the developer console. This also applies to Fallout 4 for PC. Press the tilde key to start typing. Cheats always accompanied consoles and computers as they switched to online gaming from split screens to LAN parties. And that's where things became complicated. It's not a big problem to cheat in a one- or two-player game unless you surpass your older brother's record or anything similar. If the worst happens, you'll be exposed by the game, as Super Mario 64 cheaters swiftly discovered. 

Since cheating would provide players access to the material (such as power-ups and extra money) that would otherwise need payment, many games that use in-game payments consider hacking unethical and unlawful. The Digital Millennium Copyright Law outlines no rules prohibiting changing already-owned software. Hence cheating in these games is still illegal.

Methods that are being used in video games for cheating

Modifying game data at runtime

By making changes to the game's database while it is active, cheating is simple to accomplish. Typically, changing game data is against the terms of a software licence, which forbids any alterations to the program. 

These techniques for cheating are frequently less trustworthy than cheat codes built into a game by its designers. This is because controlled release versions of a game, utilising the same game at various times, or even playing the same game on different hardware, may all cause varied memory use and cause the trainer program to have no effect or for the game to stop working altogether.

Hardware for modifying memory

A console or home computer's interface port is used to connect a cheat cartridge. It enables user modification of the game code both before and during execution. A cheat cartridge has since been developed for practically every platform, including Datel's line of Action Replay devices. An early version is the Multiface for the ZX Spectra. 

Game Genie for the Genesis, Nintendo, Mega NES, Game Boy, and Game Gear gaming consoles is another well-known illustration of this. GameShark and Code Buster are two examples of contemporary disc-based cheat gear that change the game's code using cheats from a sizable cheat library. 

Cheat discs, which contain a basic loader program that loads a boot disk and alters the primary application before launching it, have mostly supplanted cheat cartridges in consoles of later generations. In the Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. v. Nintendo of Usa, Inc. case, where Nintendo ultimately sued Lewis Galoob Toys, claiming that its cheat device, the Game Genius, created an infringing copy of games therefore violated copyrighted material, the legality of these types of devices was questioned.

Cheat codes

The most straightforward cheat software is written by the game creators and concealed within the actual video game; it will result in an uncommon impact that is not a standard component of the game mechanics. 

Players typically need to enter secret passwords or hit gamepad buttons in a specific order to use cheat codes. Less frequent activation techniques include picking up objects in a particular order, executing other counterintuitive acts, holding buttons or buttons while killing, typing high score names, and more. 

A debugging console may be available in some games, allowing players to change game settings. Some games make fun of players who use cheat codes from other games. When applying cheat codes from Doom in Heretic, for instance, the desired outcome is often the opposite of what was intended, such as instant death in place of invulnerability or the removal of weapons in the area of their provision. 

In contrast to other cheating techniques, the game designers add cheats codes frequently as a mechanism to playtest specific game elements without trouble. The Konami Code, developed in 1986 by Konami programmer Kazuhisa Hashimoto as he focused on converting the 1985 arcade machine Gradius to run on the Nintendo Entertainment System, is one of the early examples of this kind of cheat.

Memory editing software

Using memory editor software enables the player to directly alter the numerical values in a specific memory address, which is the simplest way to accomplish this. This type of software typically contains a feature that enables the user to conduct memory searches to help them find the memory regions where values (such as the number of lives, score, or health status) are stored. 

A memory editor might also be able to "block" a memory address to prevent the game from changing the data kept there. A unique kind of memory editor called a "game trainer" contains predefined routines that can be used to alter the run-time memory of a particular computer game. Trainers are sometimes distributed with a single + and a figure after their name to indicate the number of adjustments they can make. 

Trainers were typically integrated right into the game during the 1980s and 1990s by cracking groups. The trainer would often display its splash screen when the game first booted up, occasionally allowing players to change trainer-related settings before moving on to the game itself. Trainer games were identified in cracker group release lists and intros by 1 or more +(plus) signs, each trainer had one choice, as in "the Mega Krew showcases Ms. Astro Chicken++."

Many emulators come with built-in features that let players change data. At the same time, the game is being played, sometimes even simulating cheating devices like Game Genie. Some emulators take this approach further, letting the user publish and import data modifications. Cheat packs are collections of edit templates from various console games. The ability to keep the condition of the complete simulated system at any time is another benefit that emulators frequently give, making it possible to save a game at any point, even when the game does not include keep capabilities. Some consoles permit this behaviour by using cheating devices like "Instant Replay."

Code injection

Code injection, a little more uncommon than memory editing, entails changing the game's program file. At the same time, it is being played, for instance, by using POKE commands. When playing Jet Set Willy on the ZX Spectrum, a common cheat entailed swapping out the Z80 instruction DEC (HL), which was responsible for reducing the player's life by one, with a NOP. This effectively gave the player endless lives. DLLs are frequently used for video game hacking on Microsoft Windows. Users insert the DLL into their preferred game using third-party software.

Saved game editors

An indirect method of changing game data is to edit a saved game. The real-time game information that will be recovered when the game tries to load the saved game can be effectively changed by altering a file in storage devices. The simplest method of modifying saved game files was with hex editors. As with game editors, hex editing was quickly superseded for this purpose by specialised game-editing applications, which included features to change stored data for specific games promptly. 

Swapping and combining these files can also allow for cheating if a recorded game is split up into many files. If, for instance, two files represent the contents of a treasure chest and the player's inventories, the player may save the game both before and after taking an item out of the trunk and resume play using the inventory file from before the article was taken out and the treasure box file from before.

fake network traffic

Modern games are created to be robust versus network and protocol alterations. Editing packets to change outgoing network traffic and, consequently, the game's state is a similar technique for cheating in online games. The conditions of service for most games expressly restrict this type of cheating, although it was more prevalent in the past.

Evolution of cheating in video games

In many online multiplayer video games, cheating occurs. Although cheat codes and other methods to simplify single-player video games have always existed, producers frequently try to stop it in multiplayer mode. Affairs evolved after the debut of the first widely played online multiplayer games. Because most games had been played on consoles or local networks in the past, it was relatively simple to see if other players were cheating. That has changed due to the rise in prominence of multiplayer games, users' relative anonymity, and the ability to share cheats thanks to the internet. 

Aimbots help players aim at their targets and give them an unfair advantage. Wallhacks let players see through thick or transparent objects or change or erase textures. And ESP, which shows information about other players, is the type of hack in first-person shooter games.

Additionally, some cheats enlarge the hitbox of the adversary, allowing the player to fire close to the target, which the game would otherwise recognize as a miss. Since it is unjust to gamers with only one account, creating numerous reports via jailbreaking a device to receive more rewards might be considered cheating in online trading card games. 

On public gaming servers, hacking in online games is frequent. Some online games, like Battlefield 1942, include features designed to prevent cheating vulnerabilities. These features are implemented using tools like PunkBuster or Valve Anti-Cheat. 

However, specific anti-cheat programs are routinely and repeatedly bypassed until subsequent updates drive cheat developers to develop new strategies to get around the security, like anti-virus businesses. Several plug-ins are available for developers to use in single-player games to thwart cheaters. An obfuscator will rename events, properties, and methods, confuse the code so decompiles cannot read it, and even insert bogus code. Variables in memory will be encrypted, and an obscurer will hide strings. 

Anti-cheat toolkits include a variety of technologies, including those for encrypting player preferences, identifying time cheats, detecting speed hacks, detecting wall hackers, and more. These can also be utilized in the majority of multiplayer games.

Final verdict

When you begin cheating in games online, you immediately impact everyone else's experiences, most often in the wrong way. Anyone sniped in Warzone by a camper using an aimbot, and wall hacks can attest to this. Players nearby may suffer as a result of your exploiting bugs in the games you play, such as the Last Hold Grenade Throw in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or just disconnecting your connection before losing a game of Starcraft. According to a 2018 Global Gaming Research of 9,436 consumers, cheaters adversely affected 60 percent of respondents' gaming experiences on multiple occasions. The study, which polled gamers in China, Germany, Japan, S. Korea, the UK, and the US, also discovered that 48 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to buy in-game items, and 77 percent of respondents said they are ready to quit playing multiplayer matchmaking if they believe other players are cheating.

Additionally, since a sizable and engaged user population is necessary for an online game to be successful, its creators cannot allow a small group of cheats to destroy the enjoyment of the majority of the community. Because of this, the gaming sector has long worked to reduce the impact of dishonest players, albeit the specific strategies used vary significantly between titles and platforms. Anti-cheating programs like PunkBuster and player bans for cheating have long been practical tools for game makers.

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