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An ode to the videogame password, part 1: Icarus, Samus, and the musical penis


If you flip to the back of your average game manual, you might find a window into the past, hinting at simpler, more infuriating times. If you're lucky, your instruction manual might have a section of blank pages labeled "notes." If you purchased your game used from Gamestop (and were lucky enough to actually get an instruction manual), you might find hand-drawn pictures of ejaculating penises and stick figure copulation.

This is not the intended use of notes pages, of course. Long ago, back before hard drives and autosaves, games relied upon passwords to allow players to retrieve their progress at a later time. Long strings of letters, numbers, and even pictures filled the lines, becoming messes of pencil marks and eraser shavings. A lost or improperly copied password sometimes meant hours of lost progress.

But not all was amiss in the land of passwords. They allowed us to access the wonders of games, giving us abilities far beyond what we had ever dreamed. God modes, flight, and ammunition immeasurable were just a few button presses away, spawning a new category of password forever known as the cheat code. For every pound of password pain, there was a morsel of password pleasure.

The age of the password was short, lasting only until games like The Legend of Zelda adopted an integrated save system. This is a tribute to that age, in all of its splendor and horror.

Passwords seem innocent enough; In this digital age of identity theft and pornographic pay sites, we all have to manage dozens of passwords. They're often stupid, akin to using "password" as your password. Which I definitely don't do for Destructoid. Of course not.

The case used to be fairly similar for videogame passwords. The above password for Kid Icarus, ICARUS ANDTHE ARROWS FLYING, is a real password in the game. It's kind of poetic in a "what the fuck is this shit" kind of way. But it falls into a category that many early videogame passwords did: the lets-make-our-passwords-say-stupid-shit category. Not quite the simplicity of the four-digit passwords of Adventure Island II or the completely unrelated idiocy of President Skroob's luggage combination, but it's a stark contrast to many of the passwords in other games.

You know, like Metroid. The original NES entry into the series was actually very similar to the system used by Kid Icarus. Thanks to the huge number of different states that the game can be started in (based on location, possessed power ups, etc.), the game required a nice 24-character password full of alphabet vomit. Most passwords were just random strings of nonsense.

However, Metroid became famous for some of the unusual passwords that were discovered purely on accident thanks to the game's use of algorithmic passwords. For instance, there's "some-1 set-up us-the B0MB11," which is sort of kind of close to that one funny thing from that one videogame that everyone knows about. Then there's the famous JUSTIN BAILEY code, which started Samus without a suit. There's actually a T-shirt with this code on it. That's the only female to ever wear that shirt, by the way. Verified fact.

Despite the joy of algorithmic password discovery, you can imagine what a chore it would be to keep track of 24-character strings multiple times over the span of a typical playthrough. The passwords were huge and annoying, and there wasn't a damn thing you could do about it except for dig your pencil into your thigh as you struggled to figure out if those were Os or 0s.

The only thing more huge and annoying (besides my penis, which likes to put on a top hat and sing Slipknot songs whenever I'm around old people) were the passwords for GT Advance Championship Racing. The game was originally developed in Japan for the Game Boy Advance, using a battery to save the game's state. However, presumably to cut costs, the battery was left out for the NTSC version, replaced with 16-character abominations like 0i$rf+r4YHf4e++.

I don't know about you, but when I play a portable game, I'm not really interested in carrying around a notebook that's larger than the god damn videogame console that I'm playing simply so that I can access my sweet new tires. And as one IGN reviewer put it back in 2001 (Jesus, passwords were still used in 2001?), if you put in a t and a +, and your handwriting isn't the stuff of the gods, then you'll likely stumble around trying to get the password right, and finally succeed right as your bus ride ends.

OK, so when it comes to length, there actually is something that's even more horrifying than Mr. Growly Fred Astaire Wannabe up there: the RPG. Swords and Serpents, released in 1990, was a dungeon crawler that put you in charge of a party of four, slaying and slaying your way through 16 levels and, eventually, the titular serpent. However, before all of the stabbing, you started with a lovely 12-character password.

12-characters, you say? I eat pieces of shit like 12-character passwords for breakfast!

Well, sir, I hope you have the stomach of Crazy Legs Conti, because another 12-character password follows right behind the first.

And another.

And another.

And another.

Indeed, a total of five passwords were needed for a four-character party in Swords and Serpents, four representing the stats of each of your characters and one for the overall game progress. In total, sixty characters had to be entered to continue your game. I imagine you'd spend more time inputting passwords than actually playing the game. You could alternatively fill up a piñata with Alpha-Bits and go to town, and you'd get a similar experience, only without the hemorrhoids.

Yet some developers weren't content with using those stupid Latin characters that all of the other developers were using, so they came up with their own brilliant ideas. See Exhibit A below.

Of course, you'll recognize this as one of the password screens from the Mega Man series. It's not so bad. Rather than letters and numbers, this series opted to put its balls on the screen in strategic locations. Really, it's nothing more than a glorified letter and number system, only it makes you think, sort of like multiplication, only with more balls. Yeah, pretty much just like multiplication.

As a side note, I used to actually draw out the grids. I'd get out my paper, make up the grid, and copy the balls into it. For every god damn boss. Why? You'd have to ask 7-year-old me. It might have been all of the gin.

Lastly is perhaps the oddest of the password systems. Because balls are just so passé, the Genesis game Stargate decided to be extra classy and use hieroglyphics.

Yeah, so that's really necessary. If anything, it gave you a good chance to channel your inner Ancient Egyptian, copying down the symbols in exquisite detail. Or, you know, you could just write a word for what you thought each picture looked like. "Triangle with nipple, archway with vagina, triangle with nipple, Egyptian goatse, seagull three-way, triangle with nipple, archway with vagina." Your parents might find your notes and wonder if you've been sniffing glue again, but it's better than learning what that shit means. Remember, kids, no cheating by using that silly Internet thing! That's where the child molesters live.

I'm sure there are plenty more password systems that were just as ridiculous as those here. But I'd wager that the horror of the password nonsense found here is enough to make you praise your memory cards--even the ones that magically erased themselves or got eaten by your epileptic dog Sporky.

Not all uses of passwords have been quite as evil as these, however. The happier side of passwords and their evolution, however, will have to wait until another day. I have a piñata shaped like three mating seagulls and filled with sweet marshmallow password fodder to bash. I think I'll tie three NES controllers together and use it like a flail. Until next time.
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About Andrew Kauzone of us since 5:10 PM on 04.30.2009

In loving memory: PAX 2009 (thanks ZombiePlatypus! And WalkYourPath, of course)

I'm Kauza, which is pronounced like cause-uh. My real name's Andrew Kauz, if you'd rather go for that.

I like talking to Dtoid people, so please add me on your favorite social networking site:
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/kauza
Gchat: santakauz[at]gmail.com.

Basics: I'm 25, and I write things.

Eternal thanks go out to Y0j1mb0 for the amazing header image you see above. So, thanks, sir!

Look at some of the things I've written.

Things on the Front Page:

Mass Effect, Metal Gear, Moon Unit, and more: An interview with Jennifer Hale
The Future: Demanding more from the voices of videogames
Love/Hate: A plea to play as a female Shepard
A warning: Regrets from a former life and experiences yet unlived
Top ten games for people who hate Thanksgiving
The wrong thing: Being evil should be more like sex
Staying dry in a sea of spoilers is a matter of building a boat
Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
Come, take your pilgrimage to gaming's one true mecca
Here's to you, random-JRPG-dialogue-writer-man
The forgotten: Crushing disappointment at the hands of Crash 'n the Boys
The people who have the power to change the world
Improving game communities: Enough with the negativity
The draw of exploration: Antarctica to Oblivion, Shackleton to Shadow Complex
I suck at games: BlazBlue and a slapdash attempt at fisticuffs
I, the Author: My Everest
Untapped Potential: The Gamer's Education
Other Worlds than These: Our World, Only Different

A series sort of thing about status effects
Toxic Megacolon and other fresh status effects
Curse you, status effects, stop confusing my heart
Status effects are poisons that turn my silent heart to stone
Also check out the related forum thread.

The Fall of the Titans (wherein I talk about dead or dying gaming companies)

The fall of the titans part 3: What once was shall be again
The fall of the titans: Sega died so that we might dream of the future
The fall of the titans: Why do the giants of gaming die?

Stories from the Past (a series about my experiences playing certain games):

Stories from the Past: Tobal 2, Tomba! 2, and console double-vision
Stories from the Past: Diablo and the Dark Ride
Stories from the Past: What the f*ck, mom?
Stories from the Past: Xexyz and the battle aboard Turtlestar Lobsterica
Stories from the Past: The One-Balled Man-Bear
Stories from the Past: The Battle of Olympus
Stories from the Past: Suikoden 2

Storytelling (a series about, well, storytelling):

Storytelling: The Problem of Genres
Storytelling: Mass Effect, Vonnegut, and the Fourth Rule
Storytelling: Doing Nothing in "The Darkness"
Storytelling: The Power of a Single Line (Yeah, it was my first post.)

Other stuff that is good:

Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
A consuming power: The demon and the borderlands
Can games transcend good and evil?
Nothing is sacred: We won't let you go alone, but we have made a tragic decision
How Destructoid single-handedly changed my mother’s opinion of gaming
Why Tecmo Super Bowl is the greatest sports game of all time
Seven reasons that I will end you in creative ways if you don't play Folklore
Mother Nature and the Impending Death of the Gaming Spirit
Times Games Forgot: The Dark Ages
The Sins and Successes of In-game Collectibles
The Lock is Broken
When Music Surpasses the Game
Truckasaurus Rex and the Humor of Games
I Want to Cry (storytelling related, but not part of the series)

I have others as well that you can check out on my blog. You'll enjoy them or your money back.

Since it seems like the cool thing to do, here a list of my favorite games that is coming straight out of my ass and onto your computer screen, and in no particular order.

Fallout 3
Uncharted 2
Suikoden 2
Mass Effect / ME2
Metal Gear Solid followed by any number you can think of
Tales of Somethingendinginia (OK, and the Abyss)
Battlefield: Bad Company
Xbox LIVE:kauza
PSN ID:santakauz
Mii code:kauza


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