Feature Article

Game Genie Was More Than The Sum of its Cheat Codes

All's fair in love and video games.

Game Genie, the infamous cheat device that granted infinite lives and unlimited ammo, began as nothing more than a tiny knob on a golden game cartridge. That cartridge was a copy of Treasure Island Dizzy, a puzzle game on the Nintendo Entertainment System starring a cartoon egg that wore boxing gloves. The knob was there so you could--in theory--adjust the number of lives you had, thereby making the game easier or harder as desired. Dizzy's developer, Codemasters, thought this extra feature would help its company's next game stand out from the pack--as if the gold finish wasn't enough.

That little knob ended up doing squat for Treasure Island Dizzy--the game shipped without it--but it did become the catalyst for Codemasters' first breakout success. The team reasoned that if they could alter game code in one game, maybe they could apply that same technology to other games on the same console. And why stop at adding extra lives? They could seek out and tweak other variables as well. They could create a device that brought players' dreams--no, their wishes--to life. And so, after a long night of brainstorming in 1989, Codemasters developed its first Game Genie. It was a big pile of wires and dials, and it was going to make them millions.

It would also drag the young developer into a legal battle with the industry's most powerful company, Nintendo, before quietly fading into obscurity. Today, Game Genie is largely remembered for its repertoire of game-breaking codes, but it could do so much more. With the right set of codes, you could make a new game out of an old one, play as the enemy, or access unused or unfinished parts of a game. Game Genie treated video games as toys to be altered by the whims of your imagination. It eventually earned a successor, Game Genie 2, which never saw the light of day, as well as a few other cheat devices decades later, including one currently in the works for the PlayStation 4.

MORE THAN A CHEAT MACHINE

The video game industry needs a better class of cheat device, one that introduces a little chaos to the oftentimes rigid structure of modern gaming. That was the real magic of Codemasters' device. It wasn't the infinite ammo codes or the skip-to-the-final-stage cheats; it was the oddball stuff that you would find through trial and error. It was making all the enemies throw hammers in Mario or replacing all the items and enemies in Kirby with different, random items or enemies. By mixing and matching these different codes, you could create entirely new experiences in your favorite games.

"Game Genie franchise may fall out of style, but the creativity that goes into modifying a game will always be there," said Sole. "So, to some degree, the Game Genie will never die. It'll just fall under a new name."

Ralph Sole, also known as SolerEclipse on YouTube, is teaching himself how to do just that and his videos provide a glimpse of Game Genie's true capabilities. "Growing up, I owned Adventure Island II on the NES and was, admittedly, pretty bad at it," said Sole, "so I would use codes to explore, and pratice, other levels. As I got older, I realized I didn't have to just use Game Genie to beat levels. I could use it to do whatever I want. I mean, if people can come up with their own cheat codes, there has to be some sort of underlying logic to it that I just don't understand, so I just started messing around with it. I like to break things, and Game Genie created a safe, controlled way to do that with video games."

In one of Sole's videos, the opening stage of Super Mario Bros. is altered so that an endless cascade of enemy turtles fly in from the right side of the screen and zip across the stage. Oh, and any mushrooms that appear fly off to the left as well. The result is a new--and wildly unpredictable--experience from the regular game. It's a fun twist on the familiar, and easy to recreate. The limits to Game Genie are really just your imagination and how much time you can devote to code hunting. "Game Genie franchise may fall out of style, but the inspiration and the creativity that goes into modifying a game will always be there," said Sole. "So, to some degree, the Game Genie will never die. It'll just fall under a new name."

Game Genie was originally called the Power Pak, but Codemasters was afraid people would mistake it for a battery pack.

THE LOST GAME GENIE 2

One of Game Genie's earliest supporters was Lewis Galoob Toys Inc. Lewis Galoob's son loved that he could make Mario jump higher, and the company agreed to distribute Game Genie in North America. Game Genie steadily grew in popularity, spawning new versions for other consoles, and eventually drew the ire of Nintendo, which felt Game Genie was in violation of copyright laws. A court case ensued between Galoob and Nintendo, ending with a judge ruling in favor of Galoob. However, while Galoob had won the day, the trial had dire consequences for Codemasters' latest piece of hardware, Game Genie 2.

Game Genie 2 gave users the ability to find their own codes using four buttons located on the cartridge itself. It was ready to go for the Super Nintendo, but a change in Galoob's upper management put the project on permanent hold.

"There was a Game Genie 2 which never came out in the end," said David Darling, co-founder of Codemasters, "which was one of our biggest regrets because it was such an amazing product." As Darling explained, Game Genie 2 gave users the ability to find their own codes using four buttons located on the cartridge itself. If you wanted to find a code for Mario's lives, for example, you would first press a button three times to indicate Mario had three lives. You'd then die, and press another button twice to indicate the new total. Game Genie 2 would then hunt down the variable in the game's code that had just changed from three to two, and spit out a code that let you change Mario's lives to whatever number you wanted. Game Genie 2 was ready to go for the Super Nintendo, but a change in Galoob's upper management put the project on permanent hold.

"When we met Galoob, the Galoob family still ran the company," said Darling. "But by the time the court case was finished and Game Genie 2 was ready to come out, David Galoob had left the company, and Galoob was much more business driven. They were never a video games publisher, after all, and I think they saw Game Genie as just a single toy. After going through the hardware switch from NES to SNES, it just got too complicated. For a toy company, the video game industry was just too alien."

Game Genie 2 died on the vine, but, as Darling noted, there is one in existence somewhere, "probably in the attic at Codemasters." After Game Genie, Codemasters moved on to focusing solely on games; Darling moved on to his own company, Kwalee, years later; and the industry moved on from cartridge- to compact disc-based gaming. It would take a few decades for another company to come along and breathe new life into this curious device and devise a plan for adapting it to next-gen hardware.

According to Darling, Game Genie sold roughly 5 million units and netted $140 million at retail worldwide.

GAME GENIE EYES PLAYSTATION 4

In 2012, just over two decades after its creation, Game Genie made a quiet return to market. It had a new look and a new company backing it, and it operated in a completely different style than its predecessors. This new Game Genie, developed by Hyperkin for the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo DS, modified your save game to give you extra lives or ammo. According to Chris Gallizzi, product manager at Hyperkin, this is a much more rigid system than what the older Game Genie enjoyed. Gaining access to a game's save files means cracking several layers of encryption, a process that changes from game to game. It's slow, time-consuming work that limits the product to only the games Gallizzi and his three-person team have cracked.

Gallizzi may have found a way to bring Game Genie to PlayStation 4 thanks to a security loophole in the PS4's design. "The key to the PlayStation 4 is the Vita," he explained, "and the Vita is not as secure as people think."

However, Gallizzi thinks he may have found a way to recapture some of that old Game Genie craziness thanks to a security loophole in the PlayStation 4's design. "The key to the PlayStation 4 is the Vita," he explained, "and the Vita is not as secure as people think. By syncing the Vita to the PS4, we are then able to pick up a hidden Wi-Fi signal to detect a backdoor entry to the system. From there, we're able to access the raw game files, like trophy data and partially encrypted game saves. It still needs work, but the ultimate goal is to be able to mod a game file or the actual PUP files while the game is running--similar to DEX modding for the PS3, which allows real-time memory hacks."

So far, Gallizzi and his team have been successful in modifying only two games--Battlefield 4 and Tomb Raider--on the PS4, and even then, neither game is very stable. It will be a while before this technology is ready for public consumption, but when it is it will open up games in ways the PS3 and DS Game Genies could not. "What this technology would allow us to do is actually modify the game data, similar to how the orignal Game Genie functioned," Gallizzi said. "From there we could do things like jumping over a whole level in a single bound or explore the game coding and find hidden stuff that was never fully deleted, stuff that's not seen in save data but is actually within game code."

Gallizzi and his team are aware that the gaming landscape has changed since the days of the original Game Genie. Massively multiplayer online games and competitive online gaming have taken hold, and those are two areas of gaming the team knows to stay away from. "We have one golden rule," said Gallizzi, "and that is to never go into online gaming. We don't want to disrupt the competitive communities for Call of Duty or Battlefield or any of those games. We make sure that if you're using our hacks or cheats or whatever, you're doing it in your own little world."

When Boarderlands 2 came out, Gallizzi found a cheat that boosted players to level 127, before level caps were even announced. Gearbox quickly nullified this cheat.

Game hacking and modding are still alive and well outside of Game Genie, especially on PC. However, as Sole noted, Game Genie made game modification both safe and accessible for non-PC players, while opening up a ton of crazy possibilities to boot. And unlike typical PC modding, Game Genie also introduced an element of randomness. Most game mods or hacks are designed with some sort of goal in mind. With Game Genie, you never really knew what--if anything--you were going to get when you started plugging in random codes, and those results might not be things you would think to search for, nor develop as a mod.

History has shown that the one major complaint lobbed at Game Genie was that it made games shorter or easier by circumventing certain parts. You could just press a button and win the game. And while that was certainly an option, it wasn't all this device could do. For those who took the time to learn this new technology, it rewarded them by breathing new life into games time and again. Game developers and publishers today are constantly looking for new ways to get extra mileage out of their games, whether through downloadable content or various unlocks. It's time we put the power back in the players' hands and let our imaginations extend the life of our favorite games. It's time for another Game Genie.

Written By

Discussion

96 comments
SpLiTMaN
SpLiTMaN

I remember Modding my games with the game genies...Kinda what started me gaming on pc and modding games Thx for the years off endless discovery Game Genie

Setzera
Setzera

I have to agree, back when I had Game Genie, Gameshark, and Pro Action Replay, I easily turned 10 hour games in to 100 hour games.  And though I can only speak for myself, when I did use it online, I never went out to harm other players experience.


Heck I played Phantasy Star Online for 6 years on Dreamcast, using cheats.  The only time anyone ever noticed, was when I used too many Star Atonimizers during a boss fight.  But aside from that, I never did anything that ruined the experience for anyone else.  Just things to make mine better.


I know there were a lot of bad players though, who ruined many people's experiences, but you can still cheat and not be taking away from games.  Heck, 99% of what I rented for NES to Gamecube, was only because I had cheat devices.  Now that I don't have them, I have less than 10 games across all platforms, because I just don't enjoy much of the new stuff as it is.

silverwings21
silverwings21

Still have the Game Genie for NES, SNES, SEGA, GAMEBOY (and the other cheat devices, such as: Game Shark & Action Replay).


But I don't see much of a use for Game Genie for this & the last couple of generations of systems; games these days are WAY too easy and hand-hold-y. Back then the Game Genie helped you practice on the harder, later stages, then when you were ready you'd run through the game for real without the Game Genie.


There was a reason the term "Nintendo Hard" was coined, and a reason the Game Genie existed.


ANGRYWOLF
ANGRYWOLF

One of the things I hate Nintendo for doing.Karma is a *****, as the tv show goes.


gsp0tmaster4u29
gsp0tmaster4u29

Gameshark all the way for playstation and trainers for pc.

KimCheeWarriorX
KimCheeWarriorX

although this isnt cheat device related. this reminds me of when sony took bleem to court and lost. although sony lost time and time again. each time sony took bleem to court, bleem lost more and more money on legal fees which eventually led to bleem's demise. i was personally disgusted by the outcome because no matter how much the courts proved time and time again that bleem was not in the wrong, like a spoiled little brat, someone at sony kept pursuing them legally even though they knew they would get the same results and/or sue them into oblivion. its a real sleazy move and a fault within the american judicial system that allows the rich to win, not the ones that are right.

solereclipse
solereclipse

Thanks again Maxwell for including me in the article! I really enjoyed reading this and found it fascinating that there were more plans involved with the Game Genie than I was aware of. I would've loved to play with the Game Genie 2 in my youth with the features described.

sakaixx
sakaixx

I hope Play Station 4 gets the cheat device, I enjoyed the codebreaker, gameshark and action replay on PS1/PS2 because it give me incentives to play the games to the finish line and to keep me from being bored on some games because some of the cheat is downright funny as hell.

nanosphere
nanosphere

I can relate entirely with this article.  I remember learning how the codes worked in relation to memory addresses and then creating new codes to do things like swap character sprites or mess with physics or access unfinished levels.


It was never really about cheating, but more modding the game and learning how it worked.  In many ways game genie helped teach me about programming and how computers in general worked.

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

I still have my Game Genie for NES, plus the fairly thick book of codes that came with it.  One of my favorites was a code so when you fell down a bottomless pit you would fall through the top of the screen right back into play rather than die.  I would have never seen the final stages of Battletoads without it.

The issue with selling one today is that most games are far too easy to need it, most games are multi-platform, so you're going to have a majority of hacking inclined gamers scoff and say "I can already do that on my PC".  As a future PS4 owner who doesn't PC game, I hope it does come out, I know I'd buy one.

Boddicker
Boddicker

I had the Game Genie for the NES.  I don't remember why but I returned it. 


Guess I should have kept it.

kgallis21
kgallis21

I loved game genie I had it for snes, genesis and nes

eternaldragoonx
eternaldragoonx

Game Genie was how I beat TMNT for the nes. Frigin water level can suck myass

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

The game genie was the original micro transaction that actually worked. I love the one I had


flyincloud1116
flyincloud1116

People used the Game Genie to ruin Socom 2. No thanks. It have been the Game Shark. Still no thanks.

barrybarryk
barrybarryk

All hail the Game Genie, I certainly wouldn't have finished Rad Gravity without it.

I guess we have the Game Genie to thank for all the Peek & Poke style cheat systems emulators have implemented over the years too

kirby-92
kirby-92

I don't get why some people bother to comment negatively about this. Game Genie on PS3 never made cheats that interfere with any multi-player game. If you're against cheats in single-player, then don't use them! 
Commenting about your mad skills and how this is obsolete is like going to the supermarket in a poor neighborhood and yelling: "maaan, I don't need groceries because my butler buys all of that". Not everyone has what it takes to become as good as you at a game. Sometimes, I only get to play once every month... and that causes some extra difficulty. In Dark Souls 2, for example, it takes me a while to remember which button is which.

amar1234
amar1234

wonder how much a game genie 2 would sell for on ebay if someone managed to shift one out of codemasters attic?

starhowl
starhowl

Super cool, you're changing for the better.

OHGFawx
OHGFawx

I love my Game Genies, I have one for NES, SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy. It was a lot of fun to mod games with crazy effects for added fun, and in addition to making games easier, you could also make them harder which was much more my style.

monson21502
monson21502

damn hackers on psn already have all the cheat codes. i remember playing war hawk and i was in a tank and shot a dude 3 times right in the chest he just kept walking to me and blew my tank up in 2 seconds with his flame thrower. and on black ops 2 it take 2 clips to kill them and hit hit mark to kill u . i wouldnt mind cheating on single player games but i hate when i play cheaters on line. and then they act like they are good. i said yeah if i could turn a corner and auto 1 hit some1 without even seeing them with any gun in the game i would be good too lol

junglist101
junglist101

Sony will just release an update to render this useless.  Tbh, it doesn't sound like this will go anywhere anyways...

jdt532
jdt532

I miss cheating devices like Gameshark and Codebreaker...

commando1992
commando1992

Sony and/or Microsoft are going to sue the hell out of them if this gets big, and given the amount of lawyers they can hire, they'll probably win. 

KimCheeWarriorX
KimCheeWarriorX

ill still never forget when nintendo tried to sue galoob when i was a kid. what i didnt expect was for nintendo to lose the lawsuit and the game genie to continue to be a successful brand for years to come. hell, sega didnt even try to stop them in any way and welcomed them with open arms, the opposite of what nintendo did. this brings back some memories.

Dragerdeifrit
Dragerdeifrit

for some reason i never knew about game genie.., but i had Gameshark for ps1, ps2 and gameboy color


amdreallyfast
amdreallyfast

I remember a Game Genie-like thing for the N64, and me and my friends just called it the Game Genie, but from reading this article, the Game Genie died, so it must have been something else.

I like the project, but I smell court trouble coming in the form of "This is not the experience that the user is legally required to have."  And the rebuttal would be, "Duh.  You experience is boring now."  

FIGHT!

deadpen
deadpen

Still have my Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Genesis, and Game Gear's game genie. 

tom_cat_01
tom_cat_01

Hardest game I've ever played... Colony Wars: Vengeance

freedom01
freedom01 moderator

I still have my Game Genie for my Gameboy, never knew how to use it at that time

psuedospike
psuedospike

Sega Genesis + 32X + Sega Channel + Game Genie + Sonic & Knuckles + Sonic 3 = 1,500ft Skyscraper!

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

@eternaldragoonx  LOL  I never had the slightest problem with the water level, but always got lost inside the Technodrome and still couldn't beat the game.

solereclipse
solereclipse

@kirby-92 I think there's always going to be some disconnection and/or misunderstanding between the action of using a cheat device and the intent behind it. It's a problem not just with Game Genie but it is typical for debates in general to have this conflict.

Keeping the topic gaming-related, this discussion reminds me of the age old arguments between TAS VS speedrun communities as well as being competitive in a traditional 2D/3D fighter environment VS being competitive in a Smash Bros environment. Both groups don't always necessarily see eye to eye with each other and even sometimes unwilling to budge despite there being newer information to gain a better understanding of the other side's viewpoint.

With all that said though I would like to go on record stating that I love the FGC, Smash Bros. (both casually and competitively), speedruns, and TAS videos. Along with the development of cheat codes, I never understood why we all couldn't co-exist without conflict. Don't get me wrong though. I know an individual never represents a community as a whole but there's no denying it is still an issue.

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

@kirby-92  I get controls mixed up when I work on multiple games in one stretch, especially if they're in the same genre.

DARREN636
DARREN636

There is a streets of rage soundtrack CD on eBay. £300.

DARREN636
DARREN636

Sounds like my internet connection!

ArchoNils2
ArchoNils2

You sure that wasn't just lagg or something?

KimCheeWarriorX
KimCheeWarriorX

@junglist101 something naysayers also said of a similar nature of the game genie in the beginning. i dont care how much more technology has advanced over the past decades since the original game genie. all this security is implemented because a human being designed it to. what is created by man always has a flaw. its what makes us human. you can argue all you want but there is no perfect security for a game console. people just stopped trying hard enough to find a new way to crack security in the past gen. hopefully this new device will create a renaissance of cheat devices but i agree with this company's comments regarding online competitive gaming. cheats/exploits/hacks shouldnt be able to be used in competitive games to give one gamer an edge over the other. same goes for leaderboard data.

KimCheeWarriorX
KimCheeWarriorX

@commando1992 unfortunately, youre probably right. although this isnt cheat device related. this reminds me of when sony took bleem to court and lost. although sony lost time and time again. each time sony took bleem to court, bleem lost more and more money on legal fees which eventually led to bleem's demise. i was personally disgusted by the outcome because no matter how much the courts proved time and time again that bleem was not in the wrong, like a spoiled little brat, someone at sony kept pursuing them legally even though they knew they would get the same results and/or sue them into oblivion. its a real sleazy move and a fault within the american judicial system that allows the rich to win, not the ones that are right.

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

@commando1992  Read the article.  Precedent already says otherwise.  Money buys criminals out of going to prison, but it doesn't buy decisions between companies.

DARREN636
DARREN636

Nintendo

Control control.

I must have control- I'm a control freak

solereclipse
solereclipse

@Dragerdeifrit Do you remember if you got a Gameshark for Pokemon R/B/Y by chance back in the day? I have this theory that it sold exponentially better than intended because of the game's release although I unfortunately have no proof of that.

amar1234
amar1234

@deadpen


Did you rebuy all that stuff, which isn't impressive or you mean you still have them from when you first bought them when they came out?

solereclipse
solereclipse

@DARREN636 Yuzo Koshiro also played his soundtrack for a club live in the past if I recall. I'm not sure if he still does but I believe he was at MAGfest a few years back to perform the Streets of Rage/Bare Knuckle music also.

solereclipse
solereclipse

@KimCheeWarriorX This is also true for any system in general. It doesn't have to be just video games nor does it even have to be electronics. This is pretty much the way I see it from not just a console gaming standpoint but from a social engineering/computer networking standpoint as well.

If at any point you think you're safe is when you're truly vulnerable. I could be stealing that quote from someone but I wouldn't be able to recall where it came from.

deadpen
deadpen

@amar1234 Day one buys, I NEVER re-buy any of my gaming systems, accessories, or games (no trade-in I keep it good, bad, or ugly).