Password (video gaming)

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In many video games of the 1980s and 1990s, after a level was beaten and/or when all continues were used, the game would display a password, that when entered would allow the player to either restart from the last level reached or restore the game to the state it was in when the password was received, depending on the game.[1] Though similar in many ways to cheat codes, passwords are distinguished from codes in that they are revealed to the player outright rather than hidden within the game code, and using them is generally not considered cheating.[1] They are rarely used today, having been largely supplanted by saved games.

Rationale and history[edit]

Passwords were used when storage was either impossible or expensive. On early ROM cartridges, games could not be saved without an additional memory card being integrated into the game, significantly increasing (often doubling) the manufacturing cost. By using passwords, nothing needed to be written on the cartridge, as the password itself contained all the information needed to continue the game, and thus a memory card was not necessary, lowering costs. These costs were particularly a concern on low volume titles by smaller third-party developers.

With the advent of optical based media at the tail end of the 16-bit era, data could not be stored on the game media, and a saved game required the introduction of non-volatile memory to the console either in the form of internal memory or memory cards (both of which were introduced with the Sega CD) which stored game data once the system was powered off; passwords avoided the need for this.

In the fifth generation of video game consoles, passwords retained practical use in conserving memory blocks. Platform and puzzle games often required no data to be preserved other than the level achieved – which was easily encoded in a simple password – and thus using one of the limited blocks for this data was seen as wasteful. More importantly, some consoles of the time, such as the PlayStation and Jaguar CD, had no memory available for saves out of the box, and the need to purchase separately sold memory cards could be a deterrent to purchasing a game.

Some modern video games still use passwords as a homage to the early days of gaming, or for some other advantage, but they are now rare.

Passwords, as with saved games, have been primarily used for home systems, but have found some use in arcades, as in Gauntlet Legends, which uses passwords to record player statistics/abilities and progress.

Complexity of passwords[edit]

The complexity of passwords depends mostly on the number of variables stored. In games that only require the stage variable to be stored, a single word, with or without meaning, is sufficient. More complex games often base their passwords on several characters combined by an algorithm. While it is possible to translate saves into passwords even from the most complex titles, the practical use of them is very questionable. In games such as role-playing video games, where dozens of stats have to be stored, passwords would be hundreds of characters long.

In other languages with more characters, passwords can be shorter. For example, Japanese has many characters:

  • numerals ... 10
  • hiragana and katakana ... 46 to 83 each
    • 46 normal characters (or 48 with rarely used and )
    • 9 or 10 small characters ... "ぁぃぅぇぉっゃゅょ" and the rarely used "ゎ"
    • 25 voiced characters ... such as "が" and "ぱ"
  • alphabet ... 26 (or 52 with lower case)

Japanese passwords can have more variables. For example, Japanese versions of Dragon Quest prior to the American NES version used passwords with many variables, while the North American version used a battery backup.

Usually, the size and complexity of the password does not make "guessing" a valid password practical. However, particularly in the case of algorithmic passwords, a password can be found by pure chance (such as the famous JUSTIN BAILEY code from Metroid).

Modern use[edit]

The use of passwords for saving progress has been generally replaced by saves, while passwords have taken on the distinct role of adding in extra characters, vehicles, or weapons. For example, in Animal Crossing, passwords are used for giving items to friends; players could trade in an item for a password, and their friend could enter in the password to receive that same item. A handful of games, such as the PC-Engine version of Ys I & II contained a password feature in addition to the conventional game save. In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, every demon that the player can own has a unique password of thirty-two characters that can be used to summon that demon from the Compendium even if the player has never encountered it. If a demon created through fusion has different skills from its normal version, a different password will be stored in the Compendium along with the original password, allowing players to store custom demons.[2]

Many arcade games, such as the Initial D arcade game, use hashes to allow people to submit their fastest lap times to online score tables (though Initial D uses a proprietary magnetic card to save user data). The hash is used to stop people forging lap times. The password can then be entered on a website to have the time added online. An alternative to this is for the arcade consoles to be networked (internet-connected), as via Konami's e-Amusement system.

It is also common in Warcraft 3 mods, where saving data between games is virtually impossible, but generating and reading passwords is not.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Next Generation 1996 Lexicon A to Z: Password". Next Generation. No. 15. Imagine Media. March 1996. p. 38. 
  2. ^ Lark, Anthony (2010-04-06). "Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Review". Retrieved 2010-04-29. 

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