Password (video gaming)
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In many video games of the 8-bit and, to a lesser extent, 16-bit eras (third and fourth generations), after a level was beaten and/or when all continues were used, the game would display a password, that when entered in the game would allow the player to return to this part in the game. In simple cases this saves only the level achieved, while in other cases, such as CRPGs, it saves many more states – possessions, events, and the like. They are rarely used today, with a saved game capacity generally being used instead.
Rationale and history
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 32-bit era (fifth generation), passwords retained some limited practical use in conserving memory blocks, due to the small number of memory blocks on original PlayStation memory cards (15 blocks per card). Platform and puzzle games were famous for this, as often the only data required is the level achieved – hence easily encoded in a simple password – and thus using one of the limited blocks for this data was seen as wasteful.
Some modern video games still use passwords as a homage to the early days of gaming, or for some of the advantages listed below, 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
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
- 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).
Advantages and disadvantages
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Although passwords are seen as archaic by modern standards, they still carry a number of advantages over memory saving, including:
- Portability of passwords: they can be carried over any medium without requiring extra accessories such as memory cards or similar memory transfer media. In the cartridge-based games, it's also possible to continue playing in different cartridges, without losing progress changing between them.
- Always work: while saved media is prone to corruption, passwords (as long as the media are kept safe) will always work. Some cartridges with built-in backup batteries manufactured in the golden age of 16-bit consoles (between 1990 and 1995) also have their batteries worn by now due to overuse, and more recently, users of Memory Cards could lose progress in a game if the card was physically damaged or had some kind of interference that corrupted data while operating.
- Resume anytime: in console games (until the hard drive-based Xbox appeared), there was a limited space that could be used to store games, which could become a problem, particularly in sports games: if a player wants to keep a list of final matches, he needs to acquire a new memory card for each handful of finals. With passwords, although no other statistics are saved, this problem does not exist.
- Independent of version: While in some games installing a patch can render all previously saved games unusable, passwords will always work unless the algorithm behind the password generation is changed.
- Sharing: Once a password was acquired, anyone could use it. If a player unlocked a secret, power-up, extra levels, etc., or reached the last level of a game and acquired the password, he or she could publish and share it with anyone. This allowed players to access parts of a game they did not earn themselves.
- Infinite Amounts: Cartridge based game saves are limited in quantity by the amount of RAM on the cartridge. Most cartridges save between 1 and 4 saves. But with passwords, you can have as many different saves as you want.
- Undo: Once you save over a file or a memory slot, you cannot bring it back. But with passwords, you can always go back to the password you last typed in.
There are, however, several disadvantages:
- Complexity and necessity of human input: some passwords, even for older games, can be over 20 characters long. Not only are they hard and take time to input, but a single error transcribing the password from the screen to the paper could mean a useless password. There can also be confusingly similar characters, such as 0 (the number zero) and O (the letter "O"), capital and lower case letters can be identical in size (like C and c, K and k, S and s) that makes it hard to distinguish between two characters due to the homoglyph, although these code confusions are easily tested and fixed. Some of the later games only had non-ambiguous characters to overcome this problem (such as having either the letter O or the number 0, the letter l or the number 1, etc. and not both). An unusual variant is in The Magic of Scheherazade, which features semi-fault tolerant passwords: passwords between 1 and 5 incorrect characters still work to a limited degree, preserving the stage one has achieved, but not the player's attributes.
- Separate media: the medium used by the player to store passwords acquired—usually a piece of paper, a corner or a blank page of the manual—if not kept properly, is susceptible to loss or damage: ink can fade away, pages can be lost, etc.
- Fewer variables stored: considering the complexity limit, passwords can't hold more than a few variables, which means that they are not practical for variable-oriented games such as RPGs and racing games; sports games are stripped of statistics and, since saving mid-level usually requires an impractical amount of data, strategy games have to be organized into levels to be completed in one sitting.
- No records: it is also completely impractical for saving records of the game, such as "fastest run in a level", "highest score", user statistics, "fastest lap", "total time played", etc.
- Cheating: some "advantages" of passwords, including, but not limited to sharing them, using without actually beating a level, or re-playing levels to get better score, are de facto cheating.
In recent games, 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; in this context they are usually referred to as cheat codes. 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. The PC-Engine version of Ys I & II contained a password feature in addition to the conventional game save to allow players to transfer their games between consoles, possibly the first game to do this. 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.
Today, 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.
- Lark, Anthony (2010-04-06). "Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Review". Retrieved 2010-04-29.