If you’re writing a book on the evolution of video games,
you need to devote at least one chapter to the various incarnations of Adventure, the cave-crawling action game
that appeared on platforms ranging from the Atari 2600 to the PDP-10 to any IBM
PC running MS-DOS 1.0, because the game came bundled with the OS. Widely
considered the first action-adventure game, Adventure—or
Colossal Cave Adventure, the original
name of its earliest versions—also served to inaugurate or popularize a number
of core video game elements we now take for granted, such as Easter eggs and
cheat codes.

Will Crowther created the original Adventure in 1975 while he was working as an ARPANET developer. It
was a text-based game that required players to type in specific commands when
prompted. Crowther’s Fortran-based version of the game has been lost to
antiquity, but it proved popular enough with his fellow coders that they
quickly ported and tweaked it to work with various other systems.

Along the way, the porting developers inserted new, often
humorous uses for the game’s existing commands and magic words—including the
still-in-use xyzzy and plugh. By some accounts, these novel
command outcomes are among the earliest game Easter eggs and/or cheat codes ever
developed.

However, the most blatant Easter egg in any version of Adventure belongs to the Atari 2600
edition. At the time, Atari programmers didn’t receive credit for the games
they developed, so coder Warren Robinett inserted a graphic into the game that
read: “Created by Warren Robinett.” The image would only appear if a
player moved an “invisible” pixel (it was the same color as the
background) to a specific location.

All of these hidden nuances of Adventure may serve as antecedents to modern Easter eggs and
cheats, but they don’t exactly bear a strong resemblance to modern cheat codes.
Perhaps the most famous “modern” cheat is the fondly remembered
Contra Code.

For players of the popular game Contra using the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
console, the famous up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-Start sequence
gave them 30 lives—a surefire way to beat the game. The code proved so popular
that developers incorporated it into more than 100 video games, each providing
a unique cheat.

Yet, for all its notoriety, the Contra Code didn’t originate
with Contra. In fact, it previously
appeared in another NES game developed by Konami.

WHAT WAS THE FIRST VIDEO GAME TO RECOGNIZE THE FAMOUS
“CONTRA CODE”?

What was the first video game to recognize the famous Contra
Code—a cheat code implemented in more than 100 video games?

The game in question is Gradius,
the side-scrolling spaceflight shooter that made the catch phrase “Shoot
the core!” famous. When Konami ported this arcade classic to the NES in 1986,
entering up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-Start gave the player a full
complement of power-ups to start the game.

Entering the code backward—A-B-right-left-right-left-down-down-up-up-Start—gave
the player 30 extra lives at the beginning of the game. As soon as this code
became well-known, Gradius‘ ease of
gameplay skyrocketed, making an already popular game a surefire hit.

That’s pretty cool for a programming shortcut. Konami
developer Kazuhisa Hashimoto created the original code when working on the
NES/Nintendo Famicom port of Gradius
to make testing easier, and he simply didn’t remove it from the programming code
before the game went into production. (This is actually how most cheat codes
originate—though their presence in release versions is often only ostensibly
accidental.)

In 1988, the code popped up again in the NES version of Contra, which remains one of the most
popular console video games ever made. In Contra,
the cheat combo allowed the player to start with 30 extra lives, just like the
inverse code in Gradius.

The code and the game became synonymous, even though more
than 60 other Konami-developed video games recognize the code. As such, in
subsequent years, many know the Contra Code as the Konami Code. But that isn’t an entirely accurate description
either—more than 30 non-Konami games also recognize the button sequence as a
cheat code.

Today, the Contra Code has become an icon of gamer culture,
available on a host of
T-shirts
and swag. But perhaps this Dueling Analogs comic says it best. (Check out the Apostles’
gestures.) That’s not just bringing the funny—that’s God mode Geek Trivia.

Get ready for the Geekend

The Trivia Geek‘s
blog has been reborn as the
Geekend
, an online archive of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant—unless
you’re a hardcore geek with a penchant for science fiction, technology, and
snark. Get a daily dose of subcultural illumination by joining the seven-day Geekend.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of
this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article.
Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and
discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week’s quibble comes from the February 28 edition of
Geek Trivia, “Editorial oversight.”
TechRepublic member Kerens found
some subtle humor in the article’s final paragraph.

“‘Instead,
it lives on in various lexicographical texts as an example of the necessity of
editing, the nebulous nature of language—and, or course, word-worthy Geek
Trivia.’ Or course? Was this intended
to be funny? Or is this a lack of editing? LOL.”

Let’s call it an editorial Easter egg (which we’ve since
corrected—so don’t go looking for it). Congratulations on finding it, and keep
those quibbles coming.

Falling behind on your weekly Geek fix?

Check out the Geek Trivia Archive,
and catch up on the most recent editions of Geek Trivia.

Test your command of
useless knowledge by subscribing to TechRepublic’s Geek Trivia newsletter. Automatically
sign up today!

The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.