Have video game developers blocked the ability of GameShark to find unused content in games (that they either didn't have time to remove unused, or plan to use in an updated version or sequel)

I could only assume that developers weren't too pleased about the GameShark and it's capabilities, but I doubt there was anything they could do about it.

  • 2
    Allowed myself to edit in a link to Wikipedia. I had no idea what the GameShark was. – tofro Oct 6 at 7:54
  • I'm not realy clear what this question is about. Looking at the description (thanks @tofro) this seams to be some hardware supported game debugger. So what's the relation to your assumed 'hidden' content, and why should it matter at all? – Raffzahn Oct 6 at 9:41
  • Is this question on-topic for RC.SE? – RonJohn Oct 6 at 9:57
  • @RonJohn I guess so. for one, GameShark as a specific product is around for more than 20 years (yes, CD based consols are as well ... we're geting old :)) and similar add-ons since Atari VCS times. But more important, I would file this under 'history' in a more gneral term, which dies make it quite on topic. (Gee, that's already the second time I'm defending a question agains off topic ... seams I'm geting soft :)) – Raffzahn Oct 6 at 10:37
  • @Raffzahn believe me, I tried to ask what OP seemed to want to ask. What about my version ("Have video game developers blocked the ability of GameShark to find unused content in games (that they either didn't have time to remove unused, or plan to use in an updated version or sequel") interferes or is contradictory to what OP asked? – RonJohn Oct 6 at 10:59
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Yes.

TV Tropes NoFairCheating page lists a number of games that would react to the use of GameShark including Donkey Kong 64:

Using any Gameshark code in this game will cause DK to spasm uncontrollably throughout the game. Even in the opening. Also, your cartridge will be permanently damaged if you save. To such a level that you cannot pick up any items and you drop dead from taking a single hit.

Developers have at least two options when faced with hardware like the GameShark that can modify RAM contents. One is to obscure their code and data. Make it so that critical variables are not stored in an obvious manner (e.g., store the number of lives N as N + 10000). The other is to do tamper checks on the data. For instance, keep checksums of data blocks as you change them and look to see that the checksum is still correct before you update. These examples are trivial countermeasures but there are schemes much more difficult to circumvent.

One side of the coin is making cheats difficult to discover. The other is making them difficult to apply. Ideally the difficulty is so high that the GameShark hacker cannot figure it out or the exploit is too complicated for the GameShark to apply.

  • Are you certain the TVTropes claims about DK64 are accurate? Seems a little implausible to me -- especially the "permanent damage". – duskwuff Oct 6 at 17:34
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    I've not verified the DK64 story but I find is plausible on two counts. Detection seems quite feasible (especially if a GameShark is constantly forcing a memory location). The "permanent damage" is just a matter of putting a flag into the save file that turns on the deleterious cheater mode. Second, the programmers at RARE were highly skilled, ambitious and well connected to Nintendo. Their games had a lot of polish. One of the few to write their own N64 graphics microcode. Thus I believe them very capable and motivated to do such a thing. – George Phillips Oct 6 at 21:28
  • The AVGN covered a NES game that would hard crash on boot if a GG was detected. It was a contest game where players could win prizes, so obviously they had an incentive to punish cheaters. – phyrfox Oct 7 at 5:46
  • In a situation where it would corrupt your game, there was no way, however difficult, to repair the game? You would have to but another copy? – user10643 Oct 7 at 20:13
  • I'm sure the game could be fixed by erasing the save data. A "mere" matter of opening the cart and manipulating the EEPROM. – George Phillips Oct 8 at 0:13

As far as I see, this is rather two questions. One is if companies tried to circumvent GameShark at all, as the title suggests, the other if they tried to obfuscate media content not needed as the question body suggests.


'Handling' GameShark in General

Yes, it's something done since the first flipper adds a 'TILT' light bulb. Not only did game developers try to make their games tamper proof (handlingwise or via software/hardware add ons), but even more game console makers did include measures to (at best) prevent the use of such devices in their OS/standard routines.

Obfuscating Unused Media Content

Suppose a video game company didn't have time to remove unused content in a game, [...] did any video game company try to block the use of the GameShark? Or at least make it harder for the GameShark to find hidden content?

Erm… doesn't that answer this the question already? If a company doesn't have resources/time to simply delete unused files (*1), from the generated environment before going gold, where should then the time come in to introduce complicated measures to hide this content?

Doing so would mean the developer (development tools) would have to touch especially all unused files and cloud them with some sophisticated program. Issuing a simple delete (or skip transfer) for these files seems way more sensible than writing even more software to hide them.

Now, if we drop the question requirement about unused files, but consider obscuring about every media file, the situation may look different. Still, it would be some/a lot additional development to fit in an already tight schedule (*2). Not to mention, that doing so would put the same hurdle onto the game itself, slowing it down by the additional decoding that would have had to be done (*3).

One could imagine it as, for whatever reason, planned feature to veil all content to prevent players to peek ahead. In this case, it may be as well possible that InterAct (or who ever developed it at the time) just adds the same decoder to the next release/update (*4). Adding that sounds more like a loose/loose situation for game makers who usually already struggle to get the wonderful action they had imagined worked into a real game using the limited resources of a console.

I could only assume that developers weren't too pleased about the GameShark and it's capabilities

Lets be serious, why shouldn't they? It's content they made, thus they may as well enjoy people appreciating it. But, as usual, marketing is way more relevant than any artistic part (or shame about unfinished parts). And marketing is always and everywhere quite happy about any news the game will create. A secret level… ooooh, shiney; hints about a follow up… cool; a hero selfie hidden in the game… what a great story. After all, each and every of such 'hidden' feature gets to sell more copies (*5).

but I doubt there was anything they could do about it.

Sure, there is, just, as usual, it takes quite some knowledge and even more time to implement. And at least the later is a premium during game development, isn't it?


*1 - As I understand this is about the feature of (some) GameShark versions to browse CD content for pictures, videos and sounds/music.

*2 - Basic assumption was that there is not enough time to delete unused content before going gold.

*3 - At least wrappers to decode the obfuscated/encrypted format into standard before handing it over to relevant player functions of the OS – if that's possible at all due memory and CPU constrains.

*4 - Chances would be high that such a obfuscation scheme would not be used for only one game, so there's an opportunity for even more GameShark features, making it sell better (or even twice to the same customer :))

*5 - This may destroy some players image about developers, players and the industry at all, but most 'hidden' features are not discovered by energetic hard core gamers trying every lever combination in a dungeon with differently coloured hats worn, but simply given away to journalists (or today some web forum) at some point to increase sales.

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