how did people find cheat codes in older games?


Older games had stuff like passwords or the konami code, but i dont see how those button combos could be figured out by one player. Im guessing some official strategy guides had them but if the game didnt have one or didnt include them, did they just spread word-of-mouth from that kids uncle who actually does work at nintendo?

In: 16

They were often printed in magazines like Nintendo Power or other game magazines and as you stated strategy guides would have them. I know I always found out from friends.

Often leaked by developers but eventually considered semi-official parts of the game and released by the companies to game magazines and reviewers, etc. some people also broke into game code and found them that way.

It was usually done by people reverse engineering the game executable. File sizes were small and no attempt was usually made by the developers to obfuscate the cheat codes. People with know how found them easily and then the information spread through printed magazines and BBSes.

The Computer magazines wrote about them. The kids would work hard for those $8 magazines. When that paycheck of 2 cents finally arrived to complete the buy, they rushed down to the store and bought the magazines. The naughtier ones just read the magazines while the clerk looked away.

Yeah, magazines and then within friend groups. Luckily, with the way the internet matured, you don’t need either of them anymore!

Apart from the other answers (all mostly valid), there were pay-for “helplines” for the games made by the game producers. You would phone up a premium line and tell them where you were stuck and they had the developers notes on where to go, what to do, etc. and they would also have sympathy if you were really stuck or not very good, and tell you the cheat codes.

In the 90s I used to go to gamesages dot com, later renamed IGN sages or something but it would give you all the cheats.


Magazines, word-of-mouth, and there were phonelines you could call for cheats and walk-throughs etc.

Its was a try and fail and trading with each other.

I remember, in 1995, for Mortal Kombat 2 (SNES) I traded 8 Playboys for 80 (if I remember correctly) finishing moves, there was no manual, no internet or any other source from which to get them.

A couple of times a month my family would go to Borders bookstore to browse books that we weren’t going to buy. I would take a pen and a paper and go find some video game magazines and sit at a table and write down all the codes that I could. I also did this at Toys R Us a couple of times but it was difficult because they didn’t have tables to sit at so I would have to take the magazine to the bathroom and sit on the toilet and write the codes.

They were sold to magazines that published them in their guides. It was a paper version of following a YouTuber.

Devs would give them to magazines. Magazine would make a front cover with an artwork of your game and bait headline about the never released before cheat codes, and devs get cheap advertising that way.

While they’re sometimes easter eggs, often cheats are introduced to help test the game (’cause tester has better things to do than play tens of hours to check a feature in late game, to be rechecked for 56 intermediate versions of the game) and they don’t bother to remove them.

Sometimes they also get found during the arms race between devs and hackers to make free copies.

Not really an ELI5 question because the answer is simple. Magazines and mouth to mouth propaganda. Since there was no internet to check it, this also lead to many mysteries and theories about hidden content which often werent true. Like the mew under the truck in pokemon red and blue/green

Zelda II: The Adventures of Link is literally unbeatable without the information provided in Nintendo Power unless the player has the completely random or brute force inspiration to walk to a completely deserted section of a town and cast a spell that is not connected to the location in any way. It raises a door from the desert floor and inside it Link finds a cross that lets him view invisible enemies.

The game developers would provide them to magazines, or publish them themselves in newsletters. Or share them to bulletin board systems – the 1980s predecessors to social media.

I played the first tomb raider game with no cheats. Just had to figure it out and keep trying when I got stuck, lol. It took forever to finish.


You need a disassembler and the ROM as a starting point. Much more difficult in 1986 than today, but it could be done.

Bit of everything. Some were posted, some were figured out, some data mined. Older the game is generally the easier it is to figure stuff out about it.