Developers share tricks and secrets that make games work

A man gives a thumbs up while holding a broken vase duct-taped in front of the TV.

Image: Kotaku / Tortoon / Alexander_P (Shutterstock)

Did you know all the horses in Assassin’s Creed 1 built using truly corrupted human skeletons? Or that Titan Quest used invisible squirrels as in-game timers? All of this is true and further proof that games are basically wild collections of code and hope that have more to do with wonders than software.

Video games shouldn’t work at all. This is what I learned from reading developer stories about making games and all the tricks and hacks used to get these things running. These tales of cracked solutions have always been around, but a recent viral tweet about invisible squirrels being used as game timers has led to a new wave of stories appearing online that once again show how video games are basically held together with tape, magic, and some wands.


For a great example of this, let’s start with a tweet from Charles Randallwho worked on the original Assassin’s Creed. He shared two interesting developer hacks about hidden weapons and corrupted horses.

It turns out that in Assassin’s Creed, the team didn’t have the budget to build a custom frame for fellow assassin Malik. So, when a character loses a hand, it’s actually still there, but only inside out. Randall explained that if you attach a camera to his model, you will most likely see “a tiny hunched arm inside the bicep.”

Another, more wild AC1 hack includes game horses. Randall explained that the game’s horses were created from “corrupted corrupted” digital human skeletons because the team’s technology only worked properly with bipeds at the time.

“Salutations to the amazing animators and editors who managed to make this guy look like a horse,” Randall tweeted.


On Twitter game developer Luke Parks-Haskell shared a simple fix that was used in Fable: Journeyonly for Kinect Fable spin-off was released back in 2012. According to Parks-Haskell, the team ran into a problem right before the game’s release.

Problem: Some grass and water materials were not displaying correctly in the game. Instead, players will see the default gray checkerboard textures used by developers during development. But as time was running out before launch, the team came up with an elegant and quick solution. They simply replaced the developer’s standard gray checkerboard texture with a flat green one. Problem solved, game shipped.


Dark Table shared a story about how they worked in a studio where the engineers couldn’t provide the designers with timers or any way to delay triggers or sequences. However, they did have access to falling objects with physics and collision. So they put together their own timers by dropping in-game boxes off screen from different heights to trigger events using object collision.

While they didn’t feel comfortable giving the name of the studio or the Dreamcast game in question, Dark Table shared a funny story with Kotaku about testing the game on TVs with a frequency of 50 Hz.

“I believe that the primitive physics system depended on the frame rate,” explained Dark Table. “So when they first tested on PAL (50Hz) TVs instead of NTSC (60Hz) TVs, all the timers in the game were a bit off. I think that was when the engineers first discovered what designers were doing (and it was too late to change anything).”


Rolf Kliszczewski, developer who worked on Settlers 3, shared how the team was able to release the game despite serious desync issues when playing online. After spending weeks looking for a fix, one day the error message confirming the out of sync just stopped appearing. According to Kliszczewski, the CEO praised the coders for their hard work. But then he told what really happened:

“Few of us knew that one of them had just re-deleted the error message.” In other words, someone added some text to the code to make the error message disappear. Indeed solve the problem, but it will allow you to submit the game. For game developers, this is the equivalent of putting duct tape on the “check engine” light on your car.


Artist and game developer Alex Zandra shares his story about little bike game she did it in the roguelike genre. As she said Kotaku, its track building system used pre-built vertical level tiles and then stitched them together to create a seamless track for players to race on. All this happened during the loading of the level.

However, a problem arose. Each time a level was generated, an additional, unintentional and large wedge was placed at the very end. Realizing that it would take too long to rewrite the code to fix this intractable bug, Zandra applied another, less “nice” hack.

A screenshot showing a cartoon motorcycle riding up a small hill.

Screenshot: Alex Zandra / Kotaku

“I just left it and instead wrote some code to destroy the extra block,” Zandra explained.

“Technically, when the level starts, this weird oversized ramp block is at the end, but luckily it’s too far ahead for the player to see, and my extra code finds it and removes it before it even appears on the screen. . Not exactly elegant, but it works!”


Sometimes these game development techniques can be summed up in a few words or a single tweet. However, Nate Purcypile, a former Bethesda developer, had a more twisted and wild video game hacking story to share relatively fantastic Fallout 3 DLC, Point Lookout.

The problem he faced was that at some point in the DLC, the team needed to blow up the mansion. Seems simple enough. You blow it up. If you’ve played the DLC, you probably haven’t thought about it. They blew everything up. But oh… that’s not all. Because of the way the engine Fallout 3 worked, Purkeypile and a small group making Point Lookout could not trigger events remotely from the player. Everything you see from a distance was just a static object.

The solution to this problem involved using one piece of already existing technology in the main game: repurposing the system that was used to blow up Megaton in Fallout 3.

Even though the mansion is right in front of you, Purgypile explained Kotaku that it “should be a ‘long-range blast’ type object” that was used in the destruction of Megaton in the original game. “Otherwise we would always have a home there when you are away. So this workaround allowed us to disable this “house explosion” (it was just a house, NOT an explosion) after the mansion actually exploded.”

Or, in other words, Purkeypile stated: “So yes, contrary to common sense, after it explodes, we will turn off the fake “explosive” house.”

You might be wondering why the team didn’t have the resources to build what they needed. Purkeypile explained to me that Bethesda was pretty small at the time. And most people then worked on Skyrim. So the DLC teams had to come up with interesting and cheap ways to use already existing technology and resources to solve problems like the mansion blowing up.


Taylor Swope, designer at Obsidian shared how the team made NPCs appear on monitors and screens in their RPG, The Outer Worlds. It turns out that whenever you see someone talking to you on a screen or monitor, the character is actually nearby in a separate room designed to look like the place they should be in when they send a message.

Swope explained to me that this is a common trick found in many other games. For example, I saw this myself when I wasn’t cutting and researching levels in a Valve game. Half life 2.

As to why developers use this option instead of prerendered video files, Swope explained to me that it mostly comes down to file size.

“Video files get very large and very fast. So not having to include them in the game files is a plus,” said Swope.

For games like The Outer Worldsthere’s also a lot of interaction with the player in those conversations, so the sequence played on the screen needs to be able to react dynamically.”

“Theoretically, we could pre-render each response in a separate video and choose which one to play based on the player’s choice, but then you’d have even MORE video files to work with and would need to build a new system just for that. . It’s easier to just use the conversation system we’ve already built and capture the other side of the conversation “live”.


Game Developer Logan on Twitter shared a simple solution to the problem with the camera they kept clashing while working on their game, Fly a kite. Using first-person view, the player would spawn while sitting on the bus. However, this caused a strange error.

“Essentially, the player will show up,” Logan said. Kotaku “and the player’s camera simultaneously tried to move to a ‘pinned’ position, causing the camera to rotate 360 ​​degrees.”

Starting the game with such wild camera movement wasn’t Logan’s plan, but fixing it wasn’t easy. So instead, Logan just added a fake 2 second loading screen that plays right after the scene starts and after the real loading screen.


Finally, Georg Zoeller explained on Facebook (which was posted on Twitter with his permission) a huge number of wild tricks and hacks used by different teams in a large selection of popular games. Here are just a few of the best they shared:

In IMO Star Wars The Old Republic, all exploding barrels are filled with shrunken invisible people, since only NPCs are the actual source of damage. “Yes, that’s right, every time you fire an exploding barrel, someone gets torn to pieces,” Zeller explained.

“Oh, originally they were complex models with transparency applied, because for many designers, when you have a hammer, everything becomes a nail,” Zoeller said. “I had to write a script to find them all because they dropped the frame rate a lot.”

A man is holding an assault rifle and looking at a large green bush in an old retro shooter.

In a military FPS, Operation FlashpointZoeller reported that the designers “did not have the ability to produce explosions.” Instead, they launched vehicles such as tanks and trucks across the ground at tremendous speed to create large explosions. Apparently, on some maps this is how artillery fire was created.

Perhaps the wildest was in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republicwhere there was one random animal that essentially controlled the planet.

“All of the global quest variables on a particular planet were stored in an ambient creature that couldn’t be targeted,” Zoeller said. “It turns out AOE effects can still trap a creature and kill it, breaking your game if you just kill the right ambient creature.”

Sorry, your game is broken because you killed the Naboo Animal God. Video games are amazing.

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