A classic of oldie video games, this is the method of saving your progress in a game without being required to actually store
it on the console or game cartridge: Encode it as a string of letters, numbers, or other symbols and have the player write it down on a nearby piece of paper.
These have an advantage of being portable compared to traditional save files — you can take that slip of paper pretty much anywhere (like a friend's house), and input the password to resume the game more or less right where you left off. On the other hand, you have to make absolutely
sure you wrote down the password correctly
, because messing up a letter here or number there will probably render the entire thing (and whatever game progress it represents) unusable.
Back when computer games came on cassette tapes, "multi-load" games that were divided into two or three parts due to memory constraints used passwords in a slightly different way. The first part would give out a password at the end, but the second part then had to be loaded manually. Once the second part was loaded, the password would serve to unlock the full complement of Video Game Lives
Also present on some newer console games where the data to be saved was too small (like just a level number) to justify the cost of a battery-backed saving chip or an extra file block in the memory card.
Usually, there are two kinds of passwords:
- "Level" passwords: The password records what level you're on, but that's about it — don't expect information such as your score, lives, stats or items to be stored. In other words, the password basically doubles as a level-select. Obviously, this is limited mostly to puzzle games, and games with linear level progression, where collecting secondary items isn't necessary for advancement. These passwords don't actually encode information, so they can be anything the developers want. They are often human-legible words or phrases, and may contain inside jokes from the developers.
- "Game state" passwords: A lot more complicated than level passwords, these record essentially all the information that a Save Point would: What items you've acquired, your character stats, key event flags, and so on. Enter the password and you can pick up from (almost literally) the exact moment you left off, or at least some decent approximation. The length of the password will depend on how much information is being "saved", so a "game state" password that records a lot of things will require a longer password. Also, to discourage players from attempting to cheat the system by inventing their own passwords, the password may incorporate a "checksum", a small combination of symbols whose only function is to verify that the rest of the password is (or at least looks) legitimate.
Many of the more complicated password systems are case-sensitive and also use numbers and symbols. The reason is that 26 lowercase letters, 26 uppercase letters, 10 numerals, and 2 other symbols add up to 64 (two to the sixth power), which means that 6 bits of raw data can be encoded in each symbol. Without lowercase, 32-symbol alphabets (consonants, digits, and a couple symbols) provided 5 bits per symbol. Though this extra encoding can cause problems in and of itself - depending on the font used in the game, some characters could easily get mistaken for others (Like 'I' vs 'l' or '1' or 'O' vs '0' - some games avoided this by simply removing characters that can be mistaken for others from the keyboard to prevent confusion), and some players might simply not have good handwriting, resulting in an otherwise accurately recorded password being incorrectly typed when the game is started up again several days later due to a misreading.
Examples of "level" passwords:
- The Smurfs (1994): Level passwords are provided after each boss (every 4 levels) in all versions of the game, though in the Super NES and Mega Drive versions it takes the form of matching the correctly displayed Smurf characters. Using them was usually a bad idea, though, because playing from the start allowed to collect more Extra Lives for the very difficult endgame)
- Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn for the Playstation
- The Lost Vikings had passwords that were actual words, with numbers replacing vowels they resembled. This meant you could plausibly skip ahead by guessing words that were likely to be used, like H0M3, or H4RD.
- Block Dude and Puzzle Frenzy on the TI-84 calculator both use this system — a three-character code will get you to a given level.
- 1942 was another example, with its five-letter passwords such as "IGPOD".
- Apple ][ game Diamond Mine.
- Modern games on the Net:
- Moon Sweeper: to a specific moon. All are related to science or science fiction (Plasma, Photon, Xenomorph, etc.).
- Turbo Tanks: to a specific stage (level).
- Chip's Challenge gave you a four-character password every level.
- Pipe Dream had passwords every few levels.
- Micro Machines V3 for the Game Boy Color had that.
- So did Asterix and Obelix, same console.
- And Ecco the Dolphin had them on the Sega Genesis.
- The cursor in Ecco started on the letter N. Just hitting the key repeatedly, entering a password of all N's, sent you straight to the last non-boss level in the game.
- Pop Up for the Game Boy had passwords giving access to each level, although your total score, and items, still start over at 0 if you use them. (Which meant that on some levels, using the password access could make the level unwinnable.)
- Zombies Ate My Neighbors: You received a password every four levels, which allowed you to start over from that level with that number of surviving neighbors — passwords didn't include your weapons/ammo, so late-game passwords could make the game even harder.
- After every level in the SNES game The Adventures of Batman and Robin, the "password" was a 4×4 array of icons and blank spaces.
- The first Populous.
- The first Prince of Persia, on platforms without disk saves.
- Solar Jetman, though it does store your score, extra lives, and a few other things.
- The Incredible Machine, using a combination of password and optional score code.
- Various Capcom Licensed Games for the SNES had level passwords made up of more interesting things than letters and numbers:
- The Return of Ishtar, one of the few arcade games to have these.
- Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine used the same coloured beans that are used in the game.
- Rocko's Modern Life had a licensed game that used level passwords.
- Bubble Bobble. Considering how little the passwords changed from level to level, it is thought that the 5-letter combination is just the level number times some constant converted to text.
- Worms 2 implemented level passwords, which form a short story if you list all of them together.
- Puggsy showed a 27-digit password after beating each level.
- Ninja Gaiden Trilogy had level passwords, though the NES versions had no save feature.
- The level passwords of Ugh!, a cute, humorous game about cavemen, are song titles of the deathrock band Christian Death.
- Dragon's Lair on Super NES has password that has to be entered through a difficult minigame.
- In the European version, you have to push balls with the correct letters in the correct holes one by one to form the password. Needless to say, it is long, tedious and it is possible to block a letter into a corner (making it Unwinnable) or even die.
- The American version has a different minigame (where you have to hit the balls with your sword until the correct letter appears) which is thankfully nowhere near as tedious or frustrating.
- Little Samson had level passwords that didn't save anything else.
- Flight Of The Falcon, a Star Wars arcade game for the Game Boy Advance. Without the password, you started in A New Hope every time. With a password, you could start in either The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi.
- Tiny Toon Adventures games:
- Buster's Hidden Treasure for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive has a 20-letter password system, divided by five four-letter sections. However, the furthest the game can take you when you enter a password is the first act of the final world, so if you want to skip to the last level, you're gonna have to play through the first three acts of the last world first.
- Buster Busts Loose for the SNES has a password system consisting of three spaces for pictures of faces of the characters from the show. Unfortunately, the only mode that uses these passwords is "Children".
- Wacky Sports Challenge, also for the SNES, uses a similar password system, represented by Furrball, Shirley, and Fifi dressed as cheerleaders holding up signs.
- Scary Dreams/Buster's Bad Dream for the Game Boy Advance uses an example similar to the two SNES games, but unlike Buster Busts Loose, the passwords work for all three modes of the game; "Easy", "Medium", and "Hard".
- Repton and Repton 3. Their absence on Repton 2 is the main reason 2 is considered the hardest game of the series: you can only complete it in one sitting.
- In Helter Skelter, a password is displayed for every tenth level completed.
- Total Carnage, another rare Arcade Game example, had level passwords that were four letters long.
- Splatterhouse didn't have a save feature in the original game; Wanpaku Graffiti gave four-digit level passwords; Splatterhouse 2 had level passwords made of four cryptic three-letter words; and Splatterhouse 3 had six-letter passwords.
- The Taxan games Burai Fighter, Burai Fighter Deluxe and Low G Man all had four-letter passwords. The level codes in Burai Fighter (except in the PAL version) are ordinary words; those in Low G Man seem to be names of beta testers.
- Scooby-Doo: Classic Creep Capers used the various symbols seen in-game in various combinations. This is also in-universe as one code that Velma types in at the end of the first stage to get into the lab.
- Pajama Sam's Lost and Found uses various simple words for each level, and some do other things, like skip to the ending cutscene, and even mess up the background.
- Password Time! My Little Pony: Crystal Princess: The Runaway Rainbow for the Game Boy Advance always reminds its target audience of young girls to write down its simple 9-character passwords on a piece of paper before the start of each new chapter.
- Kolibri has level passwords, each consisting of eight consonants.
- Rolling Thunder - Each console game in the series has its own password system. The Famicom/NES version of the original game uses seven digit passcodes for each stage, while Rolling Thunder 2 for the Genesis/Mega Drive uses words that formed sentences (e.g. "A ROLLING PROGRAM SMASHED THE GENIUS"). Rolling Thunder 3 has randomized five-character passwords that keeps track of not only the player's last stage and difficulty setting, but also of which weapons he had had used.
- The Game Boy port of Adventure Island III used passwords to keep track of how far you are in the game. Inputting a correct one would always result in starting with two of each item that can be held in inventory.
- Nectaris makes level passwords easy by making them identical with the map names, each of which is six letters in length.
- Astro Marine Corps was originally a double-load cassette-tape game, and therefore provided the player with a password to enter the second side after beating the eighth level. The ST/Amiga level generously expanded this, having a password for every other level. Most of these passwords are Shout Outs to Science Fiction Films.
- 8 Eyes displays a 10-letter password at the top of the screen during each end-of-level cutscene.
- Both versions of Ristar have password systems. The Genesis version had the passwords uncovered depending on how many treasures you recovered from the bonus stages when you beat the game. These passwords revealed various cheat codes that could be used in the game, depending on the region. The Game Gear version had a more straightforward password system, which took you back to whatever world you were on, revealed after you lost all your lives and/or continues in that world.
Examples of "game state" passwords:
- The Mega Man series, starting with Mega Man 2, had passwords for most of its cartridge-based games. As the level sequence in a Mega Man game can vary due to player preference, even the most basic of these can be considered "game state":
- Gameboy GaidenGames 1 & 3 saved level progress only. As did the Game Gear one...
- Mega Man 2 & 3 and the 2nd Gameboy game saved the number of energy tanks as well as level progress. The tank number even served as a checksum in 2, while there were 5 different code sets in the 2nd Gameboy game, again based on energy tanks.
- Mega Man 4-6 did not save tanks but did save side items and portions thereof. Mega Man 4 also had a checksum bit.
- The last 2 Gameboy games, along with Mega Man 7 saved all sorts of tanks, the amount of P-chips/Bolts on hand, and, in the case of 7, Rush Adapters. But none of these saved the number of lives you had.
- The first 3 Mega Man X games also used passwords, saving heart tanks, sub tanks, armor parts, and, in the case of 3, mech forms. But, again, not numbers of lives.
- Mega Man based fan games, like RosenkreuzStilette and Rokko Chan, often use this as a nod to the older games.
- The Addams Family (Ocean Software's Licensed Game for 16-bit consoles and computers) implements a 5 character password (letters, numbers & symbols). Due to a game bug, it doesn't accept passwords if either digit in the lives counter is '9'. The SNES version also allows someone simply entering a default password of "11111" to start the game with 100 lives.
- Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap
- GT Advance
- Golden Sun, for Old Save Bonus in the second game.
- There's three types of passwords to use, depending on how much data you want to import into the game. Bronze passwords only import character levels, Djinn collected, and items that grant new moves like the Orb of Force. Silver passwords imports the above plus the actual character stats. Gold passwords import everything, including coins and items held, but the password is a whopping 260 characters long and the risk of making an error is quite high. If you have a second GBA and a link cable, then data transfer is easy. Thankfully, the Bronze password is the only one needed to complete the Djinn collection and enter the Bonus Dungeon; everything else is for 100% Completion.
- FIFA International Soccer for the SNES
- In Metroid for the NES, the "Justin Bailey" password became famous for the amount of speculation over its supposed meaning. In the earlier versions, you could also use ENGAGE RIDLEY MOTHER FUCKER, which crashes the game in newer ports. The original Japanese version of Metroid had on-disk saving, being a Famicom Disk System game. Kid Icarus, also originally a Famicom Disk System game, used the same password system.
- The first Crash Bandicoot (1996) had both types of passwords: Just beating the levels without collecting the gems earned you 8-character level passwords, but collecting a gem expands that to a 24-character Super password, which also keeps track of gems and keys, and which the game initially hides by only showing the first 8 character spaces before inputting a Super password. Unfortunately, these don't record lives, which can make later stages a pain.
- James Pond 3: Operation Starfish had a system where you had to input a 16-symbol password, made up of about 30 different types of symbol which could be in any of four colours. You spent almost as much time writing down "Red Fish, Blue Diamond, Blue Plane, ..." as actually playing the game.
- Faxanadu for the NES had a "Mantra" that you learned at a local temple. The password saved all your equipment, spells, and key items, but did not save your experience or money. Instead, you would get a "title" based on your experience points, and when you died or loaded from the password, you would be given a specific amount of money based on your title, and your experience points would reset to the minimum for the title as well. Titles had no other benefits, but you could abuse the system to buy something very expensive, get the password, reset and get quite a bit of money back.
- Legend of the Mystical Ninja for the Super Nintendo had a short password for levels, and a long password for returning to a current game with all your items (sorta like a save state).
- River City Ransom for the NES had 33-character passwords, mixing uppercase letters, lowercase letters and numbers to store stats, skills, money, inventory and bosses defeated. The Game Boy Advance remake made passwords unnecessary, though a bug would create a new save file instead of overwriting the previous one, making the game unplayably slow if you didn't erase them often.
- Spiritual Warfare also had a long password system.
- The Guardian Legend had 32-character passwords, again mixing uppercase letters, lowercase letters and numbers.
- The NES Toxic Crusaders game.
- Adventure Island IV
- The Goonies II
- Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (outside of Japan; the Japanese version was on Famicom Disk System, and saved on the disk). Insidiously, one has about a one in one trillion chance of guessing a password with random input.
- The Battle of Olympus. Zeus's "words of wisdom" were very long and confusing.
- Since multiplayer games in Warcraft III can't be saved with any degree of reliability, custom map makers often include passcodes, usually generated on demand, to save relevant parts of the map's macrogame between games. The length and complexity of the codes vary depending on the thoroughness of what's being saved, as simple as eight case-insensitive letters or as complicated as thirty-six-plus characters that include upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols
- Except that when a Map is "updated", previous version codes doesn't work at all, and most of the time, it doesn't work anyways.
- The home computer versions of the first Ghostbusters game had a password system that allowed starting a new game with the money accumulated at the end of the previous one. However the password was generated based on the name you chose. If you didn't spell the name exactly the same it would not work!
- Tombs And Treasure. Finding out your password required the Ixmol Jewel.
- Rayman GBC had passwords that specified which level you were on, and the number of cages destroyed in each level.
- War of the Dead on the PC Engine had passwords that were 54 characters long and mixed hiragana, katakana and romaji to get 7 bits out of each character. The developers apologized for this cumbersome password system.
- The long (20-char) passwords in The Legend of Zelda Oracle games are of two kinds: One encodes (at least) the player and baby's names, the other encodes the Ring of Power collection.
- Blaster Master: Enemy Below
- Legacy of the Wizard had 32-character passwords that were alphanumeric in the English and hiragana in the Japanese version.
- Metal Gear: The NES version of the original game has a twenty-five character alphanumeric password system that keeps track of Snake's rank and inventory, as well all the bosses that had been defeated and all the hostages that were saved (or killed for that matter), plus any special events the player may had triggered.
- Road Rash for the Sega Genesis saved your racing placements and your cash.
- G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor had 14-character passwords, but with each character positioned on its own 3-by-3 grid.
- In The Adventures of Lomax, after every level, you receive a code consisting of 8 symbols, which happen to be the classic Playstation symbols (and they're present even on PC). These codes preserve information about the amount of lives and continues you have and which level you reached.
- Ys I&II uses battery-backed saves, but those can be converted into a password string to carry over to another system.
- Live Powerful Pro Baseball has a password save for a character's stat, which can be used in a sequel to transfer the data between games. This include player's originally created and in-game secret characters. Each set of password is notoriously long (100+ characters), but it's proven robust enough it survives even in the most recent generation of gaming.
- Animorphs for the Game Boy Color was a Shoddy Knockoff Product of Pokémon, with a password system in place of a save function. It works about as well as you might expect.