We often refer to the smoke and mirrors video game developers clevery use to invoke a false sense of control or specific feeling in their players. As with real world magic tricks, a few will remain undiscovered forwever. Some however, have seen the light of day in recent years and made it possible for us to add them to this evergrowing collection of playful whisperings, untold secrets and fun facts from the realm of video game trivia:
LOADING BARS ARE FAKE
Did you ever wonder how loading bars in games work? Truth is, they don’t. More often than not they are pre-rendered animations, designed specifically to comfort players into thinking the game is hard at work preparing the next spectecular experience. As indie developer Mike Bethell revealed during an interview, this is also why loading bars usually don’t fill up smoothly at an even speed, but show the typical crunch and jump behavior: “Players don’t trust a smooth loading bar. Apparently, the stutters and pauses
show you that the load is ‘biting’.”.
THE ENEMY’S FIRST SHOT ALWAYS MISSES
Bioshock creator Ken Levine revealed that enemies in the game would always miss the first shots, in order to give players a chance to re-gain their situational awareness and react to the attacker: “First shots from an enemy against you in BioShock always missed…that was the design, think it got fully implemented. No ‘out of blue deaths!'”. A bit of a reverse-cheat if you will – but one, that made for a more rewarding and less frustrating power fantasy.
BOSSES LIKE TO MOVE IT MOVE IT
In From Software‘ games, like Dark Souls 3 or Elden Ring, the bosses movement and attacking schemes follows the rythm of well known pop and rock songs. Unconciously making it easier for players to decode and memorize them for making the perfect block and counter-attack at just the right moment – or shall we say, right on the beat?
MOST GAMES USE THE SAME SOUND FOR CLOSING DOORS
Allthough many tools offer developers options to implement their own sound sets, much like the infamous William’s Scream in movies, the sound of opening and closing doors has become to something of an industry giggle, being the exact same one in more games than you might think. Believe us, you won’t be able to un-hear it. You are welcome.
UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START
First spotted in the Nintendo shoot’em’up classic Gradius from 1986, the so called Nintendo code has become the first cheat code to become part of modern day pop culture and is being built into many games until today. Seriously, give it a try, you’d be surprised.
SUPER MARIO WAS NINTENDO’S SUPER LANDLORD
Did you know the game starring the cute, little italian plumber was originally and rather uninspiringly going to be called Jump Man? According to the New York Times though, Nintendo later changed the name to hero’s Mario in reference to their landlord Mario Segale, who they rented the workspace in Tukwila from, after he repeatedly scolded the company’s president over failure to pay rent.
TRAFFIC PREFERS DOING RIGHT TURNS
We would encourage you to have a close look at the road traffic the next time you boot up an open world- or simulation game, as it is not unlikely you are going to witness hilarty. In games like the Bus Simulator or L.A. Noire, traffic tends to prefer doing right turns, as left turns disrupt the traffic flow much more and require additional behavioural rules for other road users – often resulting in anything from traffic jams to pure mayhem.
THE LAST BIT OF HEALTH COUNTS DOUBLE
We are sad to break this to you, but the last times you felt like you had just so made it out from an exhilarating fight in Assassin’s Creed or Doom, it probably comes down to the developers making the last drops of your character’s health count double or even tripple, prioritizing the generation of memorable gaming moments over mathematical correctness.
FOR THE DRAMA
We’ve all been there – this feeling of finally having downed a boss after a merely neverending, breathless fight. Like the climax of an action movie from the 80s though, these battles are often artificially extended to make them feel even more epic and rewarding. Game designer Rick Lesley for example opened up about developers secretely fiddeling with the hitpoints of specific foes in Shadow of Mordor for drama purposes: “In Shadow of Mordor, I would add additional health back to dueling uruk, to artificially extend their fight a bit, for spectacle!”
THE MYTH OF THUMBSTICK CORRECTION
Since its introduction in The Last of Us, many modern video games offer something crypitically called thumbstick correction in their gameplay settings. It pretends to make the ingame character’s movements smoother by ignoring overly jitterish controller inputs by hasty players. On top of that however, it automatically and discretely circumnavigates obstacles like cars, trees or rocks within the game world, so players don’t get stuck when exploring. Literally making for a frictionless experience.
Have you ever wondered why it is pratically impossible to stay in first place in Mario Kart or why your opponents in FIFA keep performing the comebacks of the century out of the blue? It’s because developers want to keep the level of excitement as high as possible until the end. Implementing certain systems that kick in, when a player threatens to become too dominent. Dubbed rubber-banding or catchup AI due to its prominent use in racing games, with opponents almost comically catching up to the player, as if pulled by a rubber band, similar systems are broadly used throughout sports- & simulation games.
ONLY TWO ENEMIES ATTACKING SIMULTANEOUSLY
If attacked by more than two enemies at the same in the original Half-Life, still only a maximum of two enemies would actively attack the player. With the other ones “running to random locations and barking lies like ‘flanking!’.”, as graphics programmer Tom Forsyth so eloquently puts it.
TUTORIALS DEFINE CONTROLLER SETTINGS
Have you ever wondered why almost every game has you look up, down, left and right before you are allowed to really get going? Sure, it does help unexperienced players to get a hang of the controls. There is however, also a bit of clever trickery going on under the hood. Calibrating and locking in the x- & y axis of your input device, depending on which direction you move the mouse or stick, when asked to look into a certain direction.
It can be extremely difficult to get a crucial jump or directional change right in games. Leading to frustration with the player and stutters in the rythmic flow of the action on screen when things go south. For this reason, developers came up with Coyote Time, the idea of giving the player just a tiny bit longer of a time window to execute the required action. Named after the popular cartoon character Wile E. Coyote, who would routinely float in the air for a couple of seconds when running of a cliff while trying to catch the infamous Road Runner, it is an invisible feature that made games like Crash Bandicoot or Sonic The Hedghog less frustrating and the alltime classics we consider them today.
THE GOLDEN BULLET
Game developer Rob Fermier revealed that in the original System Shock the team made the last bullet of the player’s magazine inflict double damage, increasing the probability that players could leave a tough gunfight victorious and with a sense of blissful accomplishment.
Roads in open world games like Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate or Cyberpunk 2077 are often much broader than they would be in the real world. Making sure players are able to overtake other traffic at all times and insuring a fun and undisrupted travel experience. After all, nobody likes to be stuck in traffic, right? Fun fact on the side: To make the overall size ratio between the broader roadways match with the rest of the world, buildings, trees and other obsticles are also scaled up just a tiny bit.
Have you heard of other interesting game design myths and untold secrets of video game trivia? We would love for you to get in touch and add them to the list.