Mythbusters: Wing Commander I Edition

290 points9
theevilsharpie9 days ago

This reminds me of a hack that Traveller's Tales implemented for Sonic 3D Blast on the Sega Genesis/Megadrive.

If you physically wiggle or hit the game cartridge enough while the the console is powered on with the game inserted in it, a "secret level select" screen pops up where you can select a level.

It was long considered to be an easter egg, but actually, it was a custom crash handler that the devs created that trapped all of the main CPU's error interrupts and redirected to a level select screen. They did this to avoid having their game build rejected by Sega's QA team and delaying the game's release. (Sega's QA testing was a multi-week process, and a crash would mean the build getting rejected and having to start the process over again.) When people were wiggling the game cart, they were inadvertently unplugging the cart enough for the processor to throw an error.

Source (3-minute YouTube video):

The linked "Coding Secrets" YouTube channels has other videos details similar hacks, if you're interested in going down that rabbit hole. It was wild the things these devs had to do to get games to work within the hardware and business constraints of the time.

tschwimmer9 days ago

I think it's telling when games were much (much) simpler mechanically that QA was a multi-week process. Recent AAA games seem to forgo even a multi-minute QA process by the publisher or the console maker.

Cthulhu_9 days ago

> Recent AAA games seem to forgo even a multi-minute QA process by the publisher or the console maker.

Citation needed; frequently the list of QA testers at the developer, publisher and console manufacturer are larger than the list of developers in the credits of a modern day game. There's tons of QA testing happening, but also the complexity and size of games are 1000x what they were back then.

That said, you can definitely tell a difference in quality between publishers; big titles like God of War, Horizon, even some of the biggest of them all, RDR 2, barely have any major issues at launch.

But you're probably thinking of Cyberpunk, an overambitious title released too soon, or maybe Starfield, by the company that refused to fix known issues that the community fixed over a decade ago but kept republishing the same title with the same bugs for years.

stevezsa89 days ago

In games QA, the deadlines are fixed and development creeps into QA time. So you get less QA time than you originally planned. If you're lucky, a patch will fix some bugs.

In non-games QA, if development takes too long, you typically get an extra sprint to test the changes.

In the games industry QA is considered an entry level job with little respect from other departments.

In non-games testing, QA is a career that pays double and is usually a respected part of the development process.

Basically, I would support the claim that QA could be improved generally across the board in the games industry.

marcosdumay9 days ago
jxf9 days ago
tschwimmer8 days ago

I was indeed thinking of Cyberpunk but also games like Redfall, Wild Hearts, Outriders, etc. These games shipped inexcusably buggy and in the case of Wild Hearts, EA recently announced that they won't put in any more effort into patching performance issues which still persist.

I realize that all of these games probably had large QA teams work on them for a long time, but that's why I said "seems" - maybe the caught the bugs but they certainly didn't slip the launch or hire more people to fix them.

toast09 days ago

The "right" amount of QA is about the cost of fixing errors. When you manufacture a ton of ROMs for a cartridge, there's not a lot of cost effective fixes you can do when an error is found. Hopefully it's minor, because if it's a major error, you're looking at a full replacement campaign and that's going to be super spendy.

On the other hand, how much does it cost to run an update on a Steam game? There's certainly a cost, and some of the cost is reputation, which is hard to earn back, but the tradeoff of being able to get patches is the reduction in quality control because problems can be patched.

mavhc9 days ago

The easier it is to update something the worse state you can ship it in.

Never trust a device with a reset button.

dfxm129 days ago

It's not because of how simple or not the games were, it might seem that way because because it's just not as important as updates can be provided online now.

benoliver9999 days ago

These videos are refreshingly short. I feel like all my YT subs produce 45m videos these days.

NegativeK9 days ago

45 minutes of legitimate content is great.

A 45 minute video of majority filler content/entertainment is just as bad as a 10 minute video of majority filler content/entertainment.

qup9 days ago

I saw a review of a cheap Damascus knife today, and the guy was so busy cutting in jokes... it was infuriating. I just wanted to see how the blade failed.

he finally bent the unhardened knife at the sixteen minute mark. I wish I was kidding.

teddyh9 days ago

Install <> and click “Skip to Highlight”.

unwind9 days ago

There really is some magic power in being able to reach first-party sources for things like this.

It's also fun how "impossible" it can seem sometimes, especially (for me) if there's an age and/or geographic distance.

For instance I grew up in the 80s in Sweden, and was really into computers (!) back then, too. I had a Commodore 128 (followed by Amigas). There was a lot of gaming going on in C64 mode, and of course "Uridium" [1] and "Paradroid" [2] were more or less staples that everyone knew about.

It's still weirding me out that I have their author (Andrew Braybrook) in my Xitter feed [3], and that he is still doing game devlopment after all these years. Back then he felt like some kind of distant (he's from the UK, and more than a decade older than me) magician; now he's kinda/sorta my peer, at least professionally speaking. So weird.

I realize things like this happened all the time before the Internet too, but it must have been harder and/or more rare.




softwaredoug9 days ago

I just love that there’s a website for wing commander news in 2023 that is kept up to date.

sumtechguy9 days ago

wcn... wow have not been to that site in ages. Glad they keep it up to date.

hoppla9 days ago

Heard a story about a developer auditing the code for missiles. He quickly pointed out that there was memory leaks everywhere … turns out that it was intentional, as the missile had its own garbage collection at the end of flight.

Any OOM issues was handled by doubling the expected memory usage during the missiles flight.

debo_9 days ago

"Out of missile memory, switching to guns"

ahoka9 days ago

Hard to believe TBH.

bombcar9 days ago
xcdzvyn9 days ago

There's this comment on the linked Reddit thread:

> I remember playing Wing Commander I, for hours the first time I ran it... upon exiting after a marathon, I read that text and thought "Awe, how nice".

Now knowing the truth, I wonder if they're lying or just misremembering.

ElderKorihor9 days ago

Probably just Mandela effect. I also remember this message that apparently doesn't exist. I was also a big player of Ultima VII so maybe my mental wires are crossed as the article suggests.

photonerd9 days ago

It’s also worth noting that it wasn’t exactly uncommon to have messages like that on exit. Apogee games did it a lot I seem to remember. Lots of DOS/4GW stuff too.

So the memory is… primed, so to speak.

I_am_uncreative9 days ago

Master Of Orion II (1996) has that when you exit the game as well, plenty of games did it during that time period.

beej719 days ago

I remember it distinctly, as well. Crazy.

aidenn09 days ago

I can see if my floppies still work (they probably don't) and see if it's different from the GOG/Kilrathi Saga versions.

Sharlin9 days ago

Misremembering, of course. Our memories are notoriously unreliable, much more so than we'd like to think. Thes kinds of messages used to be not unusual, and the simple act of reading the story is plenty enough to generate a false or mixed memory recall.

projektfu9 days ago

What happens is someone writes an article that retcons reality to their version. Happens all the time.

Innominate9 days ago

I suspect they're using a much later release of the game. The versions most readily available online came much later.

jonathankoren9 days ago

While this story turned out to be false, I do remember installing the multiplayer game launcher for Half Life 1 back in 1999/2000. After clicking “install”, a dialog popped up and said something, “If the installer says the program failed to install, do not worry. The program installed correctly.”

I took a screenshot. I had it for years. I may have lost it, or maybe it’s sitting on some old computer at my parents, but I swear it’s true.

Sure enough, the error message popped up, and the program was installed correctly.

I told the story once on Twitter, and someone responded that this was known problem. It had something to do with Windows 97’s registry updates if I remember correctly.

AnotherGoodName9 days ago

If you uninstalled half life 1's bundled Sierra Utilities it would remove 1 directory higher than where you installed it. Usually wiping out Program Files.

AdmiralAsshat8 days ago
lostlogin9 days ago

Oh that’s great.

Then what? You wrote a stern letter and posted it?

thih99 days ago

Sometimes you posted on a forum, like this:

fragmede8 days ago

I posted that this happened on a different thread but failed to find reference to it on the Internet. Thanks for digging up an reference, I knew I wasn't dreaming it up!

bandrami9 days ago

> Windows 97

I think I've isolated the problem

Maakuth9 days ago

There was a time-unlocked beta version of Windows Memphis (98) making circles that was shoddily rebranded as Windows 97. Of course it's likelier that the parent mistyped either 95 or 98.

BSTRhino9 days ago

This is so strange because I'm sure I remember seeing the "Thank you for playing Wing Commander!" message as a child. Am I the only one?

Boxxed9 days ago

I'm pretty sure the thank-you-for-playing message is actually in Wing Commander 2

BSTRhino9 days ago

Okay, I think I have confirmed this is the answer. I had this combined Ultima 8, Syndicate Plus, Wing Commander 2 CD:

Which confirms that I was playing Wing Commander 2.

tom_9 days ago

Nope! It sound very familiar to me too when I first read about this.

Feels like I played a lot of DOS games though, looking back, so perhaps I got mixed up. Printing stuff on exit was not that unusual.

tom_9 days ago

I downloaded the version from Looks like it might say thank you on exit from the character converter. I just did a string search through all the files to find this though.

> Thank you for using the Wing Commander character converter

> Thank you for using the Secret Missions II character converter

Inside the zip, as well as loose files, there's what looks to be a CD image, containing this message. Perhaps part of the installer? Not sure why it refers to Wing Commander II either. It's next to a bunch of text about how you should upgrade to MS-DOS 5.00. This isn't part of any of the files.



> Nearly ten man-years of work went into this product. Without the support of customers like yourself, we would be unable to continue to create games of this quality and scale. Please, do not distribute illegal copies of this software

erkmene9 days ago

Me too! I definitely remember seeing that thank you note. Mandela Effect comes to mind of course but the memory is so vivid it’s creepy.

MBCook9 days ago

What a great ending.

concordDance9 days ago

The little distortions that get added to stories as they propagate can be infuriating. Though in this case its harmless.

Boxxed8 days ago

I'm fairly certain it was Wing Commander 2 that had this message, not the original.

courseofaction9 days ago

Side note: -> gotta be one of the worst brand identity decisions in recent memory.

thih99 days ago


> There is nothing inherently wrong with the Kama Sutra itself - it's merely an ancient instructional text on ways one might find fulfillment through emotional and physical love - but the play on words involved in the Gamasutra website title does admittedly cling "to a late-90s "LOL SEX" connotation," in the words of Game Developer publisher Kris Graft.

courseofaction9 days ago

"Sutra" is a rule, method, or teaching. Game-a/Gamer speaks for itself. Personally I perceived the name as cleverer than they give it credit for, not just a cheap play on words, but I suppose if that's the mindset it was being approached with...

thih99 days ago

The title was not Gamesutra nor Gamersutra though.

pests9 days ago
seanthemon9 days ago

Twitter -> X gives similar vibes

Earw0rm9 days ago

Worse. At least GamaSutra to GameDeveloper makes it sound less like an adult website. "" sounds like Netscape is about to start thrashing the hard drive with penis enlargement pop-ups like it's 1998.

psd19 days ago

That and, "Meta". It's a prefix, not a word.

hk__29 days ago

It’s a brand name; you can use whatever you want. "Google" is not a pre-existing word either ("not a word" is a linguistical nonsense: anything is a word once it’s used as such).

bruce5119 days ago


joshschreuder9 days ago

I feel like given the comment from Ken, it is not unreasonable to assume the game shipped like he said.

He did specifically say "We had to ship ASAP" which implies that it was done to get the game out the door and indeed shipping copies would have the message.

voynich9 days ago