Have you ever heard of the carrier tomato? The phrase comes from a viral post on Tumblr, which jokingly describes a fictional situation where a player finds a random tomato pattern hidden in a game – a tomato that, if removed, would eventually break the entire game. Somehow, this single, random tomato pattern was the only viable solution, making for a weirdly effective dev hack.
This concept refers to a real and all too familiar practice of game development. Developers have often had to hack together a solution that somehow fixes random glitches without further interrupting the game.
Sometimes these solutions are easy. Others, however, require a bit more creativity. This type of gritty problem-solving results in hilarious and brilliant solutions, once again showing just how incredibly creative game developers are. Here are some of the best of these developer hacks, from floating models to NPCs with train helmets.
#1 – ASSASSIN’S CREEDCHARACTER SKELETONS
Charles Randalla developer who had worked on the original Assassin’s Creed, gave fans a peek behind the developer curtain. The NPC Malik was a one-armed assassin. However, due to budget constraints, the developers were unable to create a custom skeleton for his model. Faced with such a challenge, the developers used a simple solution: flip the arm upside down.
Randall also went on to mention that the horse models were just “twisted damn human skeletons” inside. Since their current tools only worked with bipedal models, the developers needed to find a workaround that would still allow them to place and animate horses in-game. somewhat unsettlingly, this was yet another hack that creatively circumvented tool restrictions. As Randall comments, “Kudos to the amazing riggers and animators who managed to make this guy look like a horse!“
#2 – THE LAST OF US PART II – ELLIE’S SHOTGUN
Originally spotted by u/TheUFCVeteran3, Ellie’s shotgun actually jumps out of her arms when the player looks through her scope. Although it looks like she performs telekinesis, it’s actually an easy way for the devs to adapt to the mechanics of a scoped weapon. Players should be able to see through the weapon like Ellie’s eyes without creating clipping issues. The best way to do it? Simply reposition the gun right next to her.
#3 – Fallout 3MANSION’S POINT LOOKOUT
The story behind this hack comes from developer Nate Purkeypile, who was a lead artist on Fallout 3 and its Point Lookout DLC. Purkeypile worked alongside artist Grant Struthers, to whom he credits this particular solution.
In this DLC, the Point Lookout mansion inevitably explodes. However, due to construction economics, most remote assets were actually static, including the mansion itself. This meant that developers couldn’t toggle remote items on or off, which of course makes a blast difficult. Their solution was to make the mansion ITSELF the explosion.
Making the mansion itself a dynamic asset meant the developers could turn it on/off, even if it was a bit finicky. The end result of this hack, however, is creating exactly the kind of impact they were aiming for.
#4 – TITAN QUESTTHE INVISIBLE SQUIRRELS
Arthur Burno, now owner and lead designer of Crate Entertainment, previously worked on Iron Lore Entertainment’s RPG. Titan Quest. In an article originally for Game Developer, Bruno recounts one of the “most hacking things” he can remember from the development of Titan Quest.
Titan Quest, like many RPGs, managed its quests through an event scripting system. However, its event/quest system has one major weakness – it couldn’t delay actions once they were triggered. This meant that any action triggered would happen instantly, with little room for finesse in timing.
Towards the end of development, however, a QA tester came up with a dev hack. Amid the pre-launch chaos, the tester managed to figure out how to delay triggered actions based on the duration of an animation.
The tester used one of the game’s squirrels, which eventually became the game’s default timing system. So hidden in the levels scattered throughout the game are invisible squirrels, dictating the player’s quests and events with their idle animations. Luckily for the tester, his creativity got him promoted to designer on the next project.
#5 – SKYRIMHIDDEN NPC INVENTORY CHESTS
Skyrim doesn’t have a small number of NPCs, each with their own dialogue trees, animations, and pathing. Managing their behaviors themselves is nothing short of a gargantuan task, not to mention tracking inventories and player interactions. A way for developers to ease the burden of tracking NPCs? Hidden chests.
Almost every NPC in the game has a chest hidden under the map that stores their inventory for them. This takes the load off the system in tracking inventories, leaving the chest asset to keep instead. Some of these chests are impossible to reach, but a good number of them are not hidden too deeply. With a few cuts (of course) across floors, players can actually loot these NPC chests rather than trade them. Anything to save some gold, huh?
#6 – Fallout 3TRAIN HELMET TIP
Again, a tale of Fallout 3DLCs make the list. This hack comes from Fallout 3the third Broken Steel add-on, the Broken Steel DLC. In the game, players board and ride a train; however, rather than the train being a separate animated model, the developers used a different trick to travel.
When “entering” the train, the game equips players with a helmet that changes their view to look like a train. This piece of armor comes with its own specific camera animations, which cause the player’s first-person camera to advance along a specific track. This helps account for the fact that the DLC didn’t have a vehicle system, creating a bug-free and relatively cheap solution.
#seven – FABLEDEFAULT TEXTURES
Sometimes the dev hack isn’t wacky or grand, but simple and elegant. Often, when faced with tight or impending deadlines, the simplest solution works best. Technical Designer Luke Parkes-Haskell tells such a solution on Fable: The Journey.
The action-RPG was plagued with last-minute construction issues. Textures were not appearing, creating default bands of gray in otherwise beautiful environments. However, with an expedition so close, there was little time to find an elegant solution to the construction problem. Instead they just chose to change the default grass green material – problem solved!
#8 – THE OUTER WORLDS‘ TV DIORAMA
Obsidian Technical Designer Taylor Swipe unveiled a behind-the-scenes treat for scifi RPG The Outer Worlds. Throughout the game, players communicate across the vast expanse of space through a number of monitors and broadcasts. Characters call in through TV shows or personal video messages – and, ultimately, these scenes are actually captured live in-game.
The game places the characters in a diorama outside the player level, standing in front of a wallpaper that represents where the character is calling from. This hack replaces the time-consuming and expensive process of creating cutscenes, leaving teams to focus on more pressing matters. Clever, simple and economical, this hack is the very definition of making do with what you have.
#9 – STAR WARS: THE FORMER REPUBLICEXPLOSIVE BARRELS
A vibrant world full of chaos and combat, Star Wars: The Old Republic let players wield blasters and lightsabers. The difficulties of combat, however, were balancing the damage done by people and objects.
Lead Combat Designer Georg Zoeller shared his take on a dev hack he used in the final game. The story, told through Palle Hoffstein, producer of Massive Entertainment on a Twitter feeddescribes the game’s explosive barrel mechanics.”Explosive barrels are filled with shrinking invisible people as only people were a valid source of damage.” Initially, these people were complex models, but after discovering that they had reduced the framerate, they were replaced by a much simpler version. Maybe a bit morbid in the image, but if it works, it works!
#ten – DONKEY KONG 64FREE MEMORY EXPANSION
Throwing back to the days of the Nintendo 64, this walkthrough proves that developers have been using creative solutions since the beginning of large-scale game development. donkey kong 64 released in 1999, and it was the first N64 game to require the system’s new 8MB expansion pack to run. The reason? An unsolvable bug.
In a director’s interview with programmer Chris Marlow, Marlow explained that a difficult problem would cause the game to crash repeatedly. This was seemingly random, but only caused crashes when configured with the N64’s standard 4MB memory configuration. Even after extensive testing and research, the developers couldn’t find the root cause, and they eventually used an external dev hack – release the game with the Expansion Pak included.
Although the developers could not find a software solution, they took advantage of the available hardware to solve the problem. This makes it a smart dev hack in its own right in my book, and shows that sometimes developers have to look outside of the game for the right tool.