The Konami Code is the most famous cheat code in video game history. “Up Up Down Down B A Start” was first implemented in the home console version of Gradius, an insanely difficult space shooter. Typically you had to spend the game gradually collecting power-ups to make your ship more powerful, but if you died even once, you lost them all. The Konami Code would give you every power-up in the game, drastically decreasing the difficulty.
Contra popularized this code in the United States. The code would give players 30 lives, and for many, this was the only way to beat the game. As a result, the cheat code is often called the “30 Lives Code” or the “Contra Code,” but in reality, it will always be the Konami Code created by Kazuhisa Hashimoto. He created the code while in the process of converting Gradius from an arcade game to a home console game, which turned him into a legend of gaming.
Early Wednesday morning, a colleague of Hashimoto announced on Twitter that he had passed away at the age of 61. Konami later put out a statement following his death, mourning the loss of its famed producer.
— TECHNOuchi ♓️🅰 (@TECHNOuchi) February 26, 2020
We are saddened to hear about the passing of Kazuhisa Hashimoto, a deeply talented producer who first introduced the world to the "Konami Code".
Our thoughts are with Hashimoto-san's family and friends at this time. Rest In Peace. pic.twitter.com/vQijEQ8lU2
— Konami (@Konami) February 26, 2020
It’s interesting to look back on an interview from 2003, where Hashimoto was asked about the “story” of the code and why it came to be. Like many things in life, the story isn’t as grand as all the fanfare around it: The game was difficult and he needed a code that was easy for himself to remember. So he implemented it into the game, having no idea he was about to create the most popular video game cheat code ever. (H/t Kotaku)
Gradius was something we were ordered to port, so we tried to be realistic about it. The number of sprites on the NES is overwhelmingly small, so we had no illusions about what we were capable of. [Laughs] We just said to ourselves “Well, that’s as much as we can do!” and left the game at that. I had one guy under me, and he played through the coin-op version. That one’s really tough. I hadn’t played that much and obviously couldn’t beat it myself, so I put in the Konami Code. [Laughs]
U: What’s the story behind the Konami Code, anyway?
H: There isn’t one, really. [Laughs] Because I was the one who was going to be using it, I made sure it was easy to remember. The game took around half a year to develop, and, at the time, putting the code together was like an entertaining puzzle. “How on earth am I going to be able to fit these passwords into the program?” I’d ask myself. Gradius saw an incredibly poor reception, however. [Laughs]*
It’s really the simplicity of the code, though, that made it what it became. It helped that Contra was an insanely difficult game that was extremely popular in the States, but there are tons of difficult games that have cheat codes to be easier. The Konami Code, however, was easy to explain. Everyone knew it, and by becoming as popular as it did, it became a cultural icon.
The Konami Code existed well beyond the two aforementioned games, as it would frequently be included in their games, either as an actual cheat code or just an Easter Egg. It was used in every Gradius game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman Returns, and the Metal Gear Solid series. Even non-Konami games have implemented the code — use it in the first Mario Party to access the debug menu, if you would like.
It’s amazing to think about the impact one cheat code has had on gaming as a whole. RIP to Kazuhisa Hashimoto, whose cheat code and legacy will live on forever.