I’ve recently come across references to two video games that interacted with the player in a pretty unique way. I’ve never experienced either of these first hand, but I’m intrigued, and curious if other such examples exist.

     The first example I’ve seen referenced is 1993’s ‘X-Men’ for the Sega Genesis. I’ve read incomplete accounts of what exactly this ‘breaking of the fourth wall’ entailed in a few different places, but this is the most complete account I’ve found:

     “At the end of the level “Mojo’s Crunch,” you will be in a room surrounded by tv screens with Prof. X’s face on them. When the timer starts to run out, Prof. X will tell you to reset the computer. At this point press the RESET button on your Sega’s Genesis. You will see a screen that looks like binary code. After this fades out, You will then move on to the last level, Asteroid M.”

     AT least that’s the most coherent description I found of the goings-on. Anyone who grew up with the NES and it’s successors can relate to the horror of a mid-game resetting, which is why I was particularly enamored with this bit of ingenuity on the part of the developers.

     Ever vigilant in my efforts to be both nerdy AND thorough, I was curious how this oddity had been handled in the various Genesis emulators, so I did a bit of googling. It looks like it hasn’t been handled at all: “Sadly – emulators can’t emulate the soft reset function.”

     The other example of such weirdness involves a recurring character in the ‘Metal Gear Solid’ line of games – a character called ‘Psycho Mantis.’ From the wikipedia entry on Mr. Psycho Mantis:

     “When Solid Snake faces Mantis, Mantis demonstrates his psychic powers by breaking the fourth wall. In the pre-battle cut-scene, he activates the controller’s rumble feature, then reads the player’s memory card. Then, at the begining of the actual battle, Mantis yells “Blackout!” and causes the screen to go completely black except for the words Hideo (a reference to the director Hideo Kojima) in green all capital text in the top right corner of the screen, much like TV or VCR on-screen-displays. Many players mistook this to be a glitch in the game, while it was supposed to trick the player into thinking that he or someone else changed the TV or VCR input, as a slight attempt to throw the player off.

     The reading of the player’s memory card involves checking how often they’ve saved their game in reaching the battle with Mr. Mantis, and commenting on the relative wisdom or recklessness that this symbolizes. The card is also examined for specific game saves which are then commented on (“I can see into your mind. You like Castlevania, don’t you?”).

     According to various sources, the best method for defeating Mr. Matis involves configuring your memory card and controller connections, mid-game. Again, from the wikipedia entry:

     “The easiest way to defeat Psycho Mantis is to for the player to remove the memory card, plug the controller into the Player Two portal (which prevents The Parasite from predicting your battle moves) and equip both the FA-MAS and the Thermal Goggles (FA-MAS is useful for attacking Mantis with speed and power, while the Thermal Goggles prevent him from turning invisible on Snake [by detecting his body heat] and making Mantis unable to hide from your attacks). The battle should be a lot easier now, if not impossible to lose (on easier difficulties).”

     So, looking at this from a game design / programming perspective, we have the following: Leaving your controller in port 1 during the battle passes your button presses onto the logic code that controls Psycho Mantis — So he’s ‘reading your mind.’ The game will accept controls from the player 2 port without passing them on to the enemy’s artificial intelligence logic.

     This means that the designers assumed that the player would mentally extend the scope of the game they were playing to the physical space around them, based on nothing but subtle contextual hints.

     Crazy. And awesome.