When I was a kid, I used to get bored and sit around hacking game files. Now, before you get any ideas, I’m not a programmer by any stretch of the definition, so when I say “hacking,” it mostly amounted to opening game files in hex editors to see if I could replace the in-game text with my own perversions. Usually, it just made the game corrupt and refuse to start.
But occasionally, I’d get lucky. And I don’t know if it was me trying to express myself creatively or destructively, but few times have I experienced more personal glee than the times when I could bend a game to my will and make it behave the way I wanted it to. Even if it just meant forcing the game to play the wrong opening movie or replacing the protagonist’s name with something sophomoric, often of a phallic nature.
And then, every once in a while, you’d get a surprise of your own as you were trawling around garbage characters looking for something resembling English language text.
One such surprise was the little-known British adventure game Universe, which my brother had picked up on a whim, played the first couple of screens of, and quickly resigned to the shelf in his room where mistaken purchases went to collect dust.
Seriously. What is that?
Universe was one of those spectacularly flawed games where the controls were so broken you’d often get stuck on a clipping sprite and the puzzles were so fantastically obtuse that getting anywhere quickly became a frustrating exercise in trial and error.
The spinning asteroid in the first part of the game comes hauntingly to mind. The game had no opening cinematic or anything; it just spat you onto an asteroid in outer space and sat back, waiting for you to collect a dizzying array of meaningless objects that had been left on the surface and somehow figure out that you were supposed to jump onto a passing asteroid — using inhuman timing, thanks to the bewilderingly complicated interface — and jump off onto a bridge suspended in space leading to some sort of space city.
Once you got that far, everything started running on a timer punishable by insta-death and I quickly gave up in exasperation, never getting any further than the next couple of screens.
So, naturally, a gaming experience of that caliber deserves some tinkering with. Imagine my surprise when I opened up the game’s .exe file and found this little gem hiding in the code:
Seems I wasn’t the only one disgruntled by working with Universe.
I have no idea who wrote the above message, but he deserves my everlasting thanks for leaving that piece of commiseration behind for future generations to find.