Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The urban legend of Shin Megami Tensei - TURN IT OFF NOW



Back in 2003, a poster on the Japanese board 2ch posted a story about how he was playing Shin Megami Tensei on his Super Famicom when the game suddently froze momentarily at the logo, before the screen was flooded with a sole message repeated over and over: すぐにけせ, or "sugi ni kese" which translates to "turn it off now". He was suitably creeped out. Indeed, the intro to the original SMT is pretty damned creepy, as various bits of computer code pop up, which are supposed to be words that summon demons into the human realm. He assumed it was just a very disturbing bug.

The previous year someone on the 2ch occult board had made a similar claim, this time regarding Shin Megami Tensei 2, wherein the message would pop if the game was powered on at night, specifically mentioning the red text.

In 2004, a man claiming to be a programmer for the original game stepped up and admitted he stuck the spooky trick in intentionally. Originally he wanted it to happen 1 out of every 256 times (I'm not clear if this was meant to happen every time you start the game, or every time you hit the reset button), but it happened too frequently, so he ended up changing it to 1 out of every 65536 times. However, this was only present in the initial batch of cartridges, as it removed in all subsequent releases. The use of his terminology makes it almost semi-plausible, especially since he denoted the probability through the use of an 8-bit integer, then a 16-bit integer. If he was lying, then at least he knew how to trick people. There's also been some conjecture that this was an anti-piracy measure, but I haven't found anything that supports that.

Of course, knowledge of this became more widespread with the above video, which was posted on NicoNico Douga a few years back. As far as anyone can tell, though, it's just a "recreation" and not the actual phenomena in action. The only way to verify it is to have a hacker break open a ROM, and assuming it's part of the "initial batch" (which makes this sound all kind of shifty because it's hard to trace), the text should be in there somewhere. (There's a post over at Assembler Games with a more accurate translation of the original messages.)

So indeed, it sounds like most of this is fake, but man does it make a good ghost story, and it would be cool if TURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFFTURN IT OFF

Sources:

http://d.hatena.ne.jp/msrkb/20050425/sugunikese

http://www.kotaku.jp/2010/01/megaten_sugunikese.html



(and yes, I stole that gag from Kotaku, apologies for that!)

8 comments:

  1. This would be so awesome if it was true. Programmers back then should have played more pranks like that. Like that one guy in that one game with the hidden message where he complains about all his bosses and co-workers.

    But 1 in 256 times would have been a terrible idea. There's no way that would slip through testing, and even if, nearly everyone would get the message eventually later. 16-bit integer is the way to go!

    Anyway, Gideon Zhi would have known if there was anything in it, since he produced the translation of both games.

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  2. Man, the mere possibility of this is incredibly cool---I'm rather tempted to pull out my copies of both SMT and SMT2 and reset them over and over, just trying to get this message. I wonder if there's an easy way to tell if my copy of the first game is part of this fabled "initial batch?"

    Honestly, video gaming needs more urban legends like this.

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  3. You can find lots of rad stuff on NicoNico by putting in the SMT symbols, which was how I stumbled upon this.

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  4. The story IS true, and it is reproducible in an emulator. I did it a few years ago when I heard about the rumor.

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  5. Game Genie code? Save state?

    Pretty sure this isn't true, for a very simple but somewhat technical reason. Specifically, this is supposed to come up before any player input happens. The SNES/SFC is basically deterministic - it can't generate true random numbers. Games therefore use pseudo-random number generators; the basic idea is that you have an initial random seed - typically the value of some timer when the player first hits a button, or something like that - and then perform some calculation on it to generate a sequence that seems random enough. Long story short, before you the player do anything, SMT physically must run through the same code path every time - no room for randomness, no room for creepy messages.

    On the other hand, it is possible that it's a cute anti-piracy gag; these things are occasionally triggered on real carts. Alternatively, it may just be unclear storytelling - it could happen if it happened randomly on _reset_, rather than initial power-on (since resetting the console won't wipe memory, i.e. the state of the pseudo-random number generator).

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  6. Hah, I knew I'd read this story somewhere before but I couldn't remember where. I posted in that original Assembler thread >_<

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  7. Instead of automatically decrying this as fake, why don't you actually try and find an initial batch copy and test it.
    It's not as if they couldn't have put in a program that runs off of the save battery to keep a count of how many times the game is activated/reset and activate it once it reaches a set number.
    It's called Occam's Razor; not Occam's Wheat Thresher.

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  8. There are hundreds of thousands of SMT SFC carts floating out there, with no way to tell if there even was an "initial batch", coupled with the fact that I have better things to than sit in from of a television for hours on end flipping power switches...yeah, I'll leave that to someone more intrepid than I.

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