"Debug mode", the origins

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Black Squirrel, Jan 10, 2021.

  1. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    Mr. Sonirachi got me thinking last week - "debug mode" is a widely used term for the "place objects in the level" feature of Sonic the Hedgehog (2/3/K/Mania). On the Sonic Retro wiki we use the term "edit mode", because this is what it was referred to in Sonic Jam - the only known official source in the English language. It's also apparently what Japan has always it, so it seemed sensible, even if everyone under the sun still calls it "debug" in real life.

    But why did we start calling it debug mode in the first place? Hard to say for sure, but it might be the fault of the US Mega Play magazine:


    Even though we don't have a firm date for the July/August 1991 edition of Mega Play, this is the first magazine that we have on record that both publishes the code, and names it (it might also be the first to publish the level select, but I'm less sure about that one). They even go so far as to say they told Sega about its existence, and as a result, it was set to be removed in later versions of the game (spoilers: it wasn't).

    The next magazine we have on record is Japan's Mega Drive Fan on the 8th October, submitted by a reader. It's not explicitly named:

    A month later (8th November) Beep MegaDrive! also prints the code, again from a reader so no official names here:

    In the UK, CVG posts the code three times on the because checking things is for chumps. Again, it's found by a reader and is referred to as "cheat mode":

    GamePro becomes the second US publication to use the term "debug mode" in its December 1991 edition:

    Weirdly the first instance of "edit mode" we have is from Brazillian magazine Acao Games in their December 1991 edition. This is a weird one because they use an English name, which suggests they borrowed it from somewhere, but I'm not sure where:

    The first issue of MegaTech in the UK (6th December) posts the code. Submitted by a user but in a simpler form to CVG (MegaTech and CVG would were being printed in the same building at the time):

    Another UK magazine, Game Zone prints their copy on the 18th December:

    Mean Machines (also in the same building as CVG) prints the code on the 27th December. Again, it's attributed to a user, but they actually call it "debug mode" this time:

    ACE arrives late to the party with their (unnamed) code on March 8th, 1992:

    and I haven't gone into detail with 1992 because at this point we're discussing Sonic sequels and copying each others' homework.

    The big omission from this list is Famitsu which many magazines were copying from. It could be the origins of "edit mode", or perhaps not.

    Conclusions so far:

    - It's not clear whether Sega actually wanted this code to exist. The publisher seemed unaware at launch and may have intended to remove it.

    - It was being discovered independently by loads of users, clearly before Sega got around to mentioning it themselves. As such there's variations in how to input it, although there's a convergence on Up C Down C Left C Right C A+Start.

    - It was discovered before being given a name. i.e. Sega weren't telling kids "this is how you enable debug mode", it looks like the US magazines came up with the name and the rest of the world ran with it, maybe even Sega themselves.

    - Sega might not have explicitly named it themselves until much later. It's called "edit mode" in Sonic Jam (and I think Sonic Mega Collection(?)) and I'm sure I saw it on a official Sega website once, but in 1991 they hadn't come up with something.

    - By the end of 1991 "debug mode" was probably spreading across school playgrounds, and was very much a thing by Sonic 2
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  2. Scarred Sun

    Scarred Sun

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    A little sidebar that I find the narrative of "debug/edit mode wasn't supposed to ship in production" especially weird in light of an ad that ran a few years later in the late MD/early Saturn era. Frustratingly, we don't seem to have collected advertisements the way we do for Sega Retro yet, but this was a print magazine ad that explicitly had the debug code printed on it vertically in the margins. An interesting shift in what was probably 5 years' time.