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"Debug mode", the origins

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

  1. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    no reverse gear Wiki Sysop
    Northumberland, UK
    steamboat wiki
    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

    Be who you needed when you were younger Administrator
    Tower 8 ️
    Welp, this.
    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.
  3. BSonirachi


    Wiki Sysop
    Looking into the whole thing regarding the uses of the names "edit mode" and "debug mode", I found that Sonic Mega Collection Plus, much like Sonic Jam, uses the term "edit mode" in the unlockable Hints section:

    However, PC ports of Sonic games released during the mid-90s appear to have used the term "debug mode" in some form internally, and both of the releases listed below have been released before Sonic Jam (which came out mid-1997):
    • The 1996 PC port of Sonic CD has secret debugging menus enabled by adding certain values to SONICCD.INI, and one of the menu options made available activates "edit mode" during gameplay. This option is named "DEBUGFLAG".
    • Sonic & Knuckles Collection, released early 1997, enables "edit mode" when a certain value has been checked in S3K.INI. The value that enables it is "DebugMode=1".
    My conclusion would be that Sonic Team may have named the mode "edit mode" at any point as far back as Sonic 1 but never publicised the name until Sonic Jam, and given other developers presumably handled the PC ports (H.I.C.) they could have named such modes based on what magazines and fans were calling it back then, but who knows. It does somewhat prove "debug mode" was used in a game before Sonic Jam.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2021
  4. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    Am I being dumb? Isn't it just the case that players would have called it debug mode themselves because that's what it is? When I was printing of FAQs and cheat codes for the classics during the 90s everyone just called it debug mode because that's what it obviously is. It didn't need to be officially called that in Sonic Jam for the name to catch on. In fact, the unofficial usage may have inspired the official one.
  5. We called it the “turn into anything you want cheat” in our playground. Can’t think why it didn’t catch on...
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  6. Dissent


    @SailsSez on Twitter Member
    Could have been as simple as a tester at a branch of Sega spilled the beans to a publisher when they found out the code they considered to be only intended for debugging still worked post-release. I heard a story from Giant Bomb's Jeff G. that western publishers would often have communications with guide makers and exchange info.
  7. Bryn2k


    Still a thing. Oldbie
    My brother always called it "cheat mode". I can only conclude he got it from a magazine but given he's 11 years older than me I wasn't allowed near his magazine collection. Can't work out why as a 4 year old I'd be banned from going near a 15 year old's magazine stash...
  8. Prototype


    I remember when I was a kid, my brother and I somehow accidentally activated Debug Mode in vanilla Sonic 3.

    Given the difficulty of putting in the code before the title screen proper, I can only imagine he mashed the controller and accidentally triggered it.

    Hilariously, we deduced that it was some bug from "the SEGA overheating", as our dad always told us not to leave the console on too long as it would overheat.

    Never triggered it again, but for a few hours in the early 90s it absolutely blew our minds that "You can turn into rings and stuff!"

    Imagine how relieved I was years later when I discovered Debug Mode and realized it wasn't an overheating console or a 5 year old's fever dream.
  9. Yash


    CHOCOLATE! Member
    I only ever heard it be called "Construction Mode" or "Debug Mode." Debug mode tended to be what showed up on Sonic-specific fan sites, Construction Mode being the more generic term on sites like GameFAQs with lists of codes.
  10. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    no reverse gear Wiki Sysop
    Northumberland, UK
    steamboat wiki
    By the mid-to-late 90s "debug" would have been a more recognised term among fans of gaming, because more games were shipping with features labeled as such. In 1991, not so much.

    I would expect our good friend Commander Keen played his part in making it a universal phrase:
    Keen 4 was a late 1991 release. And shareware. So those fortunate enough to have access to BBSes could download the game and share secrets about the game in one place.

    And this is a contender for one of the best and most successful DOS games ever released (it's where I first encountered the word "debug"!).
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  11. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    When I was a kid, I only ever heard it referred to as debug mode.
  12. Vangar


    Only ever heard it called debug mode too. Mainly because not only does it allow item placement, but also that there's a bunch of info shown on screen for you know, debugging. It's a mode to de-bug the game. I'm sure sega call it 'edit mode' publicly as it sounds nicer for people who aren't programmers and makes more sense for the general public, once it was found out.
  13. kazblox


    Diassemblies and decompilations.
    Internally, it's called "Edit Mode." Sonic 2 Nick Arcade has a whole module in it's memory leaks, and thankfully it's this one:
    Code (Text):
    1. edit:
    2.     moveq    #0,d0
    3.     move.b    editmode,d0
    4.     move.w    edit_move_tbl(pc,d0.w),d1
    5.     jmp    edit_move_tbl(pc,d1.w)
    6. edit_move_tbl:
    7.     dc.w    editinit-edit_move_tbl
    8.     dc.w    editmove-edit_move_tbl
    9. editinit:
    10.     addq.b    #word,editmode
    11.     move.w    scralim_up,editstack
    12.     move.w    scralim_n_down,editstack2
    13.     move.w    #$0000,scralim_up
    14.     move.w    #$0720,scralim_n_down
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  14. Funnily enough, as a kid I never pronounced it as "Dee-bug" mode, I always said "deb-yoog" mode. Was it just me? :D
  15. Sid Starkiller

    Sid Starkiller

    Virginia, USA
    Paying off student loans
    I wish I could remember when I learned these codes were a thing. Definitely not when the games were new (no gaming mags until high school).
  16. I'm not even sure how I know...

    As a kid with little to no internet access, no friends, and complete memorization of every single code for every game on gamecube sonic mega collection; yes, I do frequently wonder how I learned these existed... :/
  17. Rika Chou

    Rika Chou

    Tech Member
    Back in the day I'm pretty sure the old 1-800-USA-SEGA number that you could call to get tips for games called it debug mode.

    Too bad there's no archives of that number.

    Turns out the number was retired a few years ago and now leads to America's hottest talkline.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2021
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  18. RDNexus


    As far as I remember, I always knew it as Debug Mode.
    But I can't remember where I've first heard it that way.
  19. Xiao Hayes

    Xiao Hayes

    Classic Eggman art Member
    I think I remember more games having "debug mode" cheats, whatever it meant for those games (I didn't have them to try). I don't know if Sonic started the trend or it has been established through other means, but it seemed like common terminolgy for cheat codes classification like "level select" or "wireframe mode".
  20. rata


    Trying to be useful somehow.
    The "The Best" magazine from where we had it called it Debug Mode, albeit it's from '93 or something? It already lists cheat codes for Sega CD games and 32x.