...And one for good luck
I had a list of background textures, and I coded the game to show each one as they scrolled across the screen. One of my background images was being skipped and I couldn't figure out why, even after spending a lot of time debugging. Deadline was five days away, so I just stuck an extra reference to the texture in the background list. Ta-da! No more "skipped" background. :)
When I used to work for a very big company, one of the employees figured out that the best way to advance his career was to write negative performance reviews for as many co-workers as possible. This resulted in him receiving a higher annual staff ranking, which in turn led to larger bonuses and stock grants. It eventually becomes difficult, he told me, because you need to make sure to only review people with different managers, so nobody can catch on to your ruse. My trick for avoiding this cycle was to quit and go work someplace much smaller and awesome.
Honorable mention: Nice save
Chris Pruett, Robot Invader
[Editor's note: This isn't, strictly speaking, a dirty game dev trick -- but we figured it's a handy way to use job skills for real-world problems. Also, it's a sweet story.]
My wife doesn't play a lot of video games, but one series she's been hooked on since childhood is Dragon Quest. A few years ago, she started playing Dragon Quest VII on my aging PlayStation. After putting about 80 hours into it (which, as I understand it, is about three-quarters of the way through the main quest), she discovered, to her horror, that her save file had become corrupted. It appeared in the continue menu, but was grayed-out and could not be selected. She was devastated. She was angry. She swore never to play games again.
I found a used DexDrive, a device for reading and writing PS1 memory cards with a PC, on eBay for $15. I didn't tell my wife that I was trying to fix her save -- I didn't want to get her hopes up and I didn't actually think it would be possible. Presumably the data was irrecoverably damaged, a lost cause. On the other hand, I thought, it couldn't hurt to try.
With the DexDrive, I was able to dump the broken save to a PC and examine it in a hex editor. I ended up printing it out and marking the hex up with a highlighter; though PS1 saves came in 8kb blocks, printing 8kb as 16-columns of hexadecimal data comes out to a lot of pages. Working with an unofficial spec written by the author of a PS1 emulator, I located the main chucks of the data: the header, the icon image, and lastly, the save data itself. Unfortunately, decoding the raw game state data proved challenging; after a few days I decided that it was going to require a lot more work than I had planned.
Instead, I concentrated on the header portion of the data. Because of the placement of the icon (which is at a consistent offset from the top of the file and easy to identify as pixel data in hex), I could tell exactly where the header started and stopped. If the continue menu could tell that the save was busted, maybe it was just the header that was broken. I tested this theory by copying the header data from some other save I got off the internet, and pasting it over the header section of my wife's broken save. Then I saved this data back to the memory card and loaded it up.
Miraculously, it worked. The continue menu showed stats from the other save, but once loaded her game was completely restored. Between ordering the DexDrive and patching the save, the whole process had taken me about three weeks. That night I booted the game up and showed her the continue menu with the strangely named save. She loaded it up and was very surprised to find her progress, her characters, her stats, and her items all as she left them. She was pretty excited, but before we could talk about it she was off to complete another dungeon.