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Not Just Cheats

Originally posted on on June 5th 2024

by Marco “eukara” Cawthorne

This is a semi-reflection slash feature. I am not reviewing anything here - mostly reminiscing. This story is about a kid, who was influenced by a program that only a subset of German gamers remember. Nobody I ever talked to personally on the Internet was able to relate to my perspective, so I ought to write it out down here to leave my mark. While DLH is no longer relevant in the mainstream gaming scene, even within Germany, it deserves to be remembered. This is an example that not everything in the entertainment industry has to make money, or be internationally successful in order to make a difference. It influenced my tastes, humor and overall humanity for a number of years. My personal story with Dirty Little Helper 98.

1999, May The Force Be With You

I need you to follow me back in time. In my home state of Berlin, in Germany. It was great times all around it seemed. At least for a while. To set the stage, picture this:

I used to live on this busy main road in this dense city, on the 2nd floor. We had a giant window in my bedroom that went from floor all the way up to the ceiling. The sound of traffic driving day and night was something I was used to. I remember the light beams passing into my bedroom every night while I was trying to sleep.
The tall, disc-shaped lamps on a pole outside were illuminating the busy main street outside. On some days it was a scene straight out of Blade Runner. I loved the nights where the sound of rain would supress everything else going down on the road.

I shared my bedroom with my brother. Him and I had our very own computer in it, as my dad definitely did not feel like sharing the one in the living room. Due to the living situation at the time, I was in need of a distraction from the noise around me. Computers, videogames and comic books (plus the occasional television) were that.

It was the year 1999, less than a year before the new millenium. The year of Star Wars Episode 1. I was reading a whole bunch of Dark Horse comics (specifically the Crimson Empire ones) and you’d find previews of upcoming games such as Outcast, Dungeon Keeper 2 and of course even bigger blockbusters such as Westwood StudiosCommand & Conquer: Tiberian Sun!

Those were some great games, however some other (often older) games played back then were, looking back, incredibly unforgiving and unfair at times. Not solely in terms of skill/reaction time required but also in just figuring out what to do and where to go. People would write walkthroughs and things, afterall. And where would you find those? On the World Wide Web of course… which I wasn’t really priviledged to do as a kid - most weren’t.
I can’t speak for other countries, like the United States, but it was very uncommon for most to have more than one personal computer in the home.
Let alone one with a constant internet connection. While my dad did get DSL in 1996, he shielded us from its influence.

Desire For Information

There are lots of tales from that time, some of which I will share in the future, some I may never. My dad knew what he was doing, let me say that.
It was very much taboo in my house hold to access the web.

But as always, there was another solution to that back then. A program titled Dirty Little Helper 98. It was the Windows centric version of a tool that originally got released for MS-DOS.

DLH98 was a collection of walkthroughs, FAQs and cheat lists for pretty much any videogame you’d ever heard of. It was also so much more.

As a compromise for the lack of dedicated game-magazines in the hands of a kid, or the lack of direct Internet access, my dad gave us access to this program.
It was mostly text based, so what could go wrong after all?

To me it was like the encyclopedia of video games.

Sometimes ‘cheats’ listed turned out to be exploits, abusing bugs for a more positive outcome. This stimulated my brain immensely, and found myself deducting how the logic must work behind-the-scenes somewhere. This is before I undestood what ‘source code’ was, or what a compiler was. I had no idea how games were made.

Sometimes I’d browse the game list solely to see what kind of other titles existed - or if sequels were released to games I’d known about or played. To reiterate, I had no networking - I was not even a teenager with an allowance to spend on magazines, most of which were off-limits anyway. More on that later.
This is how I learned everything the world knew about these videogames for a good while. I had nothing better to do, so of course I’d read this stuff religiously.

The Evolutionary Shift Happens

I’d like to think that I was pretty good at videogames then, but sometimes cheating was just way more fun also! You know what I’m talking about, tinkering with the internals… seeing how you can break the game - that sort of thing. Sometimes you absolutely would get stuck in a game too that you didn’t like and just wanted to finish it to get it off your hard drive - you get the idea.

Lots of PlayStation games didn’t have cheat codes even. Many only had a list of GameShark codes. I barely understood what that was. At first sight it was just a bunch of non-descriptive codes. If you didn’t know what that hardware-addon was, or the guide just dumped a bunch of them on you without any proper description, or which version of the game it worked with… you would be pretty much lost.
Whenever I saw a game page with just that I’d instinctively click to the next game as a result of me not having one. Like how disappointing is that? A hundred codes for some proprietary accessory nobody here owned, but no walkthroughs or FAQs? Sometimes you just wanted a tip, or some other reason to keep going in a specific game.

Anyway, games such as Grand Theft Auto 2 would have you enter a specific name to unlock various things. That’s the best most PSX games had in terms of ‘cheats’ you could enter without something like a GameShark. That or some obscure key-combination you needed to master during a specific state of a game.
That’s how I as a young game player would also get accustomed to harder games when I was still playing primarily on Sony’s PlayStation. Cheating and seeing if there’s any undocumented strategy or tactic. In the end, I also discovered that lots of guides didn’t know the things that I did! I would have loved to send them in, but unfortunately that was not in the cards.

Turns out this tool augmented not just my abilities, it taught me so much more.

Becoming A Force For “Good”

There was also another big thing on the horizon: The explosion of Pokémon. The games had been out for a bit, but until the Anime came along it wasn’t really on my - or anyone elses around me - radar.

1999 was crazy for Pokémon. Like really. Parents had to learn all the names of all the 150 things. I am sorry mom, I did not expect you to learn any of them.

Now here’s the kicker… guess who had access to all Pokémon intelligence on the playground and in school? Nobody… except me. In the days before people had access to the Web in every home, in every room - it was just a bunch of people telling what they knew to each other in person. Rumors, lies, bedtime stories. I happened to be the one kid to have access to an offline database like that.

Tools like this would often accompany your journey.

Word would go around for “secrets” in those games. Like Missingo - a corrupted Pokémon that’d eat your savegames, of course there were fake ones too like the one about a Mew hidden under a truck - all very familar rumors and myths to us now. Back then it felt like nobody could prove or disprove them… except me.

Oh yes, I was indeed very special. I say that sarcastically, of course. I talked about knowing how, every single time, you can achieve to finnicky Missingo thing - and nobody would believe me. So I went ahead and just printed out the instructions and gave them out. To them it was unbelievable. I was a god among some players. Bow down before me!!1

I tried to not be a smartass about it. Others will have to verify that though, I don’t trust my memory that much.

The Best Parts

My favorite thing to read about was Easter Eggs.
Those were basically just random things, often messages, left by the developers for one reason or another. They have nothing to do with the game itself. They are more common now, but back then they were still very obscure to us. I don’t remember what our first easter egg was. I wish I did now.

A literal hidden ‘easter egg’ in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2003)

Often it was just human beings leaving their handprint behind, or telling a joke. It reminded me that these things were built by other people and not just professionals.
I may not have known the names of the people who planted them, but I appreciated them immensely. Another avenue where you could share just how much you knew about your favorite videogame. If they happened to have any that is.

Of course, it is obligatory for me to hide things in my games as a result. Best of luck to you dear reader, in trying to find them.

The Worst Parts

Fact of Life: People lie to you all the time. Sometimes it’s to protect you, sometimes it’s to protect themselves - or sometimes they just want to screw with you.

There were not just “cheats” that helped you, but some would not work at all. It’s like the video-series Infinite Solutions, where you get gaslit into trying these complicated tricks, only to find out that they don’t work at all.

One example fresh in my mind, which was still being copy & pasted from FAQs and Cheat-Lists until recently was the Doom95 cheat in Doom 3. Supposedly you would enter that in the console, and you could play the original Doom in it. That’s completely fabricated, but it kept getting repeated like it was true.

There was loads of those “fake-Cheats” in some of the popular games. I don’t recall ever telling anyone something I haven’t tried myself, but I’m sure others have learned the hard way that some things were just plain wrong and looked like idiots as a result.

To be fair however, the vast majority of information was damn fine. As long as you were aware (or could use some common sense… it helps) and didn’t take gaming too seriously I’m sure you were having a blast regardless.

This sort of obliviousness to videogame secrets and cheats would last into the 2000s. I remember people would spread rumors of Big Foot, UFOs and other such paranormal things when Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had shipped. Despite access to the net, misinformation was still a major force to be reckoned with!
People mastered PhotoShop by then and could fool a bunch at least for a while. It was all different yet again.

And Now You’re Just Messing Around

Another thing DLH98 had were Trainers. If you don’t know what those are, they were little programs that run in the background that manipulate the memory of games, in order to trigger/unlock various game specific features (or break them).
They basically just messed with the game’s memory. This also meant you had to ensure you were using the right game version with them (which was a pain in the ass for some games).

Before those types of trainers, the only games that’d get them were bootleg/pirated copies on older systems. Think C64 and BBC Micro. The games themselves had to be edited. Some of this was still happening on PlayStation as well.

A Sony PlayStation Cracktro by Paradox.

Trainers were getting more and more common by year 2000 with the death of MS-DOS and all that. I remember my favorite one was for Mafia. It stole the Morrowind desktop icon and it’d give you access to an incredible array of cheats, including the access to cut weapons such as a medieval sword and a dog’s head that would act as a silencer for revolvers. That’s the sort of wacky stuff that I remember DLH98 for. My playtime was extended massively with such trainers.

Turning The Page

Gradually, anti-virus software would need to become more adopted. The Windows XP era was especially depressing in that regard. The operating system was not really prepared for the Internet, and since everyone was getting DSL plumbed into their homes the need for protection increased.
Many such anti-virus software would flag these utilities as malicious because they’d manipulate memory and do other (frowned upon) things that application developers don’t like. My dad would get suspicious about the tools as a result of anti-virus software flagging those programs, and would discourage us from using them (and thus DLH98) because of it.

A wall of Computer Bild Spiele game magazines.

As I grew older, I was finally able to purchase videogame magazines. A lot of game-magazines were rated ages 16/18 for obvious reasons. There also used to be a lot of softcore pornographic content in a lot of them, so you wouldn’t usually want kids to have them.
Magazines had cover-discs with games, drivers and even tools, and the magazines contained sections dedicated to cheats for recently released games. It became the one-stop-shop to get new information.
Waiting for database updates for DLH98 seemed antiquated in comparison, as this was fairly new, exciting avenue for me to explore.
I’m sure we’ll talk more about magazines and especially cover-discs some other time.

Regardless, information was moving elsewhere. Much like the offline encyclopedia Encarta came to an end and tried to move entirely online, so did this. competed with a bunch of other German websites, such as and MogelPower. We’d occasionally go to those for text information but as these things tend to go they just fizzled out of our collective lives.

The creator of DLH, Bernd “BigB” Wolffgramm, passed away on the 24th of December 2014 at the age of 47. My older brother, my dad and I reflected when we heard the news that day - and made it a point to find our backup discs with the modules on it.
At some point I had gone ahead and archived my personal copy on the Internet Archive here.

It is a time capsule. Something I find worth cherishing. It didn’t just contain information that helped you cheat. It contained gaming culture. People shared jokes, fake-source code that poked fun at the instability of Windows 98 (pictured), poetry about how much we knew about Quake or how addicted to Westwood games we were. I was part of it all. This thing wasn’t supposed to be for me, but it found its way onto my hard-drive regardless.
Thank you BigB and all the people that have sent things to DLH. This very site and so much, much more would literally not exist without all of you.

You can even run it in Wine these days as a normal user (you used to have to run it as root, tsk tsk!). So please make sure to do that sometime. It offers both English and German language content.


AvP 2000-
Descent II-
Deus Ex-
Doom II-
Duke 3D-
Hell Denizen-
HeXen II-
Jedi Academy-
Jedi Knight-
Jedi Knight II-
NZ: Portable-
Quake II-
Quake III-
Red Alert-
Red Alert 2-
ST: Elite Force-
Tiberian Sun-
The Wastes-

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Last updated Mon Jun 17 20:08:25 UTC 2024 is hosted by eukara.
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