The Galaga no fire cheat mystery


Galaga no fire cheat

In the classic arcade game Galaga (1981), there is a well-known cheat for those who are patient. If you destroy all of the enemies on Stage 1 except for the left two enemies (shown to the right), then dodge their fire for about 10-15 minutes, they stop firing at you. At this point, you can safely kill them and no enemies will fire at you for the remainder of the game (they can still crash into you to kill you though).

What this means is that you can get some pretty sweet high scores on Galaga arcade machines if you are patient. Since Galaga was one of the most popular games of the 1980s, people definitely wanted to get the high scores on it ;-)

The mystery about this cheat is that no-one knows if it was a bug or an actual cheat that someone from Namco added prior to releasing the arcade game.

Christopher Cantrell examined a ROM dump of the game back in 2005 and picked apart the code - you can read his analysis here: What he found was that the cheat was caused by a subtle design flaw in the logic of the game that allows the two left (or right) bees to fill up and clog a shot buffer used by enemy Galaga. But, was this intentional or not? All cheats must be subtle to pass validation ;-)

It is rumoured on the Internet that a Namco programmer added the design flaw (or discovered the design flaw and kept it secret) to ensure that he could always get the high score when he visited an arcade. Others then discovered the cheat when they watched him play the game at an arcade.

Considering that this cheat is very obscure, it is unlikely something that was discovered by chance. Someone would have had to kill everything but the left two enemies, and then dodged fire for 10-15 minutes. You can’t just move your ship to the right and leave it there for 10-15 minutes because enemy shots occasionally come from the right to kill you - so if someone discovered this by chance, they would have had to spend 10-15 minutes dodging two enemies that just happened to be the right two. It isn’t likely that someone in the 1980s would have poured a ton of quarters in the machine to try weird things over and over again to find a loophole.

Of course, without hard evidence, we just don’t know. Chance happens after all, and Galaga was an extremely popular game. However, if the cheat was widely known shortly after the game’s release, then it is very very likely that it was a planned cheat by someone at Namco…..

I remember learning the Galaga cheat by reading something on a local computer Bulletin Board System (BBS) in the 1980s (can’t remember when). And of course, the BBS has long been retired like all other BBSes. However, there may have been posts on USENET, which is archived by Goggle Groups. A quick search of Google’s USENET archive will show some posts talking about the cheat as early as 1985 - here is one:

Mikel Manitius 
Oct 31 1985, 7:07 pm

> OK, how do you get the Galaga aliens to stop shooting at you until wave 256?
> --Evan Marcus

Gosh, here we go:

On the first or second screenfull of aliens, kill all of them, except the
two blue ones in the first collumn, at the bottom of the screen, it is
like this, if I can remember:

                Y X X X X X...
                Y X X X X X...
                B X X X X X...
                B X X X X X...

The 'Y' are the yellow ones (or whatever colour they are) and the 'B' are the
blue ones. The trick is to have just the two blue ones circulate, and watch
their firing patterns. What you are looking for is a cycle when neither of
the two aliens fire any missles. On the third such cycle, you must shoot both
of them before they escape through the bottom of the screen. It may take as
long as ten minutes of avoiding missles before you get the third cycle. From
now on, they shouldn't fire at you. And it's a deadly sin to get killed! :-)

The challenging stages repeat after 7 (i beleive that's right, could be 8),
and when you make it to the 255th level, you should have in excess of 4*10^5
points. Beware that if you do this on a two player game, it is very
unpredictable, the second player will be fired at, and sometimes the first
start being fired upon again.

One more thing, the two times I stuck around long enough to get to level 255
(about three hours, that's $0.25 worth all right!), when I cleard it, the
game and hung itself. It had to be reset to be playable again, and you don't
get on the score charts.


                        Mikel Manitius @ AT&T-IS Altamonte Springs, FL

There are a couple important things to note from the above post:

  1. It is a response to someone who heard about the cheat and posted to USENET to see if anyone knew how to do it.

  2. The answer from Mikel is worded as if he knew it a long time ago (“it is like this, if I can remember”).

Now, keep in mind that very few people could post to USENET at the time. To post on USENET, you needed a powerful commercial or University computer that could connect to the ARPANET or use UUCP or something else that you couldn’t do on an early PC or Commodore 64 ;-) So, to see a post on USENET in 1985 about the Galaga cheat is pretty rare - chances are that the cheat was old news by then.

Now, if you look at recent game forum posts, you’ll see plenty of people bragging about knowing about the cheat…..but you never know if they are telling the truth or not half the time on modern game forums ;-)

So now for the catalyst that sparked this post…

These past few weeks, I’ve been teaching a SQL class at the college to IT students. And trust me, everyone knows how much of a Galaga freak I am ;-) So, as I was talking with a student in another class during the Halloween assembly, I mentioned about how I still play a lot of Galaga on my two Galaga arcade machines in my basement, and the guy said “Yeah - I remember that game - dual fighters! I played that game so much back then.” He even remembered the famous Galaga no fire cheat. So, naturally, I asked him how he found out about it. He said his sister’s boyfriend told him about it when he tagged along with them to see Tron at the theatre.

Tron was in the movie theatres in July 1982. And although Galaga was released at the end of 1981, most arcades didn’t get Galaga machines until 1982, especially in Canada (we usually got stuff long after the US did ;-).

I’m starting to think that the famous Galaga cheat was known very shortly after its release, which means that it is very likely something was intensionally added by a Namco developer. Now if only someone from Namco could shed some light on the origin of the cheat… wink wink nod nod ;-)


Jon (I won’t give you his last name) sent me an email after visiting my post. In it he sent me a link to an October 1983 special edition issue of Joystik Magazine that covers winning strategies for common arcade games of the time. In the TRICKS OF THE TRADE section near the end of the magazine, they cover the Galaga No Fire Cheat beautifully! So what does this mean? Well, considering that it takes at least a few months to composite the material for a special edition of a magazine, it’s safe to assume that by Summer 1983, the Galaga No Fire Cheat was extremely well known in the arcade scene. And to be “extremely” well known at a time before the Internet, it was likely “very” well known the summer before, when the student I was talking to at our Halloween assembly initially found out about it while tagging along to see the Tron movie. Following is a link to the October 1983 special issue of Joystik Magazine for you to peruse: