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8 Video Game Hoaxes, Debunked

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Video games are full of secrets, mysteries, and hidden gems for gamers to unlock. But sometimes gamers are so desperate for mysteries to unlock that they’re willing to believe just about anything to find them. Here are eight video game hoaxes that were finally disproved.

1. The Game: Super Smash Bros Melee
The Hoax: Unlock Sonic & Tails

Nintendo released its first crossover video game, Super Smash Bros Melee—which featured 25 iconic Nintendo characters in one massive fighting game experience—in December 2001. That same year, Sega began licensing their characters and games to third party video game consoles after they stopped making hardware (the Dreamcast was their last console), and Nintendo released a Sonic game (Sonic Advance) for its consoles. So in 2002, when video game magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly wrote that it had discovered a way to unlock Sonic the Hedgehog and Miles “Tails” Prower as playable characters, it made sense. To play as Sonic and Tails, EGM said, gamers would have to defeat 20 enemies in a row in “cruel melee” mode.

In the weeks after EGM's issue hit stands, players tried and tried the trick, but had no success unlocking Sonic and Tails. EGM later admitted it was all a hoax and part of its April Fools’ Day issue. Nintendo would later add Sonic in its 2008 game, Super Smash Bros Brawl, but not Tails. Today, Nintendo has the exclusive rights to Sonic, but Sega still owns the character.

2. The Game: Super Mario 64
The Hoax: Finding Luigi

In 1996, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 in the United States with only two launch titles: Pilotwings 64 and Super Mario 64, which quickly became the most popular video game for the new console; gamers spent hours unlocking its many mysteries and secrets. It was even rumored that players could unlock Mario’s brother Luigi as a playable character.

On one of the statues in the castle’s courtyard, a plaque that illegibly reads “L is real 2401” can be found. It was believed that if Mario collected all of the game’s gold coins—allegedly, 2401 of them—and went back to the statue, Luigi would be waiting.

Gaming outlet IGN received so much fan mail about the “L is real 2401” secret code that they issued a $100 bounty if anyone could send them proof of its existence. No one ever did. The bottom line: Players could collect all the gold coins in Mario 64, but nothing would happen if they returned to the statue in the castle’s courtyard.

3. The Game: Goldeneye 64
The Hoax: Playing with All Bonds

The way the “Cheat Options” menu was designed in the first-person shooter Goldeneye 64 suggested that there were 24 cheats to unlock instead of the 23 that players had found in the game. Gamers believed that the 24th cheat was a way to play as the previous iterations of the James Bond character in multi-player mode. When early screenshots from the game revealed Sean Connery as James Bond, many gamers tried various ways to unlock the elusive cheat code, but were unsuccessful.

In 1998, Electronic Gaming Monthly published additional screenshots of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton as the Agent 007 as an April Fools’ Day joke, which led many more to believe the cheat code was real. The reality was that Nintendo could not secure the likeness rights of Connery, Moore, or Dalton, so the cheat code was scrapped.

4. The Game: Street Fighter II
The Hoax: Hidden Character Named Sheng Long

After Street Fighter II battles are finished, the victor taunts his fallen opponent via a title card. When gamers in Japan fought with the character Ryu and defeated their opponents, the title card would read, “If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch"—or Shoryuken, one of Ryu’s signature fight moves—"you cannot win!” 

When the game was imported for American gamers, Capcom mistranslated Ryu’s taunts. Instead of referencing Ryu's Rising Dragon Punch, the title card said “You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.” It was rumored that Sheng Long was a hidden playable character somewhere deep inside of the game, but when the fighting game was ported to the Super Nintendo, its instruction manual explained he was Ryu’s former master.

Electronic Gaming Monthly took this rumor one step further and published a story confirming that Sheng Long was a character that could be unlocked in the video game. Gamers would have to play as Ryu through the tournament without taking any damage or losing battles to unlock the mysterious martial arts master. Once again, EGM confessed that it was all a hoax and was part of an April Fools’ Day joke, despite publishing the technique in the magazine’s February issue (why anyone believed anything that the magazine published remains a mystery).

5. The Game: Final Fantasy VII
The Hoax: Saving Aeris

In 1997, Square released Final Fantasy VII for the original PlayStation. Halfway through the video game, one of its main characters, Aeris, dies. This was a very shocking revelation, and one of the first instances when players felt emotionally devastated over a video game’s storyline. That might explain why rumors emerged that there were ways to keep Aeris alive, including trying to find hidden gems and going on quests for non-existent characters. All known techniques were proven false. And although gamers spent hours trying to find ways to keep her alive, Aeris's death was important for the video game’s overall narrative.

6. The Game: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
The Hoax: Updating the Game for the Wii U

During Nintendo’s E-3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) presentation in 2012, a mysterious trailer emerged on the Internet. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was one of the most popular Zelda games for the Nintendo 64, and fans were happy to see that Nintendo was updating the game for the yet-to-be released Nintendo Wii U.

Although the trailer looked convincing—it even had high-definition graphics and a symphony score!—the proposed video game was a fake. Two video game designers named Pablo Belmonte and Paco Martinez created the trailer as a pitch and proof-of-concept to Nintendo for a Zelda remake.

The fake trailer garnered a lot of attention from video game outlets, fans, and even Nintendo, but the company has no plans to re-release an updated version of the Zelda classic.

7. The Game: Mortal Kombat
The Hoax: Unlocking the Red Ninja Ermac

The original Mortal Kombat arcade game had one hidden character, a green ninja called Reptile. But in the game's audit menu—where owners can access information and analytics about the game—there was a category called “Ermac,” which led fans to speculate that Mortal Kombat actually had two hidden characters. It was believed that the character could be unlocked if you won the fighting tournament by scoring double flawless victories and fatalities against all of your opponents. Once a player defeated the final boss, Shang Tsung, the red ninja Ermac would appear to challenge you to a battle.

The reality is that “Ermac” is short for “Error Macro,” which co-creator Ed Boon wrote as an error message in the game’s programming. However, the Mortal Kombat developers were so impressed with the fans’ passion for the rumored character that they eventually introduced Ermac in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 as a secret playable fighter.

8. The Game: Sony PlayStation 4
The Hoax: Viral Video Commercial

A few days before the start of E-3 2010, a viral video that promoted new PlayStation hardware surfaced on YouTube. The commercial teased the release of the PlayStation 4 just before Sony was slated to present the PlayStation 3’s new Move motion controller add-on at the video game convention. It didn’t seem likely that Sony would release a new console only four years after the release of the PS3. Nevertheless, the commercial was very convincing, as many gaming websites and blogs ran the viral video and promoted the launch of the PlayStation 4.

But hardware PR representative Al de Leon shot down rumors that Sony was working on a PlayStation 4. “I can confirm that this video is not from SCE (Sony Computer Entertainment),” he told Game Informer. Three years later, Sony announced the PlayStation 4 would be available for the holiday season in 2013.

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10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
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Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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15 Podcasts That Will Make You Feel Smarter
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It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the podcast options out there, but narrowing down your choices to the titles that will teach you something while you listen is a good place to start. If you're interested in learning more about philosophy, science, linguistics, or history, here are podcasts to add to your queue.

1. THE HABITAT

The Habitat is the closest you can get to listening to a podcast recorded on Mars. At the start of the series, five strangers enter a dome in a remote part of Hawaii meant to simulate a future Mars habitat. Every part of their lives over the next year, from the food they eat to the spacesuits they wear when they step outside, is designed to mimic the conditions astronauts will face if they ever reach the red planet. The experiment was a way for NASA to test plans for a manned mission to Mars without leaving Earth. The podcast, which is produced by Gimlet media and hosted by science writer Lynn Levy, ends up unfolding like a season of the Real World with a science fiction twist.

2. STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW

Can’t pick a topic to educate yourself on? Stuff You Should Know from How Stuff Works is the podcast for you. In past episodes, hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark (both writers at How Stuff Works) have discussed narwhals, Frida Kahlo, LSD, Pompeii, hoarding, and Ponzi schemes. And with three episodes released a week, you won’t go long without learning about a new subject.

3. THE ALLUSIONIST

Language nerds will find a kindred spirit in Helen Zaltzman. In each episode of her Radiotopia podcast The Allusionist, the former student of Latin, French, and Old English guides listeners through the exciting world of linguistics. Past topics include swearing, small talk, and the differences between British and American English.

4. PHILOSOPHIZE THIS!

Listening to all of Philosophize This! is cheaper than taking a philosophy class—and likely more entertaining. In each episode, host Stephen West covers different thinkers and ideas from philosophy history in an approachable and informative way. The show proceeds in chronological order, starting with the pre-Socratic era and leading up most recently to Jacques Derrida.

5. MORE PERFECT

In 2016, Radiolab, one of the most popular and well-established educational podcasts out there, launched a show called More Perfect. Led by Radiolab host Jad Abumrad, each episode visits a different Supreme Court case or event that helped shape the highest court in the land. Because of that, the podcast ends up being about a lot more than just the Supreme Court, exploring topics like police brutality, gender equality, and free speech online.

6. SLOW BURN

The Watergate scandal was such a important chapter in American history that it has its own suffix—but when asked to summarize the events, many people may draw a blank. Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate, gives listeners a refresher. In eight episodes, host Leon Neyfakh tells the story of the Nixon’s demise as it unfolded, all while asking whether or not citizens would be able to recognize a Watergate-sized scandal if it happened today.

7. LETTERS FROM WAR

Instead of using a broad scope to examine World War II, the Washington Post podcast Letters From War focuses on hundreds of letters exchanged by four brothers fighting in the Pacific during the period. Living U.S. military veterans tell the sibling's story while reflecting on their own experiences with war.

8. LEVAR BURTON READS

Just because you’re a grown-up doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the soothing sound of LeVar Burton’s voice reading to you. The former host of Reading Rainbow now hosts LeVar Burton Reads, a podcast from Stitcher aimed at adults. In each episode, he picks a different piece of short fiction to narrate: Just settle into a comfortable spot and listen to him tell stories by authors like Haruki Murakami, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

9. BRAINS ON!

Brains On! is an educational podcast for young audiences, but adults have something to gain from listening as well. Every week, host Molly Bloom is joined by a new kid co-host who helps her explore a different topic. Tune in for answers to questions like "What makes paint stick?" and "How do animals breathe underwater?"

10. SCIENCE VS

There’s a lot of misinformation out there—if you’re determined to sort out fact from fiction, it can be hard to know where to start. The team of “friendly fact checkers” at the Science Vs podcast from Gimlet is here to help. GMOs, meditation, birth control, Bigfoot—these are just a few of the topics that are touched upon in the weekly show. The goal of each episode is to replace any preconceived notions you have with hard science.

11. FLASH FORWARD

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but Flash Forward lays out the more interesting possibilities. Some of the potential futures that host and producer Rose Eveleth explores are more probable than others (a future where no one knows which news sources to trust isn’t hard to imagine; one where space pirates drag a second moon into orbit perhaps is), but each one is built on real science.

12. HIDDEN BRAIN

What motivates the everyday choices we make? That’s the question Shankar Vedantam tries to answer on the NPR podcast Hidden Brain. The show looks at how various unconscious patterns shape our lives, like what we wear and who we choose to spend time with.

13. PART-TIME GENIUS

The fact that it’s hosted by Mental Floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur isn’t the only reason we love Part-Time Genius. The podcast from How Stuff Works wades into topics you didn’t know you were curious about, like the origins of Nickelodeon and the hidden secrets at the Vatican. Each episode will leave you feeling educated and entertained at the same time.

14. ASTRONOMY CAST

It’s a big universe out there—if you want to learn as much about it as possible, start with Astronomy Cast. Fraser Cain, publisher of the popular site Universe Today, and Dr. Pamela L. Gay, director of the virtual research facility CosmoQuest, host the podcast. They cover a wide range of topics, from the animals we’ve sent to orbit to the color of the universe.

15. SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS

The Science of Happiness podcast from PRI is here to improve your life, one 20-minute episode at a time. Science has proven that adopting certain practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, can make us happier—as does letting go of less unhealthy patterns like grudges and stressful thinking. With award-winning professor Dacher Keltner as your host, you can learn how to incorporate these science-backed strategies for happiness into your own life.

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