Boot Genie: Hacking and Cheating at Boot Sector Games

Despite legacy BIOS going away, the boot sector gaming scene is on the rise. These are x86 16-bit games intended to fit inside the 512 byte MBR (Master Boot Record) space. Despite these limits, you'll find playable clones of games like PacMan, Invaders, Arkanoid, Flappy Bird, Snake/Nibbles, a rogue-like dungeon crawler, Tetris, a ray-casting 3D game, some more independent titles, and new ones are still in the works.

However, this won't be a history or overview of this interactive demoscene-adjacent playground. It's the more meta playground of gaming the games - hacking and cheating at them. Though this talk will dive into the technical details of hacking the games, a showcase of a collection of patch files (aka Boot Genie) will be shown and demonstrated. These patches include cheats such as invincibility, more lives, speed slowdowns, score hacks, rule/logic hacks, multiplier mods, better powerups, level mods, and more.

Beyond cheat patches, another showcase of "gaming the game" will focus on the bootRogue game. This will be a deep dive of the consequences of choosing to use a simple RNG (random number generator) for procedural level generation. Though each dungeon is "randomly" generated, we use our knowledge to understand the specifically discrete amount of unique dungeons there really are, and how to get to any arbitrary dungeon of our choosing just based on the items we pick up along the way! Custom routing protocols were programed for optimal traversal.