Game Design Talk: The Money Play

The first time I remember finding a “money play” was in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. After a few fights with Rocksteady, I figured out a cheap way to beat him without him ever touching me. If you’ve ever played this game, you probably figured this trick out, too. If you don’t, the image above shows how to do it. If you’re perched up on those boxes with Donatello and attack down, Rocksteady will just eat your attacks until he dies with no way to fight back. I was only six years old when I figured that out. Before I ever took the time to think about how video games worked, I had already figured out how to exploit the system.

Sports games are often recognized as the most likely to have “money plays” (tactics that exploit a hole in the AI’s logic to beat it every single time) but there are money plays in almost every game if you mess with it enough. My favourite money play came from Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey, where with my signature series of moves, I could score on 99% of my shots, which allowed me to score upwards of 100 goals in a single game.

Most recently, I’ve come across a money play in Soul Calibur IV. Last time I talked about the game, I had some serious gripes about how lopsided the difficulty was for the Apprentice and how the only weakness he had was a susceptibility to throws. Well, the tables turn when you’re playing with Yoda.

Two things make Yoda unique in Soul Calibur IV: his height, and his throw. Because he’s crazy short, a lot of your opponents have a really hard time making contact. As a side-effect of being short, he has to jump up and towards his opponent to grab them. Those two properties make him practically unstoppable against the brutally hard Apprentice.

In my encounter with the Apprentice as I was playing Yoda, I absolutely destroyed him. And I didn’t even have to try. I repeatedly did the command for throw, and because of Yoda’s throw range and the computer’s tendency to leave itself open for that attack, the Apprentice didn’t stand a chance. In fact, in the second round, I even beat him without him ever touching me. Oh how the tables have turned.

Some will say that finding and exploiting money plays are part of the fun. Until computers become smarter than humans, I think that money plays in video games are here to stay. What other memorable money plays can you recall?

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