The Life and Death of Kazuhisa Hashimoto, Konami Code Creator

March 16, 2020

Want to hear a magic phrase that can bring entire generations of gamers together? “Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A.”

That is the infamous Konami Code. Putting this code (and variations of it) into certain Konami games awards players things like extra lives and power-ups. Many gamers would have never completed titles like Contra without the help of the Konami Code.

We have a single man to thank for this code: Kazuhisa Hashimoto. Sadly, he passed away on February 25, 2020 at the age of 61. Here, we take a look back at the man and the enduring video game legend he created.

Who was Kazuhisa Hashimoto?

Kazuhisa Hashimoto | Contra Wiki

Sadly, most gamers had never heard of Hashimoto until the news of his death. Who, then, was this gaming legend?

Kazuhisa Hashimoto was born in 1958. After completing college, he joined Konami back in 1981. Back then, Konami was all about the booming arcade scene. Eventually, though, the company would focus on creating NES adaptations of their most famous titles.

As a programmer, Hashimoto worked on a number of memorable games. But the code he is best known for starts with the NES adaptation of Gradius.

What is the Konami Code?

You already know the basic Konami code: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A. This was designed for the NES controller, and certain variations (such as adding “select” and “start”) would help multiple players take advantage of the code.

The Konami Code changed a bit for different systems. For example, players typically used “O” and “X” on PlayStation controllers instead of “A” and “B.” And the exact effects of the code could change from game to game.

In the original NES Gradius, the code instantly provided almost all of the power-ups to the player. And most famously, the code provided 30 lives instead of 3 for the original NES Contra.

Eventually, the code (with differing effects) appeared in over 100 Konami games and 24 non-Konami games.

The purpose behind the code

Everyone remembers the Konami Code as the most famous cheat code in history. But it wasn’t developed as a cheat code — at least, not exactly.

When adapting Gradius, Hashimoto discovered that the game was too damn difficult for himself and others who had to test it. He decided that they needed a way to make the game easier on the fly in order to thoroughly test it out.

Hence, the ease of the code: all players have to do is pause the game, enter the code, and enjoy the big power-up boost. But here’s the thing: players were never meant to use this code!

A secret discovered too late

Hashimoto maintained that the code was only ever intended for game testers and developers. However, he never removed the code before Gradius was released to the public.

Once Konami discovered the code was still there, they could have removed it for subsequent copies. But they quickly discovered two things: first, removing the code could possibly make other parts of the game unexpectedly buggy. And second, players really liked using the code!

Due to its popularity, Konami included the code in other games. And thanks to the popularity of the NES version of Contra, the code became quite famous.

The Konami Code goes pop culture

How famous are we talking? Let’s put it this way: plenty of people who have never picked up a video game controller know about this code. And that’s because of its absolute pop culture saturation.

For example, a number of musicians reference this code. You will hear about it in the “Game Over” song from Falling In Reverse. And you can see it right in the title for the Deftones song “”U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,A,B,Select,Start.”

In TV, the code is said aloud in an episode of Sonic Boom. And, perhaps most famously, Ralph uses the code on an actual NES controller in the hit Disney film Wreck-It Ralph.

Kazuhisa Hashimoto’s other games

Because of this code, Hashimoto is most known for his work on Gradius. But he actually worked on a number of memorable and influential NES titles.

These titles include Track & Field, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, and Goonies. He would later work on the hit light gun game Lethal Enforcers! These games reveal someone with a wide breadth of talent and an eye for the experiences that players would love.

Hashimoto exits Konami

Hashimoto dedicated his entire working life to Konami. In fact, he didn’t exit the company until 2010, a mere 10 years before his death.

In some ways, he may have left the company at just the right time. Hashimoto made his exit before some of Konami’s biggest controversies, including the unexpected cancellation of Silent Hills (now rumored to be revived) and the sad feud with Metal Gear mogul Hideo Kojima. By the time the company decided to focus on mobile games in 2015, it no longer resembled the company Hashimoto started working for back in 1981.

The passing of a legend

Kazuhisa Hashimoto passed away on February 25, 2020. He leaves behind a bigger and richer cultural legacy than the vast majority of those in the gaming industry. And the Konami code will continue to influence gamers and the gaming industry long after his passing.

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