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Great moments in PC gaming: Editing rules.ini to make Red Alert guns shoot lightning

(Image credit: EA)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert

(Image credit: Virgin)

Developer: Westwood
Year: 1996

Some mods take years to complete, improving the base game so much they become the default way to play, or making it a platform for something totally new. Other mods, however, involve typing the word "TeslaZap" into a text file and saving it. Both are good.

I'm actually talking about an .ini file in this case, but an .ini file is just a text file used to store configuration variables for executables to read. Some PC games, especially older ones, use .ini files to store things like a user's control or graphics settings, or game variables. Finding "config.ini" in a game's install directory used to be a little exciting, because it meant you might be able to change something that wasn't in the settings menu, and you never knew what that might be. It was rarely anything interesting, of course, but now and then you'd hit the jackpot. 

I can't think of a bigger .ini jackpot than the one discovered by players of classic RTS game Command & Conquer: Red Alert. It's called "rules.ini," and it's a rare config file that delivers exactly what its name promises: all of Red Alert's major game variables, buildings, and units. I doubt much could've excited me more as a kid than discovering that my favorite game included a file containing the line "OreExplosive=no," and that it was possible to change that "no" to a "yes".

With Red Alert's rules.ini you can make rifles shoot lightning or all naval units free. You can even invent new units. I spent hours working out how to create planes that would pointlessly dogfight each other. Red Alert players would share their rules.ini files with each other, and if you had identical versions you could play networked games against each other with the modified rules. Many joyful hours were spent sending mutilated rules.ini files back and forth.

Red Alert included a mapmaking tool, too, and remains the easiest-to-modify RTS I've ever played. They don't make 'em like they used to, do they? Well, except when they do. In 2020, I was delighted to find that C&C: Red Alert Remastered could still be modified with the same old rules.ini file

Tyler Wilde
Tyler Wilde

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley alongside Apple and Microsoft, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on the early personal computers his parents brought home. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, Bushido Blade (yeah, he had Bleem!), and all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now. In 2006, Tyler wrote his first professional review of a videogame: Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2. He thought it was OK. In 2011, he joined PC Gamer, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. After work, he practices boxing and adds to his 1,200 hours in Rocket League.