Entering this code (or password, to be more precise) into the original NES Metroid would not only grant you full power, but also a special outfit for Samus Aran. While many passwords of the period were random selections of letters and numbers, the 'Justin Bailey' code became famous because it was so easy to remember – which is why people are still trying to uncover its origins, even today.
Kate Willaert of A Critical Hit! is one such person; last year, she dedicated time to finding the real Justin Bailey, and as you might expect, it was quite a ride – even if the end result isn't quite what you might have wanted.
The password itself is, as Willaert explains, almost certainly a total fluke and doesn't appear to have been intentional:
In reality, “Justin Bailey” is nothing more than a coincidence — a name that just so happens to result in a very convenient loadout.
The way the password system functions, each value in a password alters a specific aspect of the game’s state. So the only way a programmer could intentionally spell out a phrase is if they essentially bypassed the password generator and hardcoded it in (which did happen in at least one instance). The fact that the letters “Justin Bailey” unlock this specific state in the password generator really is just a cosmic coincidence.
So, you may ask, why bother looking for Justin Bailey? Well, Willaert reasons that if the password were a fluke, then the most likely way it could be discovered is by someone actually called Justin Bailey entering their own name into the password screen to see what would happen – and, once this was done, they would presumably share this information with friends or submit it to a video game magazine for publication as a tip.
With this theory in mind, Willaert searched through instances where the password is mentioned in print media and unpicks how it was disseminated amongst the games-playing populace at the time. While magazines like Nintendo Power and books like How To Win At Nintendo Games #2 spread the code, they weren't the point of origin – Willaert pinpoints that as being the July 1989 issue of VideoGames & Computer Entertainment, which credited the code to Steve Bland of Shepherdsville, Kentucky (misspelt as “Sherherdsville”).
Willaert was actually able to track down Bland, but sadly, he only vaguely recalled that he’d submitted the code, wasn't able to remember where it came from – the only thing he was sure of was the fact that he didn't discover it himself. So, the search continued.
Reasoning that Bland might have heard about the code from a friend, Willaert looked around for people named Justin Bailey who graduated from the same school in Kentucky. She found one, but he would have been two years old when the tip was first published in VideoGames & Computer Entertainment.
The end of the road? Perhaps, Willaert admits:
This might make the most likely scenario one where a family friend or relative who discovered the code, while plugging in the names of different people they knew. It was finally “Justin Bailey” that resulted in something useful. Which would certainly explain why we’ve never heard from the real Justin Bailey. The problem is that unless the theoretical family friend or relative one day speaks up, this is basically the end of the road.
I did attempt to reach out to the suspected Justin Bailey — as well as other Justin Baileys in the greater Louisville area to cover my bases — but was unsurprisingly ignored. After all, if you’d never heard of Metroid, why would you want to respond to some weirdo claiming to be something called a “gaming historian”?
Just imagine: Justin Bailey might not realize he’s Justin Bailey.