Top 10 Lists : The Top 10 Glitches That Became Features
“I really hate this damn machine. I wish that they would sell it. It never does quite what I want, but only what I tell it.”
Such is the programmer’s lament, because even though a computer may be a perfect, immortal machine, it is still built and operated by imperfect meatbags like you or me. This is why almost every video game in existence contains a number of glitches, and debugging is only becoming more difficult as games get exponentially more complex. Some glitches are minor aesthetic hiccups that only temporarily break your immersion in the game, such as Havok Physics ragdoll corpses getting stuck inside walls and having dance parties, or Red Dead Redemption’s Donkey Lady (look it up on YouTube). Other glitches have reached legendary status within the gaming community, such as Mario’s Minus World, the Vanish-Doom bug in Final Fantasy VI, and Missingno. from the first generation of Pokémon. Still others have become infamous for breaking the game and preventing the player from completing it under certain circumstances; Battletoads, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Space Station Silicon Valley all feature such disastrous programming oversights.
Sometimes, a glitch will become so well-liked that it is intentionally programmed into future games (or if the bug was discovered during development, purposefully left in the finished product). TV Tropes calls these “Ascended Glitches.” Maybe the offending bit of bad code adds an interesting new dynamic to the game. Perhaps the glitch is just ridiculously silly, but doesn’t detract from the experience. Either way, some of the most memorable features in gaming history have been just as unscripted as Robert De Niro’s “You talkin’ to me?” speech in Taxi Driver. These glitches have been chosen and ranked based on several factors, including popularity, impact within its respective series, and impact within the overall gaming industry.
The Glitch: When Toby Gard was designing the first Tomb Raider game, he originally envisioned the protagonist as a man with a whip and a hat (gee, I wonder where he got that idea). After realizing that getting sued by Lucasfilm was probably not a wise career choice, it was decided that the game would have a female hero. Gard went through several different character concepts before settling on an upper-class, persistent thrillseeker by the name of Lara Croft. However, when it came time to fine-tune the 3D character model, a brief fit of absentmindedness turned a 50% increase in breast size into a 150% increase.
The Effects: Even though Gard intended to counter the negative portrayal of women in video games (Croft is strong, intelligent, and independently wealthy, as opposed to being a love interest and/or perpetually-kidnapped princess), it turns out that some stereotypes will never die. This new bit of “character development” was greeted enthusiastically by the rest of the dev team, and publisher Eidos suddenly thought of an excellent way to market the game. Lara’s Parton-esque polygons have since been a part of her character design for the entire series – at least until the upcoming reboot, in which Miss Croft has been redesigned with a more reasonable bust size.
This is certainly one of the most famous examples of a serendipitous glitch being adopted into a series’ canon, but while Tomb Raider and Lara Croft themselves are very influential (Tomb Raider was one of the first games to get 3D “right,” thereby becoming the template for dozens of imitators, and Lara was one of the first strong female action heroes in games… at least for people who didn’t manage to beat Metroid in under 5 hours), it’s hard to say that the actual glitch influenced the industry greatly. After all, attractive women have been part of art since before Botticelli painted a naked chick standing on a seashell. It was only a matter of time before an improbably-proportioned lady became the star of a popular game.
The Glitch: Like many RPGs of the era, the overworld of Final Fantasy is covered with an invisible grid. The grid in this game is 8 by 8, with each section containing 1024 (32x32) squares, and the section you are traveling through determines what monsters you fight during random encounters. However, due to an oversight, a small patch of land northeast of Pravoka juts into one of the grid sections for the northern continent, making it the most conflicted peninsula since Florida during an election year.
The Effects: Pravoka is the second town you visit, and the northern continent is a late-game area that you aren’t supposed to reach without the airship, so the monsters you encounter in the four squares at the end of the peninsula are significantly more powerful than anything else you’ll encounter early in the game. This has made this landmark (dubbed the “Peninsula of Power” by Nintendo Power magazine) an extremely popular spot for grinding – even if it is just the tip – as the peninsula spews forth large amounts of experience points and gold. You don’t even have to wait 15 minutes before doing it again.
So how exactly has this become a “feature,” rather than just a glitch? Well, Final Fantasy games get re-released more often than Star Wars films, and the Peninsula of Power has never been corrected in any subsequent versions of FF1 – even as technological constraints have become less of an issue. Contrast this with Final Fantasy VI’s Vanish-Doom Bug, which has been addressed (with varying degrees of success) in several re-releases. There’s also the fact that similar areas exist in FF2, FF3, and FF4, though these were likely oversights as well. (FF6 actually has a “Reverse” Peninsula of Power, where an area near the final dungeon contains only Leaf Bunnies and Darkwinds, enemies from the very beginning of the game.)
The Glitch: In Starsiege: Tribes, a squad-based first-person shooter developed by Dynamix and published by Sierra in 1998, players soon discovered an interesting quirk in the game’s physics engine: quickly tapping the jump button while running down a steep slope would result in rapid acceleration.
The Effects: High-level players abused this exploit, dubbed “skiing,” refining it and combining it with in-game features like the jetpack to travel extremely fast. Using the jetpack on upward slopes to maintain momentum (usually becoming airborne in the process) and landing on downward slopes to continue skiing allowed people to cross the game’s large maps in a fraction of the time it would take to run such distances, meaning that vehicles were no longer the only way to expedite gameplay. Programming-savvy players wrote scripts to automate the jump command, and soon writing/downloading such a script was the only way to play Tribes competitively. (Some players would also utilize the knockback from explosive weapons to gain momentum, but we’ll discuss that phenomenon later.)
While some of the glitches on this list are notable for influencing their entire genre, this bug had the opposite effect. This playstyle was unique to the Tribes series, and became the thing that set the franchise apart from other team-based shooters. Dynamix took advantage of this, and incorporated skiing as a feature in Tribes 2. The maps were designed to facilitate skiing, the all-but-obsolete vehicles were removed, and a tutorial mission was included to introduce new players to the concept. Skiing has been part of the series ever since; the most recent release, Tribes: Ascend was even billed as the “World’s Fastest Shooter.” Thankfully, unlike that other skiing-based video game, a Yeti will never show up to eat you in Tribes.
The Glitch: In Blizzard’s dungeon-crawling, hack-and-slash, action-RPG loot-fest Diablo II, the Paladin class can learn an aura (a passive skill that also affects allies within a certain radius) called Concentration. When active, Concentration increases the damage of physical attacks. Due to a bug, it also affects a magical combat skill called Blessed Hammer.
The Effect: Before this glitch was discovered, the Blessed Hammer skill (which sends a magic hammer spiraling out around your character, hitting all the monsters in its path) had a medium base damage, and was rarely given a second look after the Paladin had moved onto higher-level skills. However, once people realized that Concentration greatly boosted Blessed Hammer’s damage output, the Blessed Hammer-wielding Paladin (dubbed the "Hammerdin") became one of the most popular character builds in the game. Because when a Paladin is at the center of a cyclone of glowing hammers, each doing thousands of points of damage, u can’t touch this.
Blizzard, who could have easily patched the bug out of existence, instead chose to leave it in the game, though they did nerf the build initially by halving the damage bonus that Blessed Hammer receives from Concentration. Hammerdins briefly fell out of favor until a subsequent patch introduced “synergies.” With synergies, investing skill points in certain other skills (specifically Blessed Aim and Vigor) would provide even more damage bonuses to Blessed Hammer, and Hammerdins once again became one of the most-played builds on D2 servers. If you were to boot up Diablo II: Lord of Destruction today (because seriously, who wants to play Diablo III?) and join a multiplayer game, it would still not be uncommon to find rooms full of more Hammers than a Dr. Horrible cosplay convention.
The Glitch: In 1996, three Australian friends named Robin Walker, John Cook, and Ian Caughley made a class-based, team-based mod for Quake called Team Fortress. Present within the game was a curious glitch in which a player’s name would show up in the wrong color, making it appear as if they were on the opposite team.
The Effect: While fixing the bug was easy enough, it gave the programmers an idea. They envisioned a new character class based on deception and sabotage. The new class would be able to impersonate members of the other team and gain their trust before literally stabbing them in the back. About a year later, an update to the game (now called QuakeWorld Team Fortress) added the new class, dubbed the Spy, presumably because “FYI I am a deceitful operative based largely on a minor graphical glitch from a previous version of the game” doesn’t flow that well.
Sierra Entertainment would take notice of Team Fortress, and they in turn brought it to the attention of Valve Software. Valve hired all three programmers to make a Team Fortress mod in the Half-Life engine (Team Fortress Classic), and Walker and Cook are still part of the company, working on Team Fortress 2.
Interestingly, the Spy class in TF2 has its own glitch which became a feature (to an extent). Equipping the Disguise Kit, looking straight up, crouching, and walking in any direction will contort the character model’s skeleton in a bizarre manner. This intriguing animation oversight has been dubbed "Spycrab" by the fan community, who have begged Valve to not patch it out (as it offers no advantage during competitive play). Not only has Valve left Spycrab in the game, but they also added a Spycrab taunt that has a 10% chance of occurring when a Spy taunts with the Disguise Kit equipped.
The Glitch: When Capcom was developing their first game for the PlayStation 2, an action-adventure hack-and-slash called Onimusha: Warlords, they discovered a silly quirk in the combat physics. Enemies could be launched into the air, and by attacking quickly, successive strikes could keep them airborne, much like in a fighting game.
The Effect: The developers decided that this egregious breach of reality was “out of character” for a game in which a samurai uses magical elemental swords and a soul-stealing oni gauntlet to battle zombies, lizard monsters, and demon ninja, so the offending glitch was fixed. However, Capcom recognized the potential that this kind of juggling gameplay could have in a hack-and-slash environment, so they transplanted the gravity-defying combat system to another one of their franchises: Resident Evil. Still early in development, Resident Evil 4 originally starred a man named Tony who was granted immortality and incredible fighting prowess by genetic mutation. Eventually, Capcom deemed this juggling gameplay to be out of character for Resident Evil as well, so they decided to make a new IP based entirely on the combat system. Tony was renamed Dante, the major plot details were re-written, the game was named after Satan’s perceived reaction to Old Yeller, and a new franchise was born.
Devil May Cry would prove to be extremely popular, and its smooth, stylish, combo-heavy, spectacle-fueled combat ended up influencing a new subgenre of hack-and-slash games, including such critically-acclaimed titles as the Xbox’s Ninja Gaiden reboot, God of War, and Bayonetta.
#4: Rocket Jumping
The Glitch: In a video game where the primary objectives are A) stay alive, and B) prevent everyone else from completing Objective A, you’d think that pointing a loaded rocket launcher at your own feet and pulling the trigger would be counterproductive. However, as further proof that, without real-life consequences, gamers will stick all of the proverbial forks into all of the proverbial electric sockets, players of many first-person shooters started doing that exact thing. Depending on what game they were playing, many of them discovered an impressive new trick: if you jumped and immediately shot a rocket at the ground beneath you, the explosion would launch you into the air (provided the damage didn’t kill you).
The Effect: The origin of rocket jumping is tricky to pinpoint, and the practice actually predates 3D first-person shooters. In the original Doom (which had neither a jump button nor a true Z-axis), one could use rockets to quickly propel oneself horizontally, and this was actually John Romero’s intended method of reaching the secret exit in E3M6 (with the help of an Invinciblity Sphere). The first games to feature vertical rocket jumping were Bungie’s Marathon (albeit with grenades instead of actual rockets) and Apogee Software’s Rise of the Triad - two games which were coincidentally both released on December 21, 1994. However, it wasn’t until 1996’s Quake that rocket jumping exploded (har har) in popularity.
Ever since then, players and developers of first-person shooters that aren’t preoccupied with things like “realism” have taken advantage of rocket jumping for a number of purposes. It is a popular tactic for speed runners, modders often make maps that can only be beaten with several rocket jumps, and developers will sometimes place power-ups and easter eggs in locations that can only be reached with the assistance of a helpful explosion. In Quake III: Arena, computer-controlled opponents would occasionally rocket jump, and the multiplayer mode of Painkiller even featured a hotkey for rocket jumping. The most notable game to utilize the technique in the past few years is Team Fortress 2: the Soldier class is largely built around rocket jumping, and has even received upgrades that reduce self-inflicted damage from the explosion and increase damage output while airborne.
The Glitch: In 1995, a studio named DMA Design started work on a game called Race’n’Chase. It was to be a top-down open-world action game in which the player could complete missions as either a criminal or a police officer. These missions would be largely vehicle-based, though the player could get out and continue on foot if they wanted. Unfortunately, development soon stagnated, and playtesters reported a lack of engagement with the game.
The game was also extremely unstable at this point, and the code was constantly in flux to find a way to keep it from crashing. As anyone with programming experience can tell you, it’s very easy for appended code to have unforeseen effects on the overall product. One of the updates had a drastic effect on the police AI, causing them to drive much more recklessly and pursue the player much more persistently.
The Effect: This glitch turned out to be the shot in the arm that the game needed. Suddenly, every chase was a life-or-death struggle against a psychotic army of suicidal police cruisers who would stop at nothing to turn your car into a twisted heap of burning scrap metal by any means possible. The playtesters started ignoring the missions and the dev team discovered that messing around in the open world was often more fun than following the game’s story.
Even if you aren’t a video game historian, you may have figured out where this is going by now. The game was redesigned to be played only as a criminal, the psychopathic AI of the cops was refined, and the title was changed to Grand Theft Auto. Through a series of buyouts and mergers, DMA Design would eventually become the company we know today as Rockstar North. In 2001, they would release the landmark follow-up, Grand Theft Auto III, which was universally acclaimed, incredibly popular, and has proven to be highly influential in the open-world action genre.
While GTA3 certainly didn’t invent any of the aspects commonplace to open-world action games, it is still a groundbreaking title for how it brought all of those aspects together with a high level of polish. A large part of the appeal of the series comes from the mayhem that evolved from that Race’n’Chase glitch, and this carnage has inspired a number of other critically-lauded games such as the Saints Row series, the inFamous games, Prototype and its sequel, and Just Cause 2.
The Glitch: Released to arcades in 1991, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior is widely seen as one of the most influential fighting games of all time. While most of the game’s innovations were carefully planned and painstakingly crafted intentionally by Capcom, one of them happened entirely by mistake. While he was checking the “break the car” bonus stage for bugs, producer Noritaka Funamizu discovered that it was possible to cancel the animation of certain attacks by initiating a different attack.
The Effect: During an actual match, utilizing this glitch would allow a character to land several blows on an opponent without giving them enough time to react, even if they were controlled by the computer. Funamizu felt that the timing to properly execute these “combination attacks” would be too difficult to master, and that pulling off combos with enough consistency to make them useful would be impossible, so he left them in the game as a “hidden feature.”
Obviously, combos didn’t stay hidden for very long, and soon kids in arcades around the world were raging as their friends took out large chunks of their health with flurries of unblockable attacks. Thankfully, this didn’t destroy the carefully-balanced nature of the game, as combo attacks would rarely deplete more than a third of an opponent’s life gauge, but it certainly added a new wrinkle to the gameplay. When Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting was released, combos were promoted by Capcom as a gameplay feature, and a couple months later, Super Street Fighter II became the first fighting game to count the number of hits in a combo and reward the player appropriately with bonus points.
Two decades later, it is now the tournament fighters without combos that are in the minority. Series like Tekken, BlazBlue and Dead or Alive thrive on fast-paced combo attacks, and the art of the combo evolved in 1994 when Killer Instinct introduced the c-c-c-c-combo breaker. Street Fighter II may not have been the very first fighting game to include combos (1985’s Shanghai Kid had them), but it was the first popular game to feature combo attacks, and the fighting genre hasn’t been the same since. And it’s all because a bug-tester found a glitch and decided to leave it in because he didn’t give a 5-hit combo.
The Glitch: If you were to pull up any given list of the most influential video games of all time, Space Invaders would almost definitely be there. If it isn’t, then whoever wrote the list is wrong. It set the template for the shoot-em-up genre, it was the first game that saved high scores, it gobbled so many yen that Japan suffered a national coin shortage, and it was among the earliest video games to simulate a fantastical experience as opposed to a digital representation of a real activity (like tennis). Hell, it’s even what inspired Shigeru Mother****ing Miyamoto to start making video games. However, Space Invaders’ widest-reaching contribution to the industry is heralded a little less often. Also, it was a mistake.
Space Invaders was largely designed and created by one man, Tomohiro Nishikado. He even went so far as to build his own hardware from scratch, as Japanese microcomputers of the time weren’t powerful enough to program and run the game. Even with his specially-designed, pimped-out hardware, the game wouldn’t run the way he envisioned it. The processor just couldn’t make the antagonistic aliens move as fast as Nishikado intended. However, as the player shot more and more aliens, thereby removing entities from the screen, the processer had less and less sprites to render, and the game sped up.
The Effect: That’s right. The way that the aliens moved faster and faster as you thinned their ranks, making the game more difficult as you played? That was a glitch. Nishikado chose to keep this bug in the game instead of trying to compensate for it, because he realized the potential benefits that it could have for the industry (and also his wallet). Other video games of the day would generally be uniformly difficult throughout, and Game Overs just happened when the player ran out of patience or made a dumb mistake. All of that changed which Space Invaders introduced the industry to the concept of a difficulty curve.
This is one of the few innovations that could be considered to have universal influence across all genres of video games (save for purely multiplayer games). Nowadays, any video game worth its salt has a similar difficulty curve. It starts (relatively) easy and gets more difficult as you progress through the game. If the game stays easy the entire time, the player gets bored. Their skills are improving through practice, and if the game doesn’t provide new challenges, it becomes less engaging. The rewarding sense of accomplishment that comes with a finely-tuned difficulty curve is one of the things that made Space Invaders so addictive, turning it into a worldwide sensation (even if it did start as a glitch).
Gradius – Less a glitch and more the result of a programmer with a poor memory, the famed Konami Code was born when Kazuhisa Hashimoto forgot to remove debug mode from the console port of the game. (If you goddamn kids don’t know what the Konami Code is, then you can get the hell off my lawn.)
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – The Bomb Arrows that appeared later in Twilight Princess are thought to have been the result of a glitch, though this has neither been confirmed nor denied by the creators.
Mortal Kombat – The characters Ermac and Skarlet were both rumored to be the result of a palette-swapping glitch, though Ed Boon has denied this.
Quake – The method of travelling known as strafejumping has become almost as well-known as rocket jumping.
World of Warcraft – The Corrupted Blood incident was studied by real-life scientists as a model for epidemic research, and possibly inspired the in-game “Great Zombie Plague of ’08.”
Halo – In the original game, aiming all the way down with a pistol would cause the head of the character model to revert back to level, even while their gun was pointed at the ground, making it appear that the character was “at ease.” This was famously used by Rooster Teeth in their Red vs. Blue machinima. Bungie fixed the bug in Halo 2 but added a new feature that would allow characters to hold their weapon in a neutral position.
Ninja Gaiden (NES) – Ryu was meant to climb by jumping between two different walls, but savvy players discovered that he could still gain elevation with only one wall. Levels that require single-wall climbing were added to the sequels.
Super Mario Bros. – A glitch that would allow Mario to jump again if he hit a wall in a specific manner is possibly the inspiration for his wall-jumping ability in the newer games. The ? Blocks that contain multiple coins are also thought to be inspired by a bug.
Painkiller and some Metroid games are designed in such a way that some secrets can only be found by abusing glitches in the game’s engine.
Tetris – The technique known as the T-Spin is thought to have originally been a glitch, and is now necessary for high-level play.
Warcraft 2 – An easy-to-perform glitch granting the player 100 extra Lumber at the beginning of a game became the standard opening in many official tournaments, as it allowed matches to get underway quicker.
Super Robot Wars Alpha 2 – A hilarious glitch causing Elzan V. Branstein’s theme to automatically override any other music when he appears was so well-received by the community, that it has since been written into every successive game in the franchTROMBE!
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 – After a fan named Levinator25 posted a video of the in-game Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball while standing on water, EA Sports used this “Jesus Shot” in a commercial for the next game.
Half-Life 2 – The Combine Gunships are programmed to attack whatever currently represents the biggest threat (usually the player). However their AI decided that rockets are more dangerous than the person launching them, so they would shoot any flying rockets, requiring the player to guide them through erratic flight paths to score a hit. Valve liked this so much that they kept it in the game. Likewise, the sugar mill level of Left 4 Dead 2 with dozens of Witches was the result of a glitch that the developers enjoyed.
Bethesda games are typically replete with bugs, and Skyrim in particular is home to a plethora of hilarious glitches, many of which have notably not been patched.
Adventure – It’s hard to call it a “feature” per se, but the infamous “Created by Warren Robinett” room (read: the first video game easter egg ever) was accessed by intentionally triggering a glitch known as “sprite flickering,” which was a common bug up through the third generation of video games.
While glitches are usually seen by programmers as something to be avoided, the best developers know when to capitalize on a bug that makes their game more memorable. Just like with many movie scenes, sometimes the best moments aren’t in the script. I hope you enjoyed this look at particularly serendipitous bits of errant code, and if you have any [questions/comments/complaints that this list didn’t feature a single Tales game], feel free to drop by the Top 10 List Board or Gaming Symmetry to [ask/share/blame it on someone other than me].
List by Eesgooshee (02/26/2013)
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