Editorial: Embrace the Glitch

There must be few video games released with glitches left in intentionally. Last year’s Mega Man 9, for example, was full of the blighters. To recreate the look and feel of the cerulean sensation’s previous 2D outings, Capcom ensured that series-defining bugs like screen flickering, slow down, and so on were included as optional extras, satisfying those who prefer nostalgia over ease of play.

It was an inspired move, harking back to when faulty code was as commonplace as encyclopaedic game manuals. Forget cheat codes, with retro games it was all about the glitches. Everyone knew about Super Mario Bros.’ warp zones, but what about the trick to finding its Groundhog Day level, Minus World? Players had to pass through a certain solid wall in World 1-2 to come across this mysterious glitch, only to find themselves trapped in a curious underwater level with an exit that would send them back to its start, over and over again. Then there was Guile’s famous handcuff glitch in Street Fighter II, with which he could freeze opponents in a pose of injury, only to release them when he wanted to. Of course, the game would eventually freeze if the player didn’t un-handcuff their opponent, but that’s entirely missing the point.

The worthy point it does raise, though, is of glitches breaking a game. Not in the amusing ways listed above, but in the more frustrating ways that give players an unfair advantage. Fighters like Street Fighter II are blighted to this day by unblockable combinations of moves, while Mario Kart DS’ online play was ruined by the ability to endlessly snake and boost around its circuits. Some believe that the skill required to utilize these advantageous glitches actually justifies them. It’s certainly how Mario Kart DS snakers defend themselves, as do those who bunny hop in first-person shooters. Bunny hopping is as it sounds–the art of jumping repeatedly instead of running–in order to move faster. I first remember coming across it in Unreal Tournament, but it’s featured in many FPSs – most notably in the Battlefield 2, in which it became a kick/ban-worthy offence on some servers. Eventually, it was totally abolished by a game patch, to much rejoicing and almost as much outcry.

But what of glitches now? Despite extensive testing and quality assurance, it’s the incredible complexity of modern games that provides the platform for modern glitches. There’s simply too much going on for everything to be covered. Just today, I came across an awesome glitch in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Each time Yoshi eats Jigglypuff after a cancelled final smash, the pink puffball will come back out double the size. Doing this over and over creates a gargantuan, Cloverfield-esque Jigglypuff to terrorize other cutesy Nintendo bastards with.

As surely awesome as this is, most modern-day glitches tend to be predictable in truth. I’ve seen my share of frozen, floating characters, walls that can suddenly be jumped through, and peeks into the gaping expanses of empty nothingness. As exciting as the gaming void was the first time, it feels like glitches are becoming less and less interesting. Either they’re totally game-breaking, or just something that ruins the immersion of a virtual world. And if they’re seriously screwy, they’ll get fixed eventually via a patch. If Brawl was a Xbox 360 game, Jigglyzilla wouldn’t have had a long lifespan. But is that actually true, or am I viewing gaming’s past in rose-tinted spectacles?

Either way, the most exciting modern-day glitches are the ones that are dealt with unusually by developers. Recent sensation Batman: Arkham Asylum contained a glitch that only affected players who’d pirated their copy, ensuring that once they entered a certain area of the game that was filled with poisonous gas, they wouldn’t be able to progress any further. “It’s not a bug in the game’s code, it’s a bug in your moral code,” joshed one of the Eidos moderators.

Then there was the infamous, supposedly intentional glitch in Xbox Live Arcade’s Fable II Pub Games that allowed players to break the game’s rules to speedily accrue gold for use in Fable II. Players who had cheated in Pub Games were penalized by being deemed greedy and corrupt in Fable II, affecting how non-player characters perceived them. Again, both are very awesome, but both are intentional glitches, like the ones left in by the Mega Man 9 team. What of the true, unintentional glitches, the beautiful mistakes like Minus World?

The best example of a developer acknowledging such a beautiful mistake, nay even embracing it, is found in EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08. A YouTube user named Levinator25 found a glitch that allowed him to perform what he called a “Jesus shot”, where Tiger could walk on water and chip a ball that was floating in a stream. What Levinator25 didn’t expect was for EA to respond as part of their PGA Tour 09 marketing campaign:

The Tiger scenario is an emphatic reminder of why the glitch shouldn’t be allowed to die. Without it, we would have never seen Tiger play a real-life Jesus Shot. And it’s glitches like the Jesus Shot, Minus World, Guile’s handcuffs, Battlefield II’s bunny hopping, and all of the rest that gave their respective games another layer of personality. Some of these glitches are integral to their games’ nostalgia value. We remember the glitches as fondly as anything else in the game, because they were unique and they were special. To sum up, I think the Mario Kart series gives the best example of the rights and wrongs of video game glitches. While Mario Kart DS’ online play was ruined by the afore-mentioned snaking glitch, other entries in the series have produced fantastic glitches in the forms of unintentional shortcuts. And while a secret shortcut is rewarding, finding and exploiting an unintentional one is so much better. When it breaks the game, be it through unfair advantage or technical difficulties, that’s a problem, but ridding the Mario Kart series of these secrets to discover–ones that even the developer is unaware of–would be tragedy. Eventually, testing and quality assurance are going to all but obliterate the video game glitch. All I ask is that developers leave in just one or two of the glitches they find, especially if they involve colossal Pokémon.

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