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Glitchin' and Twitchin': Gaming the Errors

Written by darkness on November 11, 2013
We are not gods. Well, except the delusional ones. They're gods in their own little world. But for the rest of us, we recognize that not everything can be absolutely, positively perfect, completely bulletproof, watertight and shielded on all sides. Games are no exception; even with all sorts of testing and refining, some unintentional consequences are going to slip through the cracks. And these things are... interesting, to say the least.

Bugs and glitches are a natural part of any game; what they do, however, is anybody's guess. Some of them are humorous and innocuous, like an AI wigging out like it's seen a ghost. Others can be a little more annoying, like getting stuck past an invisible barrier. Still more borderline game-breaking levels, like the recent save glitch in Pokemon X and Y, which caused a looping freeze problem for the player.

So... what are the consequences of having these unpolished blemishes?

The most obvious consequence is reputation; this is more or less because of the increasingly hyped previews of major releases that lead to first-day implosions of madness, errors and rage. Diablo 3 suffered from the infamous "Error 37", while SimCity had some gridlock on their debut. Granted, server overload isn't a glitch per se, but given that it is a known game constraint, it isn't too far off from the tree.

Predictably, bigger games generate more hubbub about smaller glitches. GTA V (or maybe it was Online) had that problem with garages erasing saved vehicles, and people cried wolf about it (it's been patched). The aforementioned save glitch in Pokemon garnered its fair share of attention. (I hear there's some sketchier bug regarding a multiplicative egg that consumes everything in its wake.)

And then there are games that are a glitch, a bug, and a blue screen all rolled into one. Day One: Gary's Incident appears to be an incredibly poorly implemented version of Far Cry 3. It could have been improved on--it just needed a little TLC (or a lot, nobody's judging). Unfortunately, things went beyond glitches and twitches (although there is a funny video on YouTube regarding their poor mechanics if you're interested), as some ill-advised actions caused a rather large PR backlash towards the game and company in question.

On the other side of the scale are gimmicks that don't necessarily break the game (or your console/computer). For instance, I recall Halo having a lot of little nooks, crannies and paths that, due to their geometry, could be taken advantage of to either skip entire sections of the campaign or exploit certain vantage points (Blood Gulch outcrop being a notable one, but you're more likely to die before getting there). Now, that exploitative act (which has existed even long before Halo) has been refined into an art form into itself: speedrunning.

Speedrunning is a marathon involving the memorization of all of the crucial weaknesses of a video game, and capitalizing on all of them correctly, sequentially, to produce an outlandishly fast speed record, regardless if that game was actually meant to be time-based (games like Sonic stand on one end, while the likes of Halo stand on the other). You said you beat the entire Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in less than two hours? Impressive; some people have run through them in less than 15 minutes.

Just because it wasn't intended to be in the game doesn't mean it shouldn't be in the game. The swing-set glitch of GTA IV and the door glitch of GTA V have sent players--and their vehicles--soaring in laughter. But sometimes bugs have to be ironed out, or you end up with results like with Runescape's early Crucible glitch, where players could reap billions in a matter of minutes by exploiting a bug. It's really impossible to say whether a glitch is good or bad before the game rolls out; no matter how many alphas and betas, tests and development cycles, glitches are inevitable. So, don't freak out just because they exist; they may just make your game worth its weight in gold.

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November 11, 2013
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