Editorial: Glitchy Madness

Instead this is only one of a few thousand.
If this was the only glitch in Skyrim, the game would be breathtaking.

Just like any type of software, video games carry glitches. The complexity of the programming behind video games often leads to hundreds of bugs and glitches in even the highest of budget games. While glitches have been around since the beginning of gaming, many newer games seem overloaded with all types of glitches. Glitches come in varying degrees of severity, with many being annoying, but harmless. Other glitches have been known to make games unbeatable, or worse, unplayable. While companies are usually quick to patch these programming errors, many times one can not help but wonder how so many bugs made it into what is supposed to be a finished product.

My first memorable experience with a glitch was with the infamous Missingno from Pokémon Red. Nintendo Power documented the glitch back in May of 1999, about eight months after the release of Pokémon Red and Blue. The blossoming popularity of the series, Nintendo Power‘s coverage, and the Internet all played into the widespread awareness, and misunderstanding of the the glitch. Missingno would prove to be only the tip of the glitch iceberg for the initial releases of the Pokémon series, as many more glitches have been uncovered in the games. For many people, me included, Pokémon Red and Blue hold a special spot in their heart, not only because they were the first titles in this great series, but also because the plethora of glitches allow for many ways to replay the games.

The transition to the 3-D era was not kind to developers. Suddenly, the former 2-D worlds were given depth, no longer was Mario running against a flat background, now he was running around in a 3-D world. While both the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation had their share of glitchy games, the Nintendo 64 sticks out as worse of the two. Many Nintendo 64 games suffered from graphical glitches, in large part due to Nintendo’s decision to use cartridges over optical media. The limited ROM and texture size often led to developers stretching low-resolution textures, resulting in boundaries that were quite easy to break. These graphical glitches, combined with other gameplay glitches, have made some Nintendo 64 games hugely popular in the speed running community.

Grand Theft Auto 3 Glitch
Breaking through the boundaries can have some unique consequences.

As games have gotten even more complex and loaded with more content, the quality testing process has seemingly took the backseat. Mel touched upon this in his article: Progress for the Sake of Progress? I echo Mel’s sentiments that patches are becoming a crutch for developers to lean on, allowing them to ship games with minimal bug testing taking place, effectively turning the consumers into bug testers. Studios like Bethesda and Rockstar have released some of the largest games this generation. Said games have also featured more than a handful of game-breaking glitches. At times, I have wondered if Bethesda and Rockstar simply opted to ax the entire testing department and use the budget space on developing even more broken content.

While a game devoid of glitches is next to impossible, developers should still strive to deliver a product that is as close to perfect as possible. While glitches can be entertaining, it does feel like a bit of a slap in the face when the game I just dropped sixty dollars on has multiple glitches in my first thirty minutes of playing. What is even more frustrating is when I am unable to play a new game because it is such a wreck that it needs an immediate patch. The Obsidian developed, Bethesda produced Fallout New Vegas was released to an excited fan base that were instantly disappointed when it became clear that the game should have been delayed a month. To give an idea how many bugs Fallout New Vegas had, the mod project Mission Mojave has continued to patch the game long after the last official patch. The latest release of Mission Mojave has twenty-seven thousand bug fixes that were not fixed with the official patches.

With no foreseeable end for large, complex games, I do not anticipate a changing of the guard anytime soon. Developers are all too willing to take a bit of criticism over bugs at launch if it means avoiding a delay. One day, everything may come to a breaking point. One company will push too far, probably by releasing a game that will freeze the moment the title screen hits. The aftermath of such a move would hopefully involve gamers becoming fed up with being unpaid bug testers. If anything, my initial experience with Skyrim taught me that purchasing games at launch is often a bad idea in the era of patches. How have glitches and bugs altered your gaming experience? Have you ever ran into a glitch that enhanced your gaming experience? Does watching Super Mario 64 get beat in six minutes ruin your childhood like it did mine?


  1. I love the convenience of buying digital games, but sometimes I miss having a primarily offline console.

  2. A bug I found was in Mega Man X’s Flame Mammoth level. In the beginning of the stage is a conveyor belt with big machines falling onto it from a pipe in the ceiling. I climbed up that pipe and skipped the entire beginning of the level by running through the top until I came to the open area where the lava is on the ground (assuming you haven’t defeated Chill Penguin). Then everything is discolored, distorted, stuff turns invisible, and the screen no longer can scroll vertically. I don’t think it is possible to beat the level after doing that, so I just thought of that glitch as a secret that I had found.

    It definitely depends on the severity of the glitch in most cases, I think. I played Brutal Legend which has a game-destroying glitch after you beat the game. You can save a cleared game and continue doing things in the world, but once you power down, the next time you try to load the save, it never loads. I was pretty pissed off about that one. There were lots of people complaining about the glitch. Double Fine said that they had no intention of fixing it.

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