In this day and age of eighth-generation game consoles that check your Facebook while you gun down squeaky-voiced nine-year-olds, glitches are generally seen as nothing more than an annoyance. Some may provide brief entertainment, like creepy bird people, backwards-flying dragons, or demon-possessed doctors, but most people agree that glitches take you out of the immersion that modern games offer while also spoiling the intended play strategy. They are usually quickly dealt with in patch updates and quickly forgotten.
In the past, though, glitches were much more mysterious. Game designers often wrote their own code and bug-fixed the bejeesus out of it, not to mention the fact that there was a lot less content to sift through. This meant that when a glitch did come up, it was a shocking and serendipitous happenstance. Without the internet, often the experience could only be related on playgrounds and birthday parties to a skeptical audience.
Finding a glitch you could duplicate was like finding the map to One-Eyed Willy’s treasure; it opened up a whole new realm of consciousness within gamer imaginations and encouraged adventurous exploration. Some glitches even found their way into mainstream use once they were shared with enough people. Before the internet was teaching us how to ruin friendships, these were the glitches that shook our world…
7. The Wavedash – Super Smash Bros. Melee (Gamecube, 2001)
Back when Melee tournaments still allowed items, people would try to catch items in midair while dodging because it had less delay. According to legend, someone playing Luigi accidentally did this technique at an angle close to the ground, and thus wavedashing was born.
Now it is used by anyone who wants to even consider their Melee game competitive, and it can be seen in nearly every tournament match. The smooth motion allows for a player to move quickly while also having the ability to employ any ground attack. It’s what took Melee from being moderately competitive to one of the most popular and technical video games ever to exist.
The game’s sequel Super Smash Bros. Brawl omitted the physics oversight, causing the game to be met with extremely vocal backlash from the competitive smash community and making the game shunned compared to it’s predecessor.
6. Missingno. – Pokemon 1st Generation Red/Blue (Gameboy, 1998)
Pokemon was a game rife with rumors, helped in no small part by the game’s proclivity for not-very-well-hidden content. After pushing an immovable truck for hours, though, my eleven-year-old self had no more patience for Pokemon bullshit than if it had been excreted by Tauros himself.
Imagine my surprise, then, when one of these rumors turned out to be true! By talking to an annoying old man who gives a tutorial on how to catch pokemon, then flying to Cinnabar Island and surfing up and down the coast like an obsessive-compulsive paddle boarder, the player would encounter the garbled pokemon MISSINGNO.
While the name refers to a program oversight of lacking a pokedex number, in a game filled with stupid names like Mr. Mime and Farfetch’d many players thought the glitch was intentional. The icing on the cake? Meeting Missingno. meant the item in your sixth slot was maxed out at 99 even if it was supposed to occur only once like the Master Ball. This presumes, of course, that it doesn’t corrupt your game data.
5. The Minus World – Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)
This glitch was the tip of the game-breaking iceberg, and prompted many people to explore the realms outside a video game’s normal code. The glitch was also activated by a very specific sequence akin to a cultish ritual, causing many to doubt it’s existence. Those that could pull it off, though, were blown away by the bizarre but still playable spectacle that awaited them in the endlessly looping minus world.
I was completely unable to dig up any concrete history surrounding the discovery of this glitch, but suffice it to say that people began to get wind of it in the late eighties around the time Super Mario Bros. 3 came out and everyone went home to try it for themselves. Those looking for a little bit of a less surreal experience could also opt into cancelling the glitch by walking all the way to the right of the screen, and skipping ahead to world 5.
4. Sequence-Breaking with Damn Near Everything – Metroid series (Various consoles, 1987-present)
The original Metroid broke new ground by giving players free access to nearly the entire map from the get-go. The only thing barring an ambitious player from proceeding too far were technology stopgaps that required items for a high jump, for example, or a beam that could freeze enemies into stepping stones. Fans of the sequel Super Metroid (released in 1994) decided they weren’t having any of this crap and found ways to skip entire sections of the game and doing without normally requisite equipment.
One example of this can be achieved by dashing, jumping, then transforming into a morph ball just as you make contact with the ground, transforming into what’s been dubbed the “mockball”. This allows you to skip impassable obstacles and get items early. Other ambitious players have taken to wall-jumping off of nearly every surface in an effort to climb up mountains or through water and beat the game in whatever order they please.
The term “sequence-breaking” was even coined in a message board for Metroid Prime released on the Gamecube. Players skipped a boss fight and escaped with his guarded prize without getting a scratch. This opened up discussion on the internet as to how to glitch a game so as to yield you the shortest times possible, which paved the way for unbelievable (albeit emulator-assisted) game runs such as beating The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask in less than an hour and a half or beating Earthbound in a jaw-dropping nine minutes!
3. Corrupted Blood Incident – World of Warcraft (PC, 2005 version)
While this entry happened way past the point where the internet laid secrets bare, that fact didn’t do many people much good. This is also the only gaming glitch that was discussed by major news outlets and later studied by epidemiologists and terrorism experts.
“Corrupted blood” was a status ailment that caused a player to rapidly lose HP and which could also be transferred via entering close proximity with another player. It was originally intended to only appear at the end of a particularly tough boss battle, either killing players or being removed after a set period of time. However, a select group of people, who we’ll lovingly call “a bunch of conniving assholes,” discovered that if you bring a pet into the arena you could exit the raid and still have the corrupted blood on the animal.
These people, who’ll I’ll now refer to kindly as “a bunch of f***king jackasses” quickly brought multiple servers to their knees upon traveling to densely populated areas such as towns and meeting houses. The disease would quickly kill low-level players, and caused the game’s millions of players to begin to avoid contact with other characters. Blizzard programmers eventually stepped in, but had difficulty coming up with a solution that wouldn’t destroy player’s character data and cause an exodus of subscription-holders.
The end results of this carnage were towns littered with corpses and mountaintops full of hermits avoiding an ugly fate. These reactions stemmed interest from public health institutions in the event of an actual catastrophic infection, providing useful data to extrapolate to the real world. Lesson learned: it’s not the terrorists you have to watch out for as much as their pets.
2. Fighting Combos – Street Fighter II (Arcade, 1991)
It’s hard to imagine, but before Street Fighter II (SF2), fighting games were some of the most boring and unplayable abominations under God’s green earth. SF2 changed all this by introducing fun, predictable physics and character moves that just begged to be unleashed. It also introduced a technique known as “move-canceling” to the general populous.
The idea with move-canceling was that some attacks could normally be ended even though the player was in mid-animation. The result is that you are able to perform several moves in quick succession without interruption, the proverbial “combo” we know and love today. What’s shocking was that this was a complete program oversight by the designers of SF2! Upon discovery, most people at Capcom decided the exploit was too tough to pull off so it was ignored.
When SF2 cabinets hit arcades and storefronts alike, the game took the world by storm. Those that had gotten good at combo-ing would quickly draw a crowd who would watch as they trounced the single player mode or turned a hapless/gullible human opponent into a floppy ragdoll.
Nowadays, combo systems are a necessary part of fighting game design, so it’s hard to imagine the genre without it. It’s also nice to see a company embracing an emergent technique instead of deleting it for the sequels on the assumption that it’s enthusiasts are all whiny, unskilled children (whining about Brawl again, here).
1. Scaling Difficulty – Space Invaders (Arcade, 1978)
That’s right. What seems like the central tenet of any video game – make it harder as you get better – wasn’t originally intended to be a factor. Most games up to this point had the same screens over and over again with little variety.
When Space Invaders came out, this was again the intention. Because of computing limitations, however, the game display lagged noticeably when all the enemies were on-screen together at the beginning of a round. Once the player started to pick off the ships, though, the machine began to catch up and as a result the last few ships got faster and therefore harder and harder to target.
Designer Tomohiro Nishikado left in his programming mistake because he thought it added a bit more excitement to the average player. What he didn’t anticipate was that because this was also the first machine to store high scores, players competed more and more fiercely to fight through the quicker waves and secure that golden spot at the top. The game became so popular that it caused a shortage in the 100-yen coin that the machine accepted, prompting Japan to have to mint more of the coins every year.
Thus, the most rewarding component of the gaming experience, the fact that you unlock more challenge as you progress, all came down to a technological oversight. Without this happy accident, we’d be stuck with games like Pong, or a game of Tetris where the speed never changed and game over meant boredom or carelessness. Because of this, as well as other glitches, modern gaming is what it is today, cougarmen be damned.
Honorable Mention: Play as Fierce Deity Link Anywhere – Majora’s Mask (N64, 2000)
I didn’t discover this glitch until after I had the internet for a while, and it actually limited play mechanics rather than expanding them, but it’s still the coolest damn thing in one of the best series ever, even compared to playing as Master Hand.
Jarrod Lipshy is a soon-to-be-graduating B.A. English student who is scared as hell about finding a real job. He collects old video games and finds out how to h4xx them on the internet or from his friends.