6 Iconic Video Games That Were Created by Technical Problems

We've told you before that some of the most iconic moments in movie history were created by accident, coincidence, or Benicio Del Toro's farts, but it's not just the movie industry that's prone to accidental genius. Video game developers, for example, often made their most creative choices specifically because technical limitations wouldn't let them make the game they really wanted to make. For example ...

#6. Everything About Mario's Design Made Him Easier to Animate


The Classic:

Mario is easily the most recognizable video game character in history: the red overalls, the blue shirt, the hat, and, of course, the mustache. It's one of those timeless character designs, up there with Mickey Mouse and Darth Vader -- simple, yet imaginative and unforgettable. And it was all because the artists just didn't have enough goddamned pixels to work with.

via MSN Games
Enough pixels for a lollipop hammer, but not enough for facial features.

The Technical Problem:

Creating an unforgettable video game character in the '80s was all about having a knack for shortcuts. Almost every aspect of Mario's design came from an effort to make him easier to animate. Remember, his first appearance was in 1981's Donkey Kong, an arcade game with processing power that was less than, say, a modern toaster (its 3 MHz processor gave it 1/70,000 as much power as a PlayStation 3 -- those old black-and-white Game Boy handhelds had more horsepower than a Donkey Kong arcade machine).

So Mario's creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, needed to make a tiny block of pixels resemble a human being. He started with the red-and-blue color scheme, reasoning that it would stand out against Donkey Kong's black background. The use of overalls as opposed to a shirt or a muumuu gave definition to Mario's arms, because it meant his sleeves would be a different color from his torso:

Without sleeves, this would have looked ridiculous.

Next came the hat, which was added not because Miyamoto had a stroke of genius, but because he didn't like designing hairstyles. That's right -- the most famous character in gaming wears a headpiece for the same reason you throw a hat on when you're too lazy to run a comb through your hair. As an added bonus, the hat saved programmers the trouble of having to animate Mario's hair when he jumped. Gamers in the '80s didn't expect much, but they demanded realistic hair physics, dammit!

But the big goofy nose and the famous mustache have got to be intentional, right? Nope. Mario's diminutive size made giving him a mouth and realistic facial expressions impractical, and so, much like putting a chair over the vomit stain on your carpet after a wild party, Miyamoto added the honker and 'stache to hide Mario's mouth while still ensuring that his face was more than a monochromatic blob.

via Design Juices
No offense intended to our less-chromatic readers.

The result of all of these patchwork compromises is a character who, instead of being a stereotypical warrior or daring explorer, is a working man with sideburns, a baseball cap, and a mustache ... and who thus oozes more personality than all of the modern "bald space marine" characters combined.

#5. Silent Hill's Fog Is There to Disguise Load Times


The Classic:

Silent Hill came out over a decade ago and is still considered one of the scariest games ever made. Part of that is the game's haunting atmosphere -- an omnipresent fog prevents gamers from seeing into the distance and, more importantly, prevents them from spotting hideous monsters until they're within "claw your face off and eat the gooey insides" range.

That sort of atmosphere had never been seen in a horror game before. It became an icon of the franchise as fans debated its origins and symbolism, and it was even an important part of the movie spinoffs.

TriStar Pictures
Which was good, because the less you saw of them, the better.

All in all, it was a brilliant stroke of mood setting.

The Technical Problem:

The world behind the fog didn't exist because the hardware hadn't loaded it yet.

The size of a game world is limited by the machine running it -- old-school arcade games took place on one screen, later games like The Legend of Zelda had large worlds that still only loaded one screen at a time, and of course modern games span for miles in every direction. So if you want a game that A) takes place in a town the player can walk around in and B) is running on the old Sony PlayStation, compromises had to be made. The game would need to stop and load the next section of town as the player walked toward it, which, as you can imagine, would kind of ruin the mood.

The next turn could reveal a bloodied mess, or a flying beast, or a [LOADING].

Developers use all sorts of little tricks to disguise these loading times -- from door-opening animations to elevator rides, you can bet that any time a game is making you stop for a moment, it's loading the next section of map into the memory. But instead of doing that, Silent Hill just dropped a fog bomb on the landscape, which served the dual purpose of letting the system get away with only rendering the bit of world that's immediately in front of the player while also making it next to impossible for them to see incoming enemies, the lay of the land ... basically anything that wasn't immediately in front of them.

The end result was a perfect mix -- it gave the impression of being in a huge open world where you could go anywhere ... if you weren't too scared of monsters jumping out of the murder fog and eating your spleen. It's like Jaws: Spielberg had to edit around a malfunctioning mechanical shark, and it actually made the movie scarier. When it comes to horror, sometimes less is more. That's why the crude, fog-shrouded landscape of Silent Hill is far scarier than the giant, beautifully rendered monsters that fill the Resident Evil franchise these days.

#4. Team Fortress' Spy Came from a Color-Swapping Glitch


The Classic:

Anyone who's played the multiplayer shooter Team Fortress knows the aneurysm-inducing frustration that is mowing down scores of enemies only to be stabbed to death by the Spy you didn't see creeping up behind you. Anyone who's played as the Spy can tell you just how mustache-twirlingly fun it is to be the person doing the stabbing -- it's almost worth unmuting the voice chat in the hopes that you'll hear your victims' sweet cries of anguish. Almost.

via Destructoid
Then drown the cries out with an MP3 of "Stayin' Alive."

The character is a touch of gameplay genius; a good Spy can shift the balance of a match. The Team Fortress Spy will go down in gaming history alongside Mario Kart's blue shell as "the thing everyone hates right up until they're the one using it."

The Technical Problem:

The Spy was never supposed to exist -- the developers got the idea from a bug that caused some players to appear in the colors of the other team. This was a nightmare for the unlucky team that got fooled by it; enemy players could slip right into the middle of their ranks and unleash hell, killing them all before they even realized what was happening. It completely screwed up the team dynamic and turned certain victory into crushing defeat.

Four years getting an engineering degree, all for nothing.

Rather than yell about "cheap ass hacking noobs!!!!111" and patch the bug into oblivion, the creators of Team Fortress realized the potential it had as a gameplay mechanic and decided to create a class geared toward deception. Using the color-swapping error as the basis of their new Spy, the developers crafted a character with a unique play style that eventually evolved into the stab-happy Frenchman players know today. It completely changed Team Fortress and, depending on who you ask, was either a brilliant innovation or the cheapest bullshit to ever ruin a game.

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