6 Glitches That Accidentally Invented Modern Gaming
Half of the art you enjoy every day is probably due to some happy accident. For instance, most of the tension in Jaws can be credited to the fact that the fake shark they were using was a mechanical nightmare and too ridiculous to show on screen.
You wouldn't think video games would be subject to this, however -- a mistake in the code of a game would most likely just melt your Xbox (again) rather than invent some fun new game mechanic. Yet, some of the most iconic features of games can be credited to serendipity:
A Bad Mouse Click Leads to Lara Croft's Rack
It's not fair to say that Lara Croft and Tomb Raider are only famous for one reason (or even two). There have been many excellent and critically acclaimed games in the series. But they would not have sold as well, or become as iconic, if not for the choice to give the main character gigantic boobies.
Those are the protruding orbs on her chest.
Well, as it turns out, Lara's bust is a result of a mistake. Artist Toby Gard, one of the people in charge of designing Lara Croft, was toying around with the dimensions of the character. When setting the dimensions of her chest, he slipped with his mouse and increased the boob area by a cartoonish 150 percent.
And apparently replaced them with oil-change funnels.
The rest of the (male) crew immediately asked him to keep it that way, solidifying a stereotype about video gamers that we have not been able to shake in the 15 years since. And the rest is video game history. To quote the team, "Gard's accidental 'one-fifty' design made picking out a marketing strategy remarkably easy."
Lara Croft and her blockbuster franchise paved the way for female game characters. She was considered the first video game sex symbol and she regularly tops and appears on various lists of -- sigh -- video game hotties.
And before we come down on them too hard for what is clearly some of the most blatant sexism and objectification in entertainment history, you have to remember that it was still a step up -- before Lara, female characters were either hostages or not featured at all.
She's the one on top, getting her ass sniffed by the Kong.
Sure, Samus Aran of the Metroid series came first, but her gender was kept a secret from anyone who didn't beat the game -- the iconic image of the character was somebody hiding behind a bulky metal suit.
Lara is strong, independently wealthy, beautiful, smart and great at what she does. If it took a 150 percent inflated chest to blaze that trai, well, maybe that's just the way it is. Meanwhile, Lara led the way for 3D gaming (along with Mario 64). The first Tomb Raider sold millions of copies, reinvigorating a platforming genre that had been written off as Mario-style kids games for years. All thanks to the slip of a mouse.
"You're welcome, polygon booby lovers!"
A Racing Game Glitch Gives Birth to Grand Theft Auto
Long before the Grand Theft Auto series became the gold standard in video game mayhem simulators, Rockstar Games (back then known as DMA Design) was working on a racing game called Race and Chase. The idea was "to produce a fun, addictive and fast multi-player car racing and crashing game" which sounds like it could be Mario Kart until you see what it looked like:
So more Matchbox cars than Mario Kart.
If there was ever a game in need of a bit of attitude, this was it.
Eagle-eyed viewers will notice a stark similarity between the above screen shot and the original GTA series, that isn't a coincidence. As far as the play testers were concerned, the game sucked, except for one glitch which made the police in the game go apeshit for no reason. Instead of politely pulling you over, the cops would ram you off the road (their AI was accidentally trying to drive through the player). Suddenly everyone was crashing non-stop.
For the next 10 solid years.
Play testers thought this was freaking hilarious, and in fact abandoned the missions just to screw around and see what kind of mayhem they could cause. The designers decided to not only leave the psychotic cops in there, but build the entire game around the kind of ridiculously violent car chases caused by the glitch.
The game was eventually completely overhauled to create Grand Theft Auto. By the time Grand Theft Auto 3 came around a few years later, the series was one of the most influential ever. It would go on to revolutionize "open world" gameplay that now seemingly half of the games on the market try to emulate. But at its heart, it's still all about the joy of abandoning the objective and just dicking around. All because nobody knew how to properly program a video game policeman.
Space Invaders Accidentally Invents Difficulty Curves
When someone says "retro arcade games," there's a pretty good chance that a picture of one of these little blocky aliens pops into your head.
And then Pac-Man eats it or something, right?
1978's Space Invaders was so influential that even Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Nintendo's cornerstone franchises, has pointed to it as the game that "revolutionized the industry."
Like all retro games, the key is that it's effortless to start playing, and next to impossible to master. At the beginning, the alien ships are just lined stupidly in front of you in rows. You just have to pick them off with your laser, right? Ah, but as you decimate their numbers, something happens: They go faster.
It made for an absolute perfect difficulty curve. Success was rewarded with greater challenge. The more aliens you killed, the harder it got. And when you got down to those last few aliens, you had to have lightning reflexes.
And that's not even taking those freaking UFOs into account.
The thing is, the scaling difficulty was totally unintentional. The entire game was programmed and built by one man: Tomohiro Nishikado. And by built, we mean that he spent an entire year custom developing the hardware for the game because the hardware available in Japan at the time wasn't powerful enough to run it. It was like the Crysis 2 of 1978.
"I built a sweet system to run this shit, bro."
And when it was all finished, Nishikado discovered that the hardware still wasn't powerful enough to run the game how he intended it. He programmed the game to move all the aliens at what he thought would be a pretty steady rate -- but while play-testing it, he found the aliens to be quite a bit slower than he wanted. There were simply too many on the screen for the hardware to handle, so it bogged down.
As he played on, however, he discovered that the game sped up as he brought swift laser-justice to those invading alien bastards -- fewer characters for the processor to keep track of meant it could finally move them at their correct speed. He liked the effect so much, he decided to keep it, saying it "added more thrills to the game."
And if you weren't dead by Level 9, it dispensed a live wolf.
Actually, you could argue it added the only reason to keep playing the game at all. It was the first game that actually got more difficult as you progressed. Before that point, games were pretty much the same all the way through (often repeating the same screens over and over), and it was basically a matter of waiting for your hands to get tired.
This, combined with the fact that it was the first game to implement a high-score system meant that dedicated people put a lot of quarters into Space Invaders -- it actually created a yen shortage in Japan.
And a yen explosion in Shigeru's pants.
A Disgruntled Employee Invents the Easter Egg
When most people think of the birth of the action RPG genre, they think of The Legend of Zelda. Link had a forebearer, however, in the form of a 1979 Atari 2600 game simply titled Adventure. It worked pretty much the same way as the early Zelda games: Players picked up items to help them move through dungeons, and slew monsters and dragons. It was a pretty straightforward game, and a relatively popular one at that.
It's because it was so orange.
But back in the late 70s and early 80s, Atari was kind of a shitty place to work. Most games were made by just one person, and they didn't even get credit on the box. So when Adventure's creator, Warren Robinett, got to work on the game, he decided to stick it to The Man by hiding his name in the game's code. But instead of just adding "SUCK MY DICK. 8===D SINCERELY, WARREN ROBINETT" he decided to hide it in a really clever fashion.
Robinett, being the sole programmer on Adventure, knew perfectly well that the game had a really bad graphical glitch brought on by the system's limited hardware: When too many objects appeared on the screen, the images would begin rapidly flashing -- a phenomenon typically referred to as sprite flickering (if you've played any of the old Mega Man games, you probably know exactly what we're talking about).
Robinett decided to exploit the glitch by including a secret item in the game: A small 1x1 pixel square that was the same color as the floor, making it effectively invisible. If picked up by the player and brought to another part of the dungeon, players could intentionally trigger the sprite flickering. This would also cause a black bar that served as a dungeon wall to flicker. Players could walk through it, and inside was a plain purple room with "CREATED BY WARREN ROBINETT" written on the floor.
And thus was born the first Easter egg in video game history. By the time Atari found out, it was too late and too costly to recall the cartridges, so they just called it an "added value." (Robinett had luckily already moved on from the company by that point.)
One of the suits at Atari was the guy who, in describing it, coined the term "Easter egg." Today, if a game doesn't have well-hidden levels, items or unlockable sarcastic voiceovers, we feel cheated.
Street Fighter Accidentally Invents Combos
Street Fighter II inspired nearly 20 years worth of fighting games. It's still played in tournaments today. Well, the Hyper Street Fighter II Alpha Turbo Mega HD remix is, anyway.
Extended Director's Cut Collector's Platinum Edition.
When developing what would be become Street Fighter II, producer Noritaka Funamizu noticed that there was a glitch that would let you sneak in two punches as part of the same move. He discovered it during the car-smashing bonus stage, also known as the best damn bonus stage ever.
Uppercutting the shit out of cars -- this game had it all.
The bug took perfect timing and let players sneak in a couple of extra hits, which was important because this was a multi-player game. If gamers fighting against each other could exploit this, they could string together several hits without the opponent being able to respond.
Noritaka left the bug in the game because he figured it'd be too difficult for players to pull off anyway (the rest of the development team didn't even know about it). But he underestimated the dedication and, quite frankly, insanity of competitive fighting game players, and soon these "combo" attacks became all the rage.
Starting with Super Street Fighter II (one of what would turn out to be many, many iterations of the game), the bug became official. The game started keeping track and rewarding a higher score for these combination attacks. It added a completely different dynamic to the game -- specifically the ability to instantly come from behind in a fight that seemed lost, by stringing together an insane combo:
Now, making a fighting game without combo attacks would be like, well, a Tomb Raider game without giant boobs. If you've ever played Tekken, Soul Calibur or pretty much any fighting game in the modern era, you can thank Noritaka Funamizu for letting a glitch slide.
A Programmer Sucking at Games Gave Us the Konami Code
If you've played Gradius you don't need us to describe it. If you haven't, we can describe it in one word: LASERS!
The game and all of its sequels are known for being bastard hard. At any one time, it is perfectly possible for there to be dozens of individual danger zones on the screen. By danger zones, we of course mean areas on the screen you'll die instantly and make you have to start again, without any of the power-ups you just busted your ass unlocking.
This wasn't an isolated thing and you weren't the only one who sucked: Kazuhisa Hashimoto, one of the guys who helped freaking create the home port of the game, couldn't play it. After watching his ship explode endlessly during play testing, he eventually thought, Screw this, I'm the programmer! and created a code -- a simple set of button presses to give himself a full set of power-ups, no doubt laughing to himself as he played back through the game.
So why are we calling it a glitch? He accidentally left the code in the game when it was released.
That code is what is now famously known as the Konami Code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A). It's a string that old-school gamers know by heart (they should -- it was the only thing that let them get even half way through Contra). Not only did the code make it into Konami's subsequent releases, but the code has been somewhat of an Easter egg in dozens of other games from other developers. In Resident Evil 2, it gave you infinite ammo; in Quake 4 it completed all your objectives for you; and in Tony Hawk 2 it let you unlock Spider-Man.
Someone did it in real life, and it created Bjork.
And after that, the code started leaking into the real world, becoming a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. Just try entering it here (we really don't want to spoil the surprise, just trust us). Dozens of other websites have implemented Easter eggs when you enter the code -- our favorite is probably the Marvel.com version, in which a tiny rodent wearing a Deadpool mask would leap onto the screen and berate you for it.
The only really disappointing thing is nothing happens if you enter it on the Konami website. Amazing, considering even ESPN used it to make rainbow unicorn farts all over their homepage.
Find Karl on facebook, or check out his blog. To read more from Ashe, check out Weird Shit Blog and Bad Metaphors. Or by buying the Ebook he helped write.
For more video game Easter eggs, check out 9 Video Game Easter Eggs That Took Years to Find. Or find out how clever your favorite musicians really are in 10 Mind-Blowing Easter Eggs Hidden in Famous Albums.
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