My Favorite Glitches in Video Games

Any sane computer programmer will tell you that bug-free software is the rarest of rarities. Almost every non-trivial program has bugs and errors, and video games are no exception. What’s interesting about games, though, is that not all mistakes and glitches are inherently bad. Some of them even go on to become standard features in future games.

Today I want to share with you my favorite glitches in video game history, some of which became standard features for future games.

Combos in Street Fighter II

Capcom’s Street Fighter II arrived at arcades in 1991 and single-handedly popularized the idea of competitive player-versus-player fighting. Veteran players learned that they could inflict major damage on their opponent through combos: a series of attacks that robbed a player of any time to respond or block. A classic example is performing a crouching middle-kick with Ryu and quickly following that with a fireball. If kick connects then the other player will not have time to block the fireball.

Combos have become such an integral part of Street Fighter, and all fighting games since, that it surprises some people to learn that combos in Street Fighter are entirely the result of a glitch.

Capcom never designed Street Fighter II with combos in mind. Prior to release Noritaka Funamizu, the lead producer, noticed that characters could perform a sequence of multiple attacks on the bonus stage where you have to beat-up a car in a certain time limit. Mr. Funamizu decided there was no reason to fix the bug because he believed the necessary timing required for the attacks was too difficult to begin with. He thought some players may discover it, but in general felt it was not worth addressing or properly incorporating into the game. His decision to overlook this glitch had an irrevocable impact on the entire genre. Not only would future Street Fighter games purposefully incorporate combos, damn near every fighting game created after 1991 would follow suit.

Combos already existed in beat’em-up games prior to Street Fighter II, e.g. Final Fight and Double Dragon. So this glitch is not the origin of combos as we know them. But it did unintentionally introduce the concept to fighting games. Nowadays you cannot talk strategy about any fighting game without discussing combos, and since I am a die-hard fan of the genre that makes Street Fighter II’s glitch my favorite ‘happy accident’ in gaming history.

Wall-Running in Doom

If you play Doom long enough you will inevitably find yourself backed up against a wall as hordes of enemies close in on you. And as you run away you might suddenly find yourself moving faster than ever before. Just what is going on?

What you’re encountering is a glitch known as ‘wall-running’. As its name indicates, wall-running is a trick by which you can run twice as fast as normal by strafing at an angle into a wall. For example, if a wall is to your left then you can strafe left into that wall while moving forward. But this will not always propel you to rocket speed. To many people it may seem random. In reality wall-running has a certain set of requirements:

  1. The wall must be straight in the direction of North-to-South or East-to-West. It is possible to exploit the glitch on walls that are not laid out in these cardinal directions, but it is extremely rare.

  2. The player must be running North against a North-South wall, or East against an East-West wall.

  3. The player’s north-bound or east-bound speed (depending on the wall direction) must exceed a certain threshold. Holding down the ‘run’ key and/or strafing into the wall is enough to pass that threshold.

Any Doom marine meeting those requirements will suddenly find himself accelerating like a bat out of Hell. (Brilliant word play. </ridiculousEgo>) Wall-running quickly became the staple trick for Doom speed-running. That is why players can beat the first level of Doom 2 in five seconds and why all but two levels of Ultimate Doom’s four episodes have been beaten in under sixty seconds.

Quick Aside: I love speed-running in all kinds of games, including Doom and Doom 2. In 1998 Thomas Pilger performed what I consider to be one of the most impressive achievements in all of speed-running: beating Doom 2 on Nightmare in a single run with a time of 49:49. In the following years other players would achieve faster times, but before Pilger’s demo a lot of people thought we may never see such a run. It still impresses me to this day.

Wall-Jumping in Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario 64 introduced wall-jumping as crucial game mechanic and it has appeared consistently throughout the franchise ever since. But the 1985 original on the Nintendo Entertainment System actually allows wall-jumping too. It just happens to be a glitch in that game and not an intentional design decision.

Here is a video of the glitch in action.

To understand how it works we must first talk about ‘wall ejection’. When you play Super Mario Bros. (SMB) you will sometimes move partially into a wall. This seems most common when falling off a platform and pushing against a wall or pipe during the descent. The movement into the wall is not pronounced, but it’s there. In order to keep you from simply running straight through a wall (which is actually possible because of another glitch) SMB will eject you from the wall, thus giving us ‘wall ejection’.

When you press the jump button SMB will check to see if Mario is standing on a floor. If he is not then you cannot jump. This is how the game stops you from jumping infinitely through the air. But here is the problem: you can fool the game into thinking you are on a floor when you really are not. The game breaks down all levels into blocks that are sixteen pixels in width and height. If you come into contact with a wall at one of those sixteen pixel boundaries then, in conjunction with wall ejection, SMB will believe Mario is standing on a floor. That’s what makes wall-jumping possible.

Conclusion

That’s not all of them. In the future I plan to write articles explaining the details about how bunny-hopping works in Quake, another design glitch that has since become a standard feature. And I’ll explore some classic glitches in role-playing games, such as why X-Zone easily kills about every boss in Final Fantasy 6. Until then I’d love to hear about any game glitches you find interesting, funny, or just downright strange.

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