Making a video game is an extremely nit-picky and touchy thing. All programming is because programming is based on logic. If X happens, then Y must happen, leading to Z. For more information on this principal, hang around
However, just like real life, if you make a mistake in a critical point of data things can go a little wonky. For instance, if you think that fluoride is a carcinogenic mind-control substance then you're likely to extrapolate a very different reality from the fact that the government puts it in our water than people with the correct information.
Most of the times video game makers go back into the matrix and correct those sort of errors. Other times, and for various reasons, they just shrug and say that they totally meant to do that. This is a celebration of the latter.
Wing Commander: Now, you might get the impression from the intro that I know a little about programming... unless you actually know a little about programming. In which case you probably know I'm faking my way through this.
For instance, I have no idea what an EMM386 memory manager is, but I do know that it was important when Ken Demarest III was developing Wing Commander back in 1990. Unfortunately, the game was under an incredible deadline with one big bug still sticking out as the shipping date loomed. Whenever the team exited the game they would get an error message that read "EMM386 Memory manager error."
With no time to fix the problem before the launch, Demarest simply went into the code, found the error message itself, and changed the text to "Thank you for playing Wing Commander" so it would display to the player instead of the error. You read that right. Demarest turned a major crash bug into the actual game over screen.
Space Invaders: It's kind of hard to explain now, but Space Invaders was once a really big deal. It started out as a game that looked so unimpressive that many arcade owners didn't even want to place orders to try it out, and yet it became so popular that it actually caused a coin shortage in Japan.
Creator Tomohiro Nishikado was contractually bound from telling people he was the games creator, and was so worried about the game having critical errors in it that might be discovered through general play that he took to haunting arcades to make sure everything was going well. One bug, though, he was very proud of.
Even though Space Invaders was running on some of the strongest hardware at the time, it still wasn't really up to Nishikado design. This caused the beginning of the game, when the screen is full of sprites, to run much slower than later when the player had eliminated many of the enemies and by proxy the drain on the system's resources.
This resulted in a ramp up of the difficulty that Nishikado thought was enjoyable, and it also inadvertently invented the concept of a difficulty curve. Before Nishikado's error, games were the same from beginning to end. Afterwards, the true test of a player's skills was how he or she would deal with the ever-tougher later levels in a game.
This story continues on the next page.
Team Fortress: Before it became the cultural, team-battle juggernaut it is today, Team Fortress was just a Quake mod. The idea was all there, of course. You had your capture the flag dynamic and the team solidarity and cooperation that was necessary to overcome the odds.
The problem was, sometimes a bug in the code would accidentally identify allies as enemies and vice versa. This allowed for complete sneak attacks that could completely change the course of a match, just like in real life.
Rather than fix the bug, the makers decided it would make a terrific character class. Thus was the spy born, and the number of players who thought they were safe until they ended up on the end of his knife from behind are legion.
Mortal Kombat: Ed Boon and John Tobias needed something to make people keep plugging quarters into Mortal Konbat even after the player had grown bored with decapitating people. That seems cynical, but it was oddly prophetic for the entire video game industry as a whole, actually.
So they created the character of Reptile, a green ninja who would randomly appear to taunt the player before a match and who could be fought in a secret stage if a player met very specific criteria. Finding out that criteria took ages, but eventually players discovered that if you beat an opponent on The Pit stage without taking damage or blocking, finishing them off with a fatality on a night when shadows pass in front of the moon, Reptile would challenge you.
Occasionally, though, a red ninja would show up to mock you, leading players to thinking that there was yet another hidden ninja in the game waiting to be discovered. In reality, it was just Reptile manifesting a graphical error, but the rumors grew louder when the maintenance screen showed an entry for ERMACs under the tally for Reptile encounters. It stood for Error Macros, but no one was going to tell the thousands of people dropping quarters trying to unlock a second secret opponent.
Eventually, Ermac did appear as a real character in Ultimate Mortal Kombat III, where everyone just whistled and twiddled their thumbs pretending he'd been around from the beginning.
Final Fantasy IV: I personally fell into this one, and finding out the explanation behind it still irks me to this day because I could only play Final Fantasy IV as a two-day rental when it came out. If you ever catch anyone complaining about the cost of games today, tell them that this one, adjusted for inflation, was $117 new in 1991.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
In certain releases of the game, if you go back and forth between doors in a cave the game tracks that number. For some reason doing so 64 times will cause it to freeze and you'll have to begin the game from the very beginning. Did it suck? Like a new Dyson.
Squaresoft explained this glitch away in its newsletter, Ogopogo Examiner as an intentional trap by the evil Zeromus to catch you for poking your nose around too much in the game. They called it the 82 Curse of Extinction. I called it, "Mom! C'mon! Let me rent it again! I was so close! Ahhhhhhh!"
And this is why you never hear me complaining about the interruption of a game to download patches.