Who you gonna call?
Even before players touch their first controller, we already bury them under an avalanche of gaming slang. In Jargon Buster, we are on a quest to rescue you from the most cryptic and yet most common vocabulary used in the video game industry. Since it is our first episode, we will approach carefully the big enemy of every player and developer. Let’s put the creepy crawlies under the magnifying glass and discover together what are the Bug’s secrets?
A Bug’s Life.
A bug is a flaw in computer programming leading to unexpected consequences. Often, but not always, it will deter the player’s experience by forcing the game to behave in ways that were not intended. The origins of the word bug is lost in time. As engineering lingo, it is known to have been used at least since 1870 as even Thomas Edison mention this term in his own notes.
During game testing, developers will try to identify and class the bugs in different categories. In order to minimize the most important mistakes they will focus on them by order of severity:
1. Crash: freezes or closes the game suddenly. Also known as CTD, Crash To Desktop.
2. Severe: impedes the gamer’s progression. Example: when a Non-Playable Character (NPC) forgets to give you the key to the next room.
3. General: does not hamper the player’s advance but remains a mistake. Example: the infamous corpse laying through the wall.
4. Minor: general bugs that are not a priority for the troubleshooting teams.
5. Cosmetic: texture errors and other tears in the fabric of the game.
Unfortunately, testing is still today a lengthy process. However, players seem to expect more and more from the developers, and a “buggy” game can lose all credibility on the market despite the quality of its scenario or its game-play. Nonetheless, the blossoming of the multiplayer and the early-access, as well as the monetization of competitive gaming, have proven in the past that a game can also become famous despite or because of its bugs. Is it possible to count the amount of YouTubers that specialized in delivering daily to millions of avid viewers their fair share of bugs and glitches?
Alas, the gaming world is not the only one riddled with programming errors. Sometimes bugs can become much more dangerous than the harmless Y2K bug or Millenium Bug. Yes, they can get you killed in real life too.
Still known as one of the most expensive software failures in history, a bug set off the self-destruct system of the first Ariane 5 rocket 39 seconds after its launch. A conversion problem between 64-bits and 16-bits caused its Inertial Reference System to flip the rocket 90 degrees the other way. At a height of only 4km, the aerodynamic forces tore apart the booster of the spacecraft triggering its auto-destruction. On June 4th, 1996, all the televisions broadcasted the $370m rocket disappearing into a firestorm.
Between 2009 and 2011, another scandal grabbed the attention of the press. An issue with the onboard computer of the Lexus ES350 could trap its passengers into a car accelerating over 150km/h with disabled brakes. A long collective case proved that the Toyota’s malfunction was responsible for between 200 and 400 deaths just in the US. It is known as the most deadly bug in history.
God’s glitches to mankind.
Glitches and Bugs are almost synonymous. Yet the common consensus is that a glitch represents only a minor malfunction that often resolves itself. Glitches are fickle in nature. Sometimes they give, sometimes they take, and sometimes they accidentally birth one of the pillars of modern gaming.
Considered the first Video Game sex symbol, Lara Croft is thus believed to owe her appearance to a minor mistake from her designer, raising her bust proportions to 150 percent. Toby Gard was rapidly asked by the rest of the males in his team to keep her unforgettable silhouette intact. “Gard’s accidental ‘one-fifty’ design made picking out a marketing strategy remarkably easy.” The success of her franchise opened the door to many other female characters in gaming. Luckily, nowadays pixelated bosoms are no longer the key to great game design.
Something happened during the play-testing of Race and Chase, a 2D game that will later become Grand Theft Auto. A recurring glitch made the police cars ram into the players frantically instead of pulling them over politely. According to the testers, it was by far the most exciting part of their play-through. Instead of accomplishing the missions in game, the testers preferred to unleash as much chaos as possible. Rockstar Games (back then known as DMA Design) decided then to further explore this mechanic. They soon redesigned their entire game around this violent glitch. Later, the series would become famous for it “open world” gameplay, emulated today by half of the productions on the market.
A glitch is also responsible for the introduction of combos in fighting games. Noritaka Funamizu, the producer of Street Fighter II, realized quickly that a minor error could allow players to strike their enemy twice in a row. Because of the precise timing necessary to exploit that bug, Noritaka first thought that it would be impossible to trigger. Of course, dedicated gamers managed to exploit that glitch. Instead of fixing this issue, the developers decided to introduce a “combo” tracker in-game. By rewarding the most persistent players that way, they were defining the genre.
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