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Good glitches, bad glitches, and why patches are really the gamer's enemy

You know, I was really enjoying Dead Space 2. Really, really enjoying it. When I started playing it a few months ago I hadn’t yet found a game of 2011 that had really clicked with me, but Dead Space 2’s improved narrative, nigh-perfect pacing, and beautifully judged, cranked-up set-pieces struck one hell of a chord. It was a big, ominous, bassy chord, like the kind that plays when something looms up out of the darkness behind an unsuspecting soon-to-be-meat-pile in a horror film. And I loved it. But I’ll probably never finish it.

The reason? A game-killing glitch that turned up at the start of chapter 12, a few hours from the end. An unfixable, go-back-to-the-start glitch that vetoed my last ten hours of gameplay, and which I know has been documented all over the internet but never patched out. And that got me thinking about the issue of glitches. Which are acceptable? Which aren't? Do they really matter? And whose fault are they anyway? And I actually surprised myself a bit. So I wrote something about it.

Glitches happen. Deal with it (sometimes)

First of all, know that I’m not going into a rant about how glitches are an unforgivable rampaging evil that must be stomped out at all costs here. Games are big, complicated things these days, and I get that glitches are part and parcel of that. In modern, AAA video games releases, we’re talking about some insanely big, insanely complex feats of computer programming, with all kinds of inter-relating variables, nuances and potential pitfalls.

Take a step back from the latest large-scale 3D game you’re playing and think about what’s going on mechanically to make it all happen. You’ll find yourself staring wide-eyed at a mind-boggling feat of logistical engineering. It’s a miracle that a lot of them hold together at all, and a testament to the skill of their creators that they do. So a few pitfalls and unforeseen technical hiccups are going to happen. That’s understandable, and I’m sympathetic to that. Glitches happen. That’s fine. And moreover…

All glitches are not created equal

When glitches occur, they’re not necessarily the end of the world, by a long way. Looking at the case of my Dead Space 2 glitch, they can be (at least in terms of being the end of the game world), but overall, even serious glitches don’t always ruin a game. In fact sometimes they can even add to the experience.

Now I’m not the sort of person who blindly defends developer screw-ups in the name of “It’s funny, who cares?” No-one will lambast the frustrating, buggier failings of the likes of the modern Fallout games or Far Cry 2 more than myself. That shit is just inexcusable, particularly when there’s a brilliant game sitting snugly underneath the large blanket of technical failure. But at the same time, as long as they don’t negatively affect the gameplay, explicit glitches can add to the game.


Above: Acceptable

As great as it is anyway, Oblivion is an even greater cultural gem because of its comedic AI  screw-ups. Without glitches, Big Rigs would simply be an unremarkable, long-forgotten racing also-ran, rather than the festival of hilarity it currently stands as. I’d never play it for more than a minute, but I’m glad that it exists. And while these sort of ‘benevolent’ non-lethal glitches can be an annoying narrative break when they occur in a delicately drawn, immersive game world, even the fourth-wall-breaking bird-men and donkey-women of Red Dead Redemption can’t be hated, because of the surreal, otherworldly oddness and inadvertent quirky humour they add to the already inherently off-kilter southern American old west wilderness.


Above: Also acceptable

When these things happen, they’re our b-movie moments. They’re the joyously wrong, messy delights that only the medium of games can throw up, and when they’re as funny and productive as Grand Theft Auto IV’s haunted catapult swing, they should be celebrated rather than lambasted. 

Right, perspective clear and arse covered against accusations of sour-grapes knee-jerking following my not-insignificant Dead Space catastrophe, I will continue onto the real problems. And they're more complicated than you may think.


49 comments

  • LordGremlin - September 9, 2011 2:44 p.m.

    Sorry, but to me it's always a solid rule: a game that requires patch to normally function is a failure and won't get any money from me. Especially a console game. Now, if game may need a patch to iron some balance issues, like tweak multiplayer balance - nothing wrong with that. As long as it's fully functional. For example I consider a system freeze absolutely unacceptable in any console game. So I never buy games that actually have that kind of problems.
  • Cwf2008 - December 30, 2011 4:47 p.m.

    So I guess you're the kind of dick that pirates games then?
  • AKALMoumen - October 29, 2013 7:50 a.m.

    so you never played fallout or elder scrolls or dragon age or mass effect or battlefield or half life or dungeons and dragons or diablo two or red alert or knights of the old republic and well etc etc... well I guess you've just missed out on the whole video games thing dude...
  • Yeager1122 - September 7, 2011 9:48 p.m.

    I hope they fix that puzzle bug in dead space 2.
  • d34thly - September 7, 2011 7:20 a.m.

    A tip for the cloak and daggers mission: save it for the last of the motherly ties side missions. It states that you must not be "seen in DRB territory"; stand on the street "outside" of DRB territory facing into the alley and shoot or snipe the main 4 to 6 of them and it doesn't void stealth "in" DRB territory. then sneak in through the man hole straight back into the alley, come out the other side and past the fence on the other side; sneak shortly into the weapons cache and once you do, do not do the main mission in DRB territory! Sneak back out and turn it into Jenny and then You're free to do the main "shut down the radar array in DRB territory" completely run n gun manshooty style with no repercussions.
  • d34thly - September 7, 2011 7:32 a.m.

    By the way, the gangsters on the roof in DRB territory are not invisible,they are shooting through a destructible wall at the top of the fire escape to the left when you go into DRB territory sans the alley. If you use a praxis for punch through walls you can kill them both. another way to complete motherly ties: "cloak and daggers" very, very easy is to save before you get the actual mission assigned; then first go clear everyone in DRB territory manshoot & lethal takedown style in the whole DRB area. Stock up on ammo and go get the actual Cloak & Daggers mission assigned and complete it easily without any hope of being seen by anyone in DRB territory because they're ALL already dead.
  • philipshaw - September 7, 2011 6:45 a.m.

    Yeah this article is spot on, hate the way people are giving Dead Island the benefit of the doubt because they think patches will fix it, word is that the patch that came out for that didn't fix everything
  • AKALMoumen - October 29, 2013 7:54 a.m.

    I read an article that said while it fixed minor details it ruined entire sections of the game... And the sequel is just as bad... But I guess that the fault of the hype machine and the dev not having enough funds... But it is a lovable guilty pleasure in my neighborhood don't get it Oblivion would be a better substitute...
  • ThatGamerDude - September 6, 2011 9:04 p.m.

    I knew that Big Rigs was going to be somewhere in this article. but on topic it is kinda sad to see us gamers giving the developers some sympathy for huge mistakes and even though some of these are funny even helpful, we still need to make the developers feel more guilt and fix them (yea i couldnt really think of a good response right there :( Anyways great article definitely got me thinking about glitches!
  • pin316 - September 6, 2011 8:52 p.m.

    I'm totally with you on the whole 'ability to patch being bad' thing. Whilst the seemingly higher frequency of glitches/bugs in big-budget games could be partly attributed to the increased complexity in the design of games, I think that there has to be more to it than that. The ability to patch a game after release has given developers a 'get out of jail free' card. Smaller studios are never going to have the resource available to be able to fully test every single aspect of a game prior to release, but when you get to the big studios (Activision, EA etc), this whole 'we'll sort it out afterwards if we need to' thing basically gives them license to put things out regardless of problem purely to meet financial goals, whereas the resources these companies have should mean that such problems are discovered and eliminated prior to launch. Yes, it's nice that things can be fixed...I just think that in some cases a fix shouldn't be needed in the first place
  • quincytheodore - September 6, 2011 8:03 p.m.

    Wow, this glitch really hurt you, didn't it? I'm sorry to hear that. I was actually surprised that DS2 had any glitch. I remember that one time the cutscene voice was missing, but not terribly disturbing. My main concern from glitch is it really ruins any kind of immersion you have. But if the glitch is game-breaking, it sucks royally. Usually I have two save slots for any game, continuously swapping between them. It's been proven a tad unnecessary, but I understand that dev should make sure we don't need extra precaution, aside for any gameplay related mistakes, not technical. And I do remember those spawning gang members in Deus Ex.
  • EBAX1 - September 6, 2011 4:57 p.m.

    I was one of the unlucky people who bought the Goty edition of oblivion on PS3, and had the glitch which made it impossible to remove you vampirism because the lady in the quest wouldn't accept your ingredients. Also, in Infamous 2 there was a glitch where during a mission the camera randomly moved so cole was like 6 feet off the left side of the screen, making it impossible to play unless in aim mode
  • Gillespee - September 6, 2011 4:07 p.m.

    I feel bad for the Japanese gamers who discovered the game breaking glitch in Metroid: Other M (I also feel bad for anyone else who watched the Samus sobbing cutscene.) Luckily, I heard about it before I got to that point in the game and avoided it. It was at least half way through the game. If you went back and saved after beating a boss instead of moving ahead, you could no longer progress.
  • kingsmikefan - September 6, 2011 6:04 p.m.

    I feel bad for anyone who has a Wii...and only a Wii.
  • GamingBear - September 6, 2011 3:52 p.m.

    Can't beat a good glitch, many of hours i wasted on the gta iv swing glitch sending boats, cars and myself flying... also myself in boats
  • gingermidget - September 6, 2011 3:23 p.m.

    I never knew there was a glitch in Dead Space 2 :P
  • Dman3981 - September 6, 2011 1:54 p.m.

    I would have to disagree. I mean if I payed money for a game that is glitchy I'm of course going to be pissed. But if there was no way to fix said glitch then that's money that is completely wasted, at least if it can be patched then I'm a little less pissed and I will be able to move on. Maybe some developers took advantage of being able to patch games but if there was no way to patch a game doesn't mean that all games wont have glitches. That could ruin potentially great games that can't be saved and at the same time I lose my money all together.
  • Dabenguin - September 6, 2011 1:49 p.m.

    My favorite glitch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfVCeLFbvV8&feature=player_embedded
  • bebl09 - September 6, 2011 1:18 p.m.

    I'm of the opinion, as I'm sure most gamers are, that a glitch that isn't game-breaking or doesn't disadvantage you in some way can be hilarious. The original Killzone had some good ones, the best being in the jungle level where you had to cross a bridge and it got destroyed after you crossed. For some reason Hakha, one of my squadmates, was still on the bridge as it got blown up and he stayed suspended in mid-air where the bridge had been, crouching and acting like he was being shot, shouting "Ah!", "Help me!", "I need support!" etc, it was highly amusing. I've also seen some great ones on the Fallout and Elder Scrolls games, although they tend to have their fair share of game-breaking bugs too. Fallout 3 froze for me on many occasions, although I never really had any game-breaking bugs apart from one which was particularly bad. While fighting the alien ship at the end of the Mothership Zeta DLC the game froze. A normal thing I thought so I rebooted my PS3, but when I came to load the game, it wouldn't work. It started loading but the loading screen just kept going and going and never actually loaded the game. This was also true of a save I'd done earlier in the DLC, and my only other save file was from about 30 hours previous which was incredibly annoying. Needless to say I never went back and finished that DLC, I've always meant to (mainly for the gold tropy lol) but it definitely soured my experience with the game. I was willing to look past the occasional console freeze cause Fallout 3 was such a good game but two save files corrupting on me was just too much.
  • kratos1302 - September 6, 2011 12:35 p.m.

    @MidianGTX Its called Fallout: NEW Vegas, really need to know your stuff Chief.

Showing 1-20 of 49 comments

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