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.
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…
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.
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.
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