Iconic Video Game Glitches and Why They Happen

Glitches are something every gamer encounters on occasion. With games becoming more complex in design every year, it is impossible to prevent malfunctions within the game’s code, resulting in sometimes comical but often monotonous problems.

Every glitch is different. While some may have similar effects, coding differences result in the root cause of glitches to be completely unique. We here at TechReviewFeed have done research on some of the most iconic glitches in video game history, and we’re here to explain why they happen.

THE A-BOMB BUG (THE ELDER SCROLLS IV: OBLIVION)

The game-breaking glitch known as “The A-Bomb Bug” or the “Animation Bug” is known to occur after players have spent between 250-400 hours in-game. When triggered, secondary animations tend to be extremely slow or freeze altogether. Spells linger and blind the player in first-person mode, and doors that don’t utilize loading screens don’t open. Additionally, Gates to Oblivion and other quest necessities stop working altogether, essentially breaking the game for those who have poured their heart and soul into their character. Have a look for yourself:
Why it happens: As time passes in the game, a single variable slowly increases in the save file. Starting around 40, the variable continuously increases. When the variable surpasses a value of 48, the variable that governs the speed of secondary animations is reset to a decimal number close to zero. The animations are then played back at an incredibly low speed, breaking the game.
While Bethesda has acknowledged that this bug is real, they have not released a patch fixing the problem. nor will they, as it is a bug with the Gamebryo engine. Luckily, there are multiple community tools that can reset value in save files to correct the glitch until the number increases above 48 again.

SWING GLITCH (GRAND THEFT AUTO IV)

Sometimes developers overlook small details, such as the physical properties of certain objects. In Grand Theft Auto IV, this applies to the swingsets found throughout the map. If players run a vehicle into the swingset or attempt to climb the swingset on foot, the game’s physics go berserk and send the player flying through the skies of Liberty City.
Why it Happens: The swingset object acts independently of the terrain, much like stop signs and light poles do. However, just as they are in real-file, the swingset is placed inside the ground. Objects aren’t normally supposed to be colliding like this, but the developers made an exception for the swingset. When the swingset is moved, even if just a little bit, the game tries to correct its position by elastically moving it back into place. This pushes players and vehicles with considerable force, often launching them hundreds of feet into the air.
This glitch makes somewhat of a comeback in Grand Theft Auto V, as specific gates can also launch vehicles into the air.

CORRUPTED BLOOD INCIDENT (WORLD OF WARCRAFT)

What happens when game developers add an effect to a quest but overlook a loophole allowing it to exist outside of its intended zone? You get the Corrupted Blood Incident. In September of 2005, a bug caused a debuff to plague entire cities, dealing considerable amounts of damage to all players in the vicinity. Here’s a video of the chaos that followed:
Why it Happened: When Blizzard patched in a new raid for players, they added a debuff that infects players and spreads to other players within a certain distance. Normally, this debuff is only enabled during the raid. However, players’ pets and minions were also susceptible to the debuff, and some of them accidentally carried it outside of the quest zone after the raid was over. The so-called disease then spread to towns with large populations, creating a virtual epidemic. While high-level players could survive the damage being dealt to them, lower level players would repeatedly die. This was eventually fixed when Blizzard released a patch and reset the servers, but it cost them thousands in cancelled memberships and frustrated players.

CARTRIDGE TILTING (NINTENDO 64 GAMES)

Remember the good old days of blowing on cartridges, hoping that your efforts would remove enough dust to allow the game to work? As if the games didn’t pose enough of a challenge to get working, they also were the root cause of many glitches. While dust did cause some bugs to present themselves, many gamers also abused the old-school technology to observe hilarious and often cartridge-breaking errors. We are, of course, talking about cartridge tilting.
How it Works: Nintendo 64 Cartridges transmit game data through the connection of metal pins located on the bottom of the cartridge. Assets such as animations and models are loaded from the cartridge on-the-fly, so what happens when some of these pins lose connection to the Nintendo 64? All hell breaks loose. Normally, the system will freeze after disconnecting the cartridge, but if you can manage to tilt it in just the right way, the game will go berserk while still being (relatively) playable. In some games, however, performing a Cartridge Tilt can result in loss of saved games, corruption of the game cartridge, and even corruption of the Nintendo 64 console. For this reason, we don’t recommend doing this unless you don’t care about preserving your game and/or console.

MISSINGNO. (POKEMON RED/GREEN/BLUE/YELLOW)

Possibly the most iconic video game bug to date, MissingNo is shrouded in mystery. This glitch Pokemon makes an appearance in Pokemon Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow versions, usually after the player has performed one of a handful of glitches present in the games. This bug is not something that is easily explained. Rather, it is one that you should see for yourself.
How it Works: When players ask the Old Man to teach them how to catch Pokemon, it stores the player’s name temporarily in a free memory address while it switches the player’s name variable with the Old Man’s. After the tutorial, the player’s name is correctly restored, but it still remains where it was stored in the memory. Next, players Fly to Cinnabar Island. As it turns out, the game’s programmers forgot to define which Pokemon appear on the east coastline of the island. Since there is no set rule for which Pokemon are supposed to appear in the area, the game attempts to guess which Pokemon is supposed to spawn by using the same memory address that the player’s name was stored in during the tutorial. This causes a bunch of errors to occur, causing MissingNo. to appear.
The level and attributes of MissingNo can be altered depending on the player’s name. For instance,
if the third, fifth, or seventh slot of a player’s name is G, H, J, M, S, or T, the regular glitchy L-shaped block will appear, but if one of the slots contain a lower-case ‘w’, MissingNo appears using the Kabutops Fossil sprite. For more information on influencing how MissingNo. spawns, please refer to Bulbapedia’s MissingNo Wiki.

SUPER BOUNCING (HALO 2)

Video game bugs often have to do with faulty Physics logic. Realistically, the laws of physics are hard to emulate with code, causing physics engines to sometimes glitch out in awkward ways. On that note, Halo 2’s physics engine is prone to glitching for this very reason. Dubbed the Super Bounce, this simple-to-replicate exploit caused quite the fuss back in the Halo 2 multiplayer days.
How it Works: In order to Super Bounce, players must cause the multiplayer match to de-sync. This is achieved by crouching and walking into a small area that does not allow players to stand back up in, such as an alcove or diagonal beam. From the player’s point of view, he is just crouch-waling straight into a wall, but from the other players’ point of view, he is walking partially through the wall. Well, the physics engine doesn’t like this, so it begins to freak out. Now that the physics are bugged, if the player jumps and lands on a jagged edge or polygonal seam of the map, the physics engine accidentally lets him fall slightly through the map. The physics engine then attempts to fix itself by adding an upwards force to the player to push him out of the map’s geometry (much like what happens in the Grand Theft Auto IV Swingset Glitch). The force applied is usually much higher than needed, resulting in a Super Bounce.

THE MINUS WORLD (SUPER MARIO BROS)

The Super Mario Bros. Minus World glitch is arguably the most famous video game glitch of all time. Appearing after abusing a collision detection glitch, the warp pipe sends players to a mysterious World -1. This level looks similar to other levels, but it is completely under water, and the pipe at the end of the stage warps Mario back to the beginning, making the level impossible to beat.
How it Works: When a player normally enters the warp zone in World 1-2, they are supposed to do so by walking above the bricks on the top of the stage. However, if the player does a backwards crouch jump, he can clip straight through the wall. This skips the trigger that loads the correct warp zone designations. Instead of assigning warp destinations of Worlds 2, 3, and 4, it loads the destinations of the warp zone in World 4. This is where the problem begins. You see, the warp zone in World 4 only contains one pipe – the middle pipe – to World 5. The left and right side pipes are non-existant in this warp zone, and, like all invisible objects in this game, the non-existant pipes are assigned a value of 36.
Here’s where the magic begins. Since the designations for the warp zone from World 4 were loaded, the left and right pipes, which technically should not exist, are assigned to warp players to a non-existant World 36. And since objects with the value of 36 are programmed to appear invisible, the title of the world appears as World   -1.

KILL SCREEN (PAC-MAN, DONKEY KONG, ETC.)

Most Coin-Op arcade games were designed to never be beaten. Rather, the goal of the developers was to have the game become increasingly difficult so that players would eventually lose and move on to another game. But what happens when a professional player just won’t die? You get a Kill Screen.
How it Works: Many of the older Coin-Op arcade games were designed with 8-bit architecture. This meant that the max possible value for a normal integer was 255. Because some professional players would be able to avoid dying for so long, they would sometimes be able to surpass level 255. What comes next? Well, it depends on the game, but the end result is an integer overflow which resets the level to either -255 or 0. These levels are noted as being glitch levels, as they often are impossible to complete, either due to the game’s timer being too short for the player to possibly complete the level or simply a major malfunction of the game itself. Regardless, there is no way to get past this screen, and when they are reached, the run is essentially over.

HELP US DOCUMENT MORE GLITCHES!

Know of a famous glitch that belongs on this list? We’re sure we’ve missed a lot of them. Drop us a line in the comments section below and we might add it to the list! We want this to be an ongoing project, and we welcome any suggestions! Let’s make this list great together!