Programming a video game seems pretty simple — you just put numbers in a computer, right? But it’s obviously more complicated than we give it credit for, because things go wrong all the time. The technical term for such an error is a “glitch,” and usually they get worked out before the public sees them. Sometimes they don’t, though, and then there is a problem. In this feature, we’ll share ten of the most bizarre glitches to ever interrupt our games. Plug in, Player One.
Red Dead Redemption – Donkey Woman
Rockstar’s Western epic has all manners of varmints crawling through its digital desert, but one of the creepiest is the result of a simple programming glitch. Sometimes the game will load a character that’s supposed to be an animal but give it a human body. Case in point: the Donkey Woman. From the back, she looks like an ordinary frontier lady, but when she turns around she has a hideous horse head. Even scarier, you can actually saddle her up and ride her around the town, to the horror of onlookers.
Smurf Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle – Topless Smurfette
Let’s go back in time to the early days of home video games for this particularly saucy glitch. In mediocre platformer "Smurf Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle" for the ColecoVision, the player needed to maneuver his little blue avatar through a number of obstacles to rescue the comely female Smurf from the evil wizard’s clutches. But if you made it all the way to the end, then turned around and headed back, Smurfette’s white dress would magically disappear. No, she wasn’t trying to lure you back with cerulean hooters — the console’s graphics chip couldn’t display more than four colors on the same horizontal line, so when you jumped up there, it had to choose something to remove.
Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis – Creepy Watson
Artificial intelligence is one of the most difficult things to program, especially on a budget. So game companies take shortcuts. In the PC game "Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis," the player can switch between master detective Holmes and his companion Watson at any time, so they needed to make sure that the pair were always in close proximity. But they didn’t make any walking animations for Watson, so he just teleported from place to place whenever the player’s back was turned. This led to some incredibly creepy moments when the good doctor turned up in extremely odd locations in the blink of an eye.
Goldeneye 007 – Cartridge Tilt
Most game glitches require you to take some kind of action inside the game’s world to get them to happen. This one actually needs you to do something in the real world. The Nintendo 64 was the last major cartridge-based home system, and there’s a very good reason for that. The hardware was so delicate that tilting or nudging the cartridge when it was plugged into the system could wreak all manner of havoc on your game. The most famous title to feature this glitch was "Goldeneye 007." If the cart was tilted, characters would start spinning uncontrollably like somebody put a centrifuge in their butts. Tilt it back and they’d stop and act like nothing happened.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – The Doghouse Dungeon
Even a system as simple as the original Game Boy can boast some truly spectacular glitches. "The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening" was the fourth game in the series and is widely regarded as one of the best. But it also has a really insane glitch. Once you’ve started your adventure, you can go back to the first house you visit and trick the game into letting you go into a doghouse through a side wall. You don’t find dog food inside – instead, it warps you to a messed-up dungeon with items that were actually deleted from the game itself. Even weirder, every enemy you kill in the outside world alters the construction of the Doghouse Dungeon. People are still exploring and documenting the details of this glitch.
World of Warcraft – Corrupted Blood
This is an interesting case, where players discovered a glitch in ultra-popular online roleplaying game "World of Warcraft" and used it to create real change in the multiplayer game world. In September 2005, developer Blizzard introduced a new dungeon to the game, complete with an end boss named Hakkar who could “infect” players with a contagious disease that drained their vitality. Normally, it would go away after a short time, but some players teleported away into more populated areas, creating a massive plague that killed tens of thousands of player characters before it was fixed.
Super Mario Bros. – Minus World
One of the most famous video game glitches of all time showed us just how much chaos can lie behind even the simplest environment. The programming of the original "Super Mario Bros." was a very complex task for the time, with Nintendo’s coders pushing the envelope in a number of ways. That opened the door for plenty of glitches, obviously. If Mario jumps at a specific spot at the end of level 1-2, he can access a pipe that takes him to the Minus World, an eternally repeating water level with no way out. The pipe at the exit just brings you back to the beginning.
Grand Theft Auto IV – Swingset Glitch
Rockstar Games is on this list a lot, for obvious reasons. Their games are extremely ambitious, which often results in extreme glitches. "Grand Theft Auto IV" incorporated a new physics engine that gave the game unprecedented realism, but also let some bonkers stuff happen. One of the craziest was the swing set glitch — if players backed their car up into a playground the right way and kept their foot on the gas, eventually the built-up kinetic energy of the swing would launch the vehicle hundreds of feet into the air like a trebuchet.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – The Cannon Room
One of the most miserable glitches in recent memory came with Nintendo’s first next-gen Zelda game. "Twilight Princess" was a pretty buggy product in general, but this one took the cake. If the player entered the room with the cannon under Kakariko Village and then saved their game in there before quitting, an important non-player character will not be in the room when you restart. Without him in there, you’re not allowed to leave the room. The sheer frustration this spawned in players was one thing, but they got even madder when they discovered that the only solution was to completely delete your save file and start the game over. Harsh!
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Pokemon – MissingNo
The original Game Boy Pokemon titles packed a ton of data on a tiny cartridge, and that’s a recipe for glitches. One of the most famous was MissingNo, a Pokemon that didn’t exist except as a jumble of code. Caused by exploiting the game’s data buffer to create a Pokemon made from random data, the creature appeared as a jumble of scrambled pixels, and if encountered it introduced visual errors all over your game and could even corrupt your save file. It also duplicated items in your inventory, though, so there was finally a positive side to a glitch.