Bugs Glorious Bugs

One really fun thing about my current game project is that it’s a lot more “worldy” than the past few things I’ve done. That is, it works on the fundamental idea that there’s a world with space and people moving around in it. That’s just plain old ontologically awesome, of course. But it’s also great in connection with bugs.

Generally speaking, if you don’t have a world going on, your bugs can often be considerably less interesting. When there was a bug in Safety Instructions, for instance, it’s more along the lines of “the animation doesn’t play” or “the game doesn’t respond to the spacebar” or “the music glitches out.” To the extent that the game is more like a straight-up interface, the bugs are going to seem more like productivity annoyances.

But when you have a world, the bugs can much more easily enter into the fiction of the game and take their place in its ontology. A bug goes from being an obvious malfunction of code to being (wrongly) explainable in terms of the world of the game itself. Thus, when I see that the guy buying a ticket doesn’t walk away from the ticket counter, it’s part that his y-velocity isn’t being set, and partly that he’s arguing with the ticket seller and holding up the line. When there are huge gaps in the queue I find myself simultaneously searching for code-based reasons (targets are being set in the wrong order?) and world-based reasons (they’re saving a space for their friend?)

As the person in charge of the code and the existence of the world, there’s a sense in which I know that my fictional explanations for the behaviour are completely wrong. And yet, on the other hand, the world does have it’s own existence, buggy or not, and so explanations from-the-world also have a kind of legitimacy to them, I feel. Not true in any sense that bottoms out in code, but perhaps truer from the relative stand point of the world of the game. Depends on where you’re looking from.

In the end, I’m a big fan of bugs with some kind of ontological status in game worlds, whether my own or others’. When Alyx Vance’s face suddenly gets a rock texture or when a patron sudden slides frictionlessly along in seated position in my game, these are great moments. Centrally, bugs give us a chance to see something completely different: they are unplanned almost by definition and help to point out some of the combinatorial possibilities of code that we otherwise discount or simply don’t pursue. Who knows, maybe they sometimes can show us a way forward.

Like maybe “SitSliders” and “RockFace” will be the next big things…

31 August 2011
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