Leap Day Blunders: The Top 6 Happy Accidents in Gaming


Posted February 29, 2012 - By Adam Rosenberg

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Today is February 29, Leap Day – a day we celebrate mistakes in calendars as well as gaming. A magical not-day that occurs once every four years, during the so-called "Leap Year." Leap Day is based on a mistake. The universe does not spin according to our pathetic human calendar, and so we add an extra day to our 365-day year every four years to keep the calendar, as we know it, in sync with the changing of seasons.

Video games are rife with happy accidents too, mistakes and mis-steps that, in one way or another, resulted in something awesome. We thought it would be fun to think about a few of the noteworthy ones, a Top 5 with one extra for the Leap Year. 

Also, this seemed like a way more fitting topic to consider than gaming's greatest frogs.


Pong: The First Video Game That Almost Never Was

Atari's classic Pong should need no introduction for the G4 crowd. It may not be the true "first video game evarrrr," but the simple take on table tennis is widely regarded as one of the most influential early games. What you might not know is that Pong also wasn't really meant to be seen by anyone outside of Atari.

The story goes that Atari founder Nolan Bushnell told Pong creator Allan Alcorn when he was hired in 1972 that the company had a contract with GE to develop a virtual table tennis game that would use two paddles and feature fancy on-screen effects like a moving ball and an updating score. In truth, it was all a ruse. Bushnell wanted to give his new hire, green in this bold, new world of game development, a simple challenge to test him out.

Alcorn took his first on-the-job task at Atari and ran with it. He didn't know he was actually being tested, so he set out to make something worth people's time. He worked out a way to change the angle the virtual ball bounced at based on where it struck each virtual paddle. He sped the ball up with each successful hit. And you know that one spot at the top of the screen, where the ball can go but the paddles can't reach, assuming you can aim your shot just so? That was a defective circuit. Alcorn left it there intentionally. The rest is history. The rest is Pong.

Warner Aims For Space Invaders Movie

Space Invaders: Increase Speed, Drop Down, And Reverse Direction

Futurama famously poked gentle fun at the simple flow of the coin-op classic Space Invaders. Alien overlord Lrrr, while staging an Invaders-themed attack on Earth, bellows out the orders: "Increase speed, drop down, and reverse direction!" He would have been wrong too, if all had gone according to plan during the development of the classic game.

Tomohiro Nishikado, the original creator of Space Invaders, discovered after he built a custom arcade board for the game that the limited technology available at the time created two problems: the game couldn't be rendered in color and the speed of the invading aliens couldn't be tweaked. Later on in the development, Nishikado noticed that one of these issues took care of itself; the fewer aliens that were left on the screen, the faster the entire group would move.

Rather than programming a "fix" to keep the Space Invaders descent at a constant rate, Nishikado decided to leave the game as it was. The result is a more challenging game overall, and one that informed the design of so many other releases that followed.


Super Mario: Making Technological Limitations Fashionable

Nintendo's Mario may well be the single most recognizable character in all of video games. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong might argue that point, but Mario's red cap, moustache, red shirt and blue overalls are nonetheless immediately recognizable to just about anyone who has ever seen a video game in motion. What you might not realize is that the Goomba-stomping plumber's distinctive look is primarily the result of technological limitations.

From top to bottom, Mario's look is the result of some careful design decisions. He wears overalls because a solid-colored shirt would have made his arms disappear when they were held at his sides. The moustache is there because the 8-bit limitations of the time left little room to put in a mouth. And that cap? It's a cheat to avoid giving him a proper head of hair.

Amusingly, even the trademark look described above isn't the one that appeared in what is perhaps one of the most well known video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. The NES Mario's undershirt was actually brown. His blue shirt was first seen in the original Mario Bros game and it was later standardized in Super Mario Bros 2.

Konami Code

The Konami Code: Playtesting The Most Difficult Game

You all know what the Konami Code is: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. It has its origin in the 1986 NES port of Gradius. Punching it in awards you with a big bundle of extra lives, a great help in such an infernally challenging game. In fact, the extreme difficulty in Gradius is the reason the Konami Code exists at all... and it wasn't for the benefit of the players.

Kazuhisa Hashimoto, programmer of the Famicom/NES port, created what we now know as the Konami Code so he could playtest the thing. He couldn't get far enough into the game with the stock set of lives relying on his own skills, so he created this button-based code that he could easily remember to help him as he played.

The button combination eventually became known as the Konami Code, and it continues to live on today in various forms thanks to its respected place in video game pop culture. Plenty of games still hide away treats behind the Konami Code and even websites use it to let visitors gain access to special easter eggs. BioShock Infinite, one of the biggest games coming out this year (we hope), will possibly make use of it as well for accessing the game's 1999 Mode, as Irrational design direction Bill Gardner revealed to G4 during a recent interview.

Big, Upsetting Fable III Announcement Coming This Week

Peter Molyneux: Without Baked Beans, There Would Have Been No Fable

Microsoft shared an enlightening story about Lionhead Studios' Peter Molyneux, the creator of Populous, Black & White and, of course, Fable, last year. He found little success in the video game world shortly after finishing his schooling, which led to an unusual turn of events: at the suggestion of his then-girlfriend's father, Molyneux started a business called Taurus that tried to create a market for baked beans in the Middle East.

The business endeavor was not a success. At all. "It was a very hand-to-mouth existence," he said. "I was eating more baked beans than I was actually selling." It was during this time that a lucky turn of events occurred.

Commodore, the company behind the Commodore 64, confused the bean-peddling Taurus with the software company Torus. Molyneux got a call to come to the head office and meet with Commodore's top brass. He was puzzled but intrigued, and so he took the meeting. No one ever figured out during his visit that he wasn't actually an agent of Torus, and so Molyneux ended up with an assortment of shiny, new Amigas to work with shortly thereafter.

He actually ended up doing the job that Commodore wanted Torus for -- a database program -- but later went on to use those same machines to kick off his initial forays into more serious game development work. Molyneux was eventually found out of course, but the only real lasting impact was his decision to never eat baked beans again and that whole "one of the most well-known game creators in the business" thing. That's pretty important too, I guess.


Borderlands: Oh What A Difference A Re-skin Makes

Borderlands sounded like a pretty neat game when Gearbox Software first announced it in 2007: four-player co-op, open world-ish, Mad Max underpinnings, and an arsenal that numbered into the millions. Those who got to peek at the game in action at E3 in 2008 saw an FPS with Diablo-style and some very brown environments.

Then the game just... disappeared. Nobody heard about Borderlands for a good long time after its appearances in mid-2008. It wasn't until April 2009 that Gearbox opened up about where things were at: Borderlands development was still underway, but it was coming to life with a new approach to the art direction driving it; a more colorful, comic book-styled look.

Now it's hard to say what would have been if the change hadn't happened. Borderlands had some solid ideas behind it, and it's a strong game even if you look past the unique visual style. Gearbox was clear about its intentions in wanting to deliver a more "visually interesting experience," and the resulting 2009 release was definitely that. While Borderlands could have been equally strong with its original look, there's no denying that the game -- and now, the series -- in its current form is one of the most unique-looking and immediately recognizable virtual worlds out there.

Leap Day Blunders: The Top 6 Happy Accidents in Gaming


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