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  • Breaking Games, Part 1: Off the Map

    - Joram Wolters
  • [Love game-breaking glitches? Interested in a career in QA? Utrecht School of the Arts student Joram Wolters tells you how to mangle your favorite games for fun and profit.]

    "Ik ben Joram, en het moet kapot" - a phrase coined by a couple of friends of mine - roughly translates to "My name is Joram, and it has to break". My friends and classmates started using this phrase somewhere in my second year studying game design at the Utrecht School of the Arts. The reason they've been using it is because, well...I break stuff. All the time. This includes electronics, appliances, people, furniture and most importantly, games.

    Many designers are not prepared for my kind. My in-game behavior often causes my characters to frequently fall through the geometry, get stuck or suddenly fly up into the air.

    It started back when my friends and I had been playing Halo for a long time. We had gotten bored with finishing the game for the umpteenth time, and we were quite done with battling each other in multiplayer. We did, however, find great joy in breaking the game. Halo is an excellent source for glitch-related mayhem, as you can see in this video.

    After doing "Halo tricking" for a couple of years, the mentality of playing a game to break it started seeping into my regular playing style. I naturally played games in a way that was sure to break them.

    After digging deep and figuring out what it was about my playstyle that caused me to break games, I finally distilled a list of valuable tips to help you start breaking games for yourself. This was going to be one long post, but as I've started writing, I found there was more and more to write about, so this is now part one of a three-part article. This -- the first part -- will give some general guidelines to breaking games, and will cover the first type of game-breaking. So without further ado, here it is.

    General Tips

    1. Have a goal.


    To start breaking games, we must first understand what it means to break a game. As shown quite competently in the Halo example above, the most obvious ways are to escape the game's intended level geometry. This is called OTM (Off The Map). But there are many more ways, which I will discuss in future posts: OTM, Cheesing, min/max'ing, and hacking/glitching. We'll get back to the definitions later as we discuss each method. Knowing what type of breaking you'll be doing is important, as without a clear goal, your chances of finding a glitch or bug diminish substantially.

    2. Understand the design(er).


    Secondly, you need to have some understanding of the underlying structure of a game -- not just the game's engine and programming, but its design, as well. If you understand what behavior the designer expected to see in players, it's easier to come up with ways to play the game in a way that the game won't be able to handle correctly. For instance, in most shooters, the designers don't expect a player to throw a grenade under themselves. This is why in most shooters, if a grenade causes knockback -- and you time the grenade detonation well -- you can probably get OTM. At least, as long as the blast doesn't kill you.

    3. Good things to those who are patient.


    Thirdly, you need to be really patient. Like, really, really patient. It varies per type of breaking you want to do, but breaking games is roughly 90% luck or repetition. It took me and a friend roughly thirty minutes to melee a Warthog through a corridor in Halo. When we got it through, we tried to do a jump, which failed, so we had to start all over. I'm guessing it took us about twenty tries before we made the jump.

    Another example is in Fable, where you can ruin the game's economy by repetitively buying, upgrading and selling houses for a minor profit. Repeat the process often enough, and you'll be swimming in gold. Many other RPG's will not expect someone to literally pick up every herb they see and craft an insane amount of performance-enhancing potions (examples: The Witcher, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).

    4. Location, timing, timing.


    Pretty much everything in life is about being in the right place at the right time. Breaking games exemplifies this: it's about being at the right pixel at the right frame. This reiterates why the above (being patient) is so important; you simply cannot get the level of precision you need on your first try. It's easier to just try the jump/run/glitch a million times than to try and plan it perfectly.

    This doesn't let you as a player off the hook, though. You need to have a clear understanding of what you're trying to achieve, and carefully choose the place and time in which you're going to do it. Make sure you're as comfortable as possible with the game's controls; game-breaking technique is about not panicking when it counts and nailing jumps.


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