Left 4 Dead 2 Glitches: Pushing The Boundaries of a Game

Left 4 Dead 2 Glitches: Pushing The Boundaries of a Game
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Left 4 Dead 2 Glitches - Introduction

Every video game release has bugs. It is the nature of the beast - millions of lines of sophisticated code, advanced AI routines, 3D graphics engines creaking at the seams. In fact, bugs and glitches may only be on the increase as video games become ever larger and more complex, and development houses cut back on Q&A testers and employ the public to essentially fill that role through the increasing number of betas released before a game’s launch. Left 4 Dead 2 was no different. Although Valve had had plenty of warning from the similarly glitchy first game in the series, gamers across the globe soon uncovered exploit after exploit. What followed was a form of gaming arms race as Valve rushed to patch the game behind the scenes, and dedicated glitlches pushed the game engine harder and harder to see where it would break.

From this arose several questions about the nature of games, the tension between how publishers expect them to be played and how some gamers want to actually play, and how this fits into a landscape increasingly dominated by gaming rewards and trophies such as Xbox 360 Achievements.

Playing Against the Game - The Airwalking Glitch in L4D2

There were several repeatable glitches in Left 4 Dead 2, but the most prominent was the “Airwalking” glitch. This involved throwing an explosive pipebomb at the feet of a player, and them then constantly switching between weapons. This produced the strange result of them levitating up into the air, able to direct themselves around the map - for as long as they were able to keep switching.

These sort of glitches always pose problems for games designers, especially in a 3D game-world. Glitching beyond the boundaries of the game’s visual illusion reveals the strange construction of vertices, texture maps and skyboxes that it actually is. So much of game design is predicated on containing players within certain constricted areas that the ability to bypass such restrictions fundamentally breaks the game.

Furthermore, when you have game modes such as Survival in Left 4 Dead 2, predicated on staying intact against an ever-ticking clock, then the notion of reaching areas the designers had cordoned off or even removing yourself from the game world makes that mode fall apart. From a game designer’s viewpoint, Left 4 Dead 2 glitches literally destroy their creation.

Is Glitching Cheating?

Left 4 Dead 2 Characters

Glitching has always been fundamentally bracketed with cheating in gaming, and in a multiplayer game, this is generally anathema. Undoubtedly glitching does destroy the notion of a level playing field, and in a competitive game, even Players versus Environment, this can reduce a game to a farce. Used for griefing or gain, and glitching can become other players worst nightmare.

But there is another side to glitching, and one that is rarely discussed. The discovery and exploitation of flaws in a game’s code can be a highly creative and innovative pursuit. Utilising those flaws to find new answers to the problems a game’s designers have presented you with can require forethought and lateral thinking. If everyone involved in playing that particular session of a multiplayer game is complicit in and condones the glitching, is that cheating? Or creating whole new game modes for yourself? Glitching sessions amongst friends can be among the most memorable and hilarious game experiences, especially when accompanied by the feeling of accomplishment that comes from defeating a poorly designed or artificially implemented restriction in a game.

Game designers would obviously answer that it is cheating, judging by the rapidity that most development houses will attempt to patch such exploits. Often developers will talk about giving players as much freedom as possible within a gaming environment, but in fact the whole gaming experience is usually set up to funnel you down as narrow a path as possible. In that context, overcoming obstacles in the game often devolves into simply clearing out each successive wave of opposition before being herded into the next encounter, something that doesn’t address the parts of the brain that finds satisfaction from thinking around problems.

Glitching in a World of Achievements

It’s not just the notions of “correct” ways of playing a game, as laid out by its design team, that glitching is in tension with, but the increasing ubiquity of the reward systems that have been put in place to encourage you to observe the game’s rules. In the Left 4 Dead 2 glitches example mentioned above, the Steam and Xbox 360 Achievements available for Survival Mode of course become a nonsense when glitches that allow them to be obtained without following the normal rules of play exist, and the online Leaderboards and other paraphernalia of gaming this generation also fundamentally collapse.

But there is also a valid argument that Achievements have provided a mechanism that not only works against a player deriving satisfaction from their own cleverness, but also enforces a rigid manner of playing a game upon you. Achievements inherently say “Well done, but we thought of this before you”, while glitching could be seen to embody the reply: “But you didn’t see this coming”. Glitching can be viewed as ultimately a reaction against the imposition of boundaries that game designers have placed upon players, and a desire to remould modes of gameplay to create something wholly new.