Meet the developers making bugs and glitches on purpose

In early 2015, Daniel Mullins was working on a PC version of Grandia 2 at Skybox Labs in British Columbia. Mullins was a pretty seasoned programmer at the time, but porting a Dreamcast title from 2002 felt like starting from scratch. “I was looking at this ancient code written by a Japanese team,” he says. “It was so hard to parse—it was like nothing I’d ever done. Just getting basic things to appear on the screen was a huge accomplishment.” When the porting team did manage to output graphics they were awash with bugs, including improperly rigged meshes leading to “knees moving as if they were elbows, creating grotesque walking Frankensteins”. Mullins only spent a few months on the project, but the ordeal stayed with him. It would prove foundational to his 2016 gamejam creation Pony Island, which traps you inside a glitchy arcade machine that is actually the work of the devil. 

Loosely modelled on the pixel fonts, boot-up noises, and curving low-res monitors of older PCs, Pony Island is a wicked celebration of videogame bugs. The graphics fluctuate wildly between a sugar-pink pastoral backdrop and a glaring bone-white wasteland. Menu options corrupt under your cursor. Swirling artefacts unlock a desktop behind the main menu, where you’ll trade messages with other imprisoned souls. To restore certain broken features, you must guide a key around a maze of command line text dotted with English words—a representation of how it felt to wade through Grandia 2’s innards, deciphering the odd line here and there.

(Image credit: Thomas Happ Games)

Crash course