Accidents happen, and that’s especially true of video games where unintended bugs can rear their ugly head at any time.
But not every bug is created equal, with some being of the frustrating-and-broken variety while others may lead to exciting new gameplay possibilities further down the line. The latter was arguably the case for Need for Speed II for the original PlayStation, where one bugged playtest ended up changing the course of the popular racing series. At least, that's according to two former EA employees, Adam Mackay-Smith and David Lucas.
Mackay-Smith was an assistant producer on Need for Speed II, and as the best racer on the team also had the responsibility of dropping the nodes to create the in-game ghosts. But one day, while sitting down to start a new gameplay session, he recalls a shocking experience where the enemy AI – which he thought was relatively brainless – started a full-scale assault on his Lamborghini as he began his lap.
“I was driving and all of a sudden, all the cars stopped and turned around and just attacked me non-stop,” he recalls. “I’m driving this Lamborghini and trying to get out of there and the eight cars are just going after me repeatedly. So I reported the bug and I’m sitting there and these programmers come down.
“The programmers never come down, unless it’s something crazy. And they said, ‘What do you mean these cars attacked you?’ I explained it again, and they’re like, 'No, no, no, that never happened.' I was like I have a tape, and I put the tape in, and they were blown away.”
You may be wondering what caused this bug. A haunted piece of software? A practical joke? Well, as Lucas, the lead programmer on Need for Speed II, explains, “I was the only AI engineer for the first few games (teams used to be really small) and there was a bunch of effort to give different opponents different ‘personalities’. One of those factors was, of course, aggressiveness. When I coded it, and we tuned it to extreme levels it meant not just ‘they bump into you’, but rather they would go full extreme psychotic mode and they would hunt you down.”
If any of this is starting to sound familiar, it’s likely because of what happened next. Mackay-Smith, seeing the potential for fun in this odd, little bug, requested that Lucas add it as an unlockable cheat into the finished game. So in Need for Speed II, if the player reverses and puts on the E brake, all of the enemy AI will suddenly stop whatever they are doing and hunt the player down.
Its impact on the series doesn’t stop there, however, as Lucas explains the bug also ended up being used as a way to pitch for the return of police pursuits in the game’s sequel, Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit.
“We didn't have cops in Need for Speed II, and I really wanted them back so this turned into a bit of a sales pitch and as it turns out, cops really did become the ‘hook’ for Hot Pursuit,” says Lucas. “In The Need for Speed, the cops just needed to get in front of you and you automatically got pulled over. In Hot Pursuit, they hunted you aggressively (I think I've spent my whole life wanting to do a PIT manoeuvre in real life).”
Since Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, several Need for Speed games have followed its example, incorporating their own versions of pursuit mode with an aggressive AI. This includes High Stakes, Hot Pursuit 2, and Hot Pursuit (2010). But it does make you wonder if any of that would have happened if not for some slightly wonky physics, a developer with a videotape, and a programmer willing to make the best of a mistake.