One day, I was engaged in a one-to-one sniper duel on Beaver Creek with my friend SniperEye. The match had been quite intense and nerve-wrecking. I was standing on the centre arc of the map and suddenly spotted SniperEye on one of the bases. He jumped and all of a sudden bounced into the air as if some super-natural force had lifted him up. I was stunned. After a split-second I had recollected myself and shot him down with two shots, somewhat helped by his smooth trajectory.
Have you every experienced magic in the real world? Most people would be sceptical. But if it existed, would it not be plausible that it is really a glitch in the system, an oversight by the maker of the world?
For thousands of gamers the world of Halo has become a second home. So many hours wasted in a struggle for kills, flags and survival, some might argue. Whatever the motivation, many of us know the virtual world of Halo better than our everyday real-world environments. And why not? After all, knowing the maps of Halo is crucial to success and survival in the game and in some sense more useful than knowing every corner of your office building, school or whereever you happen to spend your real life.
And then you discover that this perfectly simulated world has the capacity for magic! While everything seemed predictable, following the laws of the game world, suddenly there are people who defy gravity, who ridicule the laws of physics and who shoot you from places that you cannot reach. Of course, the phenomenon SniperEye and I had discovered by pure chance had been unveiled earlier by others as well. Given the processing power of thousands of determined gamers networked via forums and online chatting, it took only a few days until magical places that allowed super bounces were known for virtually every map in Halo 2 (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ii6LFG05_b8 for some videos of these supernatural events).
You may be wondering why I refer to these super bounces as magic. Consider the procedure that must be followed in order to do a super jump. You need to crouch-walk into particular spots which have the property that if you release the crouch they block the upward movement of the body. After this initial loading procedure you need to jump and land from sufficient height on specific spots of the maps which then catapult you up into the air, higher than the Halo 2 physics would ever allow you to go. Sounds like magic to me. But honest, it works.
So how did people find those magical spots that allow super jumping? It turns out that in a multiplayer game, if you press START and then Y to look at your friends list, and then return to the game with B, the graphics will be poor for a second and only show an outline of the map without much detail. It is in this view that you can detect the lines that enable super bounces.
So, how do super bounces work? Disregarding the theory of magic for now, it seems that an extraordinary upward force must be exerted upon the super bouncer’s body. In a physics simulation this can happen if the discretisation of space necessary for simulation or simply forced by the finite granularity of numerics leads to a situation where two objects, whose mutually repulsive forces are inversely proportional to the distance, get too close to each other, thus leading to an explosive repulsion. However, several questions remain. Why does the impact of the force not kill the super bouncer as is the case in collisions with other objects in the Halo world such as warthogs? Why does the glitch occur at those magical lines that almost appear as tears in the fabric of the map? And how does the crouch walking procedure fit in, which some people claim is not even necessary but greatly enhances the probability of success?
Also, the question remains, if super bounces have been put into the game on purpose or if they are glitches of the physics simulation as speculated above. The conspiracy theory that Bungie introduced the super bounces on purpose is supported by an argument to be found at http://www.halo2boards.com/showthread.phtml?s=984080a0a23c77449000159bb2f503e2&t=3156 showing a promotional image of a Halo 2 scene where a masterchief is located at a spot in Zanzibar, which is claimed to be reachable only by super bounce. However, on the same page someone claims that the spot can in fact be reached by other means as well. Also, would it not be possible that the Bungie folks discovered super bounces by chance just like SniperEye and I as well as many other Halo 2 fans did? It remains astonishing that the regular mechanism that allows you to control your trajectory during normal jumps in mid-air also works for super bounces and often takes you to very interesting spots on the map that can be very useful, e.g., for hiding or for sniping.
The phenomenon of super bounces points to a more general question. Unquestionably, more and more people spend more and more time in virtual worlds and the trend is clearly towards ever more realistic environments both in terms of graphics as well as physics. Some of these worlds, e.g., the massive multiplayer online game World of Warcraft, contain magic as a built in element of the game. However, could it be the case that with the increasing complexity of these simulated worlds, exploitable glitches, i.e., magic, become almost inevitable? Who knows, maybe the complex system we call “real world” has a few unsuspected glitches as well and those we call loonies just found them first. And then again, maybe not.