Ah, the iconic games of our youth. We humbly sit at the 256th level of Pac-Man, proud of our meager ach—WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO THE SCREEN?!
Yep, the Kill Screen, enemy of completionists of yore. The result of an Endless Game being played for such a long time without a Game Over, and the player advancing so far that an internal counter (like the current level number) reaches its inherent limit (often 255 or some other similar number) and "overflows" (e.g. resetting itself back to zero), causing a Game-Breaking Bug to result. Somewhat common in coin-operated video game machines, as the designers had reasonable expectations that most players would not have the time, patience, or quarters necessary to play the game for so long. Obviously, they underestimated the time, patience and deep pockets of obsessed players.
The results... aren't pretty: Pac-Man, for example, goes horribly wrong as it attempts to load Level 256, causing half of the screen to become filled with unreadable garbage, rendering the level Unwinnable in the process.
A Kill Screen can apply to anything: be it a sequence, a level, or even a respawn error (though the latter is quite rare).
Most definitely related to and/or cause of Unwinnable, although the act of merely reaching the Kill Screen may be considered (in and of itself) a form of victory.
The Missingno. is a game sprite that exists because of similar internal bugs.
Actual Kill Screens:
- Pictured is the Stage 256 error. You can actually purchase it as a T-shirt, too. Even Google's Pac-Man Doodle references it. Also the "Forbidden Maze" in Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is called 'Maze 256'
- In Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, the 65th fruit item on the right side of the field will affect the right-hand side it is collected on instead of the left-hand side it's supposed to. This can result in pellets being stuck in walls, making it impossible to continue, and if the player is smart (and aware) enough to clean out the side of pellets first, no more fruit spawn. Here's an example of the glitch in action. This does (in theory) place a cap on the "Half" course that cannot be beaten, but only Free Mode is affected, as the "Half" course is only ranked on Time Attack courses.
- Now an Ascended Glitch in the form of the mobile-only game Pac-Man 256, where the objective is to get as far as you can while being chased by an Advancing Wall of Doom in the form of the unreadable garbage from Stage 256.
- Happens in Donkey Kong, in which the overflow sets your death timer to 400note . Very few have gotten there legitimately, as shown in the documentary film The King of Kong. Interestingly, the kill screen is right around the point where a very-top-level player can score a million points before reaching it.
- After clearing round 255 of Dig Dug, you go to round 0, a completely messed-up level with a Pooka starting right on top of Taizo, killing him instantly before he can do anything. (If you clear this level via a cheat, the game loops back to round 1.)
- Heroes of Might and Magic 3 had a glitch that would crash any game after the third "month" of play. This was corrected, though.
- The original NES Tetris becomes impossible at Level 29, at which point the pieces drop too fast to move them into the extreme left and right edges of the screen, which is why later games adopt the "lock delay" mechanic, first seen in Sega's 1988 arcade version of Tetris, that allows a piece to still be moved around when it hits the stack or floor.
- If a player was superhuman enough to survive past level 29 for around 120 more levels, they would hit a point where the score counting code could take longer than a frame to execute, resulting in a true kill screen (described in more detail here).
- Tetris prior to the 2001 reform also featured a largely theoretical "kill sequence", whereby the random flow of pieces can include a stream of S- and Z-shaped blocks that cannot be used to create complete lines. Assuming a perfect random number generator (and that the programmers have not spotted the problem), such a sequence is bound to happen in a game that is long enough, though chances are so slim that chances are no one will ever actually encounter it even over billions of normal-length games. The implementation of the "bag" randomiser (in which the game deals groups of 7 pieces that contain one of each type) has removed this possibility.
- In RC Pro Am, the cheating yellow truck eventually makes the race literally unwinnable. While you only need to avoid last place, the other trucks will eventually speed up as well.
- In Duck Hunt, a kill screen occurs at Level 100 in Game A (1 duck). The level is displayed as "Level 0", ducks fly at insane speeds and jump around the screen so fast they're essentially unshootable, and then the dog repeatedly laughs at you until you get a Game Over. Interestingly enough, if you accomplish this in Game B (2 ducks) or Game C (clay shooting), it causes everything to become incredibly slow, after which it proceeds normally to level 1. In Game C, you even get to see up-close blast animations that are almost impossible to get at normal speed.
- In Galaga, clearing 255 stages will yield Stage 0, which crashes the game unless the DIP switches are set for the toughest difficulty level, giving us an example of Kill Screen crossed with accidental Easy-Mode Mockery.
- Many games from the infamous Action 52 do this, eg Thrusters starts blinking on and off in the second level, Atmos Quake has an invisible death barrier at Level 5, and Star Evil displays a blank gray screen on Level 4. In other version of this cartridge, some of these levels won't crash. Unlike most examples on this list, Action 52's kill screens are extremely easy to encounter and happen early on, as opposed to the usual convention of a kill screen only showing up so far into a game that 99% of people will never play long enough to see it.
- Bubble Bobble Revolution was unwinnable because the boss of Level 30 failed to spawn. Notable in that this was not an Endless Game.
- BioShock 2's DLC Minerva's Den has a mini-game called Spitfire. If you get the highest score, you get a "kill screen" that show all the sprites, some large numbers, a large R and a golf club.
- In Minecraft Beta 1.7.3 and earlier, terrain generation and game control near/outside of ±12,550,820 meters from the mathematical center of the map would completely freak out. As of earlier versions than even Minecraft Alpha, the map size, officially, is "infinite", but modern computers and Java Virtual Machines can't handle infinity. 12 million on a co-ordinate scale is just a little too high of a number for the virtual machine to handle. The cliffs that generate abruptly past this point are popularly known as "The Far Lands", and are the most well-known feature of this glitch. The terrain turns into strange, borderline Existential Horror-looking behemoths that seem to generate a crooked, minced reimagining of normal terrain in a 2D slice, and then the engine stretches that slice like a polygon prism into infinity. People who visit this location notice all kinds of crazy stuff, like stuttery movement, displaced block outline indicators, dropped item entities jittering back and forth, and extreme frame and responsiveness lag. It is technically possible to walk there in survival mode, and some people are currently trying, but it takes years to do it without cheating, so most people just hack the game and teleport there to get screenshots. Notch was going to fix the glitch, but then decided that it was cool looking and kept it in. In September 2011 the Beta 1.8 patch replaced the entire generator with a new fractal based one which unintentionally killed off the cliffs, and socially, the Far Lands title, which the fandom no longer uses in further versions. It did not, however, fix computer science's inherent problem with trying to parse infinity. In versions between Beta 1.8 and Full Release 1.7, the iconic cliffs are gone but many of the glitches were still present, including fake chunks and session crashes, and possibly a few new ones like bloated models for placed redstone and tripwires. Obscurely, this new location is known as The World Boundary, which became significantly less interesting once it was truncated entirely by the world border in Minecraft Full Release 1.8.
- rymdkapsel's endless enemy waves get more powerful with each successive one, and also spawn faster. Eventually, you hit a point where as soon as the wave timer starts to fill up, the "incoming wave" siren plays. At this point, it is impossible to do anything besides have all your minions on defense stations, lest you get destroyed even faster.
- The early SNK arcade game Sasuke vs. Commander freezes right as you begin to enter the Magic Bonus of Round 17.
- Learn to Fly 3 has this when you reach an altitude/distance of 107,375,182 units, due to that being the maximum possible value for any position in Flash. If you reach that cap vertically, the results are relatively mundane; either you freeze in place(if your shuttle was oriented straight up when you hit the cap), or you start going sideways(if your shuttle was tilted in either direction when you hit the cap). Either way, unless you steer(which will cause you to start going sideways if you froze when you hit the cap), you won't lose any more fuel—you could keep going indefinitely unless you used up all of your fuel via steering or aborted the launch yourself. If you reached the cap horizontally, however, the results are far more interesting; you're treated to the sky trying to be the ground before the game locks up and forces you to refresh.
- Pango, a DOS Pengo clone, crashes on level 49 due to a divide by zero error.
- In BurgerTime, Level 28 is considered the killscreen. The game doesn't crash, but the stage is unbeatable if you don't have enough pepper.
- Wave 256 on Missile Command goes back to the original slow speed, meaning it will take a long time to actually complete the level. If you do manage to beat it, you will warp back to level 1. Despite saying 0x score on the level start, you will actually earn 256x points, so you can earn millions of points.
- Let's Explore the Airport with Buzzy the Knowledge Bug has a developer-induced kill screen in the "Time To Play" activity "Lost Luggage", a real-time puzzle game where players must manipulate conveyor belts and other contraptions to guide luggages into like-colored bins. Upon reaching the 99th and final level, the player will discover that it is impossible to complete without a huge stroke of luck, since the only way to bring a luggage to a bin is to drop it into a huge network of chutes, in which the exit is completely randomized, and will likely lead it into a bin of the wrong color, causing the level to restart. Since the developers never bothered to put in something at the end of the level to congratulate the player, the only thing that'll happen if he/she does beat it is to get sent back to level 1 while being able to play any level since he/she reached every level of the game.
Parodies, references, and Lampshade Hangings:
- The page quote comes from Episode 5 of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, where one puzzle involves deliberately triggering the Kill Screen in "Gel-arshie's Pro Fruit-Boarder". The reward is Gel-arshie himself as a party member.
- The back cover of Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe has a picture of 8-bit Scott opening a door to Subspace, which apparently looks like a Kill Screen: it and the open doorway is filled with garbled sprites and text.
- In the Tie-In videogame, Subspace deliberately contains random garbled shapes and text.
- In an episode of Chuck, the Hollywood Nerd must get the secret codes to a Cold War satellite by getting the Kill Screen in Missile Command.
- The webcomic 2P Start referenced the Pac-Man kill screen in one comic.
- The high-brow gaming magazine Tom Clancy's "Kill Screen" is named after this.
- In White Devil of the Moon, Nanoha, playing on the Sailor V arcade game the Sailor Senshi use to train, manages to get 999,999 points on her first try, resulting in the game suddenly ending and her getting extra prizes.
- NCIS had an episode built around the Kill Screen as a theme. The Victim of the Week had encoded vital information into it.
- On an episode of The Venture Bros., Henchman 21 despairs at having seen everything life has to offer. He lists "the Donkey Kong kill screen" alongside "attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion".
- Parodied in Filibuster Cartoons here.
- The Stinger Logo Joke to Wreck-It Ralph features half the Walt Disney Pictures logo getting changed into a kill screen.
- As Danger Mouse is playing "Space Invaders" on his videophone (episode "Tiptoe Through The Penfolds"), Colonel K interrupts his attempt to set a record score with a call for an assignment.
- Level 257, a Pac-Man themed eatery/bowling alley/arcade located in Schaumburg, Illinois, references the Kill Screen in its name (the level after the Kill Screen) and features a wall decal featuring the kill screen graphic. On the same wall is a lone Pac-Man machine permanently set to level 255 that features the kill screen when the level is completed.
- In the How I Met Your Mother episode "Little Minnesota". Marshall takes Robin to his eponymous Minnesota-themed bar, where she finds a "Fisherman's Quest" arcade game, on which he has all the top scores. When she threatens to beat his top score and risk a "Gill" screen, he outs her as Canadian.
- The murder in one episode of Bones had the suspect believed to have killed a rival "Punky Pong" player over which of them had played a perfect game until the kill screen. Virtually all of the video game information in the episode was wrong, and the "kill screen" referred to was one where the game ended because the player character murdered the game's villain.
- In the movie Cloak & Dagger, secret military information was encoded in the kill screen of the video game adaptation of the titular game. The responsible parties attempt to kill the kids who discover this, rather than killing the idiot who hid the plans where they would be quickly and inevitably discovered.
- One Chuck Norris Fact claims he's actually beaten Pac-Man and seen the real ending screen.