Error’s Name Really Was…Error

Think what you want about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.  Many insist it’s the worst game in the Zelda franchise because it’s the most different. Because it’s too hard. For whatever reason, a lot of people simply think it’s the worst and they have the right to their opinion.

Their stupid opinion.

Anyhoo, whether you love The Adventure of Link or not, one of the most well-known quirks about the game comes in the form of a character affectionately named “Error.”  You encounter him fairly early on in the town of Ruto and, at that point, he’s a bit of an enigma.  “Error?”  Is this a mistake?  How come he doesn’t say anything else?  All he says is “I am Error.” and…that’s it!

There’s a lot of theories about where Error came from. If you stopped playing the game or barely remember it, the thought that “I am Error,” was literally a software bug in the game’s code is a common theory.  It’s memorable, yes, but this is ultimately not all we hear in regards to our friend Error.

If you continue playing the game past your meeting with Error, and past the incredibly difficult Death Mountain (which led to a lot of players quitting the game) you’ll end up in a town called Mido. Here, a character will instruct you to go meet up with Error again.  This bit of dialogue gives us a strong hint about the roots of this strange name.

Oh, you know of Error?

Oh, you know of Error?

To start with, the “I am Error,” is certainly not error code.  This second character confirms that “Error” is indeed referring to a person.  Even if you take a huge leap and theorize that “I am Error.” is some sort of fallback text when a string of dialogue can’t be found in the system, there’s no way of explaining why this other character is referring to “Error” specifically as well.

Past that, the only other possible theory is that “Error” is the real fallback text and not the “I am ____,” part.  This is certainly possible.  Maybe his name was supposed to be “Ralph” but the code-point was corrupted and the game code swapped in the name “Error” as that fallback.  Yes, it’s possible.  Likely?  No way.

As a software developer (and one-time game developer), it’s easy to recognize that these bits of dialogue written back in the 1980’s were not complex enough that name substitutions would’ve been done.  The text “Ask [NAME] of Ruto about the palace,” is simply not something that would’ve been done then with the idea that NAME can later be substituted out of the text thereby making it easier to change the name at any time. For one thing, it’s overcomplicating source code that really doesn’t have much room to breathe in an 8-bit era.  For another, the dialogue window itself tells us this shouldn’t be doable.

Let’s take a look at that chat bubble there.  What’s very noticeable about it is that it’s identically sized no matter who you’re talking to throughout the game.  It’s designed to be large enough to relay some text, but be small enough to not obscure the environment Link is in, be it a house or outdoors.  Counting up the characters there’s room for 10 alphanumerics per line with 4 lines possible — allowing for a little bit of space along the top, left, and right margins. That means the text can only be 40 characters long.

Given 40 characters of possible space, one would have to be extremely cautious about the verboseness of the dialogue and placement of the words.  As such, it’s a mortal lock that the dialogue was entered into the game code with all the styling explicitly specified.  In effect, the text “Error” simply has to be included directly into the entire message.

Error is real.  Error is his name.  Error is legend and has even inspired his own custom hack of the game.

Believe in Error.

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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