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A kill screen is a stage or level in a video game (often an arcade game) that stops the player's progress due to a programming error or design oversight. Rather than "ending" in a traditional sense, the game will crash, freeze, or behave so erratically that further play is extremely hard or even impossible.
Video games, like any other computer software, can suffer from a software bug. A bug in a video game is not automatically a kill screen; to be one, the bug must occur consistently in the same point in the game and must preclude any further play. While almost any type of bug could cause this sort of behavior, the most common cause is simple oversights on the part of the game's programmers such as an integer overflow of the level counter.
Kill screens were much more common during the Golden Age of Arcade Games. Games from this era were often written with the assumption that the player would stop playing long before the numerical limits of the game code were reached; most games from this period were intended to continue until the players lost all of their lives. Additionally, the limited hardware of these early machines often meant that programmers could not spend processor power on logical checks of the game state.
Notable arcade kill screens 
Dig Dug 
In the coin-operated version of Dig Dug, the game ends on round 256 (round 0). At the start of the level, an enemy is placed directly on top of where the player starts with no way to kill it.
Pac-Man has a famous kill screen often referred to as the Pac-Man Split Screen. The game's level counter was a single 8-bit byte and could therefore store only 256 distinct values (0–255). Reaching the 256th level causes the counter that is used while drawing the fruit to overflow to zero, causing 256 fruits and 7 blank spaces to be drawn. It can, however, be fixed with a patch.
Donkey Kong 
Donkey Kong also featured a kill screen in the 22nd stage, and the 117th screen (85th in the Japanese version). This is an example of a kill screen that is not due to an integer overflow in a level counter (since programmers prevented this), but a different oversight on the part of the designers. The amount of time allowed for any given screen is determined algorithmically during play by the level the player is on. The timer is calculated 100×(10×(level + 4)), and has a maximum value of 8000. When the level reaches 22, the game reads 100×(10×(22+4)) or 100×260. However, the 8-bit counter rolls over at 256, meaning the game calculates 100×4. This causes the timer to be set so low that there is barely seven seconds for the player to complete the level, simply not enough time for the screen to possibly be completed. Steve Wiebe, a competitor from Redmond, Washington, attained this screen when he attempted to beat Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong high score (which was the world record) on G4TV at E3 2009. Wiebe also reached a kill screen in the film The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters about his attempts for the world record of Donkey Kong. This kill screen does not appear in Donkey Kong Championship Edition.
Duck Hunt 
Duck Hunt also had a kill screen in Game A (Round 0), where ducks fly extremely fast, thus making them extremely hard to shoot, or even fail to appear. This kill screen did not appear in Game B and C, where ducks were extremely slow, and returns back to Level 1 after playing Level 0.
Non-arcade kill screens 
- In Minecraft beta, when the player reached 12,550,820 meters (measured in blocks) from the map's center the infinite terrain generation overflowed creating immense lag and erratic landscape spawning (known by the community as "Far Lands"). It generates a huge wall of what literally looks like a wall of Swiss cheese, however using naturally generated blocks, mostly stone. This was fixed in the 1.8 beta patch. However, after 30,000,000 (32,000,000 before the Beta 1.8 update) meters from the map's origin, the game creates fake chunks. The light level is at the brightest, trees don't generate, the blocks don't collide with the player, and dropped items' positions lag when the character is moving. In newer versions, the player can travel up to 32,000,000 where the game says "Illegal position."
- After the credits of the Disney movie, Wreck-It Ralph, the Walt Disney Pictures logo becomes a "kill screen."
- In the flash game Madness Hydraulic, a kill screen will appear after Wave 43 (if it's a downloaded version). The kill screen is your basic black screen with no sound.
See also 
- Hodges, Don. "Pac-Man's Split Screen level analyzed and fixed". Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- Hodges, Don. "How High Can You Get? The Fix for Donkey Kong's Kill Screen". Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- The creator of Minecraft, Notch's blog post http://notch.tumblr.com/post/3746989361/terrain-generation-part-1