GWJ Conference Call Episode 212

Conference Call

Fable 3, Rock Band 3, Force Unleashed 2,Vanquish, Fallout: New Vegas, Special Guests Russ Pitts and Justin McElroy Join Us to Talk About Broken Games, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn and Elysium are joined by Joystiq's Justin McElroy and The Escapist's Russ Pitts! They don't even throw down in a dance fight. Instead, they join us in talking about loads of games and why so many of them are broken these days.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined. You can also submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563!

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Comments

After Russ' letter to the industry this week I'm looking forward to hearing this when I get home from work.

Hooray! Russ is on. Listening now.

350 HOURS??

Insanity, russ. Glad you enjoyed the hell out of that game.

I can't fathom.

Wow.

On the buggy games topic:

With the patchable consoles, and the decrease in quality owing to 'ship now patch later' attitude that's entrenched itself into gaming because they're now online, aren't there a significant amount of consoles that never go online? I know we're all technical savants on this site, and everything with current running through it in our houses are connected to the internet, but for all those that don't, a disconnected console is not going to get patched. I can't work google to find out the proportion, but for many it's just the same as it used to be for all consoles, what's on the disc is what you're playing. There's probably a parallel with the people who don't like online DRM on the PC side because they have a poor connection.

As much as I like to see games I own getting better, "patch" should be a dirty word in game development. The aim should be that your game never needs patching.

The other thing about how every time you pass through a door into another room/area and are left waiting for 45 seconds or so seems like a bad decision was made in development on a console. One of the big touted benefits of a console is that you know what it's going to be doing and it's capabilities, it's not a PC where there are a wide range of configurations (well, on modern consoles there are minor variations, mostly in storage). Because of these constraints a developer should be able to target a certain level of experience, and hit it with a good degree of confidence, but with certain payoffs. It seems like the payoff Obsidian/Bethesda made was to saturate the 512MB console memory with a high environmental detail level that needs to get dumped and reloaded every area change.

I always look forward to these and especially this one because you have Justin on. Justin and his brothers have a great podcast over at http://mbmbam.com/. And a bit of Russ is always good too.

Fantastic show. Great main topic. Lots of LOL moments thanks to Russ and Justin.

As to the main topic, it isn't the only reason, but one of the reasons I rarely buy new games at or soon after release is for fear of paying full price for a buggy/unplayable game. No matter how you purchase a brand new game - digital or physical - you can't return it if it's a buggy mess.

Of the 3 games I bought on day 1 this year (excluding $15 or less download-only games), 2 of them (ME2 and RDR) were by developers I knew and trusted, so, in my opinion, the only real chance I took this year was when I picked up Enslaved on release day. Thankfully it was a bug-free experience for me, or if there were any bugs, they were minor enough that I don't remember them.

So I got lucky with my day 1 purchases, but it was only 3 games for the entire year, which I'm sure is way below average, especially for this community.

I think the conversation was bit doom a gloom and over generalized when they only present two examples on really buggy games from unfortunately two developers that are known for buggy games. I have to say as PC gamer I think we are better then ever, sure there are still buggy releases that should be fixed but with services like steam and with windows 7 being more stable then ever, I have to say that I have less problems playing games on the PC then I ever did.

Of course after this tonight I'm going to load up some random game in Steam an it will crash my computer to an halt.

Scratched wrote:

With the patchable consoles, and the decrease in quality owing to 'ship now patch later' attitude that's entrenched itself into gaming because they're now online, aren't there a significant amount of consoles that never go online?

To the best of my knowledge, Wii games can't be patched post-release. If that's the case, then it shows in the quality of the product. I haven't played a triple-A title on the Wii that was even remotely as buggy as many of the triple-A titles I've played on the 360 (I don't own a PS3). Granted, many of those games are published and/or developed by Nintendo, but even non-Nintendo games have been pretty rock solid.

That does fit in with something that is peculiar to the games industry, or at least the 'AAA' section, the absurd fixation on having a big bang of sales in the first days or weeks, and then nothing. Sums of money that can equal or exceed the development budget are spent on marketing, time limited deals for exclusive DLC (either to retailers or platforms, Microsoft hasn't been shy about throwing the odd $50 million around), review embargoes and advertising deals with the same sites that it would be nice to think are doing impartial review, all set up to get people parting with their money for the least amount of information on what they're about to buy.

Even movies have a second release when they go for rental or discs. If it's a stinker then that second wind of sales will be poor because it's a poor movie.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
Scratched wrote:

With the patchable consoles, and the decrease in quality owing to 'ship now patch later' attitude that's entrenched itself into gaming because they're now online, aren't there a significant amount of consoles that never go online?

To the best of my knowledge, Wii games can't be patched post-release. If that's the case, then it shows in the quality of the product. I haven't played a triple-A title on the Wii that was even remotely as buggy as many of the triple-A titles I've played on the 360 (I don't own a PS3). Granted, many of those games are published and/or developed by Nintendo, but even non-Nintendo games have been pretty rock solid.

For all the flak they get, I do find Japanese developers are top notch when it comes to releasing polished, bug free games.

I don't get it. Why is it that I never really got into Fallout 3 but I can't put down New Vegas as opposed to everyone else on the podcast? Fallout 3's world felt far blander than New Vegas; even outside of the Strip, there's a better variety of locales and people than the Capital Wasteland.

And there's no obvious way to go with it, which is probably the source of Justin's confusion; in Fallout 3 it was quite simple, Brotherhood of Steel good, Enclave bad. The NCR? Kind of good, kind of dumb? Caesar's Legion? Brutal and harsh, but not super evil? It's hard to figure out how to head towards the endgame and in spite of the bugs I may end up replaying it, something I was never tempted to do with Fallout 3.

Awesome show.

Oh God, that Andy Rooney impersonation just killed me. I got some very strange looks from coworkers.

"If your game is epic it should be epic when I'm playing it. Why do you have to tell me in the name?"

Classic.

Then the term needs to be used correctly. Adding a new five-dollar-word to the mix does nothing to improve clarity.

If anything, the alpha/beta word abuse isn't being abused in a consistent way, sometimes it's early software, sometimes it's a stress test for their servers, some times it's a balance test. I guess the problem is that "software", especially games, is sometimes a system of many components and the behaviour between them, not just the client that comes on a disc.

Do certain types of games tend to be more at risk for bugs than others? I've never played a PS3 game that crashed consistently on me because of a bug, but then again I don't play a lot of RPGs, which seemed to be the focus of concern in this podcast.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

Do certain types of games tend to be more at risk for bugs than others? I've never played a PS3 game that crashed consistently on me because of a bug, but then again I don't play a lot of RPGs, which seemed to be the focus of concern in this podcast.

You could draw a connection from large scale / high complexity to high risk for bugs. Long sprawling RPGs fall into that category but the points made by the podcast crew on this count are still correct as far as I the consumer am concerned.

Despite the '30yo+ average gamer' statistic, I'm fairly certain a larger chunk of gamers out there are younger than that. I don't think consumer satisfaction is their top priority, let alone outrage.

I agree it'll continue to get worse, as the demographic they are targeting will continue to allow such shoddy business practices.

I was kind of surprised that Justin (I believe) cited Minecraft as a "polished" indie experience. Minecraft is many things, but "polished" has never been one of them.

I think there needs to be some kind of different designation than "alpha" or "beta" for a product like that which is funded by customers even while still in development. Google has done enough damage to the definition of the word "beta," but at least their beta stuff has always been free. Once you start accepting money, then labels like "beta" be damned, you've got a product, dawg.

I mean, I get it: it's early in development, being done by a small (up until recently, one-person) team, he wants to let customers know that some things might still be incomplete or broken and to be patient while he tries to complete or fix them. That's fine. Maybe I'm just arguing semantics, though, but I think there needs to be another way to get that message across, because the "beta" label has been abused to the point where it no longer means anything.

hbi2k wrote:

I was kind of surprised that Justin (I believe) cited Minecraft as a "polished" indie experience. Minecraft is many things, but "polished" has never been one of them.

I think there needs to be some kind of different designation than "alpha" or "beta" for a product like that which is funded by customers even while still in development. Google has done enough damage to the definition of the word "beta," but at least their beta stuff has always been free. Once you start accepting money, then labels like "beta" be damned, you've got a product, dawg.

I mean, I get it: it's early in development, being done by a small (up until recently, one-person) team, he wants to let customers know that some things might still be incomplete or broken and to be patient while he tries to complete or fix them. That's fine. Maybe I'm just arguing semantics, though, but I think there needs to be another way to get that message across, because the "beta" label has been abused to the point where it no longer means anything.

Notch has big ideas for beta and gold Minecraft.

What an excellent episode. I'm actually considering a second listening

Great episode, Justin and Russ were great additions. A change of chemistry is good.

Scratched wrote:

Then the term needs to be used correctly.

Exactly this. The term Beta has come to mean a paid pre-release demo, largely thanks to Halo and similar releases, and that is causing a huge disconnect for people.

You only need to see the fallout when Penny Arcade covered Minecraft causing a huge run on the game, then the new players get upset when updates break things, or the site goes down. It's because they think they've bought a near release game after the marketing they've faced in the past.

A small developer using customer funding to aid development is a great business model, but there are a few factors to take into account.

The developer needs to rein in their ambition. There's no way to raise millions of dollars, unless you are lucky, so goals need to be achievable.

The game needs to be special somehow. Minecraft, Mount & Blade and hardcore flight sims are appealing to the exact kind of market that will be wiling to prepay and aid development.

I don't think a Diablo clone fits either of those criteria, so my instinct is that the ex-Iron Lore guys are not going to raise much funding from prospective customers.

Great podcast, lots of laughs and fantastic discussion topic.

Really enjoyed the podcast. You four really work well together.

I think Epic Mickey is a great name, it's Mickey, but Epic! I think Bioshock is a freaking terrible name, it's an awkward callback to System Shock, as Sean observed. I'm 30 years old and Wii remains a funny name in some contexts, but it's not embarrassing to talk about with my mother anymore.

But I don't think that the name makes any difference to the perception of the game beyond the initial introduction. Any word or combination of words will become comfortable with familiarity. Sure a clever or witty name makes it easier to remember at first, but in the long run it's irrelevant.

Any game with significant levels of emergent complexity is going to be untestable by definition. Emergent complexity is typically a PC game hallmark. As a PC Gamer, I think QA has been better in recent times than it has been in the past, (certainly better than it was during the mid 90s.) The problem is that with the next-gen consoles, PC games started being marketed to console gamers, and there’s a bit of an expectation gap. When you play Oblivion, or Fallout 3 on your 360; you are playing a PC Game with a console interface.

The argument seems to be that a buggy game is worse than no game, and that a simple low technical ambition game that is bug-free is better than an complex ambitious game that crashes occasionally. Certainly this is true for some values of “occasionally”, (and everybody is going to have their own line), but it’s this kind of thinking that got us the Wii and minigame collections. The casual game market is valid, and Nintendo is successful with this strategy. But you have to ask yourself if Nintendo really provides all you need as a gamer.

Personally, find a lot of the games I purchase nowadays are PC Games being developed in Europe by small developers, have crappy (buggy) launches, and try for unique gaming experiences. I prefer to reward developers that aim for the stars and miss, rather than those that aim for the gutter and hit. Rough gems are more valuable than polished turds.

RoutineMachine wrote:

Any game with significant levels of emergent complexity is going to be untestable by definition. Emergent complexity is typically a PC game hallmark. As a PC Gamer, I think QA has been better in recent times than it has been in the past, (certainly better than it was during the mid 90s.) The problem is that with the next-gen consoles, PC games started being marketed to console gamers, and there’s a bit of an expectation gap. When you play Oblivion, or Fallout 3 on your 360; you are playing a PC Game with a console interface.

Interesting point. Vanquish and New Vegas seem like the perfect opposite ends to this spectrum too. On one hand you have a focused, polished title that works within the restrictions of the hardware, on the other you have a large sprawling monster that makes the hardware throw up and cry for mommy.

It seems to make the case for the consumer being platform agnostic and getting the game on the most suitable platform. Of course, New Vegas sounds like a mess no matter the platform so I don't think it's a defense for Obsidian.

PC gaming has always been hit and miss, and in many ways is improving, but I do feel that it's reasonable to expect developers to keep trying to improve the situation, and if something is beyond their abilities, they need to rein in their ambitions.

I'm curious about Dungeon Siege 3. If it's like the previous games it's going to be more linear and focused, so one would hope that Obsidian can make a better game out of it.

You make some good general points, RoutineMachine, but in the specific cases of Fable 3 and Fallout New Vegas we have games that are not particularly technically ambitious by modern standards, that are running on tried-and-true engines that the developers have plenty of experience working with, and yet both of them manage to be buggier than their predecessors in the same series. A certain amount of unpredictable behavior or even glitchiness might have been acceptable in, say, Fable 2 and Oblivion, but its not as if this current crop of sequels are exactly breaking new ground. And the sort of drastic performance issues and even full system lockups these titles are causing are far beyond what might be considered acceptable even if they were.

When you've got common, reproducible problems that are experienced by the majority of users, we're not talking about "emergent behavior" that's "untestable by definition" because the systems are so complex that a few edge cases might experience problems that didn't show up during debugging. We're talking about a serious failure of QA.

As a CS-guy with two years in game QA/LOC, your problems should also be directed at microsoft and Sony as well.

Dashboard updates and SKU changes are minor changes, but they do cause problems with how the game plays. I recall a few episodes back that you complained about a loading issue in Limbo, and how there was a patch incoming for it, and then you asked "what, it's not like the machines are different", but a dev Xbox is very different from a Slim, same goes for PS3.

Combine this with achievements and stats, DLC, online connection, install options, most of the stuff that won't be working until the game is close to certification, it will break.

However, your crash to desktop, and then you just give up not wanting to troubleshoot? That there is a problem with your PC, not the game.

Matshelge wrote:

However, your crash to desktop, and then you just give up not wanting to troubleshoot? That there is a problem with your PC, not the game.

That works to a certain extent. I have to say by and large, the days of unstable PC games are over, the vast majority of PC games just work now. If there's one game that persistently crashes, I'm going to be turning my attention to the game.

That's not to say the PC is infallible as a system, but the closer you keep everything to defaults (which I imagine most will do) the less weird occurrences will happen. When I see people complaining about every thing on their system crashing, performing badly, blaming company X's 'dodgy drivers', you can usually also see they're running some exotic config, out of spec, or some old wives' tale tweak that should theoretically work.

I couldn't help but think that the two guests on this show are a bit naïve, "why can't the games just be bug free?". Games being hard to make isn't an excuse, it's a reality which leads to there being a shortage of enough competent people to make games. You have some managers, technical directors, lead programmers etc at studios like Naughty Dog who can produce finished games on 2 year cycles, but then you have lots of other people at other studios who can't, but they're still competing with eachother. Financially you can't take 50% more time to make something because you can't get it done fast enough, if you do you're not going to make a profit. Evidently though you do make a profit if you sh*t out the game in two years in a semi-decent state.

Laying the blame on the consumers isn't the same as excusing the developers or publishers, but if we continually buy games in states we deem to be unacceptable then we're lying to ourselves. What is acceptable is dictated by the market, not by discussion.