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New Challenger: The Gaming Infestation

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This week I’ve been thinking a lot about bugs, glitches and instability. My first real experience of this was buying Morrowind when it was originally released only to discover there was a problem that meant my character couldn’t get off the boat at the beginning of the game without the game crashing. I eventually gave up even trying to play it, cut my losses and shut the damn thing in a drawer. Several years later I found the disc again and decided to try once more. After downloading a few updates I got to finally play the game properly, setting foot on dry land at last, and had my first true taste of the Elder Scrolls series. It was enough to have me grab a copy of Oblivion as soon as it came out. Even now, though, there are similar things going on all the time. This week’s main offender is Dead Island, for being basically unplayable unless you make extra certain to be offline whilst playing it.

Techland, Dead Island developers, not only managed to release the wrong version of the game on PC, a mistake rectified with just a few red faces, but have left a massive gaping set of issues in the game on all formats to the point where there are a lot of people annoyed at playing for 10+ hours only to have their game not save, or seemingly forget their progress. Items disappear when thrown and there are myriad other problems being reported as well. Yes, this can all be fixed in a patch, but it shouldn’t have to be; the game should at least be playable on release, but as professionals making a product for consumers it should be damn near perfect. As I write, Patch 1.01 has been released to Dead Island players, but it does not solve the game saving issue. There is, however, a group of people who seem to have figured out how to get your save game not to fail when playing Dead Island; play signed out of the PSN, simple as that. It’s not an ideal solution, but until the misogynistic Techland pull their fingers out and get the problem patched it will have to do.

Moving on now to a slightly different sort of issue, one that doesn’t break the game as such, it just makes the whole experience less immersive and particularly annoying for insufferable pedants like myself. Hothead’s The Baconing, for example, has a lot of discrepancies between the text and speech, which is incredibly annoying for a game that crams text and voices into your eyes and ears the entire time. How hard can it be to get one person to play the game through checking something as basic as that? However, as a rule, downloadable games are far less guilty of letting major problems slip through the net than the producers of disc-based games, so maybe such small transgressions can be forgiven, even if they make me grind my teeth to dust each time I notice such things.

Let’s return, now, to Bethesda and their next offering: Skyrim. The studio is reported to be leaving some ‘amusing’ bugs in the game, which is fine I guess, so long as they’re not along the lines of ‘haha, how amusing, my save data has just corrupted itself after 40 hours’. And Bethesda is hardly an innocent little lamb when it comes to problems in their games. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas were both notoriously overflowing with bugs on release; freezing, quests rendered impossible because characters disappeared, save files that gradually swell to the size of PlayStation Minis and beyond. Skyrim’s attitude is interesting though, and sometimes glitches can be fun. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing bodies twitching for no apparent reason, or the ability to duplicate items in your inventory in a sticky situation (very useful for potions I seem to remember)? So we’ll have to trust that Bethesda will do a good job in the end.

These are all slightly different again to the sorts of glitches people spend time finding in games like Call of Duty, where there are endless videos on YouTube of players calling in tons of care packages to get out of the map. One of the worst problems I can recall in a Call of Duty game was being able to fall under the map in Castle in World at War, making yourself difficult to kill unless someone came under the map after you and almost omnipresent in terms of killing ability thanks to seeing the entire map through the now invisible floor. These games tend to be quite prompt at fixing such issues, however, so I shan’t grumble for too long on the subject. Games like this do make gamers show ingenuity and imagination when it comes to getting around the invisible walls and into the out-of-bounds parts of maps. Rest assured, if there is only one tiny part of a map that can be exploited, players will find it and make the most of it. This is why so many games get online betas now, so hopefully such things can be ironed out before general release.

Money is going to be my final point here; how can we, as consumers, be expected to spend money on something that doesn’t feel ready for the public yet? Excluding the unfortunate many who pre-ordered the game, how are people expected to pay full price for a game they know will frustrate, annoy and ultimately be counterproductive to the goal of having fun. If I’m spending full price money on a game I want to be able to trust that it will at the very least function on a basic level, not eating my saved data whenever it feels like.

This is something that could get a lot worse before it gets better. Despite in-house testing, independent testing companies and beta testing, the fact is that games are getting larger and larger. This means that ironing out all the problems in a modern game is a lot more time-consuming and expensive than ever before. Not to mention the fact that I’m convinced some publishers go ahead and push a game through before it’s fully ready because they know that any problems can be eventually patched. This doesn’t seem to make much sense, but the only other possibility is that the developers themselves are lazy, which seems highly unlikely to me; this is their baby we’re talking about. Being the savvy bunch that we are, many gamers rightly keep the developers of their favourite games in mind, so that when they hear about the next game from that studio they can get all excited. The same goes for bad games.

Although, on the strength of that, nearly everyone would have dismissed Techland’s Dead Island on the strength of the Call of Juarez games alone. Perhaps we were all duped into thinking that a leopard can change its spots. Perhaps we all fell in love with the cinematic trailer that whetted our jaded appetite for one more zombie game. But then again, perhaps in the wake of this dreadful farce of a release Techland will turn the situation to their advantage, make the game incredible with an amazing patch, apologise with some DLC and eventually go on to develop another game avoiding all of these mistakes. It’s a dream, but who knows! With a little bit of work they could rise to be Bethesda’s equals (or betters) in my eyes, ensuring I will spend my hard-earned cash on their next release, assuming it’s not a Call of Juarez game, of course.

Video games were a part of Chris's life from the Mega Drive onwards. He has many happy gaming memories, including the first time he collected all the chaos emeralds in Sonic 2, collecting all SSBM's trophies (yes, all of them) and, more recently, collecting far too many platinum trophies on his PlayStation 3. In the real world, he has a degree in French and is currently living in Frankfurt, Germany. Follow him on Twitter @DPrime_Chris

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