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What if.....??

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I was wondering. So many games are coming out today half-finished because publishers seem to view patches as a way to get a game out early and fix it as people play it. Obviously this is incredibly stupid but these are execs we''re talking about here. So what do you think the games industry would be like today if patches were never thought of? Would we be seeing longer development times? Better titles on release? Common logic dictates that it would be so, but since when does anything in the real world follow common logic or common sense?? How screwed up would we be without patches to revive a game? Look at consoles, for example. They can''t patch and yet they still manage to come out great. And don''t go saying that it''s easier to make a console game, in some respects it may be but in others it isn''t. Why can''t we be just as good? Just some thoughts from being frustrated at the mis-use of patching. ============================== "Need more eeenput..." - #5, "Short Circuit" ==============================

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"And don''t go saying that it''s easier to make a console game"

This is so damn true, console games are a million times easier to make bugfree. I don''t think ANY quality PC game crashes on the devlopers machine. Every idiot can make a game that runs on one config bugfree, no problem. So, if everybody would have the same PC, I bet you''ll probably never see a game crashing or failing again.

Also, most gamers out there are probably not the best sysadmins. The reality is that probably 90% of your target audience has a complete f***ed up system with drivers from the stoneage, a completely broken VIA chipset, a 5x over installed Win98, running with a partially working D3D and a sucking 3Dfx card with unusable OpenGL drivers, instable no-name memory, 3.6MB swap space and 10 anti-virus programs running in the background.

On a console, you have a perfectly fine tuned system that is guarantee to work like yours. You never have different HW versions or need to worry about drivers or programs running in the background. You also have no users that mess up their systems or play around in the BIOS. Never.

So, now please tell me again that console development isn''t easier from the standpoint of developing bugfree software...



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Well anyone who says it is easier to make a console game probably never attempted to make a game on a console before. In my opinion patches are terrible if you have to download one as soon as you buy a brand new game just to get it to run but if a patch comes out a few weeks latter to fix some small problem then no big deal. but lately it seems that patches are of the first type and this discuses me. But you question whose fault is this the publisher or the developer. I may get flamed for this but i belive it is both the developer and the publisher fault. If the developer never made a proper sechdula to begin with and did not allow time to debug then that is their problem and they should tell the publisher, but if the publisher starts pushing around the developer to get the game out faster then that publisher will not last long. How do we fix the problem.............I think the problem has become the norm because recently i have notice that many new console games are rather buggy in some aspects. So no not even consoles are safe and with their new found hard drive noone will be safe from patches.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
I looks like patchs are growing at a faster rate then game install sizes. Soon when you buy a new game you''ll need 1 gig to install it and 2 gigs for the patch! 8^)


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My predictions?

You''d probably see more simplistic and more linear games. These would be easier and faster to test.

You''d probably have shorter games. Again, easier to test (and more economical).

You''d probably also see more conservative design choices. If you did something asinine like what Rebellion did to AvP (no saves) and your audience howled, you''d probably have to lose sales (especially on future franchises from wary customers). If players were stuck with a game they hated, it''d end up being either a trade in or a beverage coaster, and they''d remember that you burned them. So developers would probably opt to play it safe, sending out stream after stream of racing, fighting, platform shooter, and adventure / combat RPGs.

Not saying patches are a good thing, but I see some side effects...

Just waiting for the mothership...

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Well, I totally disagree with Tcs on this one I''m afraid. Patches are a symptom of the ''Well, they''ll accept it, because they''re now used to it'' attitude from the publishers. They know they have little to lose in terms of reputation, because everyone is doing it. So they push to get the game released as early as they can.

Most bugs are nothing to do with the PC architecture. Thinking that a variety of hardware makes programming for them exponentially difficult is just an excuse . Getting a game to run optimally on all systems is certainly a challenge. But getting it to run stably is nowhere near as tough as some would have you believe.

Let''s pick some examples of patches for current games and analyse them.

Diablo 2 patch, v1.08:
(Skipping the trillion game-balance fixes which are design flaws)
Addressed certain duping issues when entering and leaving games.
Fixed a bug which could allow you to have a defense rating after using Berserk.
Added missing "crimson" affix with adds +5-10 fire resistance.
Fixed a bug were expert''s/veteran''s/master''s prefixes were swapped with sounding/resonant/echoing prefixes.
Fixed a bug which allowed spells cast while wearing items of piercing to have piercing.
Fixed a bug where single skill bonuses did not stack properly.
Fixed a bug where variable costs for armor types was not being calculated properly.
Fixed a bug where you were allowed to multi-buy rejuv potions in stores.
Fixed the bug that added javelin damage to Lightning Fury, and made the graphics simpler for the lightning.

Ok... absolutely nothing relevant to hardware or platform dependence. Next:

Starcraft 1.08 patch:
Fixed a bug that caused the game to crash when a damaged morphing creep colony, changed into a sunken colony.
Mac ladder maps are now correct.
Corrected URLs for KBK. www.kbk21.com.
Removed URL for replay FAQ.

Still nothing that is relevant to hardware specific issues like video, sound, or whatever.

Rune patch v1.07:
- Occasional server crash bug fixed
- TrialPit slowdown bug
- Loki2 script bug in zombie transform pit
- Don''t hurt teammates when you land on them
- DarkDwarf didn''t attack players using spirit powerup
- Taunt only once bug
- Swapping magic shield bug
- Avalanche shouldn''t kill teammates
- Shield meter doesn''t update on clients
- Weapon swinging sounds not playing correctly
- Disallow breaking shields of people in neutralzones, by a non-neutral-zone player
- Don''t hurt teammates shields in team DM
- Ice/Stone powerups in neutralzones
- Avalanche doesn''t do any damage bug
- Empathy versus Empathy infinite loop bug
- Infinite spirit powerup cheat fixed
- Fixed some problems with severing limbs on certain models
- TownRagnar and ShipWreckRagnar now start with full health. New models to use while playing!
- Draw weapons while going underwater bug
- Shields in neutralzones
- Stand-up telefrag bug
- Infinite bloodlust after suiciding fixed
- Timeout/connection problem messages when starting up the game
- Fixed bug with team game team selection
- Fixed ReadSCM problem in 98

A total of possibly 4 hardware or system-dependent bugs (server crash bug, weapon sounds not playing, timeout/connection problem, and ReadSCM problem, whatever that is). And I doubt that the 2 network problems are at all hardware related. Compared to 21 that are certainly nothing of the sort.

Moving on...

Deux Ex patch, v1112:
Blocked some cheats related to overriding the local console or root window.
Doors opened by buttons in multiplayer work properly now.
Opening a door in multiplayer automatically unlocks it, whether opened by button or by lockpicking.
Fixed some potential problems with locked double doors in multiplayer.
Disabling screenflashes no longer has an effect on multiplayer. Multiplayer always has screenflashes on.
The server information window in the join game screen now indicates whether or not a server is password protected.
Mousewheel support for remote clients has been fixed to be consistent with mousewheel use for the singleplayer game.
If a server is listed as full on the join game screen, you cannot join it.
If you refresh the list and the server is no longer listed as full, you can then join.

The viewplayer command no longer works in multiplayer games. Mod makers can change this by overriding the CanSpectate function.

Looting corpses while carrying no weapons no longer gives you increased ammo counts.
The flamethrower was generating log warning messages under certain circumstances. Those have been fixed.
Dropping a weapon and then picking it up caused its ammo count to get messed up, causing problems when you tried to restock it with an ammo crate. This has been fixed.

LAMs become disabled when the person who placed them leaves the game.
You can no longer lean on other players to kill them.
Leaning occasionally caused people to rotate wierdly. This has been fixed.
Under certain circumstances, the vision augmentation could be broken until you died and respawned. This has been fixed.

Absolutely nothing platform dependent there, with the possible exception of the mouse wheel stuff.

My point? Patches are full of fixes for poor design and game logic. They''re certainly not fixing things that were hard to get right due to the number of platforms. Sadly, professional programmers are rarely very elegant programmers. They are quite often the type of programmer who knowingly does something the ''bad'' way, because 99% of the time, it''ll never be a problem, and it might take hours, days, or maybe weeks to work out how to implement it the ''good'' way. As an example, mentioned somewhere on the Gamedev message board recently, here''s some code that was temporarily in the game ''Terra Nova'' by Looking Glass Studios:
temp_to_str (int temp)
char str[4];
if (temp <= -100 || temp >= 1000)
fprintf (stderr, "WARNING: PROGRAM IS ABOUT TO CRASH!\n");
sprintf (str, "%d", temp);

(See here for the full anecdote.)

If you''re a coder, you''ll see exactly why that is stupid. And these people are paid to make computer games.

Hence, patches.

Now I don''t place the blame solely on the programmers. I believe, from reading several interviews, that quite often they are forced to release code that they are not satisfied with. Quite often, when the last ''show-stopper'' bug is eliminated, it goes to be published, with the rest being scheduled in to be patched later. I believe it was Origin who were told by their publisher ''Ship by Thanksgiving or we pull the plug on Ultima IX''. What do they do? Ship something that they haven''t had the time to fix, or lose their jobs.

No, I think that the whole industry could eliminate the ''need'' for patches quite easily. Programmers need to be better, publishers need to be more realistic.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Kylotan is right. Most patches fix game design issues or game logic implementation issues.

However, it may be possible that the developers spend time getting the game to work on different hardware and hence have less time to work on other areas.

Really, the issue is that you don''t *have* to get it right the first time, so most people don''t. Another issue is that multi-player games are more open to abuse, either by hackers or just be exploiting poor logic and rules. So bugs that in single player would be inconsequential become very meaningful in multiplayer, where you are directly or indirectly competing against other players. In multiplayer bad balance or logic bugs can make the game unplayable. (Or just not fun at all)

There are many other reasons:

Unrealistic schedules

Bad planning

"Creeping featureitis"

A juvenile "hard-working" ethic among programmers that rewards fixing bugs over not creating them. (The programmer who stays up all night fixing bugs gets lauded, while the programmer who avoids them appears less dedicated - meanwhile the programmer who stays up all night introduces more bugs due to sleepiness)

And, in general, a low commitment to quality; the commonplace notion that games all have plenty of bugs, and that a game is "finished" when it runs halfway through once.

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Sorry, I have to agree more with tcs. Though I see both points of view, and both are somewhat valid.

It may not be easier to DEVELOP a game for consoles, buts it a whole HECK of a lot easier to Q/A a game consoles, and that''s really what we are talking about.

Historically, the majority of patches for PC games have been due to hardware configuration issues. The game fails with certain video cards, or sound cards, or whatever.

I do agree that LATELY a lot of developers/publishers have been getting really absurd with the patches and releasing games that are half finished and finishing them later, but this is a fairly recent trend, in the past its mostly been about hardware issues. Once they realized they could get away with that, they pushed it up a notch.

In any case, when it comes down to it, its the consumers (and, to some degree, reviewers) you have to blame for this situation and not the publishers/developers. If they can make money selling broken games, they will! Remember, they are in business, its all about the benjamins. If consumers refused to buy shoddy games that required 10 patches just to work as advertised, they would stop making them. That''s simple capitalism at work.

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Sorry for the two post thing, there''s something I forgot to address in my previous response.

You''ll notice that a lot of the bugs Kylotan gives as counterexamples are related to multiplayer games. This is because creating a good, working, balanced multiplayer game is a whole heck of a lot more complex than creating a single player game. Most game developers are still coming to terms with what it takes to make a stable, balanced, multiplayer game.

And guess what? Consoles are starting to have these issues too with multiplayer games. Look at Phantasy Star Online. People cheat on that game almost as much as they used to with Diablo 1. And guess what? There *is* a Phantasy Star Online version 2. Not quite a patch, but a whole new CD release, since a patch can''t be done on the Dreamcast.

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Okay, I do agree with Tcs and when I started reading his post I winced cause I knew exactly where he was heading and I had forgotten about it. Yes, thanks to consoles set hardware it is easier in that respect. I also agree with you all who advocate that patches are good for fixing balance issues and adding new gameplay features. The thing I''m against is when games are released unfinished for the sole sake of the publisher not wanting to move the date farther back to accomodate more testing. They know that the public''ll suck it up anyways (as gmcbay pointed out) and they also know that it can be patched. Only in this case the term Patch really doesn''t apply since they really aren''t fixing anything besides finishing the game! It is a recent trend yes and I''m saying would it still be a trend if patches were non-existent? Wav made some logical points but there''s no way that would happen - the PC gaming industry is already practically buried beneath the console industry. Console game revenues are far greater than PC shares. If they made games like that, no one would want to play a PC game anymore and the industry would wilt away. However i do agree with Wav in that most of the games today would probably not have been made if the publishers didn''t have patches to fall back on. I know I''m picking on the publishers a lot. I just feel that any development team who feels fine releasing a buggy game should be slapped (for lack of a more violent term which really wouldn''t be appropriate).

"Need more eeenput..."
- #5, "Short Circuit"

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