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Gaiiden

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...

Tim

--------------------------
glvelocity.gamedev.net
www.gamedev.net/hosted/glvelocity

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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^)

-ddn

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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:
BUG FIXES:
- 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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Sorry guys. Most crashes are not down to hardware. They are down to poor/rushed programming. And the vast majority of patches issued over at least the last 2 years did not address hardware issues as much as they fixed simple (and stupid) logic errors. The PC architecture, although quite varied, is very well insulated in that all the subsystems have very little to do with each other. And the problems that are caused by hardware conflicts are almost never problems that you can patch! By their very nature, they''re nothing to do with software.

A lot of technical support is geared towards hardware issues because they are often involved in getting the game to run in the first place. (Ensuring they have the right dlls installed, etc). But that doesn''t make the game any less stable or harder to code. It''s very sad that some game developers try to insist that this is the case, and equally sad that a lot of people believe them.

My point repeated, because the evidence backs it up: patches are full of fixes for poor design and game logic. Nothing to do with hardware configurations. With regard to the original question, patches are certainly "a way to get a game out early and fix it as people play it", and not at all necessary for complex or interesting games. Just necessary to shift units as soon as possible.

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I don''t play many PC games, mostly console, but the ones I do play usually (Blizzard mostly) the patches aren''t to fix flaws, they merely fix either 1.) A problem that arose from the last patch released or 2.) tweaking in gameplay stats to make up for people that learn how to abuse the system. This is clearly evident with StarCraft, as you see unit stats changing quite often because suddenly there is an outburst of loading one unit type etc. because they''re somehow at an advantage.

~WarDekar

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quote:
Original post by Kylotan

Diablo 2 patch, v1.08:
(Skipping the trillion game-balance fixes which are design flaws)




This really "bugs" me, heh.

No designer will ever be able to design a game as deep as blizzard's games are, and get it perfectly balanced with in-house testing, or even short public betas.

I'll use starcraft as an example. When it came it back in (geeze) 98, it was pretty balanced. It wasnt perfect, but it was very close, a lot better than some games ever get. Blizzard could have left it alone and just worked on Warcraft III.

But they didnt. Over 3 years later they have just released their 8th major patch. And I think now they have just about got balance perfect (plus they've added replays and lots of other good features which I cant complain about).

I guess what Im trying to say (and I know this is pretty far off topic already) is balancing complex games should not be expected to be done right the first time (or even 5th time) through. You cannot predict how millions of people will play a game and what strategies people will come up with and abuse.

blah I'll stop now

Edited by - ratman on June 30, 2001 2:29:50 PM

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I agree wholeheartedly with Kylotan. A lot of the bugs I see being patched could have been fixed before release given more extensive testing. A lot of these patches come out soon after the game is released, which suggests inadequate quality control.

Players who must patch to play bug-free games have a defective product on their shelf (the game CD).

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quote:
Original post by Ratman

No designer will ever be able to design a game as deep as blizzard''s games are, and get it perfectly balanced with in-house testing, or even short public betas.

I''ll use starcraft as an example. When it came it back in (geeze) 98, it was pretty balanced. It wasnt perfect, but it was very close, a lot better than some games ever get. Blizzard could have left it alone and just worked on Warcraft III.

...

I guess what Im trying to say (and I know this is pretty far off topic already) is balancing complex games should not be expected to be done right the first time (or even 5th time) through. You cannot predict how millions of people will play a game and what strategies people will come up with and abuse.



Ok. I was deliberately avoiding the game design flaws for the rest of this thread, and dealing with bugs in the ''this doesn''t work'' sense. These are certainly things that should be picked up in development.

Moving on to ''design flaws'', including balancing issues. You see, you''ve kind of got the wrong attitude to game design and testing here, summed up by the idea that finding these problems should be a case of testing and public betas.

Computer games are based on statistics. Especially RPG and RTS games, where you have units or components or stats or items, which have certain scores in various categories. There will also be a conflict resolution system to determine the results of using these things. For example, to see how often a bullet deals damage to another unit.

Now, the naive (and sadly, over-used) way of testing that your chosen values, is to:
a) pick some that sound about right
b) give them to a load of testers
c) listen to their feedback
d) tweak values
e) repeat from step (b).

This is laborious, and in statistical terms, is subject to being unreliable through there being too few testers. But, you can eliminate most of this through some simple means.

Firstly, take a very mathematical approach to the game. If you allow +6 enchanted weapons (for example), what effect does that have on the average combat? If you know your combat system, it is easy to see how it will affect it, and almost as easy to see what kind of balance implications there are. Similarly, it should be pretty easy to see how many light tanks are required to match 20 heavy tanks, without even having to play 1 game. With a more informed basic opinion, you can get the values very close to perfect before passing them to the testers. Then your testing will be much more effective. For example, I designed a combat system for a mud once. There were lots of factors (combatant level, armour availability and quality, weapon availability and quality, additional combat skills, etc) but the system was almost entirely balanced. By carefully studying the way that the factors interacted, it was quite easy to make a system that didn''t allow any exploitation by one side that couldn''t be easily countered by the other side.

Secondly, simple genetic algorithms and CPU vs CPU testing can work wonders for RTS games. Set up some random ''genes'' that favour building certain unit types or whatever, and pit them against each other. Have an option to turn the graphics off so the games can run faster, and maybe even leave them running overnight. You can come back to find which strategies work best, work out why they do so, and tune the system accordingly. And then repeat. This way you have the system finding its own flaws for you, and a lot more quickly than a human tester would.

Now, simple ideas like this won''t find everything out. But a bit more care and attention to the underlying statistics of the model the game uses could vastly reduce the need for game balance patches.

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Hold on just a sec - there are two types of balancing issues, of which only one can be considered a design flaw:

FLAW-

The developers release a game with units that are more powerful than others from the start, with no antithesis or opposing strategy, (whether in the form of a units or group of units) then release a patch to correct this.

NOT FLAW-

The developers release a game and then realize a balance mistake when using a unique strategy developed by a player (which is brought to the developers attention from other players falling to that unfair strategy), then release a patch to fix it.

Please remember that balancing is done during the testing stage, not the design stage, when the units are created (but not assigned rock-solid properties, only relative values so one can see which is supposed to be more powerful). Therefore you can''t pin balancing on design, but poor testing, which can result from having too little time before a shipping date. This is why Blizzard games are so balanced, because they have the "Release when its ready" policy, which most other developers cannot adhere to, unfortunatly.

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

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quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Moving on to ''design flaws'', including balancing issues. You see, you''ve kind of got the wrong attitude to game design and testing here, summed up by the idea that finding these problems should be a case of testing and public betas.

Computer games are based on statistics. Especially RPG and RTS games, where you have units or components or stats or items, which have certain scores in various categories. There will also be a conflict resolution system to determine the results of using these things. For example, to see how often a bullet deals damage to another unit.



We are probably going to have to agree to disagre on this... but I think you are wrong

I think that the game should be looked at to some degree statistically, but there are simple too many factors to ever hope to balance a game like starcraft without EXTENSIVE playtesting.

Im gonna use starcraft again, just because I consider myself very, very into that game (Im guessing ~5000 games played, I dunno though).

You cant take into account choke points in math. You take take into account mobility and micro management (the carefull movement of individual units in a battle to gain maximum effencieny). Look at starcraft, with the mutalisk. Statistically it sucks. It does low damage, it costs a lot, its relatively high on the tech tree. But they are so quick and nimble that muta-harassing is an extremely powerfull strategy, even though you would never know that by looking at thier stats. At worst with a couple mutas you can force your opponent to lose concentration or play some defense.

Statistically (build time/cost) a terran player should have no problem stopping a Dark Templar rush. But statistics dont explain that an early DarkT attack really cuts the terran mobility down. It doesnt account for given a toss player control of the map.

There are so many things to consider, its mind boggling.

Dont get me wrong, you NEED to look at the raw numbers and do some math. But its will NEVER be enough, never. I cannot fault blizzard at all for the balance changes they''ve made to starcraft.

I guess what Im talking about is tweaking game balance. The only way to do it is through extensive playtesting. Yes math can and should be used for balancing, but it''ll only take you so far.

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Just gonna comment briefly, cos we''re not shedding much new light now...

Gaiiden: I quote from you: "Please remember that balancing is done during the testing stage" . This is the whole problem, which you seem to be overlooking. Balancing should not be left until the testing stage. As much of it as possible should be done in the design stage. You don''t just make something, hope it works, and then change it until it does. You should plan to make something that works first time. That way, you will have a lot less work on your hands to get it as close to perfect as possible. You''re never gonna get it 100% right first time (except for very simple designs), but that''s no excuse for not designing it properly in the first place.

Ratman: you''re not really looking at the whole picture. Statistic analysis isn''t just about looking at the numbers the players see. Manouevrability (eg. the mutalisk) is just a factor in a unit''s defence. Just because its speed isn''t a ''stat'' that the players can view, doesn''t mean it can''t be taken into account when comparing units. Nothing you mentioned was unmeasurable from the game developer''s point of view, just perhaps from the players''. Any weird strategy that a player can employ is merely using the tools that the developers provided against units that the developer designed. 99% of things can be predicted in advance with careful planning. There''s no reason or excuse for a game to be released ''unbalanced'', that''s all. That''s not to say it can''t be improved upon, or that patches improving gameplay from good to great wouldn''t exist, but you don''t need patches to get a balanced game, which is what I was saying originally.

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Kylotan: This is probably the best article I have ever read on balance. Rather than repeat it, I'll just give you the link: http://web.mit.edu/tcadwell/www/lecture6.html and http://web.mit.edu/tcadwell/www/lecture7.html

And in that article he does use equations and talks about things statistically, which is fine. But you cannot balance a game as complex as starcraft without rigorous playtesting.

[From the article]:
An example of this is mass zergling wave rushing being favored over a number of other more "cost effective" strategies. You could also consider the fact that a mass tank push vs protoss is theoretically unbeatable, but in practice, pretty easy to beat because of its difficulty of flawless implementation.


Its important to realize that actions have a concentration cost AND a game cost when dealing with real time games especially. You must balance both to keep all actions equally appealing in their own unique way.


ratman


Edited by - ratman on July 1, 2001 8:12:52 PM

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If there were no patches then they''d be invented.

Look at it this way.. games grow increasingly complex in their design (and therefore attract bugs and inbalance more easilly) yet companies afford less and less testing time..

Lets imagine there''s a game for release.. it looks pretty and uses all current graphic capabilities, but haven''t been tested that much. Either the company takes 6 to 12 months of exstencive testing and optimizing, or releases it now. The release now would be complained over, but bought.. since it does look cool and today. What is that game in 6-12 months? It''s OLD.. has second-rate graphics and will most certainly be beaten down by the hype from some company that didn''t bother take the testing time.

Console game-makers technically hasn''t got a choice.. and they don''t have hardware that radically increase power every 6''th month. Even so, there''s been several console releases that has had bugs too.. (Therefore gotten several revisions/versions)

And:
"Secondly, simple genetic algorithms and CPU vs CPU testing can work wonders for RTS games."
For basic rush yes.. but I''ve never seen a game where the AI plays like a player. An AI works by the way that it masses up units and ship them over to your base.. They never do something really sneaky.. just plain ''ol overwhelming. AI''s don''t drop siege tanks, reavers or lukers around your harvesters. And most of all - AI''s cheat! The Starcraft AI for example - it doesn''t need to scout where you are.. it knows already.. (that''s why they always go straight for you, no matter if they know where you are or not). The Tiberian Sun AI is even worse - it doesn''t need money to build buildings.. (and builds them at a faster rate than the player can).. and it ALWAYS places them on the SAME PLACE.

No RTS AI can substitute for actual online/LAN multiplayer games. Only certain kinds of players can use certain kinds of units well.

"Goodness reflects the light; and evil, bears the seed of all darkness. These are the mirrors of the soul, the reflections of the mind. -Choose well..." (Unknown)

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