From my time

As a sort of indirect follow up to my last posting regarding unfinished games, I wanted to give a bit of professional perspective to things.

Now, one of the big complaints about a lot of games these days is the lack of QA. Now, for those of you not in the know, QA is Quality Assurance. Every game goes through different levels of QA testing. Be it compliance (making sure that the release meets the standards of the specific platform Sony, Microsoft, etc), localisation (compliant with language standards of the region it’s being released in) and functionality (making sure, you know, that the game works and all).

I used to do QA testing for a living. And before people start getting all “wow playing video games for a living? AWESOME!” It’s not as cushy as it sounds. Don’t get me wrong, the company I worked for is definitely my favourite that I’ve worked for to date, but there is a lot to be said for the actual job. I’m not going to get into this now. If you want to know more, I’m happy to answer questions in comments or you can e-mail (theegogames@gmail.com) or tweet me.

What I want to focus on is how some of the issues we’re seeing become predominant in gaming arise.

The biggest issue, at least in my opinion: not enough time. The last big project I worked on was a AAA title for the PS3. Now, this game was a sequel and what I can tell you is that the original time from from start to release was approximately two years. The development cycle for the game I worked on: Nine months…Now, there are some things to take for granted like the fact that an engine doesn’t need to be developed for the game the second time around. But, where as the first game had a little over a year for testing/development, this one didn’t have anywhere near that kind of time. This one had about six months. Now, as a tester, you’re expected to find tens of thousands of bugs over the course of the project. Which, given how many builds a game goes through, isn’t really a challenge. But it is a challenge for the devs to be able to fix everything. There comes a time in a project, especially when they are rushed, that choices have to be made to decide whether or not it’s worth the time to fix said issue. Now, there are going to be a lot of small things that your average player won’t run into, the issue is when those things you don’t have time for, end up in the forefront. Like it did in AC: Unity, ME: Andromeda, etc.

The other big issue I ran into was devs butting heads with testers. Like any time you’re dealing with other people, you’re going to have clashes over decisions. For me, I can remember a series of what I considered extremely obvious bugs (one being a game breaker if you play like me) just being flat out denied (ignored too, but consciously) by the devs. I had to watch one of them play out during an E3 demo. There seems to be some level of animosity between the two stations, with the devs often feeling superior due to their more “prestigious” placement in the scheme of things. Sometimes the end result of a bug going un-dealt with is simply a matter of opinion or (sometimes) pig-headedness. One such instance I faced, having a background in writing/editing, I pointed out and corrected a number of text issues (grammar, spelling, etc) where rather than just copy/pasting my corrections (as emphasised by my supervisor and the functionality manager of the company) they chose instead to leave the mistakes in place.

Well, that’s a small glimpse behind the curtain and a bit of my experience. It definitely doesn’t answer all of the questions, but I hope it sheds a little light on things.

– The Ego

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So, this is it then?

Say what you will about old games and the improvements in technology that the gaming industry has made over the last decade or so, but one thing seems to be turning into a constant: we are waiting for months after release for “finished games”.

Now, I don’t mean episodic games. I’m talking about release a full priced, AAA (often) game that comes out and is either missing a chunk of the story that was pulled to be included as DLC or games that just didn’t get the polish they deserved.

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As an aside, I don’t have a problem with DLC as a concept. Because, I’m sure most of you have been gaming long enough to remember, DLC used to be something to extend the life of a game. When fans were clamouring for more after the ending, sometimes they’d get a smaller nugget as DLC, like Bioshock’s Burial At Sea. Now, DLC is used to fill in purposely created gaps in a lot of narratives to be able to get a little extra on top of the title price.

I could probably fill up a Simpsons/Family Guy rolling credits list of games that would make a list of the kind of games I would describe, but for the sake of your eyes and my fingers, I’ll pass for now.

But let’s look at some of the major offenders here:

No Man’s Sky: This game is going to forever live in infamy. Released actually unfinished. The game lacked the lion’s share of features that the developers had touted. It received a recent update, seven months (approximately) after initial release and we’re just starting to get (what I feel) is close to what the game’s original concept was meant to include.

Mass Effect Andromeda: Can’t say I made the wrong choice in cancelling my pre-order here. The thing that makes this a real debacle is that BioWare is one of those studios who I feel (and I’m sure many would agree) was great because they showed serious attention to detail in their games. And then this happened. Now they’re releasing updates (granted in a timely manner) that are meant to fix and “tweak” the animation issues and increase customisation options. Good for you BioWare. Too bad you didn’t think about this, I don’t know, before selling it?

Destiny: I won’t over scrutinize Destiny. If you read me regularly, you know how I feel about the lackluster release that Destiny received.

So, now we ask: Why?

Well, the simple answer is money. The companies that own these studios want to see results in their quarterly profit reports, and sometimes that means shoehorning in a game to a release date it isn’t in any way prepared to meet. I know this is a business. I’m in no way naive. But when the companies do this, when they release unfinished, terrible looking games – it isn’t just the companies at fault. There is a level of complicity among us as well.

In some cases, like ME: A, how could we know? People take for granted that BioWare produces excellent games, especially for a series that is more or less beyond reproach. And then it ends up having serious issues. But in cases of games like Destiny, we know. We know what the first game was. We know it came out unfinished and missing a lot. But I guarantee, even for a lot of people who complained about it, they will be on the front lines to pre-order and pick it up day one same as the last. And in that, we show our complicity in this crime against the medium.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure. I know that we need to find some way to make it clear to companies that we won’t be apart of the cycle any more. Whether it means boycotts or at least turning every game into a “wait and see”, something has to change and hurting the profit margin is all they understand.

– The Ego

The Age of Quality

Or is it?

In a time where the prices are rising, DLC is proliferating the market at a staggering rate and the quality of games is seemingly going down.

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t great games coming out. I would be wrong in saying that. With new IPs like Horizon: Zero Dawn coming out and selling millions of copies and of course perennial favourites like Zelda, one would say my argument falls flat on its face. But, let’s look at things in a little more general light.

There are tons of games coming out from the big studios: EA, Ubisoft, etc that are coming out to infamy, rather than renown.

For example: Mass Effect: Andromeda. Granted, ME3 did leave a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths due to the poorly thought out ending. But it was a series that, for the most part, was beyond reproach. It’s one of those series, like Uncharted, that no one would dare question the quality and notoriety of. But here comes the latest installment and man, I haven’t seen anyone turn on a series so quickly or thoroughly in all of my life. It would be like if all of a sudden someone tried to tell you that Mario sucks. It seemed as likely as that.

Halo 5 is another one of those AAA entries that just bombed. It’s rare to see an big titles that go on sale as fast as it did (save for the big Ubisoft titles…but I’ll get to that). They were practically giving away the Halo 5 limited edition after a while.

Then there’s Ubisoft…Oh how the mighty have fallen! I remember when AC2 was rocketing in sales and everyone was looking at Ubi like it was the company of the future. And now? Now we get games like Unity, Wildlands, For Honor which get big sales numbers because people want to believe that the series has the potential for greatness. But they just flop. And then when they come out with new IPs, people want to buy into the possibility of how great it’s going to be. Then games like For Honor have their fan base setting a day of protest so that the company will listen to them. I mean, really Ubisoft? Is this what you’ve become? Is it only a matter of time before we end up with landfills like this:

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Only, piled high with Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy games.

With that said – Is this the age of the decline?

I worry that the great games coming out now are just the diamonds in the rough. The few and far between. I can say for myself that I was very excited for all of the Tom Clancy games coming out this year. Each one of them ended up more disappointing than the last. And then I had high hopes for the new ME, and I can say I’m glad I cancelled my pre-order.

Of course I still have high hopes for the industry as a whole. I know it doesn’t seem like it. I just worry that if the big companies let the quality slide, and they continue to buy up all of the small studios, it creates a dark cloud over the industry for me. One would assume that things should only be getting better with improvements in technology and people more willing to take chances on creating different styles of games, and the consumer willing to go along with them on an adventure.

But then why do we have so many bad games? Is it because the large studios are so set in their ways that they just produce garbage and assume people will buy it? There is definitely a symptom of complicity among the fans. Obviously, to some extent, to problem is that this has simply become a business. I don’t know that there’s one answer. I guess only time will tell whether or not things will get better, or crash.

– The Ego

 

You don’t know me!

Yea, I talk about Overwatch a lot. And, I’m going to again today.

I was thinking about the new hero announced, Orsia. Another robot added to the roster, for those of you who don’t play – the majority of the human’s were involved in a war against cybernetic beings called “The Omnic”. That’s all the backstory I’m going into (frankly, there isn’t much more). But they’ve done something, that I don’t quite know how to put my finger on it.

They engedered the robot. This is what she looks like:

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Now, I don’t particularly care one way or another whether the voice is masculine or feminine sounding, but I find it particularly odd that they chose to give this bovine machine a gender.

Mostly because the contrasting robot is this:

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And all it’s capable is beeps and boops and wooos.

I’ll say this: I have nothing but the utmost respect for Blizzard and their goal for equalising the male/female character ratio and their dedication to diversity. In fact, it’s one of my favourite things about the characters. It’s not just a selection of stereotypical videogame character tropes. I mean, of course there is a bit of that, but I feel like it’s more of a subtle nod or satirical punchline rather than sticking to the “norm”.

But is the ideology so locked in that even the robots have to fall within those lines? Is gender politics too entrenched in the minds of the developers. The fear that someone would consider Bastion to be “male” and, by that action, tip the scales in a way that may offend? My concern is that because art is a liberal medium (generally) that it tends to be too apologetic, too concerned with political correctness that things have to be a certain way or else there will be a falling out with a certain demographic.

And gender in gaming has been a hot button topic for some time know. I’ve seen petitions and criticism over games like GTA not including female protagonists. I do agree that there needs to be better representation of gender/ethnicity/etc in gaming. Especially in the area of not making all females sex objects. That being said – I wonder when I see things like this because I feel like people are taking that too far.

Of course, as I stated at the beginning – I think Overwatch has done a wonderful job in terms of representation – and I think the culture of developers is moving in that direction. Games like Mass Effect allowing the end user to decide sexual proclivity of their characters is fantastic. So I hope that when making decisions in terms of building a character, that the concern isn’t to meet standards or expectations. However, to make the best possible character in terms of the vision.

In this case – it almost would have been cooler/more fitting to have the robot be a little more animalistic – and given Blizzard’s experience with WoW – something closer to a Tauren is exactly what I’m picturing. Especially since the canon has a brilliant African 11 year old as the creator of Orisa. I think that part of the story fits the game perfectly.

Then again, in some ways I prefer the fact that the robot has some personality. Even if it feels a bit shoehorned in. Mostly because the idea of another robot that just makes a bunch of beeping and whirring sounds would probably make me want to pound my head against the wall. So, maybe this is a good thing. I would take a gendered robot over a Bastion clone any day of the week. Nothing more annoying than his sounds.

Maybe I’m just reading into this too much. Maybe they really just didn’t want another bland character who is incapable of actual speech. Who knows? I’m just another gamer with too much time on his hands. Let me know what you think in the comments below, or you can tweet to me or post on the Facebook group.

– The Ego

“Entitled, elitist, etc” or “That being said”

I have to preface this by saying: No, I haven’t finished the Mass Effect series. I know it’s been out for some time. It is sitting on my shelf, with the rest of them, waiting to be played (I like the series, just didn’t like the class I chose and I’m debating using my old save file, or starting from scratch, and it’s been a lengthy decision).

That being said: What gives people the idea that the fans, or anyone really (outside of the people who actually produced the game) has the right to say whether that the ending should or shouldn’t be what gets released?

As a writer, I’m used to commentary. People think an idea should go here, or there and most people aren’t shy to tell you. And that’s just part of the game. I can live with that. But if you don’t like an ending, or some storyline doesn’t end up where you expected it to. Does that automatically mean you should complain until it’s changed? Well, as most are likely aware – apparently the answer is yes. I know I’m kicking a dead horse here. I’m sure the concept, at least surrounding Mass Effect 3 anyway, is a debate that’s long dead, or has been done to death – but it’s something that came up today and I just had to get it out.

I know there are different ways to look at this argument. I think there are two clear, and definable sides. 1) Art is open to interpretation or 2) The value is entirely defined by the end user.

There is definitely some spill-over between the two options I’ve put forth. Of course interpretation is kin to the concept of the end user’s value of the story/product. That being said: I doubt Hemmingway, Fitzgerald or King sat around in their houses, reading complaints about the ways their stories ended, thinking about how they can re-write them to make the “fans” happy.

In case it isn’t readily evident by this point – I fall hard into category 1. Your experience, and how something affects you is a common outcome from both options, but the experience is interpreted through the art itself. And the piece, be it a painting, a story or a videogame, is all open to interpretation.

That’s why I like people who say “Hey, this is what I’ve done, do with it what you will”. Like this guy:

If anything, I hate the fact that they caved and added DLC that “fixed” or “improved” the endings. I get why they did it. The fan dollars speak louder than artistic integrity. Shareholders and the money-people always have the last and loudest say. Which is a shame. And I’m not going to get into the artist vs the artist who sells out vs “the man”, but, well, that’s kind of where we’re at. It’s an amazing thing to get paid for one’s art. One’s talent. But subjecting yourself to having to pander to an audience because someone or some group isn’t “pleased” by what you’ve produced. That’s the worst.

Vonnegut said it best:

“As for literary criticism in general: I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”

Now, we’re not talking literary criticism, but the point stands on it’s own. Well, except for the part about the audience being critics. I guess it’s another one of those situations where you can’t please everybody. With that in mind, though, I really hate the mentality. Do I like every ending of everything I read/watch/play? Definitely not. But it is what it is. Either it has merit, or doesn’t. That doesn’t mean having paid to consume the product, that if I’m displeased with how it turns out, I should moan and complain until someone fixes it. Just deal with it.

– The Ego