Playing for Keeps - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Playing for Keeps

It's great fun to find games that entertain in general, or even little flourishes in game design that elevate a given title, but that amounts to little when faced with quality assurance issues that fail their real world applications. I've had both experiences recently and while the latter don't tarnish the overall experience of gaming, they do temper my enthusiasm at times.

I've written about my almost unbridled joy of Techland's creepy Dead Island and the beauty of id's meticulous attention to detail in Rage. I could likewise go on about Rocksteady's gothic wonderland of Batman: Arkham City. But my excitement has taken hits that likely are more attributable to publisher pressure then developer missteps, though I'm not ruling out the latter.

Consider Dead Island, a game whose simple but effective combat, varied and evocative map design, plentiful and intuitive loot grinding and weapons upgrades, and scenario appropriate quests all contribute to a supremely entertaining title. Such heady delights were nearly undermined, at least on the PS3, by a misfired update that resulted in a game breaking autosave glitch.

Techland withdrew the update when the problem was identified, but one wonders to what extent the development pressure cooker undermined their software. The game was already technically flawed, but to add insult to injury with an update that broke the game (I myself lost 11 hours of gameplay) was inexcusable. A more forgiving development cycle would have prevented both problems.

Likewise Rage is an ambitious effort that initially appears to hit on all cylinders. I was in awe of the production values when I started the game. However, I have since noticed areas with poor textures whether nearby or afar, and suspect the same problem that plagued PC users at launch. Regardless of platform, textures appear to have difficulty loading. Typically on PS3 it will take a moment, but I think at times they don't load at all.

This is annoying enough though it doesn't impact gameplay in any appreciable way that I've discovered. But what has had an impact is preorder DLC that was supposed to be available at launch. While gamers like me embarrassingly neglected to turn over the Wasteland Sewers DLC insert to reveal the Anarchy Edition DLC code (a debatable design flaw), to judge by threads I've seen on various sites, some copies' inserts didn't have the latter code printed at all.

It's too bad that this effort by publishers to protect their new game sales from retailers who benefit from used game sales should at times be so poorly implemented as to alienate those very customers whose support they are counting on to make money. Thankfully, I've progressed a ways into the game without benefit of the Anarchy Edition DLC and in fact have enjoyed the game immensely.

 

It's interesting to me that the details that contribute to my enjoyment seem at odds with the lack of attention paid on the retail end. More profoundly, where textures can sometimes seem to be poorly executed, small details elsewhere shine. Consider a portrait that made me stop in my tracks. It bore a seemingly uncanny resemblance to the late, great Hollywood scribe Rod Serling.

As I progressed on the mostly linear path to the next building, among the loot laying around for discovery was a book with the title "To Serve Mutant." Any self-respecting fan of the surreal TV series "Twilight Zone" will recognize that as a play on the classic episode "To Serve Man." To bring this full circle, that seminal series was created by, yes, Rod Serling. I had to backtrack to make sure I wasn't imagining things when I saw the photo.

My point is, these titles sport an impressive attention to detail in parts that bely a lack of detail elsewhere whether in game design or in the retail distribution and service that accompanies or follows release. We all know that extended development time could only benefit any video game, but there are marketplace concerns that publishers consider when overriding such considerations.

This same seeming dichotomy appears to have undermined the release of Batman: Arkham City. I, like many other gamers, was anxious to play this already highly regarded title. However, imagine my disappointment upon opening my copy only to realize its code for the playable Catwoman missions didn't print on the insert. As you likely have already read, this is a widespread problem, and reminiscent of the similar issue with Rage's Anarchy Edition code.

I'd sent two e-mail messages last night to different WB customer service addresses. The only reply initially was an automated one that warned not all inquiries will warrant a response. Great. This morning I spent, first, 20 minutes on hold to the WB support line, then another 40 minutes upon trying again before I got a rep. Because of my e-mails, he could not open a job ticket, but did "escalate" my message and, in fact, I did get an e-mail reply later promising a code.

So what are dedicated gamers to do? Is this the new normal, where developers are regularly rushing out worse quality games, and incomplete ones at that, knowing that updates and codes will make whole that which was shipped imperfect? Sure, this is business as usual for the software industry in general, but that doesn't make such practices any more palatable.

 

In the meantime, we replay Dead Island over and over and over again hoping for just one effective save, we continue playing Rage knowing that the extra content we were promised escaped our attention before or wasn't even available up till now, or we avoid playing Arkam City, or play it while planning to restart, until we can get the code we were promised upon purchase.

All I have to say is, it's a good thing Techland, id and Rocksteady have produced such otherwise awesome games or this borderline tempest in a teapot would be boiling over. In the meantime, I hope to get my Catwoman code soon so I can take out my frustrations on the thugs of Arkham City.

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