When a patch broke my favourite game
Posted on 7th Jul 2009 at 11:31 by Harry Butler with 22 comments
Of course, as when you play any RTS at a fairly competitive level, you begin to notice small balance issues with some units. Particular strategies, abilities and units worked better than others, and while the game was perfectly playable, developers Relic set about performing a balance play test back in March 2008, analysing thousands of games over the next year to tweak certain units and makes the game more fun, fair and competitive.
The extensive “balance beta” teased us with fixes to long broken abilities, and following its almost comically long development time, was set to climax with the release of Tales of Valor. In one fell swoop Relic was going to not only fix all the existing balance issues with the game, but give us some new game modes and units to play with too. My excitement grew until finally it was released... and after playing a few ranked matches with the new content and patches it became terribly obvious; the game was now terribly, terribly broken.
British emplacements didn’t work, certain tanks fired continuously without reloading as long as they made a kill and thus annihilated infantry, bugged German AT guns were able to insta-gib any tank or building, machine guns took decades to switch targets and some of new units were ludicrously imbalanced. The game was so broken that it simply stopped being any kind of fun to play.
I was building units in anticipation of my opponent using imbalanced or bugged units, stopped building emplacements as the British (my favourite faction) and even when I was winning, questioned whether I was doing so out of skill, or because the now miserably broken game had stacked the odds so heavily in my favour.
What made all these bugs more galling is that the community over at Relic News had pinpointed them all, in exact detail, inside of two days, despite the balance and new content patches having been in development for over a year. Needless to say the feeling amongst Company of Heroes players is one of frustration and betrayal. Had Relic not beta tested the new content and patch at all? Some of the bugs were so obvious and game breaking that I had to wonder.
By me playing this game it has, like any form of media from movies to music, become part of my tastes and preferences. I’m as much a fan of Company of Heroes as I am of Aliens or Office Space, but the disastrous new bugs (which never existed until the most recent patches) had tainted my view of the game in the same as way as if in the latest directors cut Ripley had, during that climactic battle with the Alien Queen, fallen over, broken character and said “Can I try that again?”
Game developers need to realise that games aren’t just theirs, they’re ours too, and they have to take responsibility for releasing games, patches and content in a playable and non-broken state. When was the last time a developer actually apologised for missing a game breaking bug in a patch update? Look at Bethesda, who have, in the past, released DLC for Fallout 3 in a state that’s nowhere near acceptable, and then simply patched the problems quietly after the damage is done.
As gamers we love it when a game receives new content, or developers fix problems, but we don’t expect far worse or new issues to follow as a result of such updates never getting any kind of meaningful play tests.
Another prime example is the release of S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky. Rich was a huge fan of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R, and had called dibs on the prequel’s review months before it arrived in the office, but the shoddy state the game shipped in has forever tainted his, and by proxy my, opinion of the series.
Given time of course, developers become aware of and rectify their mistakes. S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky is now playable following several patches and Company of Heroes has since received a new patch that’s successfully ironed out almost all the bugs introduced by the new content. The damage to my opinion of the title has been done though, and while you’ll still find me occasionally venturing out onto the fields of Europe circa 1944 for some 1 v 1 auto-matchage, my enthusiasm for the title has certainly been curbed.
Have your favourite games been ruined by patches or bugs? Think Developers should be doing more to avoid such issues? Fed up of paying to beta test games? Let us know in the forums.