Wednesday, 20 November 2013

It's getting hard to defend PC developers *UPDATE*

And sadly it now appears the mysterious 7 year development cycle has been explained.  Although the game is only a few days old, fans have created tools to extract the games files for modding purposes.  Unfortunately these files have exposed that the game was quite possibly being developed for Microsoft and it's XBOX360 console.  Numerous shader files reference the 360 architecture and another folder which appears to have been left over during the port also revealing more 360 files.

This explains the bizarre performance issues on high end systems compared to mid range systems that are closer to the 360 level of hardware.  It also explains why the game is a lot easier to play with the XBOX controller, while the game has zero joystick support and the mouse and keyboard inputs are alien compared to X3:TC control layout.

I understand that the alure of the console is tough for developers to resist, especially when they see those install numbers, but to do it at the cost of your loyal fanbase is kind of well.....dickish.  Egosoft a company that has built trust and respect from it's fans basically tried to jump ship to the consoles and later port their new game to the PC, instead they failed that and had to salvage the game for the PC.  I will update this post as more information comes to light, but as it stands it's very sad to see this happen to a great developer and it's customers.

Here is the link to Roguey's X fansite with the information including a screenshot of one of the files:

X Rebirth launched this past week on steam and in retail stores to many rampant fans across the globe.  X for those who have never heard of it before is a series of space flight simulators focusing on combat, trading, exploring and building.  These games allow you to create vast business empires by building monolithic space stations, purchase fleets of large capital ships and fighters and basically fly around your own space sandbox.  The world is populated by thousands of AI craft going about their business each of them having their own impact on the greater economy.  It's a series that has allowed players who don't want to suffer the monthly subscriptions and archaic point and click gameplay of EVE online get their space flight fix for years now.

With the sudden resurgence of these types of games with the likes of Star Citizen and Elite, X Rebirth certainly has the advantage of being well established and actually being playable.  At least that's what people would have thought.  Sadly the game isn't all that stable in fact it's downright broken in parts.  My brother has started the game at least three times already and the bugs continue to ruin what is potentially a great experience.  What makes this situation more galling is that this game is specifically made for the PC, it has zero console functionality and likely never will make the transition to the consoles anyway simply because of the complexity involved.

Over the last year or so we have been seeing major releases on the PC somehow suffering near catastrophic launches.  Red Orchestra 2 had a horrendous launch that resulted in players with PC's well in excess of the system requirements suffering terrible input latency, framerate performance and crashes.  Total War Rome II is still in a state of repair as fresh patches slowly bring the game back to being playable for most.  Battlefield although not PC exclusive it is definitely a PC game by design given it's history also launched with some of the worst bugs I have seen in recent years for a PC game.

X rebirth is just another game to add to the list of PC only titles that are somehow being released way too early.  This particular game launch though is more frustrating because of the fact it was being made for SEVEN YEARS!  How the fuck do you take that long to release a PC title that runs this badly?  Did the XBOX controller support really take up all of their time or something?  It's astounding that it has launched in such a rough shape after Duke Nukem levels of development time.  It just boggles the mind that a game that looks so good and has so much potential could launch with the issues it has.  And it isn't like this is the first game Egosoft has ever made you know.

I struggle to find a way to defend this launch because it's just so shoddy.  I mean you could say Rome II sucked because SEGA forced an early release date.  Battlefield 4 suffered because EA wanted the game out before Call of Duty Ghosts.  Red Orchestra 2 had issues because it was made by a developer with a fraction of the resources of both Creative Assembly and DICE alone, but X Rebirth has no defence.  It had close to a decades worth of development time, was made by a talented and experienced group of developers and had no competition to worry about releasing against.  Everything here was in Egosofts favour with the current space sim love in that's going on right now because of Star Citizen.

It does make you question what exactly the quality assurance team were doing while the game was being made.  This could be argued against numerous companies and after being in QA briefly a few years back I know how intensive and tough that job can be, but sometimes the most obvious stuff is somehow never seen.  For example, how did the DICE QA team miss the loss of audio on most maps?  In Rome how did the QA team miss the clearly broken naval combat buttons for boarding and defending?  In Red Orchestra 2 how did they miss the black texture issues on high end systems?  And finally how did the X rebirth QA team miss the flying through stations bug?

I know that developing for PC is a nightmare compared to the consoles, that's why they have more dedicated developers and money because making a game for a single set of hardware parameters is a thousand times easier than a set of parameters to cover literally tens of thousands if not millions of different PC configurations.  Bugs exist in all games these days because of the fact that the software and complexity of gaming has increased vastly from when I first started gaming on a ZX spectrum, but that doesn't necessarily excuse developers from allowing the kind of bugs that pretty much hinder a customer from playing their game.  I mean a bug where some spoken dialogue doesn't work is one thing, but it's not going to impact the overall the experience to the point of un-playability.  Where as a bug that say crashes the game every time you speak to an NPC is pretty much unacceptable on all levels and it's these kinds of bugs that are somehow getting through the net and ruining a users experience.

In Egosofts defence they have been aggressively patching the game since launch with at least four patches coming out within days to address some minor issues and it's great to see a developer who will put that time in to fix it quickly.  However you can understand some users frustration and anger when they drop close to or around £40.00 for a PC game that doesn't work.  Despite this I will still support PC gaming as it is genuinely the true creative platform for the gaming world.  The consoles are great for just sitting and playing a wide variety of games, but that innovation and experimentation will always come from the PC platform.  I just hope developers will improve their standards or at least see that consumers aren't just going to accept half finished or buggy titles at release forever.  There is a limit and for some it's been reached.


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