The Business of Polishing Games

pol·ish
Definition: to render finished, refined, or elegant

In Game Dev Story (a game developing/publishing simulation game for the iOS), I could create a game full of bugs, release the game without fixing said bugs, and still manage to sell copies. Tons of copies too, if I had a horde of mindless loyal minions fans. In fact, the same could be said even if I made a horrible game (in Game Dev Story terms: not Fun, non-existent Creativity, bad Graphics, poor Sound). The real life is obviously much different from that… for the most part, anyway. In the real-world context, this means releasing a game that is lacking in polish. It could mean having a less-than-fluid gameplay, poor voice-acting, or as mentioned, bugs. With the availability of patches on consoles now, the number of day-one patches (updates) to fix bugs (issues) have increased (much to the chagrin of diligent reviewers). Bugs (issues) that should have been stamped out during development or QA.

Screenshot

The worst that could happen when you release a bad game in GDS.

Case in point: Brink. Before I go any further, I’ll just say that I enjoyed playing it somewhat, and I finished (if by finished it means completing the 8 levels, on both sides) the game too, so that should give me the “right” to comment on the game. With that out of the way…

Admittedly I didn’t really follow the game much prior to its release. About 1 or 2 months ago I happened across a site mentioning the game, and I was somewhat intrigued by it. (An objective-based shooter with AI and a ton of customization options? Sign me up!) I checked out an article or two, but not much beyond that. Then there was the launch trailer which I saw as well, and that hyped me up for the game’s release. It happened to coincide with my last paper, so I was looking forward to it as a post-exam reward of sorts.

The long wait…

Imagine my surprise when the game didn’t quite turn out as expected. One of the features I was looking forward to — the customization options — wasn’t executed too well. First off, there was no facial/body options besides the preset list. I spent ages customizing my characters’ faces in games like The Sims 2, Oblivion and Mass Effect, so this was a wee bit disappointing. OK, no problem, most of my characters end up having similar builds anyway. So, I started going through the list of clothing available. I moved down from the default selection and waited. And waited for a few more seconds (fine, it was just 2 seconds), then the new shirt popped up. Wasn’t to my liking, so I selected the next. And waited again…

Screenshot

Looks great, but looks can be deceiving.

Having to wait for the clothes to load is not exactly the best way to entice players to customize their characters. On to the next step, choosing your colors. Again, you can only choose from a set of pre-determined colors and/or patterns, so no dressing your character from top to toe in hot pink (if you’re so inclined). Again, no big deal, but there’s no escaping the loading here either. Weapon customization is better in the waiting department, but probably because there’s only so many (not many) options available (you can only have so many attachments after all). Unfortunately, this was also where I noticed the texture pop-ins and the general low quality textures in the game (more on that later). To be fair (and to prevent fanboy attacks), I am playing on the Xbox 360, and this doesn’t occur on the PC version (or at least, a souped up PC?). Presumably this is less of an issue if you install it on consoles. Unfortunately, I can’t quite test that due to the number of arcade titles and DLC on my hard disk, but that’s another story (which I probably won’t be telling anytime soon). Anyway, whether it’s on the 360 or PS3 or PC, I don’t like having to wait for my character to change his (oh yeah, did I mention there’s no female characters in Brink?) appearance. Not when I can do the same thing near instantly (less than a second) in games like Saints Row 2 (and hopefully for Saints Row 3).

Screenshot

All that bling don't need no loading.

Scrap the story, fix the AI.

To quote from the official site under the list of Brink’s features:

Two Sides to Every Story
Choose to fight through two complete story campaigns as either a member of the Resistance or Security. Experience these campaigns solo, co-operatively, or competively – it’s your choice.

Blurring the Lines
Take your unique character online at any time you choose. Brink allows you to seamlessly move between single player, co-op with friends, and intense multiplayer action. Multiplayer takes the story online where you can play with up to seven other people (or AI characters) cooperatively as you take on the opposing faction or with up to 16 players competitively.

… Which suggests that the single player experience is as much a part of the game as the multiplayer, no? In actual truth? Not so much. The storyline is as uninspiring as they come. In the first few levels I listened to the narrator brief me on the events that transpired, as well as the inane banter among nameless, generic characters.

A: Gee, B, what do you want to do today?
B: Same thing we do every day, A — try to take over the world!

Well, no, but you get the point. Later on I started browsing through some websites on my laptop while waiting for their conversation to end. Yes, the pre-game cutscenes are unskippable. Add another point to the to-fix list: unskippable, boring cutscenes. Well, to be fair (again), it’s only when you’re playing with bots. I think.

Screenshot

Characters A and B talking.

Speaking of bots, the AI is bad. Being an objective-based game, having AI which doesn’t really care about completing objectives is definitely off-putting. I won’t go into the details here, but generally, they are decent at killing enemies when they’re not human (unless it’s 6 bots versus 1 human) and certain actions (escorting hostages, completing optional objectives), but they are terrible at completing mission-critical objectives. Yes, it’s AI. Yes, they’re not humans. Yes, AI is flawed. But, I’m paying for a full-priced game that is supposed to offer a good single player experience in addition to its multiplayer. The least you could give me is AI that is capable of executing main objectives, not run around shooting enemies randomly like what some people do online. Wait, was that the point?! Oh snap!

Yeah, anyway, Team Fortress 2 was pure multiplayer, and it certainly worked well. Sure, you could say it costs one-fifth Brink does so it can “get away with” less features, but look at it the other way: it costs one-fifth of Brink, and yet it offers five times the enjoyment.

Screenshot

They don't need a story or AI. Just RED vs. BLU.

We don’t use 56k anymore.

Well, at least, not if you’re playing games on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. So all the reports about Brink lagging shouldn’t exist, in theory. This was supposed to be one of the issues addressed with the day-one update, but players are still experiencing lag. Private matches seem to fare better, but having full teams with just friends is kind of hard. That and having consistent, lag-free public matches should be a norm for a game like this. Not to mention a lobby system, which there seems to have a lack of. “Seems to”, because I couldn’t find any matches online. Apparently it’s due to the lack of servers in Asia, which is in turn due to the game not being out here yet, but obviously it is for some countries, at least. Whatever it is, this is yet another bug in itself.

Blurring the lines? Well, the game looks blur enough.

I don’t know about the lines, but the textures in this game are certainly very blurry. As mentioned earlier, texture pop-ins occur in this game. In all honesty, Brink isn’t the only game which suffers from this issue. Crysis 2 has this problem too, and I noticed it occurring in L.A. Noire (though at a much lower frequency and severity). The difference though, is that at least Crysis 2 looks great when everything is in place. Brink, it just goes from very blur to blur. Apparently this was also improved on in the day-one auto-update, which “significantly reduced texture loading times” but, well, the problem is still there.

Again, to be fair, objective, the PS3 version loads the textures more quickly while the PC version looks better than its console counterparts. But if other multi-platform titles can pull it off, why not Brink? No, using an engine that first appeared on games in 2004 is no excuse. I seem to remember Prey looking pretty good. Heck, Doom 3 on the Xbox looked great then, and its comparable now, and that was last-gen. Mind you, I dug out my copy and played through it for awhile so I’m not just shooting off my mouth here. Ok, maybe just a little somewhat. Obviously you can’t compare those 2 but Brink does feel rather backward.

I know, I know, graphics don’t make a game; the gameplay is what’s important and all that, but at least make it look as nice as the PC version. Or the screenshots. We live in a HD era after all, where everything is HD-this, HD-that, sharp and crisp and all that jazz.

Screenshot

If only the game looked half as good...

Did I hear something?

In terms of music, Brink is decent. Not great, but it’s not like you need a 4-disc OST for an objective-based shooter. Voice acting is decent too, although the narrator during the loading screens could use some improvement (though not as much as other games). Sound effects are somewhat lackluster though. Weapons don’t sound too different from each other, and — I’m pretty sure it’s not just me, but — frag grenades explode with merely a poof, or a cough, et cetera. Brink could do with some more work in the audio department, although it’s probably an area with the least complaints.

If I had the power to change the world, I would…

I’m no programmer, but of course I know game development is no walk in the park. Making smart AI; tuning network code and what-have-you to make multiplayer matches smooth; and optimizing graphics aren’t the easiest jobs. I’m just another person commenting on games because it only takes 0.001% as much effort. But if I had power overwhelming, I would include polish as a factor in games. Games shouldn’t be released until they are polished to maximum shine. Although not every company has the resources Blizzard has, but still…

Kiwi

Kiwi - Keeping your shoes polished since 1906.

Maybe I should set up a company to polish games. I would hire staff who actually knows how to make games instead of talking about making games, and pay them like 10% of what I earn (or rather, what I make, since technically I wouldn’t have earned any of it) and laugh my way to the bank. I’m sure it’ll be much more productive that way. Yep.

Disclaimer: This article was not written to bash Brink. As mentioned, I did enjoy playing it somewhat, even with the lack of multiplayer available to me (read: playing with frustrating AI for ~20 levels) and all the faults it has. This was written thanks to a great idea and a person with too much time on his hands. Time which could be spent playing L.A. Noire (which happens to be under the “Games you may like…” section when you browse Brink) instead, so until then (or until Brink‘s next update).

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4 Responses to The Business of Polishing Games

  1. I decided to completely skip out on this Brink and for many reasons I might add. Not only do I hardly have the time to play the games I want, but I cannot find the time for games that even “interest me.” Brink seems like it could be something cool but doesn’t hold any variety to its formula. Some games can get away with this because what they do is done so well.

    Also I can hardly get up with friends to set time aside to play games. It’s mostly catching them online then playing something then. If it doesn’t have a single player worth checking out, chances are I’ll be skipping to something more worthwhile.

    • phazer says:

      Yeah, didn’t take too long to complete but I spent ~10 hours here when I could’ve finished some other game. While it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, I don’t think there are that many objective-based shooters anyway, so you could overlook that.

      In its current state you’ll definitely need friends to play this with. Single player is only for people who bought the game without reading the reviews, and then later on they also realize they can’t play public matches at all *ahem*. Although if you really are planning on getting it, PC version is the way to go, platform bias aside.

  2. Mikey says:

    I’d love to play Brink (after the online issues are worked out) and was actually looking forward to it, but I have to resist. No point in buying a game I’m not gonna have time to play until it’s being sold for ten bucks, anyway.

    As for polish, I’ve gone over it a few times before (elsewhere), but what happens if they release these unfinished and unpolished games back in the day, before patches for console games were available? They would never sell.

    • phazer says:

      May 26 2011 at 1:26 PM (Edit)

      The new update is supposed to be out this week, so hopefully that’ll solve the problem. But yeah, there’s tons of games out there you might want to spend your time on. I wonder why I bought this instead of Portal 2…

      As long as people continue to buy them (which they will), unpolished games (or any other form of product) will always exist… I guess that’s a fact of life. I guess now publishers have the “flexibility” of pushing a game out earlier and deal with the issues as they come, whereas back then they would have to try to get everything down right the first time. For the most part there would still be bugs, but none which are game-breaking.

      Although, I wouldn’t really be the right person to comment since I research 99% of my games before buying them. Normally I don’t end up with broken games. :/

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