Monday, July 10, 2006

PC vs Console: an example

Last Sunday I've decided to spend some time playing games on my PC. I've started "F.E.A.R.", which I didn't touch for several months.

First of all, I've spent some time trying to find which of 5 nearly identical CDs the game wants to have in the drive. The game just kept telling me "Wrong disk inserted". At last I've found out that it wanted disk number 5. Then the game started, and immediately suggested me to download and update. I agreed - and the game immediately quit, starting some downloader instead, which told me that it will take 20 minutes to get the update. (by the way, I have cable - I hate to think for how long the people with dialup would wait...) Well, It was a surprise, because I was in the mood of playing right now - but, after all, I had some other stuff to do, so I just let it run.

In 20 minutes the update was downloaded and installed. I've started the game again, and it again suggested me to download yet another update. Again I agreed, and again the downloader was started - but this time it couldn't locate the file on the server. I decided to run the game without getting the latest patches and features. Alas, I couldn't do it, because the game just crashed when trying to load any of my saved games. I've rebooted a couple of times, and, when it didn't help, I went to the Internet for the help. Very soon I discovered that there was a bug in the first patch I've installed, and that I have to download and install the latest patch. Luckily I found the required file manually pretty soon, and in less than ten more minutes I finally started playing.

And, by the way, while searching for the patch I've accidentally discovered, that another game I've played not so long ago installed some driver on my system for some incredibly advanced copy-protection lock. Now I have to remove this driver, because I do not want some unknown drivers on my PC. The funny thing is, that I've discovered this fact while reading the message on how to install the cracked version of this game!

So, just to add to my writings about what PC games should do to regain market from consoles: these are good examples of what the PC games shouldn't do! For any console gamer, starting the game is a matter of inserting one disk and pressing one button. And the console games just do not download patches - neither they modify the firmware of consoles.

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Dmitriy Kropivnitskiy said...

Yes, but if there is a bug in the game, either you need an ability to patch it (I don't think the publisher will send you the updated version for free) or you just have to live with it. I would guess, that console game publishers take more care to debug their agmes because of this, but as a developer you should know that there are always bugs.

Aleksey Linetskiy said...

Well, first of all somehow console games do tend to have much less bugs (at least, user-visible ones) than PC games. I've always admired at this. Of course, consoles are much easier to QA than PCs (you have to deal with much less cpossible configurations), but still - it shows that games can be properly QA'ed.

But the question here is not about bugs. I am talking about user experience. The situation with "F.E.A.R" could be significantly improved even with necessity of downloading updates. For example:

- Download patches in background. Do not turn off the game - let people play while the update is downloaded. When the update is ready, save user's game, install update, re-start the game and load the saved position;
- Combine patches.
- QA patches better!
- Make sure the file specified for download is on the server.
- With CDs - tell the player which CD to insert, and clearly mark the CDs...

Etc, etc. Just a little thought about the user experience will make a mighty difference.

Dmitriy Kropivnitskiy said...

Yes, all these things would be nice, but you know it is not possible. Yes, QA on consoles is much easier, because all the consoles of a particular model are the same. Down to the last bit. And PCs have different hardware, different OSs, different driver versions etc, so first thing QA on PC does is make sure that the game runs on all supported windows versions with all possible service packs, that it runs on all supported DirectX versions, that it runs on all major video and sound chipsets etc. etc. etc.
And about combining patches, this is just silly. Yes, and why didn't Microsoft release service pack 2 right away, why did they have to release service pack one? The CD trouble is unfortunate, they should clearly mark "game CD", but then again, if you think about it for a second, it will want either the first one or the last one, so however many CDs are there, you just need to try two.