How do some games get released in such a bad state?
There's nothing worse than being disappointed by a game you've been looking forward to. Even though there seems to be more great games released these days than there ever was in past, we also get far too much sub-average rubbish. A certain number of poor games can be tolerated and expected. Just as the movie industry churns out direct to video releases with small budgets and equally modest ambitions, the video game industry makes big money from budget releases.
If a game is developed by a small dev team, in a small amount of time and with a tight budget a bad result is to be expected. It's the games that don't have any of these constraints yet still hit store shelves with significant problems that disappoint. Most recently we've seen the release of Turok, a big budget Unreal Engine 3 FPS from Touchstone. Announced mid-way through 2006, this revival of a classic gaming franchise had gamers eagerly anticipating its release. Since then we played the game numerous times, and the signs were all good. So what went wrong?
From this side of the fence it's almost impossible to say for certain why Turok didn't turn out to be a solid 8/10, but the problems are all too obvious. The final version of Turok features a good handful of issues, all of which you'd assume would have been picked up on by anyone working at Propaganda Games. They aren't small little bugs, but fundamental problems with the game. The sad part is that they're issues that could have been fixed: checkpoint placement problems, knife attack annoyances and twitchy controls to name just a few. I'm not a game designer, but at times during the game I wondered if anyone who wasn't closely tied to the game played it through at all.
I can only guess at what went wrong. It's fair enough that the guys at Propaganda probably grew quite fond of their game, so fond that problems might turn into features and pass under the radar, but focus group testing should have highlighted these issues. But how does the video game industry really work? While we might assume games are thoroughly tested for bugs and quality, maybe it just doesn't happen. We hear and read about horror stories all the time, with underpaid, overworked staff almost seeming like the norm. If the job is a means to and end it's no wonder that things don't turn out as we'd hope. It's just hard to understand how a potentially great game could fall so far short.
Turok even suffered a lengthy delay from November 2007 to February 2008; time you'd assume would have been used to fine tune the game ready for its grand debut. Who knows what was really going on though? We all know that Unreal Engine 3 games have had problems on the PlayStation 3, so did the multiplatform development of Turok cause Propaganda Games problems? Would the game have been better had it been Xbox 360 exclusive?
Of course, it's not just Turok. Eidos' Conflict Denied Ops comes from a developer with a strong pedigree, but something clearly went wrong at some point in development. A classic example is Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, the PlayStation 2's first Lara Croft adventure. Again, with such a high budget and a property to die for, what went wrong?
So this is my Monday morning rant: developers, we know game development isn't easy, but some things seem like common sense. I'm not going to offer misguided solutions to the problem, but sometimes it's impossible to understand how a game can turn out so badly, complete with issues that anyone with any experience should be able to spot.