What do we say about a great game with great, fixable problems?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/slightly-broken-games-and-the-people-who-love-them
What do we say about a great game with great, fixable problems?
I come from the developer side, so I tend to forgive the non game-breaking bugs more readily than the average player. I sympathise with the effort of ruling out all the edge cases for different platforms and particularly in games with a lot of moving parts, like Prey.
(I have seen some doozies in my time–my favorite didn’t cause a full crash, but I found a bug in an early build of one game I worked on where buying a certain skill on a certain (unrelated) skilltree made my summoning skill summon deer corpses. Hundreds of us had played the game for hundreds of hours at that point, and no one else had found that bug, because no one else had bought that exact combination of skills.)
That said, I think it’s wrong for people reviewing games to ignore bugs, or assume that they’ll be fixed. I think that’s a disservice to the customer. Of course, it’s much easier to address this when you’re not obligated to give a score, and my reaction to the specific case of IGN’s review was “Wouldn’t it have been better to post it as unscored?” And not because a 4.0 looks bad, or tanks the metacritic, but because what does that 4.0 even mean? That the part of the game he could play was an 8.0? Or that it’s 40% better than a game that doesn’t run at all? It just seemed nonsensical to put a number on a game he couldn’t finish.
This is totally a thread for Deadly Premonition but that game took me two weeks to run on PC, I had to tinker things I didn’t know I could even tinker and even then there was no way to fix the crashes. I bought it on PS3 on impulse because I couldn’t stand to not be able to play it on PC but the nightmarish framerate just knocked me out.
It’s still a great game, I wouldn’t want to replay the shooting sections even through torture, but after the incredibly bad lumbermill section, it clicked. There was so much to love. In a way thinking back about it, I’d say this big hurdle made me like the game even more. it was a real struggle to get there, but the reward was ultimately worth it, it made me appreciate the finer details as if I crafted them myself, you know ? Running Deadly Premonition on PC…it was my own personal achievement that I’m proud of. In a way, DP had this little something that other games cannot deliver by virtue of being playable, and it worked enough for me. It was an investment that I had to see through because it took me more time and patience than simply clicking on an icon. It gave itself weight.
I love a lot of games that are broken and unpolished. To me, it’s often the ambition of what these games try to do that makes me enjoy them even when the technical aspects aren’t there. There’s nothing quite like STALKER or Deadly Premonition. I’d much rather play a game with technical issues and a lot of interesting ideas than a super polished game that is paint by the numbers in terms of gameplay/experience.
I’d add that the less like a review your discussion of a game is, the less important the technical details become, in my opinion. I don’t need to know how well a game runs in a piece about what a game means to you, or where its ideas fit in the cultural conversation, or what design innovations it brings to the table.
For me S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl is the champ in this category.
After years in development it landed somewhat unceremoniously on shelves. I picked it up assuming it would be a fascinating mess a lá Boiling Point. But somehow the game just about worked. It was very shaky, especially at launch, but by god it worked!
I check user-reviews for compatibility issues. I read articles for thoughtful perspectives on the game-as-a-prompt. That said, I don’t see any reason technical difficulties and how the game made you think about something in a new way can’t coexist in the same piece of writing. “If this game was a food it would be…” comparisons would be more useful than numeric scores.
Most of my favorite games are often broken or flawed such as Alpha Protocol & the original Nier. The main thing I look for in games that I’m willing to excuse is, is this doing something interesting either in the story or gameplay. If a game is broken & is doing something I’ve seen before usually I’m more critical because I’ve seen it done well before & chances are it wasn’t broken or if it was maybe the thing they are trying to do just doesn’t work in the way they are trying to do it. If I’m trying to recommend them to people I try to explain why it’s good but also what are the things to look out for so they aren’t taken by those moments of frustration by surprise.
Empire Total War was a mess during release, but somehow, it managed to be really good game and one of the total war which I spend most time, only below Shogun and Warhammer. Daggerfall was a mess, and kind still a mess, but is the most wonderful kind of mess.
There is something kind amazing when games with complicated releases, managed to turn it around, since with appear to me that would require really clear sight of what need to be done and what is wrong. Civ 5 did that too, as Empire and even Rome II.
This is a huge part of one of my biggest frustrations with early access, and the like… addiction some of my friends have with the games. Nothing is cemented. Errors are being worked on. Bad design is open for discussion and alteration. An optimist playing an early access game is having the time of their life, even if they aren’t, because they know they could be eventually.
Oh, what I’d give to be an optimist in today’s early access market…
Most of the games I remember and cherish have been flawed games. Probably because I enjoy a game trying and failing, in an attempt to be unique or interesting, more enjoyable than a slick, streamlined release.
Here’s a list of cruddy game releases I will often recommend.:
- Blades of Time: One of my favorite games of all time, despite being a terribly put together semi-clone of tropes seen in God of War and Tomb Raider, with an insufferable protagonist, but yet just far out enough in the spectrum that it tries to mess around with game design pretty much all the time. Even if it means one of the dumbest, most angering puzzles in the late game I’d never want to play again.
- Metro: Last Light: At the time of release, Last Light was so frustratingly messy. Checkpoints broke, enemies broke, the game crashed. It made for some pretty hilarious situations, where stealth worked or fell apart at random. But man, what a vividly intense adventure. What a powerful experience. My personal game of the year that year.
- Dragon’s Dogma: These days, Dragon’s Dogma got its just attention, but at the time of review it was borderline maddening in how it chose to structure itself. And I don’t even mean the incessant harping on of your companions. By late game, you would’ve done the ONE road between missions so damn much, I don’t think I ever want to see another goblin, harpy, wolf or ogre, in that exact same order. Are they masterworks all? Are they fucking really, dude? Capcom pretty much HAD to fix that stuff in Dark Arisen.
- Dino D-Day: There’s just something about games like Dino D-day or Primal Carnage that try to put dinosaurs into traditional shooter designs. But Dino D-day definitely takes the cake when it comes to driving that campy aspect up to ten. It’s just really bad, but in the best way. Of course I’ll play with a protoceratops with a machine gun strapped to its back. Let’s go!
- DARK: This is a game that’s so crappy, no one ever follows me on it, but man, do I remember its concept fondly. It’s Assassin’s Creed, but in a real bad parody of a Vampirefreaks profile. And it is broken as hell. Level design frequently traps players in death loops that can take full hours to get out of. Still, Vampire Creed…it’s just cool, ok?
Man, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. If you give me a chance between a tightly-edited game with a locked-in protagonist, buttery-smooth performance, and 60+ FPS… or a sprawling, oversized, even “sloppy” rpg with a customizable protagonist and a whole tangle of narrative threads I can follow at my own pace… I’ll choose game #2 ever time. I know that’s not the same for everybody. It’s definitely not true of many of my favorite critics.
It’s just that nothing makes me happier than picking a direction and running until I find something to do, somebody who needs my help or a mystery to unravel. And yeah, some of the time it’s going to be a stupid request, or that I won’t be able to complete it because some NPC has glitched into the middle of a wine barrel and won’t stop yodeling the same 3 seconds of a folk song.
If that’s the cost of escaping “hallways with arrows” or designing a custom character, I 100% do not care.
I think a lot of this hand-wringing over bugs and performance comes from games history as boxed product to be sold rather than as artistic expression. Not to say that it’s not frustrating to encounter framerate issues, or have a bug corrupt your save, but if that’s the price to pay for getting more games like Prey and Fallout: New Vegas, then by all means, bring me the slightly broken games.
To put it another way: One of my favorite albums of all time is the Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas. It was recorded entirely on a dying boombox in John Darnielle’s shitty Iowa apartment, and on every song you can hear the grinding of the cassette tape reels and the microphone hiss. But all of that is worth it for the wonderful songs contained within.
When you’re a small (ish) developer with a small (ish) budget, you really have two options: you can have a really polished take on a really small idea - think Luftrausers, or Super Hexagon - or you can have a really rough take on a huge idea - think Fallout: New Vegas or Dwarf Fortress. Obviously, there are fantastic games from both camps, and I think it’d be a massive shame for smaller developers to stop trying to tackle big ideas because they won’t be able to do them with the same level of polish as like, CD Projekt Red.
In my view, it doesn’t matter how brilliant a game is if it doesn’t work, and work reliably. There’s a spectrum of how broken a game can be, of course, but I think a lot of people’s standards have dropped way too low regarding this kind of stuff. This is exemplified by the fact that Telltale games and Fallout/Elder Scrolls games still sell gangbusters despite being insufferably buggy piles of trash.
I have sympathy for developers in the sense that development is hard and publishers put pressure on them to get the game out the door, but that sympathy doesn’t supersede the fact that they are charging full price for a broken product.
PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS is the current darling and is every so slightly broken in a lot of ways that make the game fun.
I guess it depends on whether or not you mean mechanically broken.
Morrowind was… God, it sure was something on PC. It says a lot about the game that one of the first mods it’s recommended you download these days is one that fixes a truly astounding amount of bugs that range from ‘this is a slight issue so this patch is a quality of life fix’ to ‘if you encounter this bug, your game will contort itself like a Klein Bottle and vanish into the mist’.
Mechanically speaking, I have never gotten as much joy from anything as I do early expansion things in FFXIV.
A good example is how they had to fix ‘Raw Intuition’, an ability for Warriors. RI makes it so that every attack taken from the front is parried (usually a 20% damage reduction) and attacks taken from the flank or front were critical hits. The problem came in when people realized this applied to healing, so a WAR could essentially be rendered more immortal than usual if a healer just stood on their flanks as they popped that particular cooldown.
Another one that’s been a constant, but is less advantageous and still in the game is one that primarily effects Dragoons, who have a lot of Jumping skills. As a result of the way the game registers character placement and movement, which can be boiled down to ‘if your feet aren’t on the ground, you aren’t there yet’, DRGs can jump out of an AOE and still get hit by it due to animation lock, which sometimes just straight up kills them. The entire class has a reputation for eating AOEs like apple pies because of this (among other things). It’s apparently the worst thing about playing the job, but the fucking funniest thing to watch imo.
I’m split on this. I love all sorts of broken games (see Alpha Protocol, Spiders games, the first Witcher, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, immersive sims in general), but I also kind of dislike a lot of games for their bugginess or performance issues (why I’ve never gone back to Bloodborne, New Vegas, Fallout 3). When the bugginess is contained to things like weird animations or sounds or a silly physics glitch might occur, that’s easy to glance aside. But quests breaking, crashing to desktop over and over again, frame-rates consistently lower than 30fps that ruins the ability to play a game, that will drive me up a wall and will make me quit a game.
This is frequently a tough question for me. Frankly, I like how Eurogamer has sort of approached it, separating out reviews which are more about the reviewer’s experience and how the game affected them, and Digital Foundry articles, which cut to close technical examinations that go for the hard facts about performance and to a degree stability.
This is because I value both accounts of a game, especially when approaching PC games. I want to know how a game made someone feel as much as I want a sense of how much non-game related stuff I might have to endure to get a similar sort of experience. A great game as an example for this is Rage. At first I dismissed it as another post-apocalyptic open-world shooter, but then I heard some little things about how despite that, it was actually sort of good? But that it was also tedious. But you could build little robots and exploding cars? But the game was a technical mess on certain setups.
Eventually, the little bots and exploding cars won out and…Well, they were sure as hell right about technical issues and sorting through drivers eventually got it working for me, yet…I still found myself liking it despite that, and I think it’s only really because my expectations were set accordingly. It’s when people over-emphasize the positives without also mentioning the negatives that I find myself really frustrated. It reminds me of the classic, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills” meme when you’re the only one hitting issues.
I feel like it’s much healthier overall to acknowledge the problems, even if you’ve only heard others reporting them and not experienced them yourself, than to create a distorted image of a mostly stable, bug-free game. Not doing so creates this atmosphere where developers can get more and more lax to some degree, I think, as they believe they can just address odd issues with a Day-0 patch. The problem is, how many issues are left to pile up like that, and when is it too much, to the point that it feels almost like that patch is literally completing the game?
I don’t think anyone really knows at this point, and it’s left out there as a case by case issue, which is understandable, but definitely seems like it could be better. Nobody I know loves downloading a several gig bug-fixing patch of all things.
Game-breaking, you-can’t-finish-the-game-because-this-critical-NPC-is-stuck-under-the-world bugs are something I have little patience for… but minor quirks in the game mechanics resulting from a studio over-reaching in terms of ambition are something that I positively live for, particularly in sandbox games.
I think this is, in part, because I find the emergent narratives that you end up constructing in a perfectly well-oiled machine of a game to be… kind of rote. “I went to this place, I shot a bunch of hecnhmen, something went slightly off and I had to reload”. Little mechanics-level bugs add just enough of an element of surprise that it tweaks those stories into the Let’s Play versions of magical realism, like the ultrasonic flying panthers from pre-patch versions of Boiling Point. “I hopped in a helicopter, flew over to the LZ, and then crashed to the ground in a flaming heap after being attacked by an airborne cat” is just a more compelling story, you know?
Honestly I don’t think there is an easy answer. On the one hand, it would do a disservice to making a review and ignoring game breaking bugs. Having run into dozens of them, it certainly happens (often in games with more moving parts which includes games such as Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Prey, and so on). Playing Nier Automata, I couldn’t help but be disappointed when it became evident the quest to visit Emil’s lair broke and how the cut-scenes had a certain choppiness to them on PC due to low frame-rate. Playing Skyrim on console at the time of release, my mage playthrough was ruined when the mage college questline broke. Playing Fable 3 with a friend, we had gotten close to beating it 3 times before a game breaking bug would fundamentally ruin any of our progress. These things can’t be ignored. To use New Vegas as an example, on release the game was an absolute mess replete with bugs and even all these years later, while the intensity has lessened, many of those bugs remain.
The problem is in part due to how games no longer really stay as they were on release. Day one patches have become increasingly common, and early access is a thing, DLC is becoming increasingly normal. On release, Rainbow Vegas Siege was given reviews in the 70s but has apparently significantly improved over time into an even greater game with far less bugs. When games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds are released and can sell like hotcakes that have a solid basic structure a part of me is compelled to ask whether early access should shield a game from such a review. Similarly when ARK is apparently filled with bugs and still early access but has been released on console and has even released DLC for the game, especially in an era where games such as Rainbow Vegas Siege, Hitman, etc are continually updated and improved over time what makes the defining difference between one of these games and an early access game.
Finally, DLC. I think one’s experience can be shaped by when one plays the game. Dragon Age Inquisition’s ending on release was generally regarded as rather disappointing. Post-dlc, the last DLC seemed to give people the ending they had originally wanted. New Vegas, at least in the circles I am in, have people fond of the DLC that was made for the game. Something that made, along with any bug fixes between when the game came out and reviews were crafted, the game experience often more enjoyable. On the other hand, it might hypothetically ruin the experience. New Vegas came in the prime of pre-order bonuses based on where you purchased them with in-game weaponry and armor. These were generally strong early game equipment. For those that didn’t pre-order, it was released as a cheap DLC that is bundled into the Ultimate edition. For some, this might be the perfect set of tools to hop into some roleplaying archetype but on the other hand, it can be a similar experience to Prey’s pre-order bonus of the shotgun.
Then comes a problem of mods. This won’t be too long as this only works for PC games the vast majority of times but for games that are flawed, there are always mods. For the Dark Souls release on PC, there was the iconic mod that significantly improved the experience, STALKER has its own bug fixing mods, and one need look no further than Bethesda games to see all sorts of amazing mods… if you are willing to ignore the more questionable ones. Don’t like the dice rolling mechanic in Morrowind? There’s a mod to make it a hit when your weaponry hits the enemy. Want New Vegas to be more challenging, less buggy, and make it so late game isn’t your character maxing out every stat? Install JESawyer’s mod, Project Nevada (an essential), and the ultimate bug fix. Heck, there’s a mod that significantly improves the gun-play in the game.
All these things are difficult to really relate to a review, a review that’s a microcosm of time. One can’t simply assume all of the bugs that were problems at release will be fixed similar to how a reviewer can’t say “Hey Titanfall 2 is amazing but the community for multiplayer is going to shrink rapidly.” In an unrealistic world where everybody has infinite free time and there is a game reviewer that is interested or likes every game, sure why not edit the reviews as time goes on but that’s obviously not possible.
As per games, it’s a hard one. As my profile icon likely gives away, I like New Vegas a lot. For all its flaws and bugs, it nailed so much of what I want out of RPGs that I can’t help but love them. Similarly Fallout 1 is a game rife with hastily made programming (companions prone to shooting you by mistake, a dog that will probably die by the end of the game, the removal of two quests always meaning that the Followers of the Apocalypse and the Hub will get their bad endings due to last minute changes so that the game could be shipped out). On release, Metro Last Light was buggy yet I was fond of it. The STALKER games are filled with bugs yet those games are so unique and harsh. Dwarf Fortress is rough but a brutal and twisted game. Prey, although I haven’t played it seems to have a pretty big number of bugs as well but as an outsider I still desire to play it. If memory serves me, Far Cry 2 on release was replete with bugs, RDR chugged on my console (which seemed to be a common thing). KOTOR 2 is buggy and it falls apart at the end but it is something that impacted me and tore into Star Wars with a glee like none other. Alpha Protocol’s messy but dialogue was surprisingly fluid. Arcanum: Steamwork is still a buggy mess of a game but there’s something great beneath it all. Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines has cheap VA’s, bugs, and worse but is still a game that did some interesting things. Morrowind is chock full of bugs giving the feeling that half the time the game is held together by spit and bubblegum and might fall apart any second and the fact that magic fundamentally breaks the game at some point. BB isn’t exactly buggy but it has some performance issues and some truly horrific loading times.
A world without these games would be disappointing and many of these games are some of my favorite games of all time. I don’t really think there is a proper answer to dismiss the concern of a bug (no matter how uncommon) ruining one’s experience. It’ll happen to somebody. If not you, somebody else. For many, Fallout 4 was the least buggy Bethesda game they had played, for others such as Jeff Gerstmann (on console) and Super Bunnyhop the game was replete with bugs. Similarly one can look to Bethesda games (namely Oblivion, Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Skyrim) in particular. Essentially all their games released on PS3 were bug ridden messes that are still fundamentally flawed (even though their non PS3 games are still pretty buggy) yet they have still been praised. It’s a tough question. I guess all I can say is I love me some broken games?