The Glitch That Can’t Be Scratched

Is it just me or doesn’t anyone bother testing their games anymore? I’d been playing Mafia 2 and loving every second of it, but one chapter from the end I came across a massive glitch that almost ruined the whole experience. Joe and I were being held by the Vinci family on top of a half built skyscraper after a drug deal with the Chinese went disastrously wrong and threatened to trigger a gang war. We had to make our way through several floors of armed goons, hiding behind bags of cement and such. Finally we reached the lobby and the boss surrendered. I’m sorry did I say ‘we’? I meant ‘I’, because I soon realised that Joe, who is supposed to trigger the cutscene, is still standing on a stairwell somewhere at the top of the building admiring the view. Not quite what I had in mind when you said you’d “take the rear” Joe. Although I was inches away from the end of the chapter, there was no way around it; I had to restart the mission from scratch. I was not a happy gun-toting mobster.

It's only after I took the quest from Farmer Giles that I realised he was a cockroach.

My Fable 2 experience was similarly ruined by a glitch that seems to affect around 20% of users. On completing one of the quests for Farmer Giles the entire Brightwood area failed to load. The Lionhead forums were full of people swearing blue murder, and the studio did what any self-respecting corporate entity would: it ignored them and hoped they went away. It felt like Peter Molyneux had cooked me a beautiful meal, and then just when I was really enjoying it he’d dropped his pants and taken a big shit on my plate. More recently I was quite a way into Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands when I died and respawned in a room with no exit. Aaaaarggg!

Now, any cautious gamer knows that it would normally be a case of reloading an old save file and losing perhaps an hour or so of play to remedy these problems, but all three of the games mentioned above suffer from the same very modern problem: they only use autosave slots, taking away any control from the gamer of when to save their adventure. Of course I can totally understand the logic behind this when it comes to games like Heavy Rain, where the developers want your choices to carry the weight of consequence, but is this really a necessary feature for games as linear as Mafia 2?

Now, which one was my horse again?

Glitches are not always the end of the world. Red Dead Redemption is full to the brim with charming and eccentric bugs, none of which have drastically affected the overall experience. People riding horses back to front or the now legendary donkey woman somehow added to the fun. Red Dead also had my favourite glitch ever; the macabre sight of hundreds of sheriffs on horse-back spawning unendingly from the top of a tree and falling to an HR Giger-esque pile of mangled limbs. Or maybe I dreamed the entire thing?

During all of the time I owned a Megadrive, Playstation and Playstation 2 the worst I can remember encountering was a straightforward crash, rather than a game breaking cataclysm. But now the ubiquitous internet connection and software driven nature of the next gen consoles suddenly means that developers can jump into the same hole that PC developers had been digging for years. Why go to the trouble of running an expensive QA department and releasing a polished product when you can get your consumers to act as your beta testers and fix things with patches and updates later on? If the set fell over whilst shooting an action movie revealing the lighting crew behind, you wouldn’t hear a Hollywood studio exec say “don’t worry, we’ll just leave it in for the fans”… well, not unless it were a Godard movie. Or how about the publishers of the next Harry Potter novel forgetting to print the last chapter? Wouldn’t happen. So why are we so dangerously close to accepting bugs as par for the course when it comes to gaming?

"All your save files are belong to us!"

With the recession finally starting to bite on the arse of the gaming industry and the threat posed by casual gaming, the big studios are eager to cut costs and the first thing to go, inevitably, is the testing department. I recently worked at Square Enix as a tester for Nier. Not the best game ever, but I can proudly say it has no major bugs, and while the script may be wacky in places all the words are spelled correctly (I hope). Square Enix have always run a tight ship when it comes to testing and localising their games, but not even they are immune to this trend. After they bought up Eidos they moved from their massive offices in expensive Shoreditch into Eidos’ smaller HQ in Wimbledon – considerably scaling back their QA department in the process. As games become more expensive and audiences ever larger, it’s my hope that the industry will learn that good QA can sometimes make or break a release. A game that’s worth spending so many resources making in the first place is worth checking that it’s right before sending it into the big bad world. Like my old Design Technology teacher used to say: “measure twice, cut once”.







5 responses to “The Glitch That Can’t Be Scratched”

  1. Hugh Jass avatar
    Hugh Jass

    Don’t get me started on bugs – FIFA 11 is full of them!
    When my keeper was sent off, having used all my subs, I had to put an outfield player in goal, who kept his outfield shirt on! WTF?!
    Also, the infamous 2 second freeze that everyone is experiencing is a pain the posterior too. I suspect this was a real rush job to hit the shops before PES and it didn’t get play tested enough.

  2. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    Sorry to hear about the glitches you’ve been having Dean. I played Mafia 2 on normal and hard and didn’t encounter the glitch either playthrough. Nor with Fable 2 or PoP. Do you install them to the hard drive, that”s what I do with all my games now to save wear and tear on the dvd drive.

    Similarly alot of people are talking about glitches in Fallout New Vegas, the only one I’ve had was a soldier crounching to shoot while being 20 foot in the air. I’ve lost count of the number of new games I put in the Xbox 360 only to have an update come up straight away.

    It is good that problems can be fixed post launch because of the internet connectivity to our consoles but I would prefer not to need it.

  3. Dean avatar

    Thanks Rook. I just remembered a hilarious glitch i forgot to mention in Oblivion. I was sneaking around one of the castles late at night and who should i see wandering around as bold as brass in her underwear but the Queen!!! I spoke to her and got the same dialogue as normal, but in this new context it seemed delightfully in appropriate. Glithces can be a bit of fun, but if they break the game its a poor show.

  4. Jason Potter avatar
    Jason Potter

    I was just thinking this the other day, Saw 2 (that I just reviewed) was one big glitch and also Dead Rising 2 upon obtaining the ghouls and ghost armour your map vanishes for some reason

  5. Matt avatar

    One thing to bear in mind with modern games, particularly content-heavy releases like Fable or Fallout, is that they are several orders of magnitude more complicated than Sonic 2 ever was.

    Some are difficult to excuse though; Fallout New Vegas, to pick the latest example, is rife with bugs that any competent QA department could have detected.

Leave a Reply