With the launch of Assassin's Creed Unity and Halo: The Master Chief Collection, some are lamenting the state of major releases. Unity has a number of performance issues and Halo: The Master Chief Collection is missing certain map playlists and features some matchmaking bugs. Players are wondering when companies were fine with releasing broken games?
The answer? For a long time now.
Some of our favorite games launched with a host of glitches and problems, but we still love them. Broken games happen, glitches exist, bugs abound. If you want to relive the nightmares, there's an entire list of game-breaking bugs over at TVTropes. We should not accept it when it happens, but to insist that it's a recent problem is being disingenous.
So let's skip down memory lane and revisit some of the buggiest, most broken game releases of the past. I'm actually skipping games with server problems because that's so commonplace that this list would be nothing but MMOs and Diablo III.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
This game was intended to be the triumpant return of a once-beloved mascot, like a number of games before and after its release. Unfortunately, the 2006 release of Sonic the Hedgehog was horrible. Boring gameplay, a horrible camera bad voice acting, painful loading times, and a host of insane bugs. Hardcore Sonic fans look at Sonic 2006 like parents finding out their child is a serial killer.
If you played the game, you probably remember falling through cliff or wall. Or perhaps floating aimlessly into space? Sonic and company disappear, reappear, and teleport; sometimes you'll just die for no damn reason. What did Sega want you to do at that last death? I'm not sure they knew either.
Battlefield 4 was last year's "do developers just release broken games now" title. EA DICE's massive AAA first-person shooter was a beautiful game, when it ran well. I'm not a big modern military FPS fan, but I still enjoyed Battlefield 4's single-player and multiplayer on PlayStation 4. Of course, during the course of my review, the game crashed and corrupted my save twice.
In addition to the aforementioned PS4 crashes and game save corruption, the PC version also crashed desktop frequently due to issues with DirectX. Playing with Nvidia cards - the way it's meant to be played - meant that you could expect sound looping and flickering graphics. AMD cards? Red screen of death. And multiplayer was a big problem, which is odd considering that's why many players bought Battlefield 4 in the first place. To this day, Battlefield 4 players are still complaining that the game is broken, despite EA heavily promoting the next title in the franchise, Battlefield: Hardline.
Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is the title that proves that you can release a glitchy, buggy game that people will still love. Skyrim was full of random glitches, with teleporting NPCs, physics problems, disappearing and floating models, and the occasional broken AI.
All that is before you get to the game-breaking bug on Skyrim for PlayStation 3. System memory issues meant that some players could drop 50+ hours into the title and find the game's framerate dropping to nearly zero. The issue would even carry over into a new save! Bethesda released a number of patches to fix the issue, each with varying results, but many were surprised such a release headed out the door at all.
Fallout: New Vegas
Another title using Bethesda's game engine, Fallout: New Vegas was plagued with similar bugs. Citizens of New Vegas would disappear or clip through the landscape. Sometimes, they'd become invinicble, preventing you from finishing certain quests. Add in the broken AI and occasional stuck animation loops and you have a game where fans actually look forward to finding new bugs.
On Xbox 360, the auto-save feature had to be turned off to prevent it from corrupting your save. On PC, sometimes the game just froze for no reason. On PlayStation 3, sometimes your field of vision would just go blurry. Forever. New Vegas, like Fallout 3 before it, was a cornucopia of new and interesting ways to lose valuable game time. (Yes, I still love both games.)
Ultima IX: Ascension
At the time of its release, Ultima IX was considered to be the conclusion of the fan-favorite RPG series. It went big, opting for full 3D graphics at a time when not every player had the rig to run such a game. Ultima IX had an open-world to explore and hours of quests and side-quests to complete. Unfortunately, there were problems. Here, this is better said in someone else's words.
"Though this review has been waxing lyrical on the excellent play aspects of Ultima IX, it is with great sadness that the great game design, excellent production values, and fantastic gameplay is so thoroughly sabotaged by the largest collection of fatal bugs that PC gaming has seen in a major release since Battlecruiser 3000 AD," said one review at the time.
"Beyond that, save games get corrupted, crashes are routine, the AI performs erratically, quest specific bugs often halt your progress, and some nasty memory-leaks make the game run slower the longer you play it. A RPG is supposed to be the sort of game you become engrossed in for hours. Here, it's a miracle if you can play for 15 minutes and be able to save your game before the onslaught of the blue error-screen-of-death."
This was back in 1999, folks.
Battlecruiser 3000 AD
Let's roll right along into the title mentioned in the last entry: Battlecruiser 3000 AD. This PC game was in development for nearly a decade, with creator Derek Smart promising the best space simulation game ever. The rights jumped between four different companies before Take-Two Interactive finally published it in 1996.
The game was completely unplayable at launch and even the features that worked fell far below what Smart had originally promised. Constant crashes were the norm, functions existed in-game that did nothing, the campaign couldn't progress past the second mission, and the manual was absolutely no help in understanding the game. The developer later improved Battlecruiser 3000 AD with version 2.0, but even that wasn't enough to fix the mess.
Two Worlds from developer Reality Pump and publisher SouthPeak Interactive is another one of those "promise heaven, deliver hell" titles. Like the Elder Scrolls games, Two Worlds tried to sell players on a high-fantasy game where you could explore an open-world and craft your unique character. Reality Pump actually delivered on part of that promise, but the rest of the game simply didn't work.
Some quests were outright broken. Occasionally, you'd be fighting an enemy and your attacks would just miss. Like the rest of the ambitious RPGs on this list, NPCs operated in a different reality: they would walk through walls and disappear at random. The most game-breaking bug involved quest items that would randomly vanish from your inventory. They were just gone, as were your hopes of completing the game. Its sequel had similar issues, but the first game had it worse.
Red Dead Redemption
Here's yet another well loved title with a host of bugs and issues. Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption remains one of the best Western games ever released, but it had issues when it first launched. Players can find themselves stuck in certain buildings or teleported to a completely different location. NPCs and objects do the same. Some models would mysteriously switch, leading to people flying like birds, cougars turning into men, or having Marston's horse replaced with a lady.
Even beyond those open-world glitches, Red Dead Redemption's multiplayer was completely borked. You couldn't connect to online games, there was heavy lag, other player models would be missing, some NPCs were headless, and auto-aim would occasionally not work. Rockstar tried a host of fixes, but eventually they just gave up and walked away.
There is a point to this trip down memory lane. As our games have gotten more complex, the number of bugs and glitches that persist past Q&A have grown. The bigger the game, the more interesting the glitches you'll run into.
Does this mean you should just accept them? No. It's still a product you paid for. When players find glitches, bugs, or missing features, developers should attempt to fix them. Game performance should always be at the top of developer's mind. But things do go wrong and it's not worth utterly crucifying developers over, unless the bugs in question are egregious in nature. Even in that case, a civil group of concerned players is better than a cynical or angry mob. Strive to be that civil group of concerned players.
And developers, let's beef up that quality assurance, eh? (Not that this is all on Q&A.) Save yourself some of the eventual hassle while you're in development.