Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Busting Bugs and Fixing Exploits

BioWare posted another developer blog titled "Busting Bugs and Fixing Exploits". In it Rich Vogel talks about BioWare's process for fixing bugs and exploits. Here's an excerpt from the full blog post:

Let me start by explaining how we go about determining when to fix an issue in the live game, whether it is a bug or an exploit. Let’s begin with exploits – those cases when we determine that a bug in the code can give an unfair advantage to a player. (Remember, not all bugs are exploits!)

If an exploit is discovered that threatens players’ experience in the game or the in-game economy, we will usually try to create an Emergency Patch to fix that exploit. Before we declare something an emergency though, we have to validate the issue with our internal Quality Assurance, or QA team. They gather data working with our Customer Service, analytics, and development teams to determine the extent of the exploit and the steps needed to reproduce it. Once we have the steps, we work on a plan to fix the issue. Depending how long the issue will take to fix and how risky it is, we will decide if we need to temporarily disable the cause of the exploit in the game.

To those more familiar with the process of developing a game most of it probably won't come as a surprise. But even so it's good to be reminded that fixing bugs can be a complicated process. Just because you run into a bug that seems like a simple thing to fix doesn't mean that it'll get fixed immediately. And just because it might take a while to get fixed doesn't mean that they're ignoring the bug. Games are very complicated things, MMOs more so than most (particularly an MMO that's live as you want to avoid introducing new bugs even more than you otherwise would).

They are most definitely fixing bugs though, as anyone keeping an eye on the continuous stream of patch notes can attest.

After the break a number of links from across the web and the developer quotes.

Let's start off with something amazing. Fans have remade Star Wars: A New Hope in 15-second segments. Fans registered for specific 15 second blocks and then remade them in any way that they desired, leading to a patch-work of live-action, animation, claymation, computer graphics, ASCII-art, etc. Considering that they remade the entire, over two hours long, movie that's over 480 15-second segments by my count. Here's the result:

I haven't seen the entire movie yet (it's over two hours long), but a personal favorite from what I did see is at about 50 minutes in the scene where Han shoots Greedo (first) in LucasArt adventure-style (making me feel all nostalgic). Peaceful planet indeed.

Back to more serious matters, IGN has an interview with James Ohlen. Here's an excerpt:

IGN: What were some of the challenges you faced while developing this MMO?

Ohlen: It's probably the most challenging project Bioware has ever done or that I have ever worked on. I would maybe call it the most challenging project ever published because the scope of the game is immense and we have so many different worlds and some of those worlds are huge. We have hundreds of thousands of lines of dialogue. We have tens of thousands of characters. There are hundreds of hours of gameplay. That's a lot of game creation you have to do. There are so many art assets, so many stories to write, so many voices to record, so many events to script. The other challenge was to live up to and push beyond the expectations that MMO games like World of WarCraft have created. Players aren't going to understand if you don't have industry standard features. It's been a big challenge making sure that we can put in all of those features into our game at game launch or shortly thereafter. Whenever you're building a game from scratch, which is the case with Star Wars: The Old Republic, we're not building off of some existing Bioware engine. We had to build a large engine, which is always a challenge.

There are some nice insights in the interview, though I think nothing really new to those who've been following the game for a while and have heard BioWare say it all before at one point or another.

One "variety gaming commentator" that I enjoy watching from time to time (ever since I saw his Guild Wars 2 preview playthrough videos) is Cinical Brit Totalbiscuit. And now he has a 'video' interview with Gabe Amantangelo:

I've heard some people say that they find his voice irritating. I have no such problem myself and tend to enjoy hearing his thoughts. I originally came to his videos because I enjoyed hearing him discover things in the game he was playing (GW2), thing I've long since known about, while he clearly also seems to know his games. And I think that this is quite a decent interview with Mr. Amantangelo even if it probably covers more things than fall under his purview.

Over on IGN they have an editorial where the writer worries about finishing his class story (note that there are some slight spoilers for the Sith Inquisitor story without any real marking). Here's an excerpt:

My main concern is what happens when the story ends. I'll meet no new quest givers who care what I do or fear what I say. I'll run through the same corridors of enemies time and time again for a percent chance to achieve a reward. I'll play the same Warzones until I'm dressed in the same pointed hat or feathery armor as everyone other Sorcerer at the level cap. No longer will I be a Sith Lord. I'll be just another MMO player running on a galactic treadmill. The fantasy will be over, the mystique gone.

I think that it is a valid concern. I'm level 49 right now and have at least one more full planet to go after I finish the current one. And I'm sure that there's still story after that, but the end of my story is getting near. I've already decided that after I finish my Agent's class story and wrap up a few other things (I haven't seen many of the Flashpoints yet and I'll probably go on a datacron hunt across all the planets) I'll switch to the other side and play a Consular from one to fifty. That should be good for at least another two months. And after that I might toggle back and forth like that playing through different classes, but I suspect that I'll be tired of seeing the same planet and side quests again. Maybe another alignment will refresh some interest in those, or maybe by that time something new will come around to play instead.

I'm fine with that though. From the beginning I've said that I'll play The Old Republic for as long as it's enjoyable to me. And it's up to BioWare to continue to keep the game interesting for me; it's not to me to slog through boring and uninteresting content until maybe something fresh might come around. And yes, BioWare might not be able to continue to keep things fresh at such a rapid pace. But that's the choice they made when they decided to make a (developer) story-heavy MMO. Stories end and when they do my time with TOR ends. With no regrets and full of fond memories I'm sure.

Who knows. Just as IGN's Charles Onyett I might even return later for a few more chapters. Though by that time the subscription fee indeed will be a barrier to entry. For now I'm just still immensely enjoying the game (everything except that Avatar of Sel-Makor I ran into last night) and we'll see where things go when we get there.

On a more serious note it seems that, as reported by a number of sites (including Kotaku), last week some close-minded idiots decided that they needed to feel offended by something that's not even in The Old Republic yet: homosexual relationships with Companions. This particular group is called the "Family Research Council" and to be honest I find their 'warning' particularly hilarious and depressing at the same time as you can't write something more stupid if you tried:

In a new Star Wars game, the biggest threat to the empire may be homosexual activists! Hello, I'm Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. In a galaxy not so far far away, Star Wars gamers have already gone to the dark side. The new video game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, has added a special feature: gay relationships. Bioware, the company that developed the game, said it's launching a same-sex romance component to satisfy some complaints. That surprised a lot of gamers, since Bioware had made it clear in 2009 that "gay" and "lesbian" don't exist in the Star Wars universe. Since the announcement, homosexuals have been celebrating the news, but parents sure aren't. On the game's website, there are more than 300 pages of comments–a lot of them expressing anger that their kids will be exposed to this Star Warped way of thinking. You can join them by logging on and speaking up. It's time to show companies who the Force is really with!

It's interesting to read how people can warp facts to sound in their favor, how one can misconstrue things to sound like the exact opposite of what they really do. It's fascinating really. For example, look at how they completely misinterpret BioWare's statement on the words "gay" and "lesbian" not existing. They're reading it as gay and lesbian persons not existing while in actuality, as I understand it, the words don't exist because it's so normal for people to be gay or lesbian that amidst the numerous inter-species relationships there's no need to have special words for it. Or how they presume to speak for "parents". Technically their statement is accurate as I'm sure that there are parents who aren't 'celebrating the news', but they make it sound like all parents are opposed to it. Or how the thread they refer to (which I think was one wiped with the rest of the forum on launch) might've been that long, but only because most people were happy with it. Twenty people might be considered "a lot" by some counts. Indeed, I feel that that many people still having an issue with homosexual relationships in a game is not just a lot, but far too many.

And yes, I do find that funny. Because any well-reasoning human being will see it for the hate-mongering that it is. Because they only make themselves look like the fools that they clearly are. And because this will only increase interest in the game and cause people to want to try the game because of it. The humor I can see in it is only tempered by the sad thought that there are still so many people so blinded by their fear and hatred. I'm just glad that the rest of us can stand above that and pity them instead of hate them back in turn.

And to lighten the mood a bit, thanks to Kotaku again, a Star Wars song-and-dance video:

IGN wrote a review a few weeks ago (which I already posted here a while back). But now they've followed it up with views from a number of other IGN staff to give "a broader sense of the game". Here's an excerpt:

Though, as solid and refined as the MMO gameplay is, I'm a bit tired of that formula. I know it works, but I was hoping for something more or newer. As neat as the classes are, they still fall into the trap of the Holy Trinity Featuring Tank, Healer, and DPS. BioWare breaks out of that box a little bit, but I was hoping that the studio was more daring in defining, rather than refining, MMO concepts.

I think that overall the tone of the various people was generally quite positive towards the game. I think that the bit above was probably the most negative one, and a complaint that I've heard before. In fact the main complaint people seem to have is that the mechanics aren't all that new. And for people who aren't that interested in the story telling and who have seen the same mechanics a dozen time over in other MMOs I can understand that the game isn't that much fun. Beyond that people seem to quite enjoy it still, oftentimes despite themselves I think. And I think that these second looks generally reflect that and probably give a fairly accurate sense of how the game is perceived by various people.

On to the developer quotes then.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on ability delay.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on C2-N2 in combat.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on workbenches.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Legacy System.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on ability delay improvements.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on workbenches, part 2.
  • [link] to Joveth Gonzalez on manual patching.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on read-only forums.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on maintenance timing.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on white lightsaber crystal.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on white lightsaber crystal.
  • [link] to Joveth Gonzalez/Avi Mintz on performance issues.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on white lightsaber crystal, part 2.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Queen of Sands.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on datamined content.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on datamined content.

The first quote that I want to pull out is one by Georg Zoeller, not so much for its content but more for its style:

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you in response to your complaint about our product, the C2-N2 droid. We regret that you are experiencing difficulties with this award winning, state of the art household droid.

Sadly, we have to inform you, that the C2-N2 droid, and its Imperial counterpart, the 2V-R8 autonomous ship maintenance unit, are not rated for combat at this time.

Several regrettable incidents, including the loss of a full squad of SIS operatives (apparently triggered by a malfunctioning speech unit voicing its congratulations to the undercover team during a deep cover infiltration mission), have lead the Republic Technical Support Corps to revoke the combat certification from these units and forced us to replace the 'advanced weapon and martial training ROM' from the programming of the unit.

These facts have been clearly disclosed to customers at time of sale, as well as in the programmatic introductory conversation program voiced upon owner transfer.

For this reason, we cannot take responsibility for your problems.

We are however pleased to announce that future updates to the unit's artificial intelligence core will dramatically increase the efficiency of it's emergency medical protocol features - and add some other, more questionable features.

The C2 Droid Corporation is also pleased to announce that we have started investigations into a new line of droid casings and cores, aimed at improving the efficiency of the unit's assembly and construction features. No official release date for this line of top end equipment has been determined at this point.

We thank you for your interest in our product.

The Management

C2-N2 - The only thing that crits is his voice in your earchannel!

I can't help myself; I always love it when developers get in-character in ways like this. As you can see he's talking about the droid Companions that you get with your ship. And I'm intrigued as to what "questionable features" they're planning to include in the future.

On a more serious note Mr. Zoeller also made a post about the ability delay issue:

As you guys have noticed (and probably read in the patch notes), one major part of our series of ability delay improvements was patched onto the live servers with the maintenance last night (patch 1.1.0b). We decided that the improvements seen with this fix were significant enough for us to roll this patch out as quickly as possible instead of waiting for the next scheduled patch.

Your feedback from the servers so far indicates that this change has had dramatic, positive impact on combat gameplay.

That said, we're not done improving combat responsiveness!

  • As mentioned in my blog a few days ago, there are some additional fixes currently on our public test server as part of patch 1.1.1, which will roll out as soon as we're satisfied with that patch.
  • We've heard your mixed feedback regarding the new cooldown animation that was part of patch 1.1, and we have improvements to the readability of that UI coming down the pipe.
  • We're looking into improving the accuracy of cast bars. Their behavior should already be significantly improved with today's patch, but we believe there is still room to improve.
  • We're also working on improvements to the responsiveness of individual ability animations, including faction specific timing differences and issues where shortening an ability activation time does not properly shorten it's animation.
Again, thank you for your constructive feedback on this issue, it has been vital to us in identifying and resolving this situation.



Since his post patch 1.1.1 has gone live and as I recall from the patch notes should include the fixes he's talking about. I can't say to what degree they make a difference though since I haven't really experienced the issue, but I'm sure that it's good news for those who did have problems.

As I noted above I'm currently playing an Imperial Agent. And on that character I don't really care what color my sniper bolts are. But once I switch to my Consular I was planning to go with an all-white theme; white outfit and, yes, a white lightsaber. So I've been keeping a close eye on a thread trying to figure out how to get the crystal ingame. Signs seemed to point to the crystal not being in the game anymore (it used to be in the game in beta), though some customer report feedback contradicted that.

Then someone posted proof that he'd gotten a white crystal. But to be honest he was kind of a dick about it. He refused to tell people how to get it, was rather abusive claiming he was there "to make enemies", etc. Overall the kind of person any decent person wouldn't want to associate with. But still, people tried their best to get the crystal and activity flared as people where investigating several angles regarding how to do it.

Then Allison Berryman and Steven Reid saying that he got the crystal unfairly and that it isn't actually currently accessible ingame. Here's Steven's post:

Unfortunately the actions of the player in question were intentional and deliberate. As well as the item being removed, further action was taken on this player's account. This was not an 'easy exploit', and not something the average player might 'stumble upon'.

Beyond that, we will not be commenting further - either on the player's method of obtaining the crystal or actions on their account.

Right now, it is not possible to legitimately obtain a White Lightsaber Crystal in the game through any gameplay method. In the future, it will be possible to legitimately obtain. When that day comes, we'll let you know so you can go about obtaining the crystal for your characters.

Again, we apologize for not commenting sooner as our investigation was ongoing.

While I'm saddened that it isn't possible to (legitimately) get a white crystal at the moment, I can't help but feel that justice has been served. Of course, the affected player now claims that BioWare is lying. But considering that I know BioWare to act fairly and professionally and this guy continually acts like a little kid I'll take the word of the developers over someone calling himself "EliteHaxzoR1". There seem to be a lot of gaps in the guy's story.

[EDIT] Actually, thinking on it, maybe we should be thankful. Without the guy illegally obtaining the crystal BioWare wouldn't have made an official statement that the crystal isn't currently in the game and we would've still been in the dark about it, lots of people wasting even more hours trying to find it. Now at least people can take a step back and enjoy other parts of the game until BioWare says "it's in now... go find".

With that little drama episode behind us it's now waiting for them to include the crystal in the game. And hope that I'll be able to actually get it.

Finally, Avi Mintz posted (through Joveth Gonzalez) a big guide trying to help people improve their performance. Here's an excerpt from the full post:

Hi everyone!

As Joveth mentioned above, my name is Avi Mintz and I’m the Associate Project Manager for the client engineering team.

Developing an MMORPG of this scale and detail means we must support a wide spectrum of performance-impacting scenarios, varied hardware compatibility issues and other unique challenges. Input from our community goes a long way to bolster our investigation efforts and narrow down elusive resolutions to these problems.

To that end, we’re hoping that we can start an open dialogue with you, the community; some of you have called out for this, others have taken the time to publish write-ups, and we are looking forward to collaborating with you to make this game a fantastic journey and a memorable experience for all involved.

Please remember, we read the forums and identify actionable items as often as possible, as well as receiving reports from the Community team on a regular basis. Although we can’t always respond with the frequency or immediacy that you might like, whenever an issue is raised to us, a developer is alerted and assigned to the issue. We prioritize to ensure that the identified issues that affect the largest number of players are dealt with first, but we are always working on whatever we have outstanding.

In this post, I’ll get a little more detailed into our client preferences and suggest some settings changes that may help you. In the future, we’ll update you on our optimization plans as we address known issues. Now that you know a little bit more about our processes, let’s get started.

Read the full post on the official forums. Overall it's a big explanation of what the various settings mean and how they can impact performance, some advice to help you identify problems and improve them, and assurances that posting details about your problems have helped and continue to help them fix any potential issues. Though I think that a lot of PC gamers will be well familiar with optimizing their system, it might still be a good read. Particularly if you're having problems.

And that's it for now.

[link] to Star Wars Uncut: Director's Cut at YouTube.
[link] to interview with James Ohlen at IGN.
[link] to Totalbiscuit interview with Gabe Amantangelo at YouTube.
[link] to engame editorial at IGN.
[link] to 'Gay Empire' news at Kotaku.
[link] to Second Opinions at IGN.

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