Serotonin: Bugs: turning fun games into hogwash

January 17, 2014


Graham has told me I’m an overly positive person and I’m inclined to agree. I have 75 “friendly” commendations in Dota 2, a game that will test, bend and break friendships before turning you into a raving maniac with the patience of a honey badger and the tact of a cynical, angry drunk.  I can be unnecessarily optimistic to the point of frustration; am I putting on an act? Or am I so completely ignorant of my surroundings that I’m blissfully unaware and won’t acknowledge that the ship is sinking? I’d say a bit of both.

But, I’m not feeling positive today. I’m not feeling happy, polite, tactful, appreciative or friendly. I’m having a hard time finding a job, a harder time figuring out why, an even harder time explaining to people why I’ve been unemployed for the last 9 months and the hardest time deciding what I want to do with my life. That was all before I didn’t get a role for a play I auditioned for, so things haven’t exactly been going my way.

I’d earned a bit of money doing side jobs here and there so I decided to try and cheer myself up by splurging on a new(ish) game. I wanted something I could lose myself in. Life is fantastic, despite my current struggles, but I needed something else: A different identity. I needed a fantasy setting in which I didn’t have to send out resumes or fixate on a specific career path. I decided to give Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn a try.

Early reviews of Final Fantasy XIV were awful; server and gameplay issues were at the top of the complaint list. Sure, the game looked great, but it simply wasn’t fun. In such a competitive environment, that’s not going to cut it. If Square Enix is going to compete with World of Warcraft and the dozens of other popular MMOs, it was going to have to go back to the drawing board.

Square Enix has since released a second version of the game, renaming it Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. The completely obvious name tells the users this is nothing like the first edition of FFXIV, and that is absolutely right. Reviews were much stronger, praising the accessibility, the detailed environments and flexibility of progressing your character. While my initial perception of the game isn’t mind-blowing, I’m finding myself totally gushing over how much it feels like a traditional Final Fantasy game. The menus are crisp, the writing is strong, the music is stellar and I’m a sucker for the in-game achievements and missions. It doesn’t feel revolutionary, but I don’t need revolutionary right now. I need comfort, exploration and a sense of wonder. So far, the game is hitting all the points I need it to.


So, back to angry Henry. Where does FFXIV fit into my foul mood? Things went downhill when setting up an account with the Square-Enix store. You’d think, in the year 2014, that there would be some form of standardization for making the process of buying an online product hassle free, but no – not even close. It was maddening; a combination of the system not recognizing my password, the system not recognizing me inputting the “type out this wacky series of numbers to prove you’re not a computer” thing, Square-Enix’s emails not showing properly in my university email account, the download stopping inexplicably three times and the game crashing near the end of the intro video. “No, you can’t skip the intro video,” the game helpfully told me. I told the game, helpfully, that it could go choke on a cactus, but that didn’t help.

The point is, extraneous hogwash like this can sour an experience and frustrate the player to the point of them putting the game down, forever. That won’t happen with me and FFXIV (past the account hoopla, I’ve had a hassle-free experience), but it’s happened to me in other games. The tragedy is, these examples aren’t bad games at all; they are quite good. But bugs and extra hogwash completely undermine what the games are trying to do: entertain me.

Most games have a bug here or there. There has to be; most modern video games require millions of lines of code. It’s impossible to completely anticipate all player behavior and any variables that might glitch up the system. But surely more testing was required for Magicka before letting it loose on the public.

Magicka is an action-adventure game based on Norse mythology by Swedish developer Arrowhead Game Studios. It is overflowing with humor and personality. The graphics are appealing, the vampire narrator has some great moments and it has a huge emphasis on co-operative team play. Your magician undertakes a journey through caves, mountains, dungeons and snow-capped mountains blasting spells at anything that moves. Different weapons can be equipped and, the best part, spells require quick key combinations to cast. Each spell has a “recipe” starting with Q, W, E, R, A, S, D and F. The core gameplay is fantastic: typing out spells in the heat of battle requires high dexterity, and skilled players will remember spell combinations quickly. It rewards experimentation and experience. The magical attacks look and feel great. So what’s the problem?


As Will Smith says in Men in Black 2, “We got a bug in the electrical system.” Trying to get myself and two friends started felt like some sort of psychotic, emotion-based experiment. What’s that? The game crashed after the intro video? Well, let’s see how Henry reacts when we make him go through it six more times before everyone can start playing properly. The save files were more like a recommendation to the computer instead of a guarantee that you’ll be able to continue from your last spot. Constant glitches and crashes made the game an exhausting experience. I’m glad to hear it’s selling well and the developers have fixed many of the problems through expansion sets, but I’ll never go back. The game was fun, but the experience was not.

Fallout: New Vegas is another prime example. I just recently finished it and had a blast. The world is massive and lends itself to multiple playthroughs; there are so many different ways to build your character, it makes my head hurt thinking about them. New Vegas has more personality than Fallout 3, and the story is stronger. More personalities, towns, decisions and side quests mean you will be easily entertained for hundreds of hours. It’s impressive a game like this can even be made.

But man alive, how many times is this game going to crash? This isn’t new for Bethesda games; nearly all its recent entries receive criticism for this. I can only imagine the testing team it gathered to try and work out all the bugs, but it wasn’t big enough. I nearly broke my quicksave button playing through this one. Constant, constant crashes plagued the experience. The mod community is massive for Fallout: New Vegas and there are more than a few files you can manually install to stabilize the system and reduce the bugs and crashes. But I don’t want to do that, nor should I have to.

New Vegas

It’s tragic. The game is fantastic! Memorable characters, hilarious dialogue and a huge amount of variation, not just in character building, but endings too. Sadly, I couldn’t appreciate any of those things because the game wouldn’t let me get the ending I wanted. I had a special chip that I needed to use to access a secret bunker, or rather, I thought I did. I must not have gotten it from Mr. House. I traveled all the way back to the main strip and saw Mr. House. Nope, he says I have the chip. I went back to the secret bunker. I got a message saying I need the chip to access the bunker. I checked my inventory; there was no special chip. This is the kind of stuff that will permanently raise my blood pressure.  So I had to reload my save file, replay a few hours and get back to the point I was stuck on with the special chip.

I really shouldn’t have to do this. I shouldn’t have to worry about account nonsense. I have money, I want to play the game. Make it as simple as possible. The message that Square Enix displays in the event of an error is to make a new account. If you’re having trouble logging in and can’t figure out a solution, make a new account, as if that would fix the pre-existing problem. This can’t be reality. I can’t exist in a universe like this. It has to be some cosmic prank on my psyche. Make a new account? I can’t even get one account to work!

I’m not going to pretend that I understand how insanely difficult it must be to make a bug-free game. I barely understand the fundamentals of what code does and how to make it do things. What I’m saying is that otherwise-great games are marred by these kinds of experiences. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go work on fixing the bugs in my life. If only reality had save points…