Love is in the bug report

This week the bundle of joy which is 4.0.6 lands on the servers, weighing in at 12,643 words (and that’s just the patch notes) it’s not a minor update.  There are many changes, every class has something to adjust to, heroics are getting nerfed, buffed and tweaked all over the place and so on.  I won’t go into the details of the patch there are more than enough articles out there already drilling into the numbers and what’s right, what’s wrong and what is a completely (un)acceptable nerf to our favourite / most hated class.

Combine this with not one but two buggy holiday events, it’s a bit of a giggle being told to have a chat to someone in the Park district in Stormwind, or as the locals have re-named it “The Crater”, but that the LFD foul up, the goblin vendor not working and the rest of the list of bugs (such as having to hand in a bracelet to dead or missing faction leaders) the overall picture is pretty sorry.

From a fault perspective Cataclysm is what it says on the tin, a complete worldwide disaster.

The problems

Prior to launch many many bugs were reported on the beta forums and via the in-game tool (when it wasn’t buggy itself).  I know my aim within the beta was to explore and level as much as I could and report the problems I found in as much technical detail as possible.

I found many of the problems in the live version of the game.

The first month of the new expansion was a story of hotfixes, many many hotfixes.

4.0.6, it’s a monster, some of the changes I’m not surprised about, tweaking instance difficulty and raids, but the sheer amount of changes on the classes is disturbing, remember the bulk of these changes have were in beta for 4 four months or so, in alpha for longer.  That they got the modelling so wrong hints at some major problems with their internal design and tooling.

How on earth did this happen?

Partly it’s just nature taking it’s course, with any large system which has so many internal and external variables it’s inevitable that the final beta happens when it’s released to the whole user base and statistical analysis of what’s happening becomes more accurate.  Just because the amount of data being collected gets larger.

They also took on a task which looked seriously sexy on paper, nothing less than completely remaking the game from the point of rolling the character to the final boss.  We know from the blues which have come out since launch that part of the original aspiration with this expansion was to revisit every questline in the game, including TBC and Wrath to reflect the world wrenching changes.  From an immersion point of view the game is broken, we now roll a toon who sees the world shattered by the arrivial of Deathwing, spends the next 58-60 levels fighting his minions and the opposing faction before being told “Get thee through the portal!”, and we don’t hear about the big dragon dude again until riding the ship back from Northrend and seeing the damage again where we are told “there’s been a cataclysm”.

Yes.  We know.  We did help out with the Twilight muppets wrecking the place, or have you been smoking stuff from the gnomes again while hitting the dwarven ale?

Oh and can someone explain why I’m being told to deal with Arthas when there’s a statue celebrating his defeat?

Where was I?

It’s simple enough they ran out of time.

Aspirations (known)

  • Rebuild Vanilla for flying, redo all questlines, work in DW
  • Rebuild TBC to fit with the timeline
  • Rebuild Wrath to fit with the timeline
  • Dance Studio (No I was never going to use it, but it serves to illustrate the point)
  • Improved models for the original races
  • New zones, dungeons etc etc
  • New water engine
  • Completely re-work stats
  • Fix up all gear to match the changes
  • Path of the Titans
  • Archeology

Achieved

  • Rebuild Vanilla for flying, redo all questlines, work in DW
  • New zones, dungeons etc etc
  • New water engine
  • Completely re-work stats
  • Fix up all gear to match the changes
  • Archeology

Let’s be honest, what they managed to do was pretty solid, a massive amount of work.  However they reached too far and fell off the metaphorical ladder.

On launch Cataclysm was known to be buggy, this is not unusual but there are degrees to which this effect is seen in release code, which points at some internal structural issues.

Throw more programmers at it!

Nice idea, where from?  I know from experience that the people I want maintaining or supporting the software which is behind my day job all already work here, or they’ve left for pastures new.

“Hire more!” – Great in theory, however in practice this can only be a long term solution for the problem, typically it takes 2-3 months to get through internal red tape when hiring in any large company, get the advert out, review the CVs which come flying in, discard the obvious junk, interview and finally hire.  Then there is a 1-3 month delay before the new hire starts while they give notice and get out of the current gig.

That’s the quick bit.

The real problem behind “just hire” is that in any programming or support effort there is an absolute minimum 6 month period before the new hire has sufficient experience, training and exposure to the product to be nominally independant and realistially 12-18  months before you have a team member which can be pointed at a problem and told “sort it”.

Assuming there hasn’t been a foul up in the interview process and what you have is someone who really doesn’t fit / can’t do the job etc etc.  In which case go back to “Start” and try again.

So, why are the holidays so broken?

This is down to planning, the changes for the Winter & New year events were done during the Cataclysm development, simply because there would be zero time between launch and the events landing for anything to be done.

All other holidays could be put off.

In the lead up to Cata going gold the entire team would have been working on it, and in the ideal world planners work in as the product goes gold the team is split into those working on the outstanding issue, those working through the bug backlog and then the balance taken off the project completely to work on the other issues which need development (the next tier of raiding, new dungeons, planned features and.. the changes needed to the forthcoming holidays).

What I suspect happened is that the outstanding list of issues which needed fixing was just far far too large, too critical and the re-deployment of resource did not happen as planned and the holidays slipped massively and possibly slipped through the net and were forgotten.

The future

Regardless of the reason, whether my speculation is spot on or completely off, the problem is very real.  Blizzard are losing their reputation for releasing solid software, I do believe this is being driven by commercial pressures from Activision.  Whether this is due to Activision trying to milk Blizzard for maximum profit or bringing some much needed business control internally.  That’s open for debate.

However what they must do from now on is release a game which is not littered with bugs, it breaks the enjoyment and gives the impression that we’re just there to play the game, hand over our hard earned pennies but please shut the hell up about the bugs.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Cataclysm, Comment, Technology, Warcraft and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Love is in the bug report

  1. Peter Ellis says:

    Updating TBC and Northrend wasn’t ever claimed to have been planned for Cata, it’s always been left as a “yes, we’d like to some day”.

    The holiday issue is actually deeper seated. There used to be a dedicated small team led by Kisirani adding new holidays and updating the old ones. However, they apparently failed to realise that as you add more and more holidays, the task gets bigger and bigger. For the last two years or more, holidays have been rolling round in a non-updated and buggy state: bosses not updating to new levels, rewards not being updated, etc.

    I think that once they spun off holidays into a separate team, the bulk of the company lost sight of them completely, and had no idea how many quests, items, NPCs etc. holidays entail, nor how important they are to the playerbase. That says to me that the holiday team was overworked / undermanned, and nobody was paying attention even then. Some time around the start of last year, or even before, that “holiday team” was evidently disbanded, and holidays have been running unattended since – see for example the many Brewfest complaints last year. Note that Kisirani posted regularly up till 8/10/2009, and not a single post thereafter. I suspect she may have quit or been let go.

    When they got close to Cata release, the main Cata team opened up the holiday can of worms, went white with shock when they realised how big a job it was, frantically fixed the first few and then got overtaken by the other fixes needed.

Comments are closed.