Have you ever bought a game that looked like it had potential, if only bugs would be addressed? Have you ever waited patiently for a patch to address bugs, and find out that what the devs release might possibly fix some bugs (but more likely not), but added a bunch more? Have you ever seen bugs posted again and again on forums, only to get one of the following replies?
- This is not the appropriate place to post this
- Did you email this in? If you didn’t email it in, we don’t know about it, despite countless posts about it here which we obviously read and a QA department
- We are unable to reproduce this bug that apparently affects everyone who posts here
- WTF U SUX NWN R00LZ!
For those of you who wisely chose not to suffer through the interminable beta test that is Neverwinter Nights, here are some of the highlights of the post-final development process so you can feel more immersed…
- NWN goes final after about 5 years of dev cycle and an indeterminately short testing period. Game is released, it basically works in single player. In multiplayer people get mad errors trying to get into other games, blackscreening or crashing all the time. The ICB (Invalid Charcter Bug) rears its ugly head, destroying the ability to log into the game after about 64 or so login/logout events. This doesn’t crash the server, though, so you don’t know anything is wrong unless you try to log in and get a blank page where your server vault characters should be.
- Bioware releases a number of patches which more or less work, but fail to address major issues, up until 1.21.
- 1.21 gets released. The worst thing thast happens here is that Sony changes its SecuROM wrapper (apparently without telling anyone, if this can be believed), making the game unplayable for many people and reputedly going so far as to cause CD drive malfunctions serious enough to destroy play discs. (The new SecuROM wrapper no longer reads subchannel data, instead looking through your registry without permission to find "bad" keys that would probably be used by a pirate, like keys for Nero and for subchannel CD burners. It doesn’t work very well though, and people without a CD-R or any burning software are suddenly unable to play.) Luckily, this completely gamebreaking bug covers up a number of other incredible issues that arose, like reversing size modifiers for both Disarm and Knockdown, causing the dagger to be the most feared weapon in the hands of a smart fighter, and the mighty halfling to be the best dragon fighter in the game as he constantly knocks the target on its ass. In addition, ExportAllCharacters() now causes crashes under common circumstances, like a player in a transition at the time of export. As a side benefit, Bio implements the automatic and mandatory destruction of creature skins on players via Enforce Legal Characters and Item Level Restriction, thus removing an incredibly useful tool for admins running a persistent world or implementing subrace properties, because it might affect play in Contest of Champions, which is also packaged in the patch for no apparent reason.
- Forum feedback is huge on the debacle that is 1.21. Bioware claims to be unable to reproduce some of the major bugs, and simply ignores others publicly. Derek French and others deny that anything at all has changed vis a vis SecuROM. Later on they would claim that it had changed but they were unaware of it, and that it is probably a minor issue since it affects "only a small handful of users." The frequency of patch releases drops drastically from their previous 1 per week or so, as they suddenly realize that maybe QA checks might b a good idea before inflicting game breaking bugs on their user base.
- Bioware bides its time, aggressively addressing bugs and gameplay issues by releasing even more PvP arena modules nobody wants to play.
- 1.22 comes out, with the same SecuROM wrapper. Most of the user base that was affected by SecuROM has by now either quit playing, reverted to 1.20, or resorted to a no-CD hack so they can play the damn game, proving how effective copy protection is at discouraging piracy. Bioware and Infogrames have by now begun pointing the finger at each other on the forums for the SecuROM issue. Disgruntled players take a distinctly harsher tone in their posts, causing the typical replies of "You’re rude!" from fanbois who then ignore the issue. Bioware also introduces another mandatory fix, like their previous creature item break, which appends a script automatically onto the end of all conversations. This script fails to cause a creature to continue to walk waypoints if interrupted in midwalk by a conversation attempt.
- Bioware responds to the continuing problems with the game by releasing even more PvP modules, laggy versions of Battle Chess and Kaboom! for NWN, and other great add ons like a disco module and a Chickens vs. Penguins PvP mod (not kidding).
- Bioware releases v1.23 BETA for testing. When people install this, they discover that they cannot run the game at all, because Bio forgot to include a vital resource in the final package and didn’t bother to test it after packaging. This is an important clue for those who wish to understand the vigorous QA process there.
- 1.23 BETA 2 released. It now will allow you to start the game. It’s uncertain whether this is good or bad. The ICB bug seems to finally be quashed after rendering servers useless for a long time, at the cost of a new bug that core dumps your server process when you get more than 20 simultaneous users (this may be on Linux server only). People begin to notice an armor class bug where protection items are being counted twice, making high level characters and equipment-using monsters impossible to hit. It gets posted several times on the forum by Celestian. All of these posts are immediately responded to by Bioware’s Craig Welburn, who (1) claims this is the inappropriate forum to post it, without saying what the appropriate forum is, (2) locks the thread, (3) asks him if he’s emailed the bug in even though he’s obviously read it at least 3 times, and (4) threatens to ban Celestian.
- 1.23 final is released, AC bug and all. Incidentally, to date the mighty halfling, dagger of instant disarming, and a huge bug in the single player game having to do with the Host Tower, have not been fixed since 1.21. Another exciting bug is introduced where the previous script imposed on conversations now not only fails to work, it also disables an Action command during the conversation. Builders project that the 1.24 version of this conversation issue will fail to work, disable all other script calls from within a conversation, and flash your motherboard’s BIOS automatically.
- Kynn gets pissed off and posts angrily, which is good enough to actually get attention since he’s so vitriolic that he gets a lot of replies. Some of these are amusing, particularly the one by Iain Stevens-Guille claiming they have been working on it "all week." Which is better, to be totally ignorant of such a horrid bug on release of your patch, or to have known about it and release anyway? Obviously the bug was introduced with 1.23, so it’s not an ongoing issue from earlier iterations.
- Austicke attempts to draw attention to the bug in a calmer fashion, and gets his thread locked by Craig Welburn for his trouble. The moral of this story is that you need to be incredibly evil and insulting in order to bring things to light on the Bio forums.
Meanwhile, our module design plods along, everyone living in fear of what the next patch will break. Looking at all the interesting and good systems that have been introduced, I can’t help but wonder which one will be broken next by a design decision to improve play in Chickens vs. Penguins. Having already rewritten several of them 4 times, I’m not looking forward to this possibility.
In case anyone makes it this far, here are some of the gameplay/engine bugs that still exist in 1.23 "final":
- ARMOR CLASS BUG, protection items being counted twice for actual AC to hit rolls but not for character sheet display (introduced in 1.23)
- Linux servers core dumping at 21 simultaneous users (also introduced in 1.23)
- Disarm feat reverses weapon size for bonus calculation
- Knockdown feat reverses character size for bonus calculation
- Swapping out a weapon in the right hand with a shield in the left allows a free attack
- Monk’s spell resistance at level 12+ stacks with items with SR
- A character in an alignment restricted class can still progress in that class on levelup after losing his alignment status by hitting "Recommended"
- Non-multithreaded script execution causes frequent "TOO MANY INSTRUCTIONS" errors in long execution time scripts, particularly those that check player inventory
- Horrible pathfinding algorithm causes excessive CPU load on randomwalking and waypoint walking critters
- WalkWaypoints script doesn’t seem to work at all post conversation
- ActionCommands in conversations appearing last are disabled by the nonfunctional WalkWaypoints
- Creatures still occasionally walk through walls despite the "fix" in 1.23
- 2 new scripting functions in 1.23 related to hiding/detect mode states do not work (in 1.24 they will probably break something, though, so they won’t be completely non-functional)
- TouchAttackRanged() and TouchAttackMelee() are not flagged as combat actions in the same manner as ActionAttack() and thus, cause combat to stop if they miss (posted by Raystonn)
- Saving while polymorphed results in unequippable and unusable items on reload
- Sound Burst sometimes loops doing 1d8 damage multiple times until the target is dead
- Disease/Poison sometimes loops similar to Sound Burst
- Monks at 20th level getting inconsistent appearance changes, like blue moustaches for female humans & half-elves, related to the change of racial type to "Native Outsider"
- Various issues related to the use of Gamespy as a gateway
- DelayCommand fails when using large values
- Useless curse filter in Gamespy Chat fails to parse multiple instances of a curse (not critical, but an amusing effect)
- Blindness cast on a target with Ultravision can crash your server
- Elemental Shield damage is not affected by elemental protections
- A parrying creature who executes a "free" riposte consumes one attack/parry
- Items with an OnHit Daze affect targets of > 5HD
- Sleep affects creatures above the listed HD range for Sleep
- Lagging can cause you to slip into the body of another creature/PC or object on the screen
I bet there are some more that I missed, but I’m getting sleepy. My prediction is that in about two weeks or so, our module will be finished and be ready to go live final, by which time most of these bugs will still be there, and some new ones introduced. However, the one good point about Neverwinter Nights is the ability to use the script functions to work around the horrible blunders made by the development team. This then is the core audience for NWN: those masochistic enough to pound through hours of code, unpaid, desperately trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.