Thursday, December 23, 2010

Professional failures

Modders sometimes draw outrage for not producing content that is quite "up to scratch" when compared with commercial games. However, sometimes I feel like professional developers need to do a bit better. With the recent bonanza of steam sales where games have been going on sale for ridiculous prices, I've made a few purchases. There are two titles that have raised my ire.

The first is Prince of Persia 2008. I'm not going to complain about the disconnect with the Sands of Time Trilogy, the new art direction, or anything like that, in fact I'm not actually qualified to talk about that, because I've barely played it. My complaint is technical, pure and simple. I fired it up and was presented with an entirely invisible world.

That's the prince in front of a cliff... supposedly

None of the textures appeared. They were all invisible. Having a Radeon 4850 with 512Mb DDR3, I was a little confused, as it should have more than enough texture memory to be able to cope with anything the game could throw at it. However, the shameful thing here was when I went searching for technical support. Ubisoft's support section had no articles whatsoever associated with the game. None. I've never encountered a game with no bugs, so I was more than a little surprised. So I sent a message to their technical support to find out how to rectify the problem.

Aside from the usual "update drivers/DirectX" suggestions (which I'd already addressed in my request) I was told that the game was not officially supported on Windows 7 (though it is on Vista) and that I should try to fix the problem using compatibility mode. It didn't work, but really... Windows 7 unsupported? I eventually "fixed" the problem by turning anti-aliasing off and dropping the graphical quality to "medium" instead of high... I'd be curious to know what differences that makes to the quality of the graphics. I suppose at least I can play it now, but I'm more than a little disappointed.

The other game I need to level a complaint at is Burnout Paradise. This one is simple. Let me exit the game. Pressing the ESC doesn't bring up a menu that allows me to quit the game. It brings up an information window. I don't care if you're porting a game or not. When the player hits the ESC key, they should get the main menu of the game, allowing them to do things like:
  • Resume the game
  • Save/Load the game (if applicable)
  • Configure controls
  • Configure sound/graphics options
  • Quit the game
Instead Burnout gives you this:

Huh? Where is my menu?

So based on that screen, you have to somehow realise that pressing F1 and F2 will rotate through different screens - apparently the small arrows next to the F1 and F2 keys are supposed to indicate this. Nevermind that you get a message down the bottom saying "F2 Burnout Store" as though hitting F2 will always take you to the Burnout store. It also takes at least three key presses to get to the "real" main menu, and you have to wait for each new screen to flip and display completely before you can move to the next one.

Yes, these are small things, but they add to the failings already present to cause some moderate aggravation. Navigating a UI should not be time consuming. It should be as quick as possible so that the player can get back to doing what the designers should want them to be doing - playing the game. I'm afraid I don't see any acceptable excuse for UI design this bad. Hitting ESC should give you a main menu. It's that simple.

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