Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fez Is Busted, Will Remain Busted


Oh boy.  Strap in for this one, kids, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

This was somewhat of a hot story yesterday that seems to have died down because...well, I'm not quite sure why.  I believe I'll submit a few theories towards the end here, but let's just start off with the facts, shall we?  So, I'm sure you've all at least heard of the game, Fez, considering it apparently has about five years of development under its belt, with the last two of them simply being release date delays and the like for the casual outsider.  It did, eventually, release to the surprise of most people, on XBLA all the way back in April and, surprising absolutely nobody, it was really really buggy.  As in, 'game-breaking problems' buggy.  As in, corrupt your save buggy.  This is important, do not forget it.  About a month later, specifically May 17th, the long-awaited patch was submitted to Microsoft and failed certification about a week later due to two 'critical issues'.  Truly a good omen and not a sign of things yet to come.  So it took some time, but around June 8th, a new build of the patch was submitted and was finally released June 22nd to the tune of everyone stating in a completely flat manner: "Do not use it."

This is because the patch, finally released, did manage to fix a number of the problems that were in the game since its release two months earlier, but it also introduced another one that, surprise had the nasty side-effect of corrupting your save game.  Again.  The only suggested method was to clear your 360's cache which, I will be honest in saying I have absolutely no idea how that would help, clearly because I am not a brilliant developer, but aside from that, not a whole lot could be done.  Because of the issue which, at the time was said to be "fairly widespread" (seriously, it's in the post go look at it), the patch was pulled and Polytron set to work on trying to patch the patch.  It was all really kind of sad, I suppose, and it just seemed like Polytron couldn't catch a break.  You take a look at stories like this and go "Well, this is one of the flaws of the 'indie' team, in that you don't have a whole lot of people and resources to test as extensively as larger developers" which is a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless.  And clearly, trying to give the people who have supported you the best product you can make is the goal.

...Unless it costs money to patch it a second time.  Then everybody can go get fucked.  While a bit over-dramatic on my part admittedly, that is unfortunately the message that I read, even though I'm not part of the people who are affected by the 'fairly widespread' problem.  Which apparently wasn't 'fairly widespread' if you believe Polytron, who are saying that the issue only affects under 1% of the people who played the game.  Which seems totally legit and I can't see any reason why that would be a falsehood at all or anything.  I would, of course, like to know just how this information was ascertained since I am apparently not savvy enough to know just how your save game getting corrupted can be reported back to the developer without going to loony "Big Brother" types of lengths.  Apparently included in this less-than-1% of people are generally people who have either beaten Fez or are close to the end of the game, which means that they are apparently people who have 'pretty much seen what Fez has to offer' which the implication is that they are fairly low-priority because of that.

We believe the save file corruption issue mostly happened to players who had completed, or almost completed the game. If you hadn’t already seen most of what FEZ had to offer, your save file is probably safe.

That's how that reads to me at least.  Maybe, again, I'm looking a little too hard into it and picking out stuff that isn't there or whatever.  But this is my post and this is pretty much where my editorializing starts, since I pretty much laid out the 'facts' as they are over the course of the end of Fez's journey through development to release to post-release support, such as it is.  Regardless, all that the above means is that the patch that was pulled because there was apparently a reason that it had to be pulled was put right back out for players to download against all previous warning because it's 'good enough'.  Because getting to the end of the game, going off to do....you know anything and coming back to a corrupt save is totally acceptable and we should all just go "Oh, Polytron, you jokesters, now I get to play your game again so I can see the ending!" Likely as canned laughter comes out of somewhere and the credits begin rolling.  Because this is not a realistic situation, you see, that's the joke.

Now, something that I feel I should put down before I go on any further; is everything on Microsoft's side perfectly acceptable, considering I'm of a mind that Polytron's position is not?  Of course not.  Many developers have said that the patch certification process (for the second and beyond patches to a game as everyone gets a free one, which I've stated) can be as expensive as $40,000, which is the number everybody is throwing around regardless.  While I understand that the members of the certification process have a very specialized task, are numerous in number to increase their overall effectivity and must be paid for their time, I really doubt they're seeing, as a whole, a good portion of the alleged $40,000.  I would go so far as to suggest that they barely see any of it, as QA testers (which I assume the Cert. board basically is) do not really have an enviable job in any aspect as the work is tedious, the conditions are often less-than-stellar and the pay is not supposed to be all that great.  So clearly, if the number is indeed $40,000, it's entirely too high, especially if that is attached to patch number two, number three, four, etc. individually.

So honestly, from a pure logistics angle, I can't -really- blame Polytron and/or Phil Fish (seeing as he gets tossed out regardless, he seems to have been thrust into a spokesperson seat for the developers and thus is held responsible accordingly) since if the numbers they're using are true (which we might as well assume they are, considering we're probably never going to get any other 'truth' of the situation) then it's ridiculous.  Let's use the 100,000 copies sold figure that was tossed out as the early earnings figure.  Obviously they've probably sold quite a few more of those, but it's a nice, easy number for math purposes.  (You didn't think you'd get out of a post like this without math from me, did you?) 100,000 copies at $10 a copy (yes yes, Microsoft points, blah blah, it's ten fucking dollars) is, obviously, a cool million that Polytron probably sees, like a half of, conservatively.  If that.  Using the <1% figure, that means that less than 1,000 people are affected by the issue.  Does it suck to be in that group of 999 people?  Absolutely.  But from a purely numbers stand-point (I have to stress the numbers part since I will be making a radical 180 next paragraph) it's very minute, considering that $40K is 8% of the, again, very conservative estimate regarding the net gains Polytron saw from Fez.

Here's the thing, though.  Just because it doesn't make sense from a numbers standpoint, that doesn't mean you get to be a dick about it.  Marginalizing people, looking at cost vs. profits and the like is a big part of what people dislike about big developers/publishers, and it's likely one of the driving forces behind Indie Gaming as a whole.  Since it's supposed to be about a person or small group of people with a vision and a little bit of programming talent bringing that vision to all of us in any manner possible.  In that vein, it's how we've seen such games as Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World from Zeboyd Games, and other such Indie 'darlings' as they've appeared over the last couple of years.  Just people who said "Hey, I want to make an awesome game" and then did so.  Steam was the most accommodating service for these people, apparently, so a lot of them went that direction.  Others (yes, like Zeboyd) turned to XBox Live Indie Games, considering it was a game development platform put out there for the very specific purpose of delivering the tools to make a game to Indie Devs and then giving them a platform to sell it from.  Of course, Microsoft doesn't seem very good at the latter part since XBLIG seems to get little attention, but that's a whole other story.

Saying "Thanks for the money, hope your save doesn't get corrupted, good luck!" is the very epitome of something you don't get to say in -any- circumstance if you are a developer.  No matter if you're an Indie Developer, a big-name one, or whatever, this is simply something that you don't get to do without expecting justified backlash.  The fact that Microsoft is a big company and expects you to pay when you screw up absolves you of exactly zero.  And honestly, the thing that annoys me the most with this whole situation is that instead of just thinking for precisely -one minute- or any other quantifiable amount of time, Polytron dusted off the Indie soapbox and hopped onto it, despite how silly doing so is, all things considered.  "THE MAN is oppressing us!  This is why Indie things are superior!  RA RA!  They want a large sum of money so we can fix our thrice-bugged game!"  All said after paying for the XBLA exclusivity (which entitles, among other things, a rather sizeable amount of advertising, thus ensuring your game likely sells fairly well) and going on record as saying they went with XBLA purely because Fez is a console game, one that you have to play, and enjoy, on a console whilst sitting on your couch or such.

“Fez is a console game, not a PC game,” he states, emphatically. “It’s made to be played with a controller, on a couch, on a Saturday morning. To me, that matters; that’s part of the medium.” I get so many comments shouting at me that I’m an idiot for not making a PC version. ‘You’d make so much more money! Can’t you see? Meatboy sold more on Steam!’ Good for them. But this matters more to me than sales or revenue. It’s a console game on a console. End of story.”

Obviously, Fez is about the experience, man, and not the money.  No sir.  And when the timed exclusivity expires, I'm sure we won't see the game hit Steam because who cares if "the game would have been fixed two weeks after release, at no cost to us.", because money doesn't matter!  No amount of money, no tens of thousands of dollars, matters!  Because it's about the -game-, goddamnit, because this is Indie Gaming.  It's about the principle of it all, which means standing up for the little guy who gets ignored when it's not profitable to help them!  So, seriously that settles it.  You won't be seeing Fez on any other platform even after the exclusivity runs out, because it's purely about making sure everybody gets the full experience of the game and not like....most of the experience.  Minus the ending.  The whole experience.

It should probably be illegal to have that much snark condensed in a single paragraph.  I think it sums up my thoughts on the matter rather nicely, however.  Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to resume playing a game where a patch has completely improved the experience without adding any game-breaking glitches.  Which is apparently an impossible process.

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