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volume 1, issue 22

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

Livin' With The Sims: theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez on Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

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When It's Done!: Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford looks at the game development process.

Game Interface Design: Harry "Het3" Teasley of Valve Software shares his expertise on interface design.

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Bugs!

 

 

 

 

 

By Jeff "nonick" Solomon

 

here are scarce few things in this world that are certain. Yeah, the sunís probably going to come up in the morning, and politicians are going to lie, but beyond that, thereís not much else that we can count on for sure. Except, perhaps, for buggy software.

For anyone whoís used a computer for even a short period of time, odds are that the specter of malfunctioning software has cropped up at one point of another. Unfortunately, in the world of computers, bugs are a fact of life.

As we all know, gaming is by no means exempt from this harsh reality. Bugs have been around forever; sometimes theyíve obscure and barely noticeable, but, on the other hand, occasionally circumstances arise where a bug can be so serious that they can render a game completely unplayable.

Witness the recent spate of bugs that popped up in SiN (ironic name, huh?). In this extreme example of a developerís nightmare, SiN shipped with a number of high profile bugs that had the potential to cause serious problems for users- in some cases, the game took several minutes to load, even on snappy hardware (some users reported load times of over twenty minutes!).

Ritual (SiNís developer) was extremely quick to act, and within a week of SiNís initial release they had a patch available that squashed the majority of severe problems that were present in version 1.0 of the game. To give you an idea of the magnitude of problems Ritual had to work with, take a look at this rundown of fixes in the version 1.01 patch (which, by the way, is available at www.activision.com/support/show-patch.asp?patchID=106):

1. Long load times are improved.
2. Long reloads after dying are fixed.
3. Sound compatibility issues fixed.
4. Save game from a compact install now works properly.
5. Multiplayer skin showing up in red is fixed.
6. Autoplay from the CD splash screen is fixed.
7. Manumit, the subway mutant, now works correctly.
8. Monster AI has been adjusted.
9. Area 57 crash bug has been fixed.
10. An animation issue with Assault Rifle and HV Chain Gun in Multiplayer has been fixed.
11. Fixed Quantum Destabilizer bug where you could vaporize a character that had an idcard.
12. Case sensitivity for Missile Silo password entry is fixed.
13. A few "wait for player" issues which could effect vehicles and some cinematics have been fixed.
14. A memory leak has been fixed.

 

Now, this presentation is not intended to slam Ritual. To the contrary, they handled the situation with grace and speed, and their patch is very comprehensive. This example does serve to illustrate, however, just how prevalent bugs can be. The fact that so many serious bugs can be present in shipping software- and then fixed and patched within a week- shows the nature of the buggy beast.

SiN has plenty of company in the bug arena. Other recent notables include Myth, which shipped with an "obscure" uninstaller glitch that had the potential to wipe out a userís entire hard drive if the game had been installed into the root directory. Donít panic- as with SiN, Bungie (Mythís developer) acted quickly and with a vengeance. They recalled the game (not a trivial task) and issued a patch. Just make sure you head over to www.bungie.com and download the patch if youíre planning on removing the game.

Finally, on a trip down the more humorous and harmless lane, weíve got Tiger Woods 99, which shipped with an AVI version of South Parkís The Spirit of Christmas. Slipped, it seems, onto the CD as a prank.

The list of bug attacks goes on and on. Nearly every game that ships comes with at least one ReadMe file thatís crammed with information about "known issues" (a euphemism that ranks with "water landing" as one of the most humorous understatements in the lexicon) and hardware incompatibilities.

That this is commonplace is not surprising. Consider all of the varying hardware configurations that developers have to try to support. Add to this the nearly infinite iterations of software configurations in "the wild" (various versions of Windows, OS patches, driver files, add-on software, hacks, etc.). And, on top of that, sprinkle a dash of deadline pressure and marketing hype that makes it very difficult to delay a release.

The solution to this equation? Lots of bugs, plenty of frustrated developers, and an even greater number of irritated users.

 

(continued on next page)

 

 

Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Bugs! is © 1999 Jeff Solomon. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it...we've got insecticide, baby.