When a Patch isn’t a Patch

    Somewhere, just over the horizon, is the dangling carrot that motivates me to click on the link to Blizzard.com every morning just after I check my e-mail. It doesn?t take long. I?ve been doing it for so long now that I don?t even think about it anymore. I just ?click? and within a few seconds I know that patch 1.10 for D2 isn?t released yet and then I drive on with the rest of my day. But, one of these days, hopefully sooner than later, I?ll be calling in sick to work on my cellular phone while downloading the patch on my regular telephone and my Diablo II fever will come out of remission.

    The odd thing about ?patch 10? in my mind is the fact that it isn?t even a patch in the most traditional sense. For example, pick up any one of your non-Blizzard games and go download the patches for them. Do they play any different? Not really, unless you were experiencing a major game stopper. That is because most game makers like EA Games, Wizards of the Coast, Bethesda, and many others only use patches to correct legitimate errors in the computer code. They don?t shake up the entire game just for the sake of keeping the gamers entertained. Most manufacturers rightly believe that you paid money for a certain product and they delivered that product, thus they are only going to invest additional resources into solving problems related to the fundamental flaws of the game. I mean, once they have your money in hand, they don?t want to waste any of their profit on unnecessary patch development.

    As Lorelorn wrote in his very first column, some companies do manipulate their game releases by selling us incomplete games knowing that they can release a patch to fix the problems. In all my years of gaming I?d have to give the ?Golden Scrambled Goose Egg? award for incomplete game to EIDOS Interactive for releasing Revenant in 1999 when it became clear that they needed at least 6 more months to work out the bugs and probably another year to fill in the story plot holes. Things were so bad that I had to wait for a patch just too physically finish the game. Even then, it didn?t seem complete.

    To me, a patch is used to fix problems and my Diablo II version 1.09 just doesn?t have any major problems. Sure, the ?chance to cast? items show you some nifty graphics without actually doing anything but I consider that to be a fairly minor problem. Additionally, some items don?t work (mathematically) as we expect them too and everyone could point out some balance issues. However, as computer games go, D2 is pretty much a finished product that doesn?t need to be changed. It isn?t like Blizzard owes us (the gamers) anything more than what we have already paid for. If Blizzard was following the footsteps of other game makers they would have already released 1.10 and it would only fix the few issues that we have today.

    Some people would say that gamers are owed version 1.10 because we will finally be getting the product that Blizzard intended to produce. These are the same people who feel that they should have never had to purchase the expansion ? Lord of Destruction because the original version of D2 should have already included this game content. I understand this mentality and I?ll agree that they are correct up to a certain point, but I think this ?glass is half empty? attitude demonstrates ignorance of the development process.

    Developing a video game is a major undertaking that uses many resources and costs big money. It would be nice if they were as easy to develop as a greeting card (no offense to any greeting card developers out there). The creative process gets the juices flowing to guide the game but soon you have to deal with graphics, databases, game engines, story line, game play, etc.

    I liken game development to my experiences in the automotive industry. Right now most of the auto dealers around the world are starting to receive 2004 model year vehicles. As far as the public is concerned the 2004?s represent the latest and greatest the automakers have to offer. However, from an automakers point of view the 2004?s are already old technology. Sure, the marketing department and dealers are working together to sell you the products. But, the engineers and product development teams are trying to finish the 2005 vehicles while working on 2006?s and thinking about the 2007?s and 2008?s.

    Similar to a video game, each model year product starts out with a document that outlines the intended vehicle attributes, features, and technology. Then things change. Engineers, like game developers, follow the same scientific process of ?design, produce alpha prototype, test, re-design, produce beta prototype, test? and this goes on and on until the prototype meets the design requirements. Sometimes this happens within the first few attempts and other times it never works out. Thus, features and/or technology that we may have wanted to put on a 2004 vehicle doesn?t get finished on time so we delay it until the following model year, or later. Does this mean that the 2004 vehicle is an incomplete product? No, it just means that the 2004 version didn?t ship with everything that we, as an automaker trying to give out customers what they want, didn?t meet our original goals.

    The only other alternative would have been to not ship any new vehicles for a few years until we had met all of our original goals. It might be possible for a company to do so, but it wouldn?t be very feasible. Likewise, Diablo II shipped in the summer of 2000. The expansion shipped in the summer of 2001 and now we are on the cusp of summer 2003 and v1.10 is looking like it may be here soon. Should Blizzard have waited until now to ship the entire game as a completed product? I don?t think so. Thus I choose to look at the 1.10 release as a gesture by Blizzard to please their customers. In return, I think that gamers will reward Blizzard by continuing to purchase their products for many years down the road. As much as we complain about some of their products, it is nice to see a game maker who holds itself to the same high standards as their customers.


    Disclaimer: Fortuitous Ephiphaneia is written by Drandimere (Paul J. Darling) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.

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