Thursday, December 29, 2011

Skyrim Is Buggy and Awesome

I have been slow updating my blog recently. Part of this is fatigue from my recent game release. But most of the blame, of course, falls upon Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Which ate the brains of everyone in our house.

I love it when a role-playing game breaks big and actually infects regular humans. Sure, it's heavy competition for a while, but it also manufacturers hordes of new, fresh RPG fans hoping for more.

We love the game despite all of its considerable frustrations. I love this video, because it captures so much about what makes Skyrim fascinating.

(Video summary: It was possible to steal from shops by taking pots and putting them over the heads of the shopkeepers so they couldn't see you. Yes, this was actually possible. Though I can't get it to work anymore in the newest version.)

Some people mock Skyrim for things like this, which is a truly startling case of missing the point. Sure, it's a flaw. But imagine how cool and detailed this sandbox is to make such a thing possible. It means that they programmed in exact sight lines for detecting theft, which is why sneaking around a shop and robbing the owner blind is such a satisfying minigame.

I've been an Elder Scrolls fan for decades, because of what makes these games so fascinating: Their reach always exceeds their grasp.

The Elder Scrolls series is about making a game so huge and detailed that it overwhelms you. You have to be a shut-in of terrifying proportions to experience everything. You go on a journey to find a dungeon somewhere, and there are so many dungeons and towns and people and quests on the way that you get lost in a maze of perpetual distraction until the real-world sun rises over the horizon.

Of course, computers aren't strong enough to simulate a world, even a small one. They just can't do it. With that level of ambition and that number of moving parts, there will be bugs and flaws. Tons of them. You don't have to scratch the surface hard to find them, even after multiple patches.

This is inevitable. Yes, Bethesda makes buggy games, and they've probably shipped certain games sooner than they should have. However, with that size and complexity and level of ambition, it can't be avoided. There is just too much STUFF, and too many crazy things that can be done with it. Until real artificial intelligence is invented (it won't be), a sandbox of this level of detail can't be represented by a computer without weirdness around the edges. When the range of possible things that can happen is large enough, even the largest, most dedicated group of testers won't find everything that can go wrong.

It's their crazy version of something like reality, and you have to meet it halfway (because there really are a lot of glitches). Elder Scrolls fans accept this, and, in return, they get a computer game experience that's truly unique.


  1. It's worth noting that Obsidian and not the Bethesda made the F:NV.

    Just saying...

  2. @Elwin: Thanks for the comment, though I would humbly point out I said nothing wrong. Bethesda does make buggy games. And they did ship New Vegas. As publisher, it was their call whether the game was ready to go out the door. I will leave it to posterity to decide whether they made the correct call or not in that case.

    Also, for what it's worth, once it had a few patches, New Vegas was a terrific game.

    - Jeff Vogel

  3. In some cases, the bugs can ADD to the game. :D

  4. I haven't played Skyrim since I don't have the hardware for it anymore, but I did play Oblivion extensively (and Morrowind briefly).

    What I always enjoyed about the PC versions of the games was the support for mods. I probably spent just as much time playing around with mods for Oblivion in order to see how awesome I could make the game.

    It's all about imagination, and letting the player go all-out. ("If I put a bucket on someone's head can they still see me? ...OMG IT WORKS.")

  5. I think I'd have used this link instead for the games shipped too early and buggy:

    Having said that, I've played most of the RPGs and enjoyed them.

  6. You have to be a shut-in of terrifying proportions to experience everything.

    Challenge accepted!

  7. I have been playing it this week (got it as a Christmas present). It is okay, but it has definitely made it clear to me that I am on the BioWare side of the never ending BioWare vs. Bethesda battle. In addition to the bugs, I spend way too much time pointless traveling back and forth and waiting for shops to open (I will never complain about your Junk Bag again Jeff). If you removed the travel and down time I am not convinced that there is more content in this game than the first Dragon Age: Origins.

    I am really just thrown by how clunky, unemotional, and amatuerish-looking the dialogue is. Red Dead Redemption had a similar sandbox structure, but the story line was much more cinematic.

    That and I have yet to find a guild story line that keeps me from feeling like a sociopath.

  8. That is choice you have made, though, to some extent. I have rarely waited for a shop and I don't do much pointless travel, because I don't insist on looting everything and traveling back and forth to sell it. I carry what I can and sell it when I reach the next shop on the way.

    DA:O is one of my favourite games but I don't have much doubt there is a fraction of the content of Skyrim - think about all those fake/locked houses/buildings for starters - every Skyrim house is real and many if them have their own little story.

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  10. F:NV was made by Obsidian, but it was required to use the Gamebryo engine by Bethesda... and that thing is ridiculously buggy. Obsidian has shown that they can release mostly bug free games if they aren't using someone else's engine. F:NV is still great though.

    I really, really don't mind most of the bugs I encounter in Skyrim. The ones I mind are the endless bugs that cause the console to lock solid every 20-30 minutes. Or the ones that make quests impossible to finish. Or the ones that leave quest items in your inventory and don't allow you to get rid of them after completing the quest. Or the ones where bookshelves eat books and mannequins disappear when you put armor on them.

    I can handle AI pathing glitches and the pots on the heads of shopkeepers, backward flying dragons, etc. If I ignore the plethora of bugs that make your items disappear or consoles to crash, then it's a really superb game.

    Probably the biggest problem with me playing their games is that they throw too many options at me. I spend 70 hours randomly doing things and not progressing the plotline at all because I constantly have 20-40 things on my quest list. For my sense of accomplishment, I do much better with games that give you maybe 4-5 options of what to do at any given time. I finally said I had enough, and stuck Skyrim on the shelf for awhile. I'll probably go back to it after I finish Rage or Solatorobo.

  11. The tile of a future post:

    Until real artificial intelligence is invented (it won't be.)

    I would love to hear your Thoughts on why!

  12. that post is even more funny when you know that jeff's games are THE EXACT OPPOSITE of bethesda's.
    their scope is narrower, their goals more clearly defined, their worlds less open, the engine more focused, the game mechanism more precise, the leveling more involving, the visuals more hand drawn, their stories more develloped. well they are less of a sand box and more of a neatly designed game. well, you can say it is further from graphical realism, but...
    i mpretty sure jeff dreams of having designed the horrible oblivion, and would have if he had the money. thank god he is indie.

  13. When Paizo and Wizards split and Paizo started designing Pathfinder as an updated version of 3.5e to compete with Wizards D&D 4e, they set up a public playtest of their rules and took feedback from everyone. Their forums were hopping for months with people playing the new game and telling them what worked and what didn't and what they wanted clarified or fixed. Now Pathfinder is outselling 4e all over the place.

    What this shows is that in the right circumstances, with the right designers, this can and has worked. White Wolf did something similar with Vampire, as well. In the world of pen and paper RPG systems, this is tried and true.

  14. well , in the world of forums, you just have to admit that you have posted this in the wrong place.
    which shows what one can expect from a forum.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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