Electronic Arts, DICE and lousy software engineering

Last summer, the first person squad-based shooter Battlefield 2 was launched by DICE and Electronic Arts. Having played the predecessors, Battlefield: Vietnam and Battlefield 1942, I was very much looking forward to this game. I was not disappointed; Battlefield 2 was and still is the best game for team-based infantry/vehicle combat.

However, from the beginning it was apparent that there were problems. For me personally, I was annoyed that the game required 3 gigabytes of free space on your system drive in order to install and patch (naturally, a patch arrived a few weeks after the game was released, as is all too common these days). Also, the in-game server browser was next to useless, with many features simply not working (server filter, instant play). These are just a few of many bugs that surfaced.

“What’s your point here? This is pretty normal, isn’t it?” you might ask. Indeed, the sad state of affairs in PC gaming is that games are released with a truckload of bugs, which are then hopefully ironed out with a patch soon after the game reaches consumers. Then, gamers cross their fingers and hope that the game eventually matures and stabilises.

About a week ago, EA/DICE managed to pull off quite a stunt. They released the 1.2 patch for BF2, which corrected some really annoying issues (like players being able to jump around like bunnies while spamming explosives all over the place). Unfortunately, they didn’t manage to correct one of the bugs that have been annoying me (click spawn point – click done – still you don’t spawn). And far, far worse, they introduced a ton of new bugs and apparently worsened a few existing ones.

Since installing the patch, I’ve personally experienced a few of these, like

  • Driving a Humvee whose 12.7 machinegun suddenly stops making noise when the gunner fires it
  • Having my defib-pads stop working at random, so that I cannot revive people (thanks Jon Are)
  • Experiencing heavy graphical lag, lowering the framerate to ~20-30 fps on my high-end computer

Obviously, something’s not right here.

Firstly, how did the programmers manage to introduce/worsen so many bugs in the attempt to correct others?

Secondly, why wasn’t this patch stopped when undergoing quality assurance?

Something’s really wrong with the software development practices at EA/DICE. I wish we could have an inside look – they could call it “Messing up” or something. I know of a few university courses that could benefit from such a video. “Guys, this is why you learn about the software development process”.

Maybe EA/DICE could learn from the people writing space shuttle software?


PS: The upcoming expansion pack Euro Force has been delayed to allow for a 1.21 hotfix to solve the most pressing issues. I guess that’s the only thing they could do, given the circumstances.


9 Responses to “Electronic Arts, DICE and lousy software engineering”

  1. Margrethe Says:

    I have only one thing to say: Super Mario! It has, and will always be the best game:)

    But of course, there are many bad software developers and programmers out there, and I can only hope they at least learn from their mistakes and don’t go on making them all over again. But something tells me I might be a bit optimistic now;)

  2. Jon Are Says:

    It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. The medic now have a “stamina bar” regarding their magical healing abilites, much like the engineer. Dropping a med pack costs stamina and so does firing the defibrillator. Not too silly from a gameplay and gamebalance point of view. Overall the 1.2-patch was a pretty good improvement, except for the bugs, all of which have me convinced that the source code for BF2 must be a complete and utter mess. The server crashes when someone fires a TOW on certain BF:SF levels, the battlerecorder is broken (CTD during playback) and there’s a million small glitches which make no sense at all. It kinda smells like code’n’fix. One hack to fix one problem ends up causing another random bug to crop up somewhere else completely.

    And the ultimate game of all time is not Super Mario, it’s Bubble Bobble. And Wings of Fury. Mmm… Fury.

  3. Are Wold Says:

    Ah, didn’t know that about the medic. Just assumed it was a bug since it’s so bloody inconventient. It does make gameplay sense.

  4. Are Wold Says:

    By the way, I felt another part of the Battlefield Experience (TM) just now – I clicked around in the server browser, and when I clicked on a server I had a spontaneous crash to desktop. No fanfare, no nothing, one moment I was staring at BF, the other second my desktop.

    Best game ever? Starcraft. Wings of Fury is good though. Mm. I should also mention TIE Fighter, Colonization,
    and Civilization II. I think “Best single player game ever” would have to be TIE Fighter. I still have plans to get a crap PC and run Win95 on it just to play TIE Fighter.

    Oh Jon Are, I bet you have been dying to say “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature” for real. ;)

  5. Jon Are Says:

    In all honesty, I do think that BF2 (and its predecessor BF1942: Desert Combat) might very well be the best game ever in my book. Sure, there’s been a lot of ‘honorable mentions’ through out the years like my old Amiga games, Lucas Arts adventures, Half-life 1 & 2, CS (eek), Rainbow Sixes and the Grand Theft Autos, but I’m quite sure that I haven’t spent 180 hours in either of them and feel like I’ve just scraped the surface. And if it makes you feel any better – BF1942 was supposed to be pretty bug ridden in the startup too.

    And whaat? You could pull the not-a-bug-a-feature on a weekly basis if that was your cup of tea. There are a lot of odd ass features out there. Take MSN’s URL-dropping. Not a bug, a feature. Win XP SP2 limits the number of TCP-connections to four or whatever on any given time. Not a bug, a feature. You install a CD-ROM and Windows needs to be reactivated. Not a bug, a feature. You start Outlook (by accident, relax!) and Microsoft MSN-client not only starts up in Outlook’s wake, but will automatically start when Windows loads from there on out. Thank god that msconfig made it’s way back in XP. Now that’s a feature.

  6. Are Wold Says:

    BF2 is a great game. I’ve just spent 90 hours in it, though, and I think both my Colonization and Starcraft playtime tops that ;)

    Compared to the games I mentioned earlier, BF2 feels like it lacks polish. There are too many annoyances and imbalances for it to win such a “contest”. Of course, developing BF2 is a lot more complicated than, say, Starcraft or TIE Fighter – multiplayer on a large scale, huge 3d maps, etcetera, but there are plenty of cases where software developers have managed to pull off complex projects without making such a mess in the process.

    I’d rather have the game 6 months or more later if it meant it would be mostly bug-free (and come with a sensible installer).

    Maybe you should setup a weblog with weekly “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature”-columns?

    I forgot mentioning any console games earlier on – at least Zelda IV – A Link to the Past should be mentioned. That game has got an incredible atmosphere.

  7. Jon Are Says:

    Well, as far as I’m concerned, the balance issues are pretty much solved in 1.2, and that is saying a lot. And the installer in 1.2 is the same as EA has used previously in other games, like the Rainbow Sixes, which mean no unnecessary and ludicrous installation requirements. The fun part about the 3GB-free-on-C:\-requirement is that the 3GBs are never used. And for those of you who doesn’t quite understand why we bicker about this seemingly small issue: power users(in want for a better term) usually partition their harddrives into smaller logical drives, so they end up with a smallish system drive, a larger drive for programs and games and a the rest for storage. Then you can reinstall the OS without loosing any data, and in many cases even reinstall the programs. My C:\-drive is 5GB. I’ve never had 3GB free. Ever. I do however have oceans of free space where it should be needed. We did find ways around this unnecessary hurdle, but we should have the need to.

    And the box of the Special Forces add-on (which was released onlu a few months after the game itself) even has a disclaimer about the (false) requirement printed in bold red letters. I’m sure they really wanted to write: “We’re sorry. The idiots who wrote the installer for this thing fucked up.”

    And Are, you’re forgetting Planetarion in your time-wasted-calculations ;)

  8. Jon Are Says:

    Also: Why in gawds name can’t I edit my own comments? Typos’R’us.

  9. Are Wold Says:

    Yeah, I forgot about Planetarion. I’m not going to ponder how much time I spent there. It doesn’t really count. Not really.

    You can’t edit your own comments because WordPress has no idea of knowing who you are, naturally ;) I would think you can register somehow? That would probably enable editing comments.

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