Saturday, May 3, 2008

AoC Closed Beta - Worlds Different Than Open Beta

When I woke up yesterday morning and came to work, I started immediately looking for some blogs and impressions on Age of Conan's Open Beta. After all, I'm deeply invested in this game and I've been in the beta for months and haven't been able to say anything. I was looking forward to hearing about how surprised people were with Funcom's latest game.

And instead of them being surprised... I was. Reports across several forums and blogs of a fun game with some SERIOUS performance issues. I was stunned, really. That couldn't be right. As I'd been in the beta I'd watched an unfinished and buggy game become one of my favorite MMOGs to date - one that was ready to hit store shelves soon. I whole-heartedly expected to see thousands of other people similarly pleased with the client, its promising combat mechanics, and beautiful graphics even on lower-end computers. I expected people to be pissed that they were stuck at 13 and 13 only, but never did I expect all the shouts of crashing and leaking and BSODs.

Why?

Because these issues had been rectified in the weeks past, somewhat miraculously. Indeed in the Closed Beta there are still bugs. There are still some wrinkles to iron out. But by and large the game I'd been playing was very nearly ready to hit the hands of eager players looking for something new. The problems people were having with the Open Beta were issues that arose and were eradicated (for the most part) several weeks prior.

After talking back and forth with Keen (one of many affected by crashing, memory leaks, and poor FPS performance), we came to a realization. He got into Closed Beta and it just so happens that indeed Funcom IS using an older beta client on the Open Beta servers - one full of bugs that are outdated, crashes, and memory leaks that had been squashed.

I'm glad I'm not crazy, and that the game I play on the Closed Beta servers is as polished as it seems... but I can't help but wonder what caused Funcom to initiate its biggest pre-launch publicity event with code that was outdated and leaves a bad taste in the mouths of prospective customers.

I guess all I can do as a fan and one who's seen just how fun this game can be is hope Funcom patches the Open Beta client up to where the Closed Beta is. Because not only are the Open Beta testers getting a false image of what the game's like, but Funcom's potentially losing a lot of customers.

I'll cross my fingers and pray to Crom I guess.

22 comments:

slashrandom said...

I thought about your "false impression" statement, and I have a bit of a problem with it.

Unless we knew what Funcom's reasoning was behind using an older client, we can't know if the newer client (which ran smoother) has other problems which required a switch back to the older client. My thinking is that it had to be something serious if Funcom's willing to risk putting in the mess we experienced yesterday.

If that's not the issue, then I'm left questioning Funcom's judgement.

Neither option is something I expected after everything I had read so far, but it's up to Funcom to change my mind about buying at launch. Hopefully they will :)

portlymouse said...

I'm in the Open Beta, and based solely on what I've seen I will NOT buy this game anytime soon. It'll take a free trial in at least 6 months to convince me this isn't an Alpha at best. I know you say that Closed beta is a completely different beast, but guess what? I can't see it and Funcom decided to bone thier release like this, so too bad for them.

Michael said...

portlymouse...the purpose of a beta is to offer the developers crucial feedback to make the game as much of a success as possible at launch.

You are bashing the game, which is the opposite of trying to make it the best it can be at launch. You are in fact going out of your way to negatively impact the release.

Please contact FunCom and tell them to disable your beta key and make a new one available for someone who isn't signing up for the beta just to play for free.

Karamazov said...

AOC = next AAA Bomb. I dont buy the old client story. First impressions are everything and FC screwed the pooch on this one. Cancelled my pre-order after about 3 hrs of open beta, game is rubbish

Openedge1 said...

I am pretty saddened over this...
As at times the game runs beautiful...it looks beautiful and is fun to play..
Yet...blue screens are ugly...no matter who you are.
And I am also disappointed that Funcom let this happen, and now the forums are ripping the game a new one.
I cannot see how this game can succeed after this debacle...and I am torn.
I like what I see...and have not canceled my pre-order....but, the game will be zero fun with no one else playing...

haslo said...

I just don't get it ... what exactly about the term "Beta" is it that people don't understand?

haslo said...

Oh, and that isn't directed at Bildo, but pretty much the majority of commenters here and everywhere.

I do look forward to the release, more and more by the day, and while I do expect some last bugs in the final release I'm sure the BSoD and random crashes will be very, very high on the "to fix" priority list even then.

Openedge1 said...

@haslo

People are calling this a beta of "Vanguard" proportions...and that is where people do NOT get it...and I agree with you..
This is what beta is for..
I see people keep mentioning LOTRO on the forums for example as the shiny example of stable..
Wish they would get a grip...Turbine had the miracle patch several days in closed beta before their open...and even in open beta, there was still hitching performance problems, buggy instances, weird quest issues...and a huge memory leak for some (whihc still exists in their "high resolution" textures)...and THEY even had a level cap which people hate about AoC...and then even on opening day...weird issues abound...with floating NPC's...a server outage for quite a few hours..
Yet...all you read is about the best stable release ever...HA!

People are clouding judgement over AoC due to the fact they wanted THIS game to be their WoW or MMO of choice replacement...and that will not happen..
I for one though am quite pleased with how the game runs...very good, and it is fun to play to boot!!!

Bildo said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

I understand exactly why those who haven't been in the closed beta and only have the forums or the open beta client to go with would be very displeased with what they say. I really do.

And maybe you "don't buy the different client story", but that would be stupid on your part. It's the honest to god truth as reported all over the blogs and forums.

Why they used an old and severely bugged client I'll never get. And it very likely did eff up their launch.

But like all games, within a few months after release, if it's a good game the word of mouth will build and the subscriber base will pick up. Especially is Lich King doesn't hit until winter, and if WAR gets pushed back again.

Here's hoping FC doesn't screw the pooch again.

Pr0ject217 said...

It's not the technical aspects that are driving me away from this game. It's the lack of a seamless world. There is zoning and instancing EVERYWHERE. I'm looking for a good MMO to replace WoW... But honestly... If this game isn't like WoW with an open world outside tortage I won't play it. This is 2008.

Bildo said...

Instancing has its benefits and its drawbacks. To me, I'd rather have instancing in AoC (and LotRO for another example) the way they do it because it offers the greater chance for the scripted events that propel the story.

You simply cannot and will not see such cinematic stuff in a seamless MMOG. It's built with zoning and instancing in mind for this reason. Some will love it and accept it and others will hate and shun it.

There's no right or wrong really.

slashrandom said...

"I just don't get it ... what exactly about the term "Beta" is it that people don't understand?"

Oh, I understand the term, and I test and feedback and bug report each thing I find.

The issue isn't with "beta", but with your open beta three weeks before launch. There have been enough open betas for enough mmorpg's for the majority of us mmorpg fans to know which way a game is going to go by the condition of the open beta.

AoC's had closed betas for a while. An open beta, after your gold master has likely shipped, shouldn't be surprising you this much. The company launching the game should probably have a better handle on things, or it's likely the launch is going to be messy.

It's possible that Funcom will buck that trend and come back and have a great launch, but that's not the usual pattern for mmorpg's struggling in their open beta.

So, while we're all aware that problems will crop up, it's the number of problems and the type of problems that indicate the launch could be rough. And I'm saying this as a fan of Funcom and someone who's looking forward to a solid new mmorpg.

Michael said...

Actually there is a term once a release candidate code goes gold, called "breaking the glass" which can be done well after a gold is making copies. They call it that because the master disks are (or at least were, when i was in the gaming industry) made of glass, and copies are made from that for release. They can essentially break the glass master and start with a newer build in the event that a catastrophic or "showstopper" bug is found. It doesnt happen often, but there is still actually plenty of time to get enough DVDs made in time for release, even as of now, on may 4th.

Michael said...

Oh, and thanks much Bildo for the heads up. I had heard this before, but the more often i see another closed beta tester say it, the more reassuring it is that AoC will be at least fairly solid, and pretty playable at release. I havent been able to play too much in the closed beta due to my current pc being below min specs, but even at that, on a geforce 6600 and a lower end CPU that i should have, i was able to play the single player area at the start, and really enjoyed it a lot.

Getting my new pc parts in a couple days, and hoping to get a good hands on of the 6-13 area before the beta ends, so i can play more classes and decide what to play come release.

Bildo said...

I have no doubt in my mind that it will be at least "clay-solid" (as opposed to rock-solid) at launch. The closed beta client is light years ahead in terms of performance.

As for classes, I'm leaning towards the Herald of Xotli. There's something about being a Mage class that gets all demonic and fiery and in his enemy's face that strikes me as a particular kind of awesome.

He's more of a battle-mage rather than a glass cannon.

Shawn said...

Bildo, you are obviously are looking at this situation through rose colored goggles.

What do you want people to say when their FPS is stuttering, lighting is flickering all over the place, and the lag is atrocious? Oh, and days before launch? There are major concerns for many people after this preview, and I don't buy for a second that this client is months old, afterall Funcom is patching it, why would they test an obsolete client and waste resources patching it when they already apparently did that months ago? I think you're talking yourself into this story in your head, you are emotionally attached to this thing, no? Over at the official forums, anyone who questions AoC's stability is shouted down by rabid fanbois, and it's almost impossible to talk to some of these people.

Wanna know why I think people are having problems? Open beta is representing the traffic more accurately than the closed beta, so you can't say the experience you're having is going to be any more accurate come launch day. People have many different hardware configs, and if you take a sample of the closed beta, there are plenty of people having issues, Open Beta is a bigger pool of new people willing and allowed to speak out. Also, the sheer volume of traffic and the lag is a bad sign of poor or badly written net code. As a big fan of this game, I'm very concerned that the net infrastructure this game is built on has serious issues now coming out in this Beta, which goes beyond the client and into the server side. Either way, it's not a good sign and we'll find out in two weeks from now. Also, ask yourself, why is Funcom running a closed beta right up to launch along with an Open Beta? That's another confusing question that needs to get answered. Funcom obviously want to keep people quiet, preorders depend on it. Afterall, this is a business, nothing more nothing less.

I'm definitely canceling my preorder at the end of next week if Funcom doesn't give us this supposed "God Client to save us all". I don't buy that the Open Beta is months old, Funcom would be absolutely brain dead to give a subpar first impression to 50,000 potential customers(that's business 101). It makes no sense whatsoever.

I've talked to many people that were potential customers that are holding off on purchasing this game on launch, and how can you blame them??? It's no ones fault but Funcom's for releasing now, patching later, the biggest problem with PC Gaming today.

I would love to beleive and trust in what you're saying, but after beta testing dozens of MMO's, this has the writings on the wall for a VERY rocky launch. I can't help but think of Hellgate London, a project I tested for quite sometime, and had the same exact concerns. Everyone kept saying "oh, the client is months old"...in fact, that excuse was used in Vanguard as well as Pirates of the Burning Crusade and countless others. I just don't buy it, I'd be naive to think that after all the communities I've been part of.

I want to be optimistic, I want this game to do well, but at the same time, we have an obligation to the people to be honest, it's the only way Funcom will do the things that need to get done, and to make this a better game in the end.

Shawn said...

oh, and aren't you in NDA violation? If someone came out and was more critical about closed beta, I think you'd be opposed to them bloggin about it, wouldn't ya?

Oakstout said...

As people discovered from Tabula Rasa, the developers tend to fix a lot of the bugs from Beta to release, but people are so busy reporting how bad the game is in Beta that a lot of people get turned off and never look at the game twice.

I think NDA should last till after the game is released. If the developers are planning to fix a lot of the bugs once it goes gold, why do players have to trash the beta version, as is evident by your post that they were using an out dated beta to do server stress tests. It makes sense, they want to see how the servers react to a lot of bugginess and crazy crashes from the client. Sounds like a good plan to me.

People should just wait till the released game gets a review and not read Beta reviews before buying the product.

Bildo said...

@ Shawn:
Nope. No NDA breaking here. Working for TTH classifies me as press which means my embargo for talking about the game has been lifted. Also, the NDA for closed beta has been lifted to level 13's worth of content, so even if I wasn't working for TTH I'd be able to talk about the game's content up to that point.

As for the "rose colored goggles" part. How is that possible when if you've read this post (as you have apparently) you'd see that I'm in the closed beta which is much further along than the open beta client.

I didn't say it was wise of Funcom to do this, in fact I said exactly the opposite. But the fact remains that the beta I've been playing since February is leagues ahead of what the open beta participants are experiencing. Believe me or not, I know this to be true.

@Oaktstout:
In a perfect world mate, that would be the case. But the sad truth is that Open Betas have become more of a marketing tool and than anything else.

And if they don't lift the NDA at least a week or two prior to launch your hardcore fans will plaster all across the internet that there must be something wrong with the game then.

They don't say this about games that aren't MMOGs mind you. For those games it's okay to wait until a day or two before launch or the day off to hear a review from a professional.

It seems that only MMOGs suffer from this harsh feedback. I don't envy the developers of these games... not anymore.

Thallian said...

I have difficulty understanding how a sane company can do that with their open beta... True I don;t envy the developers but I would think their first priority would be to get game play affecting bugs out and then performance ones. Lastly graphic ones and such. Anyways good luck to them. I will stand on the sidelines for this one and enjoy your blogginations :)

Shawn said...

Here's some logic inserted into this discussion:

http://forums.ageofconan.com/showthread.php?t=81635

"For those of you who claim this is intentional ...
Come on ... seriously ... the evidence is clear it is not an intentional effort to stress the servers.

Please read this:

http://forums.ageofconan.com/showthread.php?t=79173

"Stalling

Some people call it “lagging”. Some people call it “hanging”. We have named it “stalling” internally, so that is what I am going to call it. This is the experience where the client hangs for some fraction of a second up to some seconds. This is, almost without exception, run-time compilation of shaders (a shader is “slang” for code running on the graphics card). This is a known issue, we have identified where we need to fix things, and we are working on a solution."

Note, he said they are working on a solution. He did not say there was already a solution in the closed beta.


"Zoning or loading times

Differently from the stalls, this issue does not happening to everyone. This issue is actually new to Open beta. It does not happen on the closed beta. We are patching closed beta with the exact same code / data as we speak, so we can try to find the reason. Be patient and we shall prevail here too."

Again, he did not indicate this was something already fixed in the closed beta. Actually, he indicated the converse. He stated clearly they were going to patch the Closed Beta with the Open beta code so they could determine what is wrong. There would be no reason to do so if this were just a matter of using an outdated code.


"Memory leaks

Your client running out of memory happens gradually, especially from zoning. By restarting the client, you should be fine for some time depending on your system. We have a host of fixes for this on its way to you, and we aim to update this in a day or two. Every time the client crashes, we get a message that helps us better understand the issue."

He indicated they were working on understanding the issue by analyzing the information provided by client crashes. They do not have these issues fixed on closed beta, they are working to fix them now.



Trying to silence people by making outrageous claims that this is intentional and they are purposefully crashing people to stress their servers is counterproductive. Instead, be honest. Tell people it is a good game dispite the technical issues. Tell people you have confidence the issues will be resolved.

That, I can believe."

Sean said...

My theory on why Funcom may have decided to start Open Beta with an older client:

They have patched Closed beta up, and want to test releasing the same patches to a large number of people at once... We are not only stress testing their game-world servers, but their patch servers as well. It could be they are going to apply the same patches to the Open Beta client during peak hours to get an idea of how it scales.

This theory is in no way based on any official statement or insider information... just speculation.

One would think, however, that in light of all of the complaints on performance, if Funcom knew they had patches available that would fix the issues, they would at least release a statement to quiet the angry masses.