Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Obsidian Does it Again

Shamus Young | 22 Oct 2010 17:00
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Obsidian Entertainment is a development house that is known for taking other people's hand-me-downs and turning out unfinished sequels. In 2004, they made Knights of the Old Republic 2, a sequel to BioWare's smash hit from just a year earlier. The game was filled with glitches, bugs, unfinished quest lines, and if you search around a bit you'll see it frequently scores in people's Top 10 lists of Worst Videogame Endings Ever. People blamed publisher LucasArts for shipping the game before it was ready. And since the game came out just eighteen months after the original, this seems like a pretty fair charge. After all, it's a safe bet that there were a few months between the release of the first game and the initiation of work on the second. So you're talking about doing a game in just a year, with a new team, using new (to them) tools. There is just no way that was going to end in triumph.

In 2006 they gave us Neverwinter Nights 2, a sequel to another BioWare title. As before, the game was shipped with a lot of rough edges on it. It had immense load times, frequent load times, crashes, broken scripting, terrible camera controls, bad AI, and a host of other issues. And once again, it had an ending so bad it frequently scores in various "Worst Endings" lists. Once again, people blamed the publisher. (Which was Atari this time around.)

After that they released some expansion packs. But they were expansion packs to a broken game with a reprehensible ending, so I didn't play them. Even if the expansion "fixes everything that was wrong with the original game," I didn't feel like rewarding them for their misbehavior.

Then this year Obsidian released Alpha Protocol. I really liked what they did with the decision-making gameplay in Alpha Protocol, and I will say that it was the most polished game Obsidian has shipped. But it was still buggy.

Which brings us to their latest game, Fallout: New Vegas. Let me tell you about New Vegas ...

In my second or third session with the game, I spent a good three hours making my way to a town called Novac and from there into an industrial facility to do a quest like you do in these sorts of games. I'd met a few annoying glitches on the way: Some minor interface bugs, but nothing crazy or show stopping. Just the sort of sloppy work and lack of polish I was expecting from Obsidian. Then I found myself talking to a ghoul who wanted me to go look for his girlfriend. I said "sure thing" and we parted amicably, but as soon as the conversation ended he tried to kill me. (Reading up on this later, it appears this is a common bug. Another user reported that their NPC companion instantly one-shotted the ghoul and blew his head clear off as soon as they ended the conversation. Kind of hilarious, actually.) I'd really wanted to do the quest, so I reloaded my previous save so I could try the conversation again. And the game crashed. Not a nice, clean crash, but one of those awful lockups where you have to fight to bring up Task Manager so you can kill the game manually. Then I re-started the game and found that all of my saves - quick save slot, auto-save slot, and the manual save slot - had all been reverted to what they were three hours ago. The last three hours of gameplay had been obliterated.

I've followed several forum threads on this, and they involve a lot of guessing and a lot of workarounds. Some solutions work for some people but not for others. The upshot of the problem is that the game makes backups of your saves at some point. Then at another point it restores the backups for no reason, clobbering the newer saves. Every single time I launch the game my quick-save slot is replaced with the very first quick-save I ever created. It's anyone's guess as to what the hell they were trying to accomplish with this "feature." At first people blamed it on Steam and cloud saves, but it's since become apparent that Steam isn't involved. New Vegas, all by itself, resets your progress every time you run it. You can get around it, once you go to the forums and read what to do.

A few hours later I forgave the game and came back. I managed to win a $16,000 jackpot at the slot machines. (An exceptionally unlikely spin.) And then the game insta-crashed on me. This was like scratching off a winning lottery ticket and then getting hit by a car. A car driven by Obsidian Entertainment.

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