If there's a downside to working in the game industry, at least as a writer, it's being at the mercy of the release schedule. To know the industry, you have to know the games, and to know the games, you have to play them. Nobody cares about your impressions of a two year old game, at least not anyone with money to spend. So we play them when they come out and move on. It's a hard-knock life, I know, but sometimes I long for the good old days when I played what I wanted to play when I wanted to play it, and didn't have to justify spending my play time on an older title by telling myself I'd write a column about it on Monday. But this is self-indulgent whining, so I'll move on.
The good news is a dedicated developer, a downturn in the game release cycle and a thoughtful sibling all conspired to get me back into a game I didn't have a fair chance at enjoying the first time around, and what I found in Oblivion is truly remarkable.
Take, for example, the quest that takes place inside one of the ubiquitous hotel room art paintings littering the game's architecture. As if the game wasn't beautiful in its own right, this mission replaces all of the normal game textures with brush-stroke imbued versions, painted in vibrant colors, the sky a mottled blue on white like the top half of a Van Gogh. Or the case of a missing woman, which takes you to an inbred, post-disaster village where nothing is as it seems, and the inhabitants look more likely to kill you than help you. Or the fabulous cities, where, behind every door I wouldn't have dared try to open before, waits someone new, perhaps with a quest for you.
I can't help but be a bit alarmed at the sequence of events that conspired to cheat my of this experience the first time around. Hardware incompatibilities and post-release patches were supposed to be the sole province of PC gamers, who, as far as I'm concerned, are more than welcome to those idiosyncrasies and seem genuinely offended at the prospect we console gamers may now be encroaching on their territory in that regard.
Granted, as one of the best-selling games of its release year, Oblivion can't rightly be considered a forgotten gem, rescued from obscurity by a well-timed patch, but it certainly can't be considered an example of a perfect launch either. Nor can its initial host platform, the 360. What does this say about our industry in particular that we take it for granted games and consoles aren't going to be perfect right out of the gate? Imagine what would happen if your restaurant tried to pull that one over one you, serving you a raw steak and then offering to cook it at your table. Or if Ford sold a car with innumerable defects then ordered a recall - OK, bad example. But you see where I'm going with this.
As consumers, we should have a little more respect for ourselves than to settle for second-rate products and hope for a patch to arrive. And as an industry, developers should be ashamed this happens even once.
But again, I'm bitching when I should be gushing. This weekend, in a rare twist of fate, I got a second chance at happiness, and I intend to make the most of it. I predict I'll again be losing sleep, but this time for all the right reasons.
Russ Pitts never buys anything that hasn't been tested by a million or so early adopters first. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.