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Last week's announcement from high-profile publisher and developer Bethesda regarding a delay to its in-development title Prey 2 went like so:
"Development of Prey 2 has not been cancelled but the game will not be released in 2012 as planned. The delay is due to the fact that game development has not progressed satisfactorily this past year, and the game does not currently meet our quality standards. Prey 2 has shown great promise and we regret disappointing our fans."
Sounds fair enough. But the bit about 'the game does not currently meet our quality standards' really stood out like a proverbial elephant. A proverbial elephant with sore thumbs for legs. I don't think it's unfair or wide of the mark to say that Bethesda games have a reputation for being a bit buggy and frequently prone to post-release problems.
Of course, we have to take into account the sheer scale and computational complexities of the vast RPG worlds that Bethesda specialises in and a few technical hitches and glitches are to be expected. And anyway, as gamers we are normally happy to accept and even celebrate these anomalies as sorts of accidental bonus features that provide amusing diversions to the intended experience. But only up to a point.
For example, this sort of thing is funny:
Above: It's funny because the Oblivion lady is sitting down but not on a chair
But this sort of thing isn't quite so funny:
Above: Rage wasn't developed by Bethesda, but as the game's publisher its 'quality standards' should still apply
Then this sort of thing is the absolute definition of COMPLETELY NOT FUNNY:
Above: Completely not funny
And it's really the PS3 Skyrim debacle that makes Bethesda's 'quality standards' statement about Prey 2 (which is being developed by Human Head Studios) seem so jarring. For a significant number of PS3 gamers, Skyrim was - due to severe technical deficiencies - an unplayable game. It was broken. And it took three months for the diabolical frame rate issues that effectively rendered the game broken to be sufficiently fixed with a patch.
With that in mind, just how flawed would a game have to be to fall below Bethesda's quality standards tidemark? Is Prey 2 being judged using the same quality standards as Skyrim? Are the quality standards based on a defined checklist of criteria? Have new quality standards been implemented in the aftermath of the PS3 Skyrim mess? These are all things I've been thinking.
It's been pointed out to me that perhaps I'm confusing the term 'quality standards' with 'quality assurance'. And I very probably am. In the context of game development it is indeed quality assurance (aka QA) that deals with testing and bug-reporting and sniffing out technical effupperies. Technical effupperies like crippling lag. But, in the absence of an exact definition, I'd interpret 'quality standards' as an umbrella term that covers every facet of a game. The standard of quality in reference to the game as a whole. Including QA.
Obviously I invited Bethesda to contribute to this article. After all, there is no authority better positioned than Bethesda to answer my Bethesda-related questions and help clarify its definition of 'quality standards'. But it declined to comment.
There's absolutely no doubt Bethesda gets a lot of things right. Millions of happy gamers will testify to that. Bethesda's ability to craft compelling worlds for us to play in is certainly not in question. But that doesn't detract from the reality that glitches and bugs and other such issues to file under 'screwed' have become something of a hallmark for Bethesda games. And with the PS3 Skyrim controversy still very fresh in the memory, it just seems a little curious and incongruous to me that Bethesda should be talking about 'quality standards'.
Whatever the hell they might be.
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