Sunday, October 30, 2011

And Then There Were Two - The Downfall Of id

Like many others I had identified Rage as a game coming out this year that I was interested in.  While I'm not a big post-apocalyptic fan (excluding Borderlands, which was great fun) I figured that with id's record it would at least be something worth investigating.

How wrong I was.

id, for those not in the know, are one of the oldest and most well-known PC developers in existence today.  Based near Dallas, Texas, they are the developers who made the iconic Doom and Quake series and have generally had a reputation for excellence even at the cost of delaying their games to make this happen.  That was ok though, because id knew that a quality product was the most important thing a game developer should deliver.

At launch, the PC version of Rage was a buggy mess.  The most egregious issue was texture popping, highlighted in the following video:

There was also the issue of a near-complete lack of any meaningful graphics options on the PC version (v-sync, anisotropic filtering, etc.).  id stated that this was due to a design decision to have the id tech 5 engine (id's new proprietary engine running the game) dynamically change these options for best performance on whatever machine you were using, but in practice these are standard options that any decent PC gamer will want to adjust manually.  One of Rage's several post-release patches later put these options in the game following the outcry over their exclusion.

Granted, the issue of texture popping was primarily a graphics driver problem that mostly (but not exclusively) affected AMD cards over Nvidia, but it highlighted some poor communication between id and AMD in particular.  Also unhelpful was that AMD (ATi) released the wrong set of drivers on launch day, instead releasing drivers with components that were several years old and gave horrific performance in-game.  Nvidia owners experienced less of these issues, but a cursory search of the Steam forums on launch day saw plenty of problems being reported by those users as well.

AMD eventually put out some fixed drivers that seemed to resolve the worst issues, and id patched Rage a short time later to include more graphics options and other fixes.  Launch day is everything though, and from that standard Rage was surely found lacking.

Unfortunately id chose not to make the PC edition the lead development version (as was the case in all of their previous games).  Instead all the versions were iterated at once on the new id tech 5 engine, with principle resources being devoted to the PS3 and X-Box 360 versions of the game.  Seeing such a PC-centric developer take a decision such as this is highly disappointing.  Granted, console sales are going to be a company's bread-and-butter, but to essentially have 1/3 of your game-base broken at release does not make you good no matter who is playing it.  Perhaps some of these issues could have been avoided if more attention was paid to the PC version.

Contrast this to how other companies have handled the PC with regards to multi-platform releases.

DICE, for example, had no qualms about beating the PC drum, making the PC the lead platform for Battlefield 3 and are now reaping the rewards (its current Metacritic rating is 90 and they have sold over five million copies across all formats.  By comparison, Rage's current Metacritic rating is 79 and while that is hardly bad, it's not exactly the universal acclaim that id are used to).

One of the year's other major releases, Deux Ex: Human Revolution, also did the PC version right.  While not the lead platform, Eidos Montreal had a PC-specific version of the game ported by Nixxes Software.  All the usual PC bells and whistles were included (at launch!) and there was even DirectX 11 support thrown in for those with appropriate hardware.  DEHR currently has a rating of 89 on Metacritic.

Kotaku recently reported that the mixed reception for Rage, coupled with its serious technical issues, had resulted in work on id's Doom 4 being "indefinitely suspended" (although this was later disputed).  True or not, serious questions have to be asked of id following this decidedly-average release of Rage.  While the underlying game is meant to be a decent shooter, it also does not seem to have much that sets it apart from the dozens of other shooters released in the past few years.  I suspect that Rage will ultimately be remembered in a similar way to Bulletstorm: a fun and enjoyable shooter that has little replay value or much to keep it in the memory past the first few weeks.

Prior to Rage's release I had always thought of id as one of the "big three" PC developers (alongside Blizzard and Valve); a studio that treated its customers with respect, had a strong PC slant and a culture of excellence.  In my eyes and many others, Rage has diminished my opinion of id.  Time will tell whether their future projects can redeem them or if they are destined to become the next Sierra or 3D Realms of their generation.

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