From: San Francisco, CA - USA
After so many dialectic struggles, I wish to recap my personal point of view on AgeOD/WiA. This will be my conclusive thread and I shall not answer to any reply hereby stating i will observe but never post in any AgeOD related forums, anywhere that may be.
It’s simply intended as a message both to the management and to the volounteers, as well as to all ordinary players who have followed the discussions on these forums and who might be confused as to why certain things happen and other things are being said.
I shall also not further send private bug reports to the developers.
I believe this time-consuming work, while being appreciated by the DEVs and the high-spheres is no longer worthy of my time. From now on, the market will decide while i focus on testing other games where I happily found many much worthier colleagues and more responsive Dev houses.
To this date, WiA is still incomplete.
Everyone may have a glance at the thread WiA findings here: http://www.matrixgames.com/forums/tm.asp?m=1914279 to get a good glance of the status of its development when the whole “querelle” began with the AgeOD volounteers.
Such findings would have had to be kept private but unfortunately the recipient of such report stated he wouldn't accept it and closed his PM availability to me. The gangbang taking place in that thread is a fine example of what used to happen in the AgeOD development forums every time i presented an issue, punctually dismissed as non-existant or WAD, punctually leading to endless discussions with the other volounteers, mostly never producing a result. Having witnessed that, as explained in the thread, i several times proceeded bypassing this useless prelude and dealt directly with the DEVs with much better results for the game, the DEV house and the community...but that's in the past as stated in my premise. For the present time just remember that none of that was supposed to go public and by going public the guy who turned down that PM is held accountable as he is being held accountable for the overall strategy in coordinating efforts of others into what i call the "denial of truth syndrome".
The thread date (Nov 16) shows an analysis 4 months after the game release (Jul 4)and still encompassing several private reports later. Reports included almost all scenarios, played vs AI from both sides and were coupled with turn-by-turn analisys with attached descriptions of issues with pictures.
Whatever conception the reader has of development, and whether it has to be conceived as "incomplete and never-ending" or "timed project", the private report refusal turning into a public report, generated a querelle (in italian i would say diatriba, but i like calling it in my dialect: jacovelle) this thread calls to a forced end with the announcement (a happy event to some, i am sure) of my retirement from the discussion and from further issues related to any AgeOD product: the buck stops here.
So why is WiA an incomplete project?
The same good engine used in AACW was tweaked and simplified but there are a bunch of new features missing in AACW that qualify this as a standalone product and not a mere AACW mod.
Therefore, considering most of the engine features are shared with its predecessor, i had expected a much more polished result. While the engine is a winning tool, the result does not meet the expectations.
I was very disappointed Jul 4th and i entered the betas in the following days after regularly buying the game. I was disappointed in November, after the public and many other private reports and I still am disappointed in March, almost 1 year after the game release.
To this day, I have been never able to conclude a campaign, caught in a loop that can be recapped in : Patch release, new game, bug found, write report, campaign over, new patch, new game, bug found, write report, campaign over...loiter.
The aforementioned 2 theories on development imply different conclusions and implications: "never-ending development" is tolerant on superficial issues and allows more patience while the "timed-project" is totally intolerant of approximation. The development theory clashes with the customer's expectations and the nature of the customer, compared to the DEV house theory, generates that sensation of fulfillment or disappointment.
Those who belong to the first category will say: Patience, the game is still “young” and there’s much room for improvement.
Those who belong to the other category will allow no excuse and will say: I paid for the game, what the hell… I won't buy from them again.
In almost 2 years my attitude towards AgeOD has shifted from the first to the second category. The engine has a huge potential but, at least for me, their time is up and it hasn't lived up to my expectations. I always felt it a pleasure to help with whatever i could not just AgeOD but any company or community i owned a game from but somehow...this pleasure has turned into frustration and i thought that by staying i would just be supporting a philosophy (and the choices that come with it) while ultimately believing both to be wrong and counterproductive.
Therefore, in conclusion...not only i can't play due to bugs but also i can't help them. First of all because you've seen what happens when i list problems and secondly because the time i invest in the research of this free-willed help does not turn the company philosophy...it solves problems without solving the problem at the root of all problems: the wrong philosophy.
I limit myself now to an observation from the perspective of customer/player:
1) Flaws in technical development produce market consequences.
2) Every patch is a double edged sword where the changelog is a smoking gun.
3) The time window between one patch and the next is an indicator of the resources committed to a project.
What exactly makes WiA an incomplete project?
I suppose an example may say more than everything because through this example everyone can see.
4 months after the release, and already several patches later, in one scenario one of the opponents was missing.
Such problem is too macroscopic to be overlooked at 1.0 but when it is still there and an ex-betatester reports it after 3 or 4 patches have been released that makes the company appear really superficial. If you check the Wia Findings thread you will see many more examples and, of course, most of those problems have been solved or alleviated.
Still...couldn't this be avoided? If i hadn't pointed that out, how long those problems would have kept the game in a flawed mode? Does this company have a QA team at all?
The most important of all questions: Is it legit to employ customers as betatesters to justify a bad development philosophy?
It is evident that everyone sooner or later is going to get pissed at the produced results. Forget about the fact that when someone commits himself body and mind onto a project he deserves the best possible result...how does the company look on the market if the produced results are consistently and constantly below the customers' expectations?
Surely not all players belong to the first category but even those who do, after seeing 10 patches and still having in their game a bunch of problems would realize they paid to be guinea pigs, not to enjoy a fully grown product. How long can this go on before catastrophic consequences arise?
Let's examine the AI problems. When confronted with a direct question, the lead DEV of AACW said that half of the game is the AI. I figured out this to be true but still insisted that there was another way, to make the game totally multiplayer-dependant. My starting point is that whoever is able to program a good AI (which doesn't need to cheat) is wasted in the gaming industry and should be working at NASA.
Yet the die was cast, the AI was built. What's the result?
30 patches after AACW 1.0, and again you can see it in the WiA findings thread, this AI besieges New York with the only Army in sight while i am besieging its capital.
It is evident then, that the younger WiA, which has a better developed AI, thanks to its relative simplicity when compared to AACW and thanks to the experiences acquired after the AACW AI, has had better results.
However, and this to get back to the answer on why WiA is incomplete, the WiA AI still:
dies to attrition in winter,
doesn't defend villages to protect its native tribes,
doesn't attack the player's villages to destroy his native tribes,
has absolutely no naval/amphibious capability,
often forgets to capture ungarrisoned player objectives.
On the side of game glitches, the most notable are the fact that in WiA, contrary to AACW, besieged troops get reinforcements and supplies. When confronted with this problem, the volounteers stated that this was Wad. You can't cover both the feet and the head at the same time with a short blanket: If it's wad in WiA why the same engine deals with it differently in AACW?
Is WiA bugged or is AACW?
I just can't help thinking that if it takes 12 months to develop a buggy game and 18 months to develop a rock-solid one it should be natural to release it after 16 months. The logic behind this is that when a game is complete you can further develop it without a gun pointed behind your head. Such development is more relaxed and more efficient as opposed to a buggy game where your DEVs are always running off bugs and glitches while the volounteers have to face many complaints a day and your game takes bad reviews. The second advantage of this philosophy which i called timed-project, is that when your game is rock solid, you can use its backbone to deliver another blow on the market with minimal efforts because you have the experience and the feedback of the first title to support your technical and economic development.
Essentially, we are in presence of the opposite strategy. AACW is still incomplete and buggy (even though it's 100 times better than it was at its original release) and AgeOD releases NCP (at present time, seemingly more buggy and apparently abandoned) and then WiA which is already better than AACW was at the same age.
With these premises and the limited manpower and funding assigned, what's the outcome (the far predicted outcome) of WW1? A disaster of such magnitude the management had to offer refunds.
Some volounteer likes to give AgeOD a justification in the lack of manpower. He said that this is what happens with all strategy games nowadays. I am sorry but this is not true. An example of success with limited manpower is 2by3 and an example of a patch every year or 2 on a masterpiece game is WCS. They are both here at the Matrix. However even if it were true, and reasoning "per absurd" since when the market cares for justifications? Whether legit or not a DEV house is a business company in a competitive environment.
Customers don't want excuses and even though some tolerate, this tolerance is not unlimited in time, so what's the point of justifying these choices? It is a basic principle of marketing: Reinforce success, starve failure: When a choice doesn't produce the expected fruit you must be humble enough to recognize the mistake and change that choice.
An example of a "trunk" (as referred to the "never ending development" which is the root) bad choice comes from an episode that saw another me vs 10 gangbang.
Three weeks before departing from the betas i pointed out that despite fulfilling all listed objectives in the "Carolinas" scenario, the game didn't assign me the victory. I produced several SS (and in the process also helped squash a few bugs such as the F5 ledger screen not pointing the map to the clicked objective) testifying that while the scenario was saying that by capturing those objectives i would have won, in the end i either lost or had a stalemate.
The "trunk" choice here is the accumulation of VP turn after turn. This linear concept is too easy for such a complex game in my opinion...as an elastic scenario description could never match all possible combinations of accumulated VP by the 2 sides. The only logical choice seemed to tell the players the truth: The man with the most VP when the time is up wins.
A week of discussions later...the scenario descriptions were edited so that they showed the possibility of winning in case all objectives were captured, blaming an eventual defeat on too heavy losses or too slow progress.
Now isn’t this an “acrobatic” way to avoid saying: the side with the most VP when time is up wins? And why in the name of Bin Gates isn't the player allowed to know how the game works? Mystery.
What is definitely sure is that a few players, even after the scenario editing patch, came on the forums to ask why they hadn't won even after capturing all objectives. It was very embarassing to see players asking, volounteers and DEVs wasting time in covering up a bad "trunk" choice and, most importantly, devoting time on the forums when the first should be playing, the seconds devving and the latters should be testing.
It's like you buy a TV and instead of finding a useful manual you're forced to call the vendor to ask him how to set the channels: Poor display.
This display is the result of a very common syndrome in the gaming (and not only) industry. The people involved in the building process give for granted the understanding of all rules and mechanics and judge manuals and interfaces as exhaustive when they are not. Nothing i could say, in a week or two, could produce the desired result: spare this poor display for AgeOD to reap the benefits of "fishing in the blue ocean instead of re-fishing the same fish from the same pond again.
Better interface + better manual = more new players with much less support problems and wasted times.
Many who followed the discussions these days will find the "denial of truth" attitude in the public boards too. This attitude implies 3 strategies to be adopted by the 10 people wolfpack against me:
1) System is WAD, followed by allegedly logical explanation.
2) False report, bad understanding of game mechanics.
3) Personal reasons, no bug.
Let's forget about this scenario description editing issue and jump to a much more recent issue to show this attitude in use: http://www.matrixgames.com/forums/tm.asp?m=1997123
Bug has been reported privately and the Lead DEV has acknowledged the issue and is looking into the reason causing it. Be advised: In WIA supply is vital for offensive operations. We have at the date of that thread (actually 1 month before) a scenario where one side can't make use of bought supplies because they can't be transported to the continent.
First I am told there's no bug, then I'm told to submit again because the team was on holiday, then i am slandered and harassed, finally...when i am forced to post the PM i exchanged with the lead DEV, the issue is solved. Please Note: No apology was given for this behavior but the volounteers applied the standard procedure: everything WAD, then false report, then personal reasons behind the report.
I find this third strategy hilarious because it's like someone thinks that i post about bugs for personal reasons...making up bugs where there aren't any, trying to hurt people i care for and eventually seeking revenge for something long past which depended on my sole choice. After 19 years (and counting) in betatesting i could even get offended one of these days for being called a "fake reporter" but luckily i don't.
I will let everyone get to his own conclusions after reading the thread. What do i gain when this bug is squashed and what does AgeOD gains? Moreover... you can imagine how much it costs me having to deal with the same people whose attitude pushed me to leave AgeOD? Why does this always have to be when all i posted was a question asking updates on an issue i had informed the DEVs about?
What’s important to remark is that there’s a limited number of times you may disagree with so many at the same time (and so often) on how things should be done.
You are pursuing the improvement of the game which translates into better sales and better gaming experience for the community, they aren’t. They are just powerless to change the "root choice" and feel compelled to justify the "trunk" choices coming from it.
It was inevitable that sooner or later you don't feel anymore part of a group if you challenge the decisions they stubbornly justify and believe me, not even the U.S. Army's QA are so stubborn (and mind they are following much stricter discipline obviously).
While the 3rd point only came out recently and in these forums, the first 2 points were a constant in the private discussions. Facing this bad attitude everyday pushes you into seeking a reason to leave. Too many differences in workstyle and schedules, differences in priorities and philosophy. Now, some believe there's a "psychological subjugation" linking a DEV house to a tester. It is true but this doesn't apply to me.
I retain my right to say what i think wherever i want and i accept an unconditional termination of my NDA because this is their right every DEV house has.
On the other hand, i have the right to be myself and say what i think and, of course, i gladly accept the consequences of being and feeling free to do so.
Once this is understood, there can't be any misunderstandment on the eventual number 3) objection: It's simply false.
Luckily AgeOD still has many good sides and it would be unfair to just make a list of bad things without saying WHY they come. They come because there are choices behind them that produce good and bad things as consequences so… if we wanna be honest and complete in the assessment, the good things ALSO must be pointed out, and they have been pointed out in different places and times. True friends are those who praise you when you do something good but also kick you in the guts when you do something wrong.
I personally think WiA is already showing signs of becoming a med-term masterpiece. Compared to the same-age AACW it is much better and, since it’s simpler, the AI is a much more credible opponent.
I am sure it will go very far but that will happen *if* the right resources are committed and i hope this message is taken as a constructive advice rather than a staunch and useless critique.
It doesn't really matter what people think about me, what really matters to me is that i know for a fact that the people i care for @ AgeOD believe me. This is more valuable than anything bad thrown at me by everyone else, which is, by the way, also forgiven and forgotten.
There’s good sides and bad sides as in most things of life but the % of good or bad in a choice can be tweaked to a certain degree. This tweaking decides upon the success or failure in a compromise.
I once said: There's no worse deaf than one who doesn't want to hear.
The WiA findings, all of what i said in the meanwhile and this last message are mainly directed to this person who's pretending to be deaf.
The Dev House is the house and the father has the joy and responsibility at the same time of leading his children.
If the house burns, the father becomes homeless but so do the children.
Flaws in AACW produce hits in NCP sales, flaws in NCP produce hits in WiA sales, flaws in WW1 produce hits in VGN sales. These games are bricks that build the walls sustaining the house.
None of the kids involved in these discussions want the house to burn but they all know there's a limit to how many hits the bricks can take before the house collapses.
On the contrary, me in front line, they all wish AgeOD a very successful and bright future but this future will be ensured once everyone in the house stops justifying or hiding the truth on bad choices. Without a good "root" choice there can't be any good "trunk" choice.
Don't hide failure, starve it to release resources for a new "root" choice.
“Let's face it, if I had had to build a complete flight simulator, i would have ended up building an F-16.”
(G.Louie, CEO Spectrum Holobyte).
If the man, who had 200 coders and 500 beta, had to make compromises to succeed (and he did), it's all about making the right compromise.
Over and out.