The Patching Game (Fallout 3 Rant)

Another week, something else to rant about. This time, it’s my 2008 game of the year, Fallout 3, the PC version (but it also applies to owners of the console versions too).

Patching. It’s now as integral a part of computing as say the mouse or keyboard. As a software engineer, I understand the complexity behind a software project, and how the final version is never really good enough for public consumption, no matter how thorough your testing procedures are. And that’s especially true with games, because these are complex bits of code, and they rely on a variety of different hardware (Nvidia or ATI, and which GPU series, which sound chip …) and software (which driver version, which DirectX version, which Windows version …). So games do need patches, and it could be several patches before all the major bugs are fixed.

Fixing bugs is one thing though. Introducing new and more annoying bugs with every patch is another. And this is why I’m going to rant about Fallout 3 in this blog entry.

Fallout 3: Actual screenshot from my save game - great game, crap patches

Fallout 3: Actual screenshot from my save game - great game, crap patches

As I mentioned before, Fallout 3 is my 2008 game of the year, and with the DLCs, I think it might even be my 2009 game of the year. But all of this is despite, not because of, the patches that Bethesda Game Studios (the makers of Fallout 3) have released. Nearly all of them have introduced new and more annoying bugs, without fixing long standing ones. And you can’t even skip the patches because Fallout 3 on the PC is tied into Games for Windows Live, and so without the latest patch, you cannot get into your save games (well you can, but you’ll have move a few things around so you can play offline). The latest most annoying bug for me is the closing bug, introduced in the 1.5 patch with the Broken Steel DLC (the latest patch version is 1.6, and it doesn’t fix this issue) where if you quit the game, your computer hangs and you’ll have to restart. Your computer actually doesn’t hang, it’s just that Fallout 3 hangs and you can’t get out of it to shut it down. So I now play in windowed mode, or use Alt-F4 to close the game after getting to the main menu. This kind of workaround shouldn’t be necessary on a game that I’ve already paid nearly $100 for (including 3 DLCs). There are also video/audio codec related issues (nicely related to this website), which can be fixed, although it really should have been handled from a developer’s point of view by ensuring external codecs do not interfere with internal ones used by your game. And don’t even get me started on the Feral Reaver Ghouls that spasm and become invincible. For this, and many other bugs, and to read the rants of many other users, just check out Bethesda’s own Fallout 3 PC issues forum – 68,000 posts and still going strong, unfortunately (and to compare, the PS3 and Xbox 360 issues forum when added together only have 15,000 posts).

The PS3/Xbox 360 versions ¬†aren’t much better, and they are even less lucky because they can’t play in windowed mode as a workaround (although to be fair, they don’t get the shutdown bug), and they can’t use console commands to resurrect NPCs that die for no apparent reason. But they do get random crashes, get stuck in place, and various other little glitches that are easy to fix on the PC (through the aforementioned console commands, for example to teleport yourself to another location if you get stuck in the rock crevasse or something), but impossible to fix on video game consoles.

Anyway, the point of this rant is that while I fully understand the difficulty in developing games these days, but could you at least ensure that patches do not introduce new bugs? For a game like Fallout 3, many people will forgive the developers and use the workarounds because even with the bugs, it’s still a great game. But for any other game, well let’s just say that no wonder so many people pirate games – it really is the only way to ensure that the game actually works on your PC before you pay for it (demos, while great, aren’t the full game and so there are things that won’t show up in it).

My rant is over so to thank you all for reading this crap, I will present some troubleshooting tips for my fellow Fallout 3 PC sufferers, I mean gamers:

  1. Don’t run the game at the highest possible resolution/quality setting. Tone it down a notch (or two) and the game will crash less.
  2. Run the game in offline mode so you won’t have to be stuck with Games for Windows Live and being forced to apply patches. This is not a rant against Games for Windows Live though, because I like the service (although I think it should be optional), particularly the Achivements, which adds to the longevity of games like Fallout 3.
  3. Refer to the Troubleshooting Tips thread on the official forum to get started with the workarounds.
  4. Save often – I now have over 1,500 saves occupying 2.53 GB of space, and I still wish I had saved more often to avoid having to replay areas due to crashes (to save space, you can compress old saves and then delete them – you can get a 70% saving on disk space by compressing the save games, which makes me wonder why the developers didn’t add compression to the save files in the first place).
  5. Your audio chip/card may come with software that gives you all sorts of audio effects, like Dolby Virtual Speakers or whatever – turn all of these off, because audio problems are one of the major sources of crashes for Fallout 3.
  6. While using the console commands may be considered cheating, it isn’t cheating if you fail a mission due to some glitch. Correct the glitch with the console commands, and if ethics aren’t that important to you (I guess that would depend on your Karma rating), then gives yourself a couple of hundred or thousand caps as reward for your patience while you’re in the console.
  7. As mentioned earlier with the exit-crash bug, instead of exiting the game like a normal person, go to the main menu and press Alt-F4 to shut down Fallout 3. And then go into Task Manager to shut down the Fallout3.exe process (otherwise it keeps on running, consuming resources like the full game does). If you’re like me and tend to forget to do this, then play the game in windowed mode (see tip below) and shut down through Task Manager.
  8. Play the game in windowed mode sucks, but it seems to avoid some of the crashes (possibly thanks for the lower forced resolution).
  9. Get a PS3 or Xbox 360.
  10. Get the word out about Bethesda’s Fallout 3 patches and complain – maybe if enough people complain, then at least the serious problems will be fixed. Not that this strategy worked for Oblivion or anything.


2 Responses to “The Patching Game (Fallout 3 Rant)”

  1. Weekly News Roundup (12 July 2009) « Blog Archive « DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Just what the world needs, another blog « The Patching Game (Fallout 3 Rant) […]

  2. PC Gaming FAIL: GTA IV Stutter, Freezing and Troubleshooting Tips « Blog Archive « DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] and easier access to command line consoles and such to “fix” broken games – see my rant on Fallout 3. Speaking of Fallout 3, I guess this blog entry is pretty much a follow up to that, and it’s […]

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