Blog: Nintendo and the “Patch Crutch”

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I recently played through Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, released on June 14th in North America exclusively for Sony’s PlayStation 3. I began my play-through on June 19th, 5 days after its release. The game was fun enough, but I had a lot of problems with random glitches in different areas, such as guards not appearing until I got up from my crouch, rendered characters dying on a navy blue, flat background, impossible-to-climb ladders complete with buzzing characters, and a wonderfully floaty axe head. When I brought this up to my friend, he said that I had probably run into the problems because it was early in the game’s release, and the game ran much smoother after the released patches. That got me thinking. You shouldn’t have to patch a game to polish gameplay after the game has been sent to the public. Nintendo releases clean, polished games over and over again, is Nintendo ever going to give into the “patch crutch”?

If you’ve payed the smallest bit of attention to any kind of gaming news in the past year, you will know about the botched launch of Sim City earlier this year. Many claimed the game, even if you could get into it, was completely unplayable due to the defective traffic systems, the online requirements, and the dropping of gameplay elements to fix other problems. The game was released in March, and a month later, Maxis had already released 8 patches for the game. Patches 2.0 and 4.0 were released in the months following, with Patch 6 coming out almost 4 months after the original release date. Assassin’s Creed III was released last year, and with it came technical NPC issues, console crashes, and sound synchronization issues along with many other things. A day one update to the software couldn’t fix all of these problems, so Ubisoft released another patch to clean and polish the game where the first one couldn’t.

This is what is referred to as the “patch crutch”, wherein a company will release a game without the polish it should have and can send out patches to “finish” the game after release. In the case of Sim City, it was released far before it should have, but the release was rushed to get it out without having to bump back the date, and Assassin’s Creed was released as the start of a yearly franchise, no doubt being rushed to meet their vision of what the series was to become.

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Please note that patches and DLC (Downloadable Content) are two completely different things. Bear with me, because as obvious as it may be to some, I’m going to put it out there for those of you who may not understand. Patches are released free of charge to fix problems in games. Any glitches, any programming errors, technical issues, you name it, it can be fixed through the internet. DLC is released, for a cost, and adds extra content onto the game. New Super Luigi U is DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U as it adds extra content onto the original game. Just to clear up any confusion.

Now, patching games isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. For example, Mario Kart 7 suffered from a glitch on the infamous Wuhu Island Loop where you could fall off the road at a certain point and skip a sizeable portion of the track. This made online play a nightmare. You and your competitors could choose the courses you wanted to play, and without fail there would be at least one player wanting to race on that certain course to cut ahead and gain some online reputation. Nintendo sent out a patch to fix this oversight, and online play is no longer a miserable experience. Even in The Last of Us, they patched the game early on to remove some phone-sex hotline numbers accidentally left in from development, and though that didn’t affect gameplay, it was patched regardless, because it was a mistake. An accident. They didn’t recognize it as a problem, and fixed it, as it hadn’t been immediately recognizable to them. Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien ran into this problem with Wii U console freezes at the time of its release.

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