Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Lair Reviewers Guide, Which Veers Off Into Another Subject Entirely

Sony has actually sent out a 21-page "reviewers guide" for Lair, a picture of which you can see here.

That's funny enough, but John Harwood reminded me of a classic moment in gaming history, and it's about Outpost.

I still remember the feelings of absolute awe I had when I played the Outpost demo. Pure awe. You were building a colony on an alien planet after an asteroid (Vulcan's Hammer, thanks Moby Games) destroyed Earth, and the atmosphere of the game was just stunning.

It felt weighty.

Plus, the pedigree of the game looked fantastic. Bruce Balfour (designer) had been involved with both Wasteland and Neuromancer, and also had worked at NASA doing artificial intelligence research.

Seriously, I thought Outpost could potentially be the greatest game ever.

PC Gamer came out with an early review of Outpost and gave it a 93% score, which was the highest score the magazine had ever given, if I remember correctly. So my anticipation went up even more.

Finally, and it was an agonizing wait, the game came out. I still remember opening the box. I still remember what the box looked like. Everything had an epic feeling about it, like this was going to be an experience I would never forget.

I was right, except it wasn't the "never forget" kind of experience I had been hoping for. It took about an hour to figure out that Sierra On-Line had basically released an alpha. The game was incomprehensibly buggy and missing huge chunks of features.

As it turned out, PC Gamer had been given a "beta" (I don't think this game ever actually made it to beta, but that's just my opinion) and was promised that a long list of bugs and problems would be fixed. So they gave a version of Outpost they'd never actually played a 93% rating.

Outpost was quickly renamed "Outhouse," and even after a few patches, the game was a mess. The concept was still rock-solid, the atmosphere was still amazing, but the game was just never finished.

Here's what John Harwood reminded me of, though: Sierra had a newsletter. I think they sent it out quarterly, and instead of just owning up to having ruined what should have been one of the greatest games ever made by releasing it before it was finished, they put an article in the newsletter titled "Outpost: The Game That Was Just Too Difficult For Most."

Um, right.

John also reminded me of this:
I still love the fact that over 1/3 of the pages in the hint guide referred to a feature that didn't make it into the final game or wasn't functional... and yes, I counted.

If Outpost had been released today, some mod team would have spent three years and thousands of hours of their own time finishing the game. Sadly, that kind of thing didn't happen in 1994, and the game was never finished.

That's a very rambling way of saying that when a publisher blames the gamers who are playing the game, or the reviewers who are reviewing the game, it's a guaranteed sign that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

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