Tuesday, December 18, 2007

EA: The Disorderly Orderlies (But With a PhysX Twist)

Here's an e-mail from Sean Hoyt, and it's so well-organized that I'm going to post it verbatim:

I thought you might find my recent experiences with EA interesting. I've been downloading a lot of PC demos lately, trying to figure out where to spend my meager resources. I enjoyed Far Cry, so I thought I'd try out Crysis. While running the demo it installs a copy of the Ageia PhysX engine. I try the Crysis demo, and meh... not so great. I uninstall Crysis, but notice that PhysX is still there. Since they have a separate uninstall I decide to leave it.

Fast forward a few weeks, and now EA is hyping their Medal of Honor: Airborne demo. Okay, I'll bite for a whopping 1.3GB demo. Many hours later (all the hosts are running at some painfully slow bitrate) I have my shiny new demo which I proceed to install. Everying looks fine, and about 5 minutes later the Windows Installer kicks in. Then nothing. No error message. No MHO:A installed. Simply nothing.

Well, isn't that special. Okay, try a reboot and lets go at it again. Same thing. I try to get to the MOH:A forums, but it's not really clear how to accomplish this so I forget about it for a few days.

So I find myself this afternoon needing to kill an hour or so while I'm waiting for someone, so I give it another try. Still nothing. Finally I do much searching on the internet, and find out how to add a registry key that forces the Windows Installer to write out a log, and it spits out a huge one. Way down at the bottom I find this little tidbit:
MSI (s) (A4:C8) [15:40:06:539]: Product: AGEIA PhysX v7.07.09 -- Installation operation failed.

Well that's strange, because I'm pretty sure that Crysis installed version 7.09.xx. I launched the PhysX control panel, and sure enough, I'm past the minimum requirements. I try google about this problem, but get nothing, so I tried the EA forums again. It seems that when you go to the MOH:A home page, and select forums, you don't get to the forums, but you get a listing of the last five or six posts. Well, nothing there looks relevant, but just for giggles I tried jumping to one of the posts.

Whoa, this is whole different site. It even has a different URL! Okay, I tweak the URL and manage to get to the top of the forums. Success in something at last. What a minute, what's this? A posting marked The MOHA TECHNICAL ISSUES & FIXES LIST? That looks promising, and inside it I find the following message:
Problem: My Install rolls back at the Ageia Physics Driver stage
Solution: Your driver may be more up to date than what Airborne is trying to install. Try rolling back one version and the install should complete.

So let me get this straight:
1. EA publishes Crysis.
2. EA publishes Medal of Honor: Airborne.
3. Both products use the PhysX engine.
4. The Crysis demo comes out a couple of weeks before the MOH:A demo.
5. The Crysis demo uses a newer PhysX engine.
6. The MOH:A demo installer doesn't tell me what's wrong.
7. The MOH:A demo doesn't give you an option to skip the PhysX install.
8. You can't get to the forums for MOH:A by clicking on the forums link on the MOH:A site.
9. I have to break Crysis to play MOH:A (I'm assuming since I'd already uninstalled Crysis).

This must be one of those 'side benefits' of being a ginormous, multi-national entertainment conglomorate.

On the face of it, this is just another example in a long list of how EA isn't doing a good job of process management.

But--there's one more piece.

Last week, I received Black College Football Experience. Months ago, when this game was first announced, I wrote about why I thought it was a great idea, and when I first opened the package, it really heightened my enthusiasm for the game, because everything that was included with the game was absolutely first-rate.

So I start the install process, and I'm psyched. Time passes. More time passes. It's the longest install I've ever gone through, and one of the first steps was to intall PhysX drivers. I already had drivers on my system, but I assumed it was overwriting with a later version.

Finally, the install finishes, and the game is ready to go. I double click on the desktop icon and--nothing.

Let me say that again: NOTHING.

No error message, no task kicking off, nothing.

I try rebooting. Nothing. I try to start the task several times. Nothing. I try from the game menu. Nothing.

I try e-mailing tech support for the game. It's been over a week now, and nothing from them, either.

My system started to seem sluggish at times, even though nothing unusual was showing in Task Manager. After a couple of days, though, when it was still sluggish, I finally remembered something that you guys taught me: look at the Windows Event Viewer. So I did, and what I saw were multiple events taking place every ten minutes, and they were related to the game looking for the PhysX drivers, as far as I could tell. Here's an example:

Detection of product '{D405F378-7AE1-45FE-8699-BA8E2EAEF530}', feature 'testphys_Files' failed during request for component '{D2D7B4BF-6CCA-11D5-8B3F-00105A9846E9}'

This isn't the first time that I've tried to run a game, nothing happened, it was related to PhysX, and there were no error messages. Why are developers not creating error messages when their product won't start because it fails a PhysX-related check?

So I haven't played the game. No word back from tech support, and at this point, none expected. Why anyone would spend what must have been a significant amount of money developing a game (including buying a multi-year license for several HBCU conferences) and not have tech support to help people, I don't know.

I do know, though, that PhysX seems to generate more issues for me than all other drivers combined.

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