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I'm sad, and angry. Mostly angry, actually.

I spent last weekend watching Elder Scrolls Online turn into Elder Scrolls on Life Support right in front of my eyes. It was that bad. Still a beta, the hopeful were typing into chat. Still a beta. What do you expect?

Error message after server crash, Elder Scrolls Online MMO
Ooopsies!
Well, from a beta for a game that is scheduled to go to market in less than a month, I'd expect it to run. And all too often, it didn't. Or it ran right off a cliff.

More on this, and why it would be a tragedy for gaming, below under the orange bundle of jute....

Error: An unknown error has occurred.

How many times did I see that message after the game suddenly lost contact with the server and shut down? Thirty? Forty? In three days? Way too often.

UI Error.

Error: Error 200 (7:1:1060:597)  Login service has failed.

Error: Error 318 (6:3:1162:2) A message rate limit was hit.

In its worst moments, the server seemed to be playing Whack-a-Mole with us, letting us get to the character selection screen and a little bit, say two minutes, into the game before it tossed us out again. Or we would try logging in, and it would tell us we were already in game, right after it had thrown us out. And then it would eject us again, or crash, or sh*t the carpet in some other way.

A drink vendor in Elder Scrolls Online, who is glitched, with the UI error screen up beside her.
You'd drink too if you were stuck in a video game this buggy.
It thought up a lot of ways to sh*t the carpet.

If this is the beta, the alpha must have been banned under one of the Geneva Conventions. Probably the one concerning torture.

I and my partner were both in earlier betas. These had uncovered a number of faults, which we hoped would be addressed in this, the first beta for which there was no non-disclosure agreement. Well, live in hope, die in despair, as my mother always said. A number of the old faults were still there, only worse.

Here's an example. In the second area you travel to, the Orc island of Betnikh, necromancers allied with the demonic Molag Bal are raising the dead in an old Breton graveyard, and both the ghostly Bretons and the Orcs need it to stop. You are charged with calling forth three evil spirits from their hiding-places in Oblivion, bringing them to our plane, and destroying them so that the dead can again rest in peace. A relatively straightforward quest, with both its motivations and its mechanisms clear and consistent (you use a custom staff of Arkay, the God of the Dead, to do the deed).

In the previous beta, I had found the whole thing very frustrating because one of the evil spirits declined to be summoned. All the ceremony produced was a swirling mass of ominous mist, but there was never anything you could land a blow on, much less kill. The situation righted itself after a while – a long while – but it was still an annoying and story-breaking waste of time.

I returned there in this beta expecting this problem not to recur. Unfortunately, it did. Not once, but three times. This time, none of the evil spirits was willing to put itself in harm's way. Sensible, from their point of view, because with the passage of time there gathered an impatient, bloody-minded lynch mob of players waiting for them to pop up to be killed. But disappointing. And quest-breaking.

The cloud that DOESN'T produce the Abomination of Wrath in the graveyard at Bethnikh.
"I'm not coming out until you PROMISE to be nice to me!"
In other words, the bug hadn't been corrected. It has been universalized. The rationale for this is not easy to reconstruct.

This sort of thing happened again and again and again. I would try to incinerate the omnipresent wolves with a fireball before they caught up with me, and then find out that none of my weapons would work unless I rebuilt the user interface....with the wolves gnawing on my kneecaps in the mean time.

In one particularly absurd incident, a pirate kept on hitting me with slashes of his sword even though on the screen it looked as if he were a good sixty feet away. I couldn't fight back. None of my weapons, magical or physical, would work. This went on until I had one foot in the grave, when finally the system lurched to life again and several projectiles I had launched at least five minutes earlier caught up with the pirate and blew him into next week.

A pirate standing far away who is still managing to slash me with his sword. Probably the result of lagging.
What a long sword you have, Mr. Pirate!
That was a happy ending. Sometimes when you come back to the present after one of those jams, it's only for your funeral. Something has beaten or bitten you to death while you were away with the fairies.

It didn't only happen in battle. The game systems were reliably unreliable throughout, freezing almost at random. That major fault was complimented, if that's the word I want, by a number of lesser annoyances. To begin with, they haven't decided what keys to bind to some functions yet, so you get absurd little messages telling you to press the key "Not Bound" to open the social menu, for instance.

Absurd message telling you to press the Not Bound key, which of course doesn't exist. They've simply forgotten to bind a key to this command.
Is the Not Bound key the one next to the Any key?
The in-game person to person “whisper” chat never worked at all, so I and my partner had to communicate through Steam chat. That was, when we could find each other. More than half the time, she would be invisible to me, or I would be invisible to her, except perhaps as a lonely white arrowhead drifting about. Even when we did manage to appear to each other in our habits as we live, there was virtually nothing that we could do together successfully.
I and my partner in Elder Scrolls Online.
That's funny. According to the game, you don't exist.
The system never managed to understand that we were both online at the same time, telling me that my partner was not in the game, even when she was standing in front of me jumping up and down and turning the air blue with infuriated commentary.

It went on and on, varied though unwelcome. On occasion, distant walls vanished inexplicably, showing the void beyond; roofs shone in strange ways. Swimming could turn into a nightmare of tumbling horizons and graphic collapse as the program couldn't decide whether you were above or below the water. Arrows mysteriously failed to reach their targets. Once a pirate knocked me back so powerfully that he propelled me right through the treads of a staircase and left me stranded in the space beneath, unable to get out. I finally managed to leave by teleporting to a wayshrine – there is a charge for that, and if I had not had the money I would have been out of luck. At any rate, almost as soon as I stepped out of the wayshrine I got killed..... and woke up under the stairs again. Back to the wayshrine again, but I had to pay double this time – the game, in a snotty little message, fined me for teleporting to a wayshrine twice in such quick succession. The criticism was not appreciated.

Glitch, glitch, glitch. The crafting systems in the game have drawn general praise, which I think is deserved, but they would be even better if you could get into and out of them without crashing or generating some absurdity. My characters tended to disappear when I tried to leave crafting – at least part of them disappeared, leaving the arms floating in the air innocent of any other support and requiring a restart or a user interface rebuild to work again.

When I said "To arms!", I didn't mean it LITERALLY.....
There was also a general tendency when leaving a resource-gathering scene, such as picking flowers or hammering on an outcropping of ore, for the figure to partially lose control for a longer or shorter time, leaving it only able to move in straight lines on the X and Y axis, but unable to change the angle of view or rotate. This is at the very least frustrating and ridiculous; fatal as well, if you have to deal with another of the incessant attacks from wolves and other hostile wildlife.

The wildlife can be surprisingly durable, by the way: mudcrabs have shrunk to a more normal size than their cousins in Skyrim, but it takes three or four blows with a warhammer to put one down, and they have acquired the ridiculous though thankfully largely worthless ability to tunnel underground faster than they can run. If you hated the things in Skyrim, you'll loathe them here. And, in a weirdly absurd touch, their dead bodies yield leather. Wolves have gone to magic school and learned how to duplicate themselves, which can easily have fatal results for you if you are a very low-level character, but only makes the pile of dead wolves higher once you acquire some elementary projectile spells. It's tempting to farm them for their leather; as usual in a multiplayer game, creatures respawn very quickly and in predictable positions. (I once staggered back to town with over 300 pieces of wolf leather.) Foxes are back, with their playful habits, though they seem definitely anorexic compared with their relatives in Skyrim: perhaps the one animal model that is clearly inferior to its predecessors.

Sometimes the annoyances are the direct result of design perversity or carelessness. For instance, you cannot trade with members of your own group – the trade interface will not open. So you have to leave the group, trade, and then rejoin – a cumbersome piece of idiocy. You can also trade things by putting them into a guild bank from which any member of the guild can withdraw items – but only if your guild is ten members or more. Nine – or two, as in the case of myself and partner – and you're sh*t out of luck. Encumbrance is calculated by the type of item, not the number or the weight, so one person may have a full pack carrying fifty types of flowers, and another may be equally full lugging fifty stacks of iron bars, which makes very little sense.

But perhaps the outstanding deliberate irritant is the lock-picking minigame. Varying flavors of these “realistic” nuisances are as common and as welcome as cockroaches, but one generally manages to endure them. In Elder Scrolls Online, there has been a special effort to make them unendurable by slapping a very short time limit onto the lock picking attempt. Think Oblivion's lock picking, with more fragile picks, a more finicky lock, a ticking clock, no auto-pick option, and an iffy “break the lock” gamble that isn't always present. The time limit is imbecile. We are dealing with locked chests and containers, not time bombs. Why should the attempt be concluded in twenty seconds? Such a transparent and contrived attempt to make the task more difficult deserves nothing but contempt, and I suspect most players break the locks that can be broken, and ignore the rest.

Not all the changes are bad ones. In fact, if the damned thing would run smoothly, the positive would greatly outweigh the negative. First and very important, the editor that you use to build your own character model is superb, one of the best I've ever seen. You can be handsome or gruesome, or anything in between, not a blot on the landscape as in vanilla Skyrim. Elves can be ethereal again, but I took delight in trying out a fat old orc with a face grotesque enough to curdle milk and crack mirrors.

Picture of extremely ugly Orc made with the new character editor, which is very flexible.
Hrim the Butt-Ugly at your service, ma'am.
My partner saw one person playing as a heavy-set young woman with pigtails and full-body tattoos, dressed only in her underwear. When they say be who you want to be, they really mean it.

The medium armor class has been re-introduced, and those tedious nuisances who have been miserable since Morrowind over the loss of the pauldron (armor shoulder-guard) can again be at peace. Much more important, you can drag and drop apparel and weapons, and see on a display your character's equipment, as in Morrowind, so no more accidental wandering around in your knickers Skyrim-style.

Some changes balance the game better. Quest rewards have been brought down to earth – no more getting hundreds or thousands of gold pieces from ordinary persons for doing relatively simple tasks. Alchemy has been made much harder by severely limiting the types and quantities of raw materials available, so you don't get the ridiculous situations found in Skyrim, where potion-grinding can make you filthy rich in short order. Most of the crafting additions add interest and depth to the game, although I do wonder who is going to bother much with fishing other than out of curiosity as to what one might catch. Research into armor and weapons traits still requires destroying an item that has the trait, but now you also have to wait a considerable time for the results. The weapons and armor upgrades are far more complex and difficult than in Skyrim, a change that is often frustrating but feels much more realistic than Skyrim's “Whoopie, here I am level one and improving this ebony warhammer!” In general, you have to earn your advantages, which is a good thing, even though it can grow fearfully complex at times.

One interesting consequence of the temporal positioning of Elder Scrolls Online, a thousand years before Skyrim, is that some of its systems seem to be functioning in a much more advanced way than those that are supposedly prevalent much later. The crafting and alchemy differences aren't that noticeable, other than crafting taking in a much wider area, and I suspect Skyrim has been or will be modded to smooth out that discontinuity. The changes in enchanting are much more noticeable. Elder Scrolls Online enchanting, done by constructing glyphs out of runes found here and there on the map, is both fun and sensibly proportioned (most of the glyphs are strictly limited both in application and strength, although the enchantments they provide can be replaced if necessary). The trouble is that it looks and feels a thousand years ahead of Skyrim's enchanting tables, not a thousand years behind them. The mere change is easy to understand – a lot can happen in a hundred years, let alone a thousand – but the apparent regression sticks out like a sore thumb.

As for the story, it does its job of holding the various pieces together. There are two stories running at any one time: the main game quest line, you versus Molag Bal for the return of your own soul and the fate of the world, and a local main story in each area you pass through. (A system of fast travel using wayshrines ensures that you can go back to anywhere you have already been, quickly and easily.)

The tutorial level is set in the Wailing Prison in Coldharbor, following the Elder Scrolls tradition of the player beginning as a prisoner. Coldharbor is the otherworldly realm of the Daedric Prince Molag Bal, who rejoices in the titles of Lord of Domination, Lord of Cruelty, and King of Rape. It's improbably simple and easy, but since this is where players new to the game get their first introduction to its mechanics, it has to be. Here is where you find out that you are not only dead but missing your soul, which you lost when you were sacrificed to Molag Bal back in the human world. Despite these fairly obvious weaknesses, you high-tail it out of there and back home to the mortal world with the help of an blind old man known only as The Prophet, looting basic equipment and supplies as you go.

You discover, to your surprise, that just as Hitler was a frustrated painter, Molag Bal appears to be a frustrated chef.

Colonel Molag Bal's Fried Chicken, with complimentary human sacrifices.
At any rate, that's the only explanation I can think of for the containers in his demonic lair to be full of such things as chicken meat, corn mash, brewing grain, and recipes for chicken noodle soup, roast chicken, ale, and beer, all of which you can steal and turn to your profit upon your return to the mortal world. Just don't tell your customers where you learned to cook....

The main game quest line appears as strong as any other in the Elder Scrolls family, which I know seems perilously close to damning with faint praise. However, in the beta it was difficult to make enough progress to get much idea of the main story, unless you hurried through the levels – and there is nothing less in the spirit of the Elder Scrolls than hurrying. That you are interacting with a gentleman known only as The Prophet, who is convinced of your transcendent importance, sent a cold shudder up my spine at first, but this fellow is much more tolerable that some of his ilk – even rather human sometimes, as when he complains of landing on his head on his return to Tamriel from Coldharbor. Whether he stays unpretentious or becomes unendurable remains to be seen.

Very slender female Nightblade in black armor.
NOT heavy-set.
A female Breton Nightblade in medium armor.
The local stories and their offshoots never descend into the ridiculous, though they can be quirky, and most of the quests are interesting. These usually succeed in bringing your companions to life as believable figures. Many situations are familiar, but that isn't much of a problem unless you are determined to find fault. On Stros M'Kai, for instance, the first area encountered after escaping Coldharbor, there's a cowardly Orc, whose mother is pressing him to kill a monster to prove his manhood, or Orc-hood, and who runs away from the monster after summoning it, leaving you to do the dirty work. He would like to be a smith, not a warrior. Yes, it's been seen before, but the situation of a member of a stereotyped minority wanting to be something different, not just another instance of the stereotype, is real enough, and the poor fellow has one of the most utterly hangdog expressions I've ever seen on a video game character, with dialog to match. There's also an inquisitive but timid High Elf with a pet Dwemer robot spider, delicately bloodthirsty (“The twitching. I'm particularly interested in the twitching”), who always "allows" you to go first if danger seems near, and then suddenly discovers he has urgent business elsewhere; an omnipromiscuous rogue pursued by both former lovers and aspiring ones, male and female, a useful fellow but realistic enough to give you the creeps if you're playing as a woman character; a coolly efficient Redguard pirate captain who's been abandoned by her crew for being insufficiently piratical; and another pirate captain who poisons one of her enemies and leaves her to die, but not before telling you where she's put the antidote. This last is a good example of the subtlety of the narrative: the captain later criticizes you if you save her enemy's life, but if she doesn't want you to use the antidote, why does she go out of her way to inform you exactly where you can find it? It's clear that she wants to appear ruthless in taking revenge for what her enemy has done, but doesn't really want the woman to die. After all, as she remarks at the end, lesson learned: alive or dead, that person will never be getting in her way again.

I've left discussion of the audio and the maps themselves until last, because there really isn't anything to say except go see for yourself. Both Stros M'Kai and Betnikh are superbly done -- the maps are much better quality than those in Skyrim -- and all characters but your own are fully voiced (John Cleese appears in a cameo role in Coldharbor, as a crazy knight-errant, "mad as a box of frogs"). It seems as if the developers spent most of their money and effort here, in the detail lavished even on structures and features that have nothing to do with any game objective and which you will find only by chance, if at all. When I was circling the coast of Betnikh to get a general idea of its size and features, I stumbled upon a beach that was alive with tiny green frogs. It was quite out of the way and had no game significance whatsoever. It was just there to be there, so to speak, and to reward the player who could shake off the OCD obsession with “the main quest line” and meander in any and all directions possible.

There's a ruin called the Tower of the Singing Sun on the coast of Stros M'Kai, again out of the way to anywhere vital and best discovered by wandering around the entire island. You don't know much about its history, and you probably never will. There is nothing whatsoever to do there other than listen to the seabirds and the wind, collect a few flowers, and watch the sun rise or set if you have come at dawn or dusk, the best times. The tower sits there quietly under the sky, looking out over the sea toward the lost Redguard homeland, the drowned continent of Yokuda, hundreds or even thousands of years old, reminding you that today's story is just one minor footnote to a narrative that is far longer than any individual life and will always remain unknown in most of its details.

Sunset over the docks, with the protagonist swimming.
The meticulous care taken over the structures, ruins, and scenery, and the lovely background music, combine to evoke what for me is the chief attraction of the Elder Scrolls game series: the gentle sadness and soft twilight of a Silver Age, living amid the ruins and scraps of civilizations more advanced, or at least more optimistic, than yours, aware that nothing you can do will ever bring past glories back and that you'll be lucky far beyond any reasonable expectation if you can even manage to preserve what you have now. Molag Bal, Lord of Domination and King of Rape, intends to annex your world to his dreary realm of Coldharbor, and you are under imminent threat. Even if there were no Molag Bal, the mortal races of Tamriel are deep into a three-sided civil war to determine who will inherit an empty Imperial throne, making a bad situation worse. And your soul-shriven character is somehow a vital part of all this, but no one has told you the details of how or why, or how best to prepare for whatever role the future holds. You can't even remember what your name used to be.

But sunrise at the Tower of the Singing Sun is still beautiful enough to linger over in the present. Time enough later to get on with all the little tasks fate puts in your way to do, hoping that they form a recognizable pattern some day in the future.


Finally, a word to our sponsors, so to speak.

Dear Bethesda,

You have created this lovely world, sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful, and then you've pooped all over it with your crappy programming, just as if vandals had hauled Michelangelo's David into a courtyard and sprinkled its shoulders with cracked corn.

Set it right, please. Ten or more server crashes a day is not acceptable. Missing body parts are not acceptable. You're not some indie house with a minuscule budget. You've sold twenty million copies of Skyrim, so you can't plead poverty.

Set it right even if you have to delay the launch by six months. Even if it takes a year.

If you don't, I hope that a detachment of Molag Bal's Fire Atronaches drags you off to Peyrite's Ashpits and locks you up on the very lowest level, to choke on the dust of our dreams until the end of time.

Or until you learn how to program a computer.

Whichever comes first.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

    by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 06:21:02 AM PST

  •  Sorry to hear that. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sagesource, Timaeus, blackhand

    I am a big fan of the game and was hoping the on-line version would be as good as the earlier versions.   I guess I will hold off awhile until the bugs are worked out.

  •  I'm going to be so bitter if this kills Bethesda. (4+ / 0-)

    Also, you played the rest of their games, right?  I can't believe you expected it to be anything but a hilariously bug-ridden mess.

    Oblivion (which is still sold today, on Steam) ended up having to have a fan-made patch which fixed over 2,500 bugs.

    My wife's experience with Skyrim involved most of the dragons bursting out of the ground as skeletons, already dead.

    "I... I don't know why they come to me to die.  I just wish they didn't... squirm as much."

    •  The fan-made patch for Skyrim... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timaeus, blackhand

      ....is now up to around 6,500 bugs.

      I'm in two minds about the people who do all this free work for Bethesda. On the one hand, it's very helpful for the people who play the Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. On the other, it seems to have corrupted Bethesda. As one friend remarked, they could probably crap out an entirely non-working game, just a heap of vaguely connected parts, and in three months the modding community would have it running like clockwork. Too bad that most modding doesn't work with an MMO.

      But it won't kill Bethesda. As I said, they've sold 20 million copies of Skyrim. When that figure was around 7 million, I was told that this represented about six hundred million dollars of gross income. Games sold later in the cycle are often heavily discounted, but I would think that 20 million brings them in a billion dollars gross, at least. What I do hope is that there is enough public humiliation to force them to take the technical side more seriously. But that's undermined by the fact that a lot of people, including myself, will buy it anyway, as a bug-ridden mess, because when it's running it's so damned beautiful.

      (Yes, I know about the odd habits of the Skyrim dragons. I spent a large part of one game with dragon skeletons dropping on me just about every time I went outside. I had to use console commands to delete the damn things in the end. I also use console commands to delete loose objects and trap triggers when I have a companion with me, otherwise they march straight into them and get banged up. I've almost gotten used to beating their games into shape -- but it shouldn't be necessary.)

      "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

      by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 06:51:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Depends how long they beat a dead horse. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sagesource
        But it won't kill Bethesda. As I said, they've sold 20 million copies of Skyrim. When that figure was around 7 million, I was told that this represented about six hundred million dollars of gross income. Games sold later in the cycle are often heavily discounted, but I would think that 20 million brings them in a billion dollars gross, at least.
        As far as I can tell, the most important part of building an MMO is knowing when to pack it in and/or make it free-to-play.  Taking on World of Warcraft and their prescription model has pretty much killed every game that tried so far.

        Michael Morhaime probably burns stacks of money in his fireplace just to free up space thanks to WoW.

    •  Yes, and it is still impossible to play a game (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sagesource, Timaeus

      of Oblivion for more than 300 hours without using a saved game editor.  Thankfully both the xbox 360 and ps3 saved game encryption has been cracked like a walnut.

      You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 06:53:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm amazed.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Odysseus

        ...that anyone plays these games on consoles at all. On the PC, I'm constantly in and out of the console to smooth out rough edges. I think I'd go crazy if I couldn't at the very least delete inconvenient objects and unlock doors whose keys are lost.

        "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

        by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 07:48:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Fallout: New Vegas is a bugfest on PS3 (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sagesource

          I mean, it's a bugfest on any platform, but it's impossible to get a fan-made patch on a console. Its biggest problem is the massive frame-rate drop as the save file gets bigger. At least completely quitting the game and restarting tends to fix that problem.

          What is it with programmers and that sort of problem? Microprose's Birth of the Federation was basically unplayable in the late game because of a memory leak. I'm not sure I ever actually won a game.

          •  I'm told that it's often the fault of the suits. (0+ / 0-)

            The same with faulty maps and the like. Playtesters are pretty good at finding all the faults and bugs, but someone in an office has to OK the expenditure to redo parts of the game and swat all the bugs. Often, they don't think it's worth the effort, since we buy the damn games anyway.

            "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

            by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 11:41:47 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  the save game issue was explained (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            sagesource

            by bethesda that it occurs because they need to track the changes in the world as you play, and that this takes up a lot of data.  so every chest you loot, herbs you loot, and that imperial camp i just destroyed needs to be tracked.  PS3 skyrim was great fun for 20 or so levels.

      •  ...what do you do in Oblivion for 300 hours? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sagesource

        I think beating the main quest and a fair number of the side quests took me under 40 hours, and then using Touch of Rage on every NPC who wasn't sufficiently respectful to the Champion of Cyrodiil rounded out another couple.

        That's still like... 15-20% of 300 hours.

  •  Stress test (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shifty18, sagesource, cryonaut, Occulus

    This past weekend's beta was a stress test. It was designed to break the servers, so they have an idea of what an actual heavy server load might look like when the game releases and what issues they're going to face. It's not very fun for someone trying to get a look at the game, but you trying out their game is secondary to what they're really trying to accomplish with a stress test.

    As to your issues with the game's UI and other mechanics, all I can say is that it is a beta. I faced some similar issues in the time I spent playing. Some of those issues will be worked out before release. Odds are a lot of them already are on their internal build of the game, which is generally not the build that is being used in a beta. Other issues won't be worked out, and new issues will probably pop up. Such is the nature of games like this.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is with my experience testing games at this stage I've seen similar issues that are generally taken care of before the game releases. They still have a month and promised to have another weekend test, so we'll get a chance to see some of their progress before it comes out.

    •  Well if it is a month away then it should (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sagesource, blackhand

      be a release candidate by now.  I find it highly unlike that they will be able to fix even a tenth of the severe bugs in that time.  In fact, the only way it is possible for the release to be halfway decent is if they were deliberately not using the latest beta/RC for the test.

      You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 06:55:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  They were, in fact, supposedly (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sagesource

        not using the most up-to-date version. No official explanation as to why, but the smaller, select closed beta testers are at least one (sizable) patch ahead. Said patch to include functionality like collision detection for NPCs and the now-standard "thousands of bug fixes."

    •  I hope so. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timaeus

      But Bethesda has a ghastly record as far as quality control goes. And these aren't subtle flaws, matters of detail. They're fairly basic. Add to this the fact that problems identified in the last closed beta haven't been addressed successfully, and I begin to worry.

      I was aware that it was a stress test. But the server was behaving badly around the clock, even at 3 and 4 AM PST, when you would think that the load would be lightest.

      Still, I hope you're right. The damnable thing is that I'm already hooked on this version of their world and would miss it greatly if for some reason they couldn't get it to run. It is very, very beautiful, for one thing, at least for people like myself who can max out all the graphics settings and still maintain an acceptable frame rate.

      Perhaps the best way to put it is if I play Skyrim through again and Paarthurnax asks me why I don't want the world to end, it will be places like the Tower of the Singing Sun that I'll be thinking of when I reply, "I like this world. I don't want it to end."

      "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

      by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 07:03:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A strange game. The only winning move is not to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, Timaeus

    A strange game.  The only winning move is not to play.

    How about a nice game of chess?

    "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

    by Hugh Jim Bissell on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 06:35:18 AM PST

    •  Sssshhhhhh! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus

      If you say that too loudly, some modder will put a chess set into Skyrim. If they haven't done so already.

      In one of his games, my son used to set up a virtual plasma TV and play Pong on it with his friends. Playing a video game inside another video game...he's got no problem with it. I try to keep up.

      "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

      by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 07:46:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  They should have made a sequel to Skyrim (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sagesource, blackhand

    the restrictions of the MMO genre just aren't a good fit for the kind of freedom you get from the SPRPG entries of the series -- much like SWTOR was a horrible substitute for KOTOR 3.

    Obama: self-described Republican; backed up by right-wing policies

    by The Dead Man on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 06:43:09 AM PST

    •  I don't know.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blackhand, nathanfl

      A lot of the complaints seem to come from people who have been trying to play ESO as a traditional MMO, rather than remembering that it is an Elder Scrolls game. This is the same error people make when they finish Fallout 3 in four hours and then ask why it's considered a good game.

      In an Elder Scrolls game, just as in Fallout 3 or Fallout NV, the journey is the main objective. Their guiding principle was expressed by Robert Louis Stephenson long before computer games, or even computers, were a reality: "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor." You wander and talk, do things for yourself or others, or you'll miss most of the content and nearly all of the significance. Even now, after literally thousands of hours in Skyrim, I'm finding new quests by talking to people I missed before, or asking questions I didn't ask earlier. It's the same with ESO. You have to dig the content out bit by bit, slowly, because at first you won't even realize some of it is there. It's a world, not window dressing for a trajectory. A lot of players were in a hurry because they wanted to get to Level 10, go to Cyrodiil, and get into the PvP part of the game. I have an intense dislike for PvP and may never bother to visit Cyrodiil at all. Instead, I'll be beachcombing on Stros M'Kai one more time, and probably finding new things even then.

      "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

      by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 07:42:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I would have liked to see a remake (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sagesource

      of Morrowind with the more up to date game engine, graphics, and other details.  Hell, they could even revisit the first two in the series that are so primitive by comparison.

      "It's not surveillance, it's data collection to keep you safe"

      by blackhand on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 11:07:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There are people modding the game (0+ / 0-)

        doing just that.  I've seen projects for both Morrowind and Oblivion, using the Skyrim engine.

        The ability to mod the game is what made TES games so special.  I don't know what the hell makes the MMO version any more special than Warcraft or Guild Wars.

        Obama: self-described Republican; backed up by right-wing policies

        by The Dead Man on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:19:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well..... (0+ / 0-)

          ....modding isn't exactly confined to ES games, and it certainly didn't begin with them. It's been going on since Doom. I remember a Doom mod that turned the Doomguy into a Doomgirl and changed the "pinkie" monsters into phalluses, among other adjustments. It was.... interesting.

          Of course there are commonalities shared by all MMOs. That's why they can be fitted into a single broad class. But it doesn't by any means indicate that they are the same, or that a fan of one will be a fan of all the others. World of Warcraft players do not necessarily enjoy Fiesta or Last Chaos, and vice versa, although all three games are classified as MMOs. And I'm not sure how many World of Warcraft players will enjoy ESO. The two games may very well exist in parallel rather than in competition. It isn't a question of superior or inferior; it's a matter of personal taste.

          WoW players seem to be quite social; they get together in numbers to do things in the game. ESO has been designed so that for a great part of the adventure, you don't have to do that. Most of the challenges can be met by individuals or groups of four or less. ESO has an irreducibly individual focus deriving from its roots in single-player gaming. The player is the Soulless One, the person whom the Elder Scrolls long ago foretold would frustrate Molag Bal's attempt to take over the world. That doesn't mean he or she will necessarily become Emperor. In Skyrim, the Dragonborn doesn't become Emperor; in Oblivion, the Hero of Kvatch leaves the human world altogether and takes the throne of one of the Daedric Princes, Sheogorath, Lord of Madness (at least if you have The Shivering Isles DLC installed). I know almost nothing about World of Warcraft lore, but it goes without saying the contexts and backgrounds of the two games are quite different. Moreover, the visual style and appearance of the two games are not at all the same. ESO is trying for a very high level of visual detail -- this may be what is giving it teething pains now.

          "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

          by sagesource on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 01:52:05 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  even still placed my pre-order (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sagesource

    it will get better, there's not doubt about it.  hope to see you in tamriel and hope that the restoration tree doesn't suck.

    •  So did I. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nathanfl

      And most specialized Restoration functions are handled by the Templar class, which is the one I enjoy playing the most (Hrim the Butt-Ugly is a Templar). In addition to a variety of healing spells, they have a wicked MIRV-type fireball that can take out a whole wolf pack at once. I'm not even at Level 10 yet, and I also have what the earlier games would call Drain Health spells that not only suck the victim dry and return a third of the lost health to me, but also distribute a portion of it to up to two of my allies if they're close enough to me. (I had to remind them several times that the red glowing clouds that were homing in on them were not harmful in any way -- rather the reverse.) You can plow right through enemies around your own level with these spells, since the damage the enemies do to you is almost certainly going to be made up by the health you drain from them.

      Classes are not very restrictive, though. I expect that all classes can do healing, especially if they choose to specialize in that line. It's just that Templars have somewhat of an advantage at it. There are also Restoration magic staffs that anyone can use to heal others, available from the beginning of the game.

      "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

      by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 07:23:59 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I logged into the Beta for a few hours only (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sagesource

    unfortunately - didn't have time. So I didn't really get the chance to experience all those bugs :)

    The game looks beautiful and I am excited to play it when it comes out. Yes, it is still Beta and they have a chance to fix a lot of the worst issues.

    Almost all of the launches I've participated in had a decent amount of bugs at the start, not to mention Betas.

    Thank you for writing this.

  •  I sincerely hope that you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sagesource

    have posted this somewhere "official" for Zenimax (the developers) to see. You state a lot of things that folks on Reddit and the Bethsoft forums have been for months and you state them in a cogent, rational way.

    As for me, I buy into the concept of an MMO game set in an Elder Scrolls universe. There will be a huge statue of Molag Bal waiting in a box for me on release date unless the mail doesn't come.

    However, even I'm not sure about the viability of this project. The $15/month subscription thing is especially worrisome because, as you have noted, there's a LOT of work left to do before the game's polished.

    If things aren't in top AAA game form before the first subscription fee is charged in May, people are going to be upset at what they perceive as their subscription fees going to fix bugs that "should've been squashed at release."

    •  Heh (0+ / 0-)

      I tried to get an account with Tamriel Foundery, which appears to be dedicated to ESO, to give them a shorter version. They never sent me an authentication email, though (I did check my spam folder). I don't think it was anything personal, but I suspect they weren't exactly eager to receive the impressions of newcomers at a time like this. The accounts already on their site were...shall we say, laudatory? The problem with that is that the game can deserve all the praise it gets for its ingenuity and innovation, but still be a bust if it keeps freezing when you try to play it.

      You or anyone here can post part or whole of it anywhere you please. I certainly don't object, and DK material is copyright-free in any case.

      "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

      by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 11:52:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What a cluster. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blackhand, sagesource

    Meanwhile I spent the snow day yesterday playing the MMO Everquest, in my opinion the greatest of all the MMOs, which was originally issued in 1999.  That's 15 years ago.  It's now up to 20 expansions and still going strong.

    And it NEVER crashes.

    I was thinking of trying Elder Scrolls Online, but that sounds unfixable.

    •  heh (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timaeus

      I've only played Everquest from 2000 to 2003 but still have very fond memories of it :) What a great game and it really got me into MMOs.

    •  I think I may be typical... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timaeus

      ....of a big section of the prospective market for ESO. I basically dislike MMOs. I can't play third-person, except in very placid games like The Path by Tale of Tales, because I become disoriented. I've cursed that deficiency many times, because it keeps me from enjoying widely acclaimed games like The Witcher, but it's a fact of life for me. Nearly all MMOs require third-person play, but ESO has a fully functional first-person mode. Both I and my partner have near zero tolerance for space and future fantasy games as well.

      I also dislike any game that requires large numbers of people to play together. To begin with, I don't want to organize my life around "play nights," and being a "good team member" imposes a responsibility that rather spoils things for me. I and my partner (we actually met in Left4Dead, and spent a great deal of time in it with just us and two bots, but have long since played that out) were looking for something that would allow us to play as a pair, perhaps loosely affiliated with a few other people. But no large groups, no guilds. That's too much like joining the army for us. It looks as if much of ESO has been designed with small groups in mind -- many dungeons are for 2 to 4 players, and a lot of the side quests can be done easily by single players. I'm told that it's even possible to play with a small group in the PvP part of the campaign in Cyrodiil, by loosely affiliating with a larger group and scouting, harassing, or attacking secondary targets for them. We wouldn't get into any of those 200-person-on-screen megabattles, of course, but neither of us would feel the lack. And neither of us has any great desire to be Emperor.

      Last but not least, both of us know the Elder Scrolls world. I'm further into it than my partner, who is more a Fallout 3 kind of person and much prefers Oblivion to Skyrim, but she has a good working knowledge of the basics as well. I'm so lost in it that I even write fanfic, lol. We don't want an MMO specifically. We want an Elder Scrolls (or a Fallout 3-level) game that we can play together. If anyone had written a working mod for Skyrim that allowed co-op play, we would have gone for that in a flash. But no one has.

      "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

      by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 12:11:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Your tastes are similar to mine. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sagesource

        I'm not sure what you mean by "third-person play," but a good MMO like Everquest is all what I think of as "first person."  You can move the camera to different views, but I always play looking forward in first-person view.

        I also STRONGLY agree with your views on being forced to play with large numbers.  I prefer to solo, or to just group with my wife.  In Everquest, I'm a 52 Druid and she's now a 62 Ranger, with the cap now set at 100 levels (although there are LOTS of other ways to advance).  (I'm usually way ahead of her in games we play together, but I've been out of action for five months due to illness.  Just got back into it.)

        My favorite standalone RPG is Morrowind, the third in the series that led to Skyrim.  I made a flying magician who was so strong he needed no armor, just enchanted clothes.  And with a mod I could duel dragons in the sky and destroy them all in aerial combat.

        I spent a lot of time on Skyrim, but forgive me, the more I get away from it, the more I think it was a little over-rated (e.g., PC Gamer Magazine, which is very good, deemed it the greatest game of all time).  Although fighting the dragons early on in the game was very exciting!

        I'm sure I'll try this online version, but I'm going to wait at least six months.

        •  Skyrim is simply not an epic.... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Timaeus

          ....in spite of all claims to the contrary.

          Oblivion is an epic. A lovely world is under an absolute threat that is slowly manifesting itself in the form of a pimple-rash of grim-looking Oblivion Gates, a taste of things to come. Martin Septim, the person you work with most closely to defeat this threat, is a complex and deeply sympathetic figure. The Blades win no prizes for brains, as usual, but their loyalty is impressive. The Cyrodiil lords have some odd birds among their ranks, but in the end they all come together to fight Dagon.

          An epic needs not only at least one undoubted hero, but also one clearly identifiable villain. The Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon more than fills the bill, and like Martin Septim, he's a complex character. He's the Lord of Destruction, true, but also of Revolution, Ambition, Energy, and Change, ambiguous qualities that can be either good or bad. His Deadlands express brutality, waste, and callousness, but also a vaulting ambition and enormous energy. He has a vision for the future, even though his vision is a nightmare in your eyes. His armies are merciless, but absolutely loyal. He's a worthy match for Martin, and you know he'll put up a good hard struggle and go down fighting, which he does in the end.

          But in Skyrim, who is the epic hero? and who is the epic villain? You don't feel much like a hero. You're just the schmuck who got stuck with the Dragonborn blessing/curse. You don't ever become a king or a lord. None of the human leaders remotely qualifies. The Greybeards? They whine too much, to the point you wish you could give them flying lessons off the top of their stupid mountain. The Blades? You feel like slapping them around for behaving like idiots over Paarthurnax. There is no true hero at all.

          Neither is there a real villain. What is Alduin up to in the end? It almost seems as if he got out of bed on the wrong side one day and decided to end the world. He has absolutely no gravitas. If Dagon is a Dark Prince, Alduin is a pissy little pug dog begging to be kicked. No wonder his friends sell him down the river the first chance they get. He resurrects a bunch of dragons, but doesn't seem to care if you off them as fast as he raises them. (For that matter, what does he need them for if he has the power to end the world?) In your confrontation at the Throat of the World, he's as whiny as the Greybeards. Finally, you go to a pinchbeck Heaven where the hall of heroes looks rather like the head office of a large Canadian bank, collect a few allies who utter banalities in an agonizingly painful Wardour Street English, and unceremoniously chow down on the World-Eater. They tell you Marry, Thou Art A Great One, and that's that. BORING. And boredom is the absolute reverse of epic.

          On top of that, there's the context. The inhabitants of Cyrodiil are civilized people. You can develop a genuine affection for them and their beautiful land. On the other hand, Skyrim's population is mostly composed of Nords who are only good for bashing each other on the head, as one of them admits. They live in a land where snow is far too prevalent and the chief directions are not north-south-east west but up and down, and where the chief hobby for centuries seems to have been building elaborate tombs. I don't know about you, but I felt absolutely no affection for the place, no desire to protect it at all costs from some existential threat. No epic aura, in other words.

          Skyrim is full of contradictions and complexities, which is why it's the ideal setting for fan fiction. It's a challenge to depict a Dragonborn who fits the place and the circumstances. But what you get is never epic -- in my attempt, it was a grim little tale of paranoia and self-doubt.

          However, ESO has epic potential at least. There's the villain, Molag Bal, and the existential threat to a world with a deep appeal to you. Whether or not it develops into a true epic story remains to be seen.

          "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

          by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 09:45:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Yikes!! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sagesource

    My son must be keeping me from the bad news.  He was in the private Beta and told me everything was great.

    It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

    by ksuwildkat on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 09:21:48 AM PST

    •  It depends on what you're looking at. (0+ / 0-)

      There's very little wrong with the story, quests, or art design. As I said, it's a truly lovely-looking game. The only thing that I would PAY to get rid of is that atrocious lockpicking minigame. So if you're crash-tolerant, everything might have seemed rosy. I'm afraid most people are not crash-tolerant enough to pay a subscription for a game that behaves the way ESO does now, though.

      "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

      by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 12:16:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I had my Elder Scrolls Intro with Morrowind (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sagesource

    When I encountered it, I thought it was one of the best pieces of software engineering I had ever encountered; and I work in the field making my standards high.  I was not surprised to see the company had as their mission statement to make very high quality games.  Unfortunately, something has changed.  There is a reason that Skyrim earned them the nickname "Beta Test Duh".

    I hate to say it, but I keep coming back to an early comment I read a couple of years ago, when ESO was first announced: that this will probably be the first Elder Scrolls game to suck.  I admit that I am hoping, I mean really hoping, but I am also not holding my breath.  The things I am reading in this diary are not giving me confidence.

    Seeing that Skyrim, which was released at the height of the online craze set records for sales, I am having trouble understanding why they chose to pursue the online model.  I would have thought that the sales figures alone would have shown that there is more than one customer base out there.  In fact, I frequently complain that too many games have become a "hit the button and drool" and that this is especially true in sequels to what were good games (e.g. Fable and Bioshock).  

    As an aside, I am sure that my compatriot fans will notice my online handle, which was inspired by their games.

    "It's not surveillance, it's data collection to keep you safe"

    by blackhand on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 11:15:05 AM PST

    •  If it sucks... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blackhand

      ...and it very well might, it will almost certainly be because of technical reasons. They've tried to create a massively detailed world in a genre more famous for cartoon styles. That has obvious implications for data transfer that they simply haven't paid enough attention to.

      In other words, if it's a disaster, it will be a self-inflicted disaster. I think the market is there. But dammit, the game has to work first.

      "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

      by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 12:21:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good Points. Along those lines, one question (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sagesource

        That I thought of in response to your statement about data transfer is: what are the implications and requirements for a synchronizing server?  More importantly, what happens several years down the road?  Will the game still be playable after the majority of the players have moved on to something else?  And even if the server(s) are still operating, will the game be dependent upon having enough others still playing concurrently?  

        My online experience with games is pretty limited.  In fact it is limited to a couple of PS2 games like SOCOM and the original Ghost Recon.  In those games, the interaction was pretty simplistic: shoot, throw a grenade, etc.  The data that had to be conveyed was an object of type X is at position Y and then let the game engine do it's stuff with it.  To have an online interactive version of the Elder Scrolls, H2H combat, magic, commerce, and other types of interactions seems like it would be complex beyond reason.  Of course, complexity is the bane of good software.

        "It's not surveillance, it's data collection to keep you safe"

        by blackhand on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 12:40:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well.... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          blackhand

          ...they did make some drastic compromises on their original claims. You can't rearrange the world very much, for instance. Oh, there's the token bottle or glass that you can knock over, but most of the stuff is screwed firmly in place. I want to swipe a certain witch's teapot, but the game won't let me. A pity. It's a nice teapot. And most books cannot be physically taken, the way they can in Skyrim. You pull them out of the bookshelves and open them, but then the program records that you've read them and that's that. There isn't anything left in your backpack.

          Having so many people doing the same thing at the same time can result in some silly scenes, such as a long lineup in front of a key NPC who is dispensing vital information. Some of them end up looking like the Portapotties at a rock concert. I'm sure this is why the Betnihk graveyard fights were so glitched. The people who had written them seem to have assumed that players would fight the demons in a one on one battle. Having, say, fifteen people milling around waiting to whack the same demon seems to have thrown things off. It can also make some boss battles extremely easy if a large number of people decide to go for the same boss at the same time. More than once, I saw some poor boss figure hit by a barrage of arrows and spells that looked like a WWII Russian artillery attack, and crumple instantly. It takes some of the challenge out.

          "They bash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago volume 3)

          by sagesource on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 01:09:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ah, the old addage about software testing (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            sagesource

            Comes to mind.  The field has ways of identifying bugs and breaking things in a manner that the designers and testers never envisioned.

            "Portapotties at a rock concert", now that gave me a good laugh! :)

            "It's not surveillance, it's data collection to keep you safe"

            by blackhand on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 01:33:34 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

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