Dev Diary – October 202121.10.2021.
October’s been a big month for Hinterland and The Long Dark. In case you missed it, we launched Episode Four: Fury, Then Silence. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re grateful for that.
With Episode Four, like most of our big releases, we tend to find issues post-launch. I wanted to address a bit about how this can happen. Right now we are tracking 3-4 issues that are impacting a small number of players but in highly visible ways. They include:
- Windows 7; there is an issue with video compatibility on Windows 7 which prevents certain videos (like the opening credits) from playing correctly. We have provided a work-around here, but we understand that it’s not very satisfying. This issue disproportionately impacts players in parts of the world where Windows 7 is still commonly used.
- Mac rendering issue; some Mac users have encountered a rendering issue that can result in weird visual artifacts, and a separate issue can result in missing geometry. We’ve suggested a workaround for the first issue.
- PlayStation Trophies; these were missing at launch but have since been added.
In addition to these, there are other miscellaneous issues that we have been tracking and working on.
I know it seems tough to understand how a studio can release game content that has bugs in it. For some background, we have a full-time in-house Test team who regularly comb through the game and find bugs for the team to fix. We also have a Support team who receives all the bug reports you share at our Support Portal (thank you to everyone who takes the time to do this — it is extremely helpful!), as well as a Community team who takes note of the issues you flag in the forums and on our social accounts.
All this information gets put into an internal database that we use to evaluate outstanding issues. We then review each issue and consider how often a bug seems to appear, how seriously the bug affects players, and then we assign bugs out based on priority. The first step to fixing a bug is being able to reproduce it reliably, and this is where getting info like log files, screenshots, and videos can be very helpful in pinpointing the issues. Things like crashes and progress blockers are always the top priority to fix. Minor things like floating items get prioritized last. These bugs get assigned out by the team leads. The development team works on fixing them, and we create an internal version of the game that has all these fixes in it. At some point in the process we have to lock the build so that the Test team can test it all again, because every time something new is added to the build it invalidates most of the testing that has been done.
For really big releases like our Episodes, we supplement our internal Test team with an external team of about 5-10 testers (depending on the release) who help us review the entire game. Remember, every time we release an Episode, a Survival Update, or a Hotfix, we have to pretty much test the ENTIRE game again, to make sure we haven’t introduced issues elsewhere (it’s common for bug fixes to cause or reveal other issues). This includes all the Survival Mode mechanics on all Experience Modes, all the Regions, all the Challenges, and every Episode of WINTERMUTE. It’s a huge game that requires a massive amount of testing.
This explanation isn’t meant to sound like I’m making excuses for why bugs end up being released — as you know we work hard to release a “clean” build and we then work hard to stomp out any bugs that come to light after the fact. But it’s a really big game and every release reminds us that it’s getting harder and harder to ensure we find all the bugs before release. This is something we’re discussing internally to see how we can improve our approach and ensure a better quality product for you, because I don’t think the current testing cycle is sustainable, and it just slows things down too much.
The development team has a hotfix with our internal Test team now. This hotfix contains fixes for over 200 issues (many of them pre-date the Episode Four release and were held back until post-release). We don’t have an exact ETA for this, but we’re hopeful that we can get it out some time late next week (the week of October 25th). If it comes in too late we may have to push it to the following week because we don’t release hotfixes right before the weekend, since we can’t be around to monitor and help players if things go wrong.
We will be following our standard hotfixing protocol, which is to bring hotfixes to platforms as quickly as we can (rather than holding some to simultaneously ship on all platforms together), therefore the Hotfix will not arrive on every platform at the same time. The typical order is: Steam, Xbox + PlayStation, other digital stores (Humble, Nuuvem, etc.), WeGame in China, and Switch. This order is purely determined by how quickly and/or convenient the hotfixing process is. (For example, on Steam we can simply update the game immediately. On the other end of the spectrum, Nintendo usually takes 7-10 days to review every hotfix before it can be released). Unfortunately, these are not timings that we control, and we apologize if you happen to be impacted by any delays around deploying these fixes.
We’ll share more info on Hotfix progress on our Social accounts and in the Steam and Official forums, so please follow us on Twitter if you want to have up-to-date info.
End of the Year Survival Update & Halloween Event
As mentioned in the lead-up to Episode Four’s launch, the team is working on bringing Blackrock Region to Survival Mode for the end of this year. They are also incorporating the Noisemaker into Survival Mode, and we’re including one new gear item that was not in Episode Four. We’ll share more details about these things in the lead up to launching the update. We don’t have an ETA on the Survival Update apart from “before the end of the year”.
Between the Episode Four launch, the subsequent hotfixing work, and preparing the Survival Mode update for the end of the year, I unfortunately had to make a tough call to sacrifice the Halloween Event this year. I know many of you were looking forward to getting a refresh on Escape the Darkwalker, and we were excited to release a 2021 version, but the team just doesn’t have the bandwidth to produce the Hotfix, release an updated Darkwalker, and also produce a Survival Mode update for the end of the year. In terms of priority, it felt that the Survival Update was more important to you than the Darkwalker event, so we triaged out the event. Apologies to anyone that will be disappointed by this, but there’s only so much development bandwidth to go around and we need to make these calls at times. We’ll try to make it up to you next year.
I’ll share another dev diary closer to the end-of-year Survival update, and as mentioned we’ll keep you posted on Hotfix progress as it unfolds in the coming weeks.
Thanks for your patience and support of our efforts! We hope you’re enjoying Episode Four, and for those of you who are currently impacted by bugs, we hope to get you some fixes very soon.