Explain/justify day one patches to me

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AdequatelyPrepared

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I have a mixed opinion on how big the internet has become part of the gaming scene. I heavily use Steam as my main source of gaming on the PC, and have purchased and downloaded PS2/PS1 games on the PS3 PSN store that would otherwise be incredibly difficult to find. Playing multiplayer games while Skyping with friends is always great, and overall I guess I can't deny that the internet has been good for gaming.

Despite this, some part of me thinks about the future of gaming, and how dependent we are getting upon patches and bug fixes, and what a game will do when it no longer has a server to search for patches from. This feeling probably just comes from me growing up on the PS2/PS1. I do understand that games are becoming way more complicated affairs, and issues that were undetectable during testing suddenly become massive issues when everyone in the world has a chance to play them.

I do get a bit miffed about the idea of a 10GB+ Day One Patch though, and I have no idea how this stuff continues to happen. When a game goes gold (ready for production and distribution), surely it goes through some kind of QA beforehand before they start making a couple thousand discs? How can issues that require patches as big as 10GB go undetected during this process but then become apparent before release? What change of circumstances can possibly occur? I am genuinely curious, and if anyone has some insight into this that would be appreciated. Could it seriously be that there is not enough space on the disc?

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Zeik

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I think it comes down to the fact that they know they can patch it later, so the higher ups are much more willing to force developers to push games out the door as soon as they can and fix problems later. Better to ship with some bugs that could be fixed than miss a deadline.

It's not like games were free of bugs in the past, and I'm happy that a major bug won't necessarily mean a game is broken forever, but it has become a double edged sword.

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Zella

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I would think it is more of a way to try and get the game out faster. Instead of spending more time doing QA before the game goes gold, they can get the game out quicker by spending less time on QA and getting it shipped earlier. While the game is in the process of being packaged and shipped the last steps of QA would be done and applied via a day one patch.

I am not involved at all in the industry besides being a consumer but that is my best guess at the under lying concept behind it. Is it a great practice, probably not but for the most part it seems to work nowadays (with the occasional shit show like Unity). It is likely also just used as a way to see how little testing the producer can get away with, I would bet the attitude is that a lot of annoying but not gamebreaking bugs which would previously be fixed before launch are now left until day one or later to be fixed through a patch.

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vasta_narada

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#4  Edited By vasta_narada

Day One patches are usually justified by the following:

A game going gold basically means that it meets the criteria outlined by Sony/MS/Nintendo to be published on their platform, so companies begin ramping up production of physical media in preparation for release day. However, developers don't stop working just because the game is gold, and the game goes gold when it does because deadlines have to be met. Thus, Day One patches are the work that the developers completed in the time between the game being version-locked for pressing discs and actual release day. Unfortunately, sometimes developers take shortcuts like with The Evil Within, wherein a lot of the optimization work was in that Day One patch.

Contrast this with games during the SNES era and N64 era; there were two options:

1. The game gets delayed. Pretty self-explanatory.

2. The game releases as normal, but the work that would be in a Day One patch nowadays is just quietly released on a V1.1 cart whenever the work is ready, with no indication to the consumer.

You also have to understand that with programming, even with something relatively simple, fixing one bug can cause another, or two, or one that just sucks way more. That's why, during QA, developers catalogue bugs under different ratings of problem (i.e. this bug only causes a graphical glitch for a second, a second bug crashes the game consistently, while this third bug crashes the game only a fraction of the time and it's hard to replicate). You probably heard Drew say the words "Known Shippable" before, which is this exact process. Some bugs just aren't worth the time it would take to fix when there are more pressing bugs to work on, and when there's the risk that you cause more damage than good.

As far as 10GB patches, I can't think of any that big off the top of my head other than Master Chief Collection, and that patch is literally all of the multiplayer components because there was no room on the disc. Also, it depends what stuff is in the patch: if the patch includes a bunch of 3D model changes, you might have to download the entire model, which can get big.

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Zevvion

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Release dates are strategic. They want to release ahead of the competition, in time for fiscal profits, not to close to other releases, in time with the hype generated and more. Getting the discs out in time and into the stores for release is probably somewhat time consuming. I don't know if you are familiar with crunch times, but basically, the developer works over hours to get the game out the door in time. I read something like 2-4 weeks of working 12-18 hours a day, every day to make the date.

I think it's safe to assume day one patches are mostly a time issue. They just can't get it done to hit the release date deadline and it often concerns stuff that can be easily patched. So the question is why not do it that way? From their point of view it seems very logical.

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AdequatelyPrepared

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Thanks for the well-thought responses. I've never been professionally involved in the game industry before, nor in any kind of software development, so the responses I got were enlightening to say the least.

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defaultprophet

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#7  Edited By defaultprophet

Games have to be finalized so they can be put onto discs. The team working on the game doesn't stop at this point, they continue working on the game through release. The improvements they make are the day 1 patch that couldn't be on the disc because they were done before it was pressed.

So don't feel weird about it.

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crithon

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simple, games go gold a few weeks before scheduled release dates.

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mike

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@adequatelyprepared: From what I understand, games using the idTech 5 engine see those huge 5gb+ patches because of the megatextures. So to fix one little problem, they have to patch the entire texture which is multiple gigabytes in size.

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Ares42

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Regarding the patch sizes that's probably mostly an issue with how consoles treat patches. As far as I can tell the way consoles patch games is by replacing files, not altering them (as in you download a new version of a file and the game is programmed to always use the newest file available). I'm assuming it's because consoles still play some games (or parts of them) straight from the disc, so it's impossible to alter the original file. That leads to very inflated patch sizes, as a small change to a big file still means you have to download that entire file.

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development

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#11  Edited By development

Day One patches are usually justified by the following:

A game going gold basically means that it meets the criteria outlined by Sony/MS/Nintendo to be published on their platform, so companies begin ramping up production of physical media in preparation for release day. However, developers don't stop working just because the game is gold, and the game goes gold when it does because deadlines have to be met. Thus, Day One patches are the work that the developers completed in the time between the game being version-locked for pressing discs and actual release day. Unfortunately, sometimes developers take shortcuts like with The Evil Within, wherein a lot of the optimization work was in that Day One patch.

Contrast this with games during the SNES era and N64 era; there were two options:

1. The game gets delayed. Pretty self-explanatory.

2. The game releases as normal, but the work that would be in a Day One patch nowadays is just quietly released on a V1.1 cart whenever the work is ready, with no indication to the consumer.

You also have to understand that with programming, even with something relatively simple, fixing one bug can cause another, or two, or one that just sucks way more. That's why, during QA, developers catalogue bugs under different ratings of problem (i.e. this bug only causes a graphical glitch for a second, a second bug crashes the game consistently, while this third bug crashes the game only a fraction of the time and it's hard to replicate). You probably heard Drew say the words "Known Shippable" before, which is this exact process. Some bugs just aren't worth the time it would take to fix when there are more pressing bugs to work on, and when there's the risk that you cause more damage than good.

As far as 10GB patches, I can't think of any that big off the top of my head other than Master Chief Collection, and that patch is literally all of the multiplayer components because there was no room on the disc. Also, it depends what stuff is in the patch: if the patch includes a bunch of 3D model changes, you might have to download the entire model, which can get big.

This is the answer.

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GERALTITUDE

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Sometimes a patch seems bigger than it is. Purely due to do game / update structure, sometimes far more of the game file (if not the whole thing) than what is being affected needs to be redownloaded on your part.

@ares42 said:

Regarding the patch sizes that's probably mostly an issue with how consoles treat patches. As far as I can tell the way consoles patch games is by replacing files, not altering them (as in you download a new version of a file and the game is programmed to always use the newest file available). I'm assuming it's because consoles still play some games (or parts of them) straight from the disc, so it's impossible to alter the original file. That leads to very inflated patch sizes, as a small change to a big file still means you have to download that entire file.

This definitely would be true of games in the past, but today all console games install the files to hard drive (at least XBO and PS4 do) whether it was a disc-based game or downloaded online in the first place. I've worked on and played PC games with huge patch sizes too. It's entirely based on what you updated, what it affects, and how the game is structured (so, literally everything matters :P). Then we need to deal with the delivery format (Steam, PSN, and so on).

So, basically. Say change we change A. I may not be changing B, C, D, but as they are being affected they may need to come along with the new A.

Sometimes it's not that at all.

It's just that the building A lives in is effectively attached to other buildings, and I can't just split them up and "refresh" them without bringing their neighbors along, whether they are being meaningfully affected at all.

Lol this is a pretty dumb explanation.

Basically, inside your videogame is 1 Billion Strings of Thread tying together all the parts that make it work. Some of these are grouped together with strings that can easily be reconnected... others are ahhhh fuck it never mind.

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matatat

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#13  Edited By matatat

There are many many reasons. One thing that is really difficult for developers and is a skill that gets marginally better over time is the ability to project deadlines. There are a lot of unknowns in development that only experience can give you insight to and in the end sometimes shit just happens that sets you back. Usually that stuff is taken in to account but that's not always enough. That's why games get pushed back and why day one patches get made. Your game has to go and get verified and packaged on disc which takes a bit of time. If you can patch a game afterwards then it makes sense to provide a day one instead of pushing back your release dates.

EDIT:

I do get a bit miffed about the idea of a 10GB+ Day One Patch though, and I have no idea how this stuff continues to happen. When a game goes gold (ready for production and distribution), surely it goes through some kind of QA beforehand before they start making a couple thousand discs? How can issues that require patches as big as 10GB go undetected during this process but then become apparent before release? What change of circumstances can possibly occur? I am genuinely curious, and if anyone has some insight into this that would be appreciated. Could it seriously be that there is not enough space on the disc?

I'm not fully sure about "gold status" on games but generally code is just run through a bunch of tests to see that code matches a certain standard. They also have a certain expectation of product which is defined previous to inspection. I also understand console games have a number of specific things that need to be in place for certification, but they don't generally check for bug free code. Almost all meaningful code (greater than something like "Hello World!") has bugs somewhere in it. It is a fools errand to try and expunge all of them.

Again I haven't gone through this for a game, but I have gone through app validations for their web store before and I can guarantee there was bugs in the code that was greenlighted by MS.

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Ares42

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@geraltitude: I remember someone making a thread a few months ago wondering about how console patches could be downloaded and installed before the main game is installed on the newer consoles. The fact that that is possible heavily implies that consoles still use a replace instead of edit patching process.

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matatat

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#15  Edited By matatat

@ares42: Do you mean editing compiled code? Almost all patches for anything just replace compiled files. I think the same applies for assets as well since there are things like baked lighting that are pre-rendered values. So even if the asset was a set of vectors that could just be edited its way easier to just overwrite.

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Ares42

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@matatat: I dunno, I'm by no means any expert on this stuff. It doesn't really change the point I was trying to make either way though, the fact that the patch is big doesn't necessarily mean there's such immense changes, it just means there's changes to large files.

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Gruebacca

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Developers have to ship out copies of a game weeks before the release date. They may not get all the bugs fixed in time, so as the game is shipping, they still work to fix bugs. By day one, they will be able to patch the bugs in an update. It can be a legitimate practice, but it can also be exploited.

And, no. Game development isn't easy.

And, yes. A 15GB day one patch that still doesn't fix the problem is lame too. Then again, I don't know how video game patch development works, so maybe it was the best they could do, but it's still dumb.

Consoles have it harder than computers because that data has to be on the hard drive, since discs can't be altered.