In mid-June, Eagle Dynamics announced that they were moving to longer patch cycles. This was in response to a long list of complaints and some grievances that came up in the community after yet another open beta patch emerged with significant issues including bugs and performance robbing problems that affected users in both VR and regular 2D players. A month and several days later, a new open beta patch has emerged. Was the slowing in cycles worth it?
Balancing content and bug fixes
I’ll be the first to argue that content production doesn’t need to be slowed while programmers work on bugs. And that is certainly the case most of the time. An artist working in 2D or 3D creation software can’t contribute to the bug fixing process in any significant way. You need programmers not artists (although programming is arguably something of an art in itself) to solve the kinds of performance glitches and bugs that we’ve seen recently.
Of course, you do need the programmer ultimately to bring new content into the sim. So there is a strain on bug fixes when new content emerges from the artist ready to be implemented. With good project management and a solid plan to work from, it is doable to do both, but when the speed of releases increases things tend to get out of control and I think that’s exactly what happened where a push for content and development clashed with a need to test both the old and the newest stuff.
The big complaint has been of course that new content has been rushed out and there hasn’t been enough time to bug fix. But I would take that a step further that the constant beta release schedule has made the process of releasing new content and improving and fixing past issues difficult as there’s always a rush to release and to do it quickly. Do that on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and there is a stress on the team that eventually leads to a breakdown.
From crashes to performance slow downs and buggy features, being a DCS World fan has been a challenge for the last few months especially. It had gotten so bad that problems with performance had turned me off of my usual hop into a multiplayer server for some fun. I did some training flights – stuttery, unpleasant training flights complete with bugs like random blotches of light that nearly caused me and everyone in my group to crash on landing.
It also extended to making changes to systems but not having time to test them. Changing the reflectivity of the Hornet’s displays, for example, made it impossible to see them in bright sunlight. Maybe that was a more accurate depiction, however, in a sim environment where I can’t block the light with my hand… it just wasn’t fun or usable. It may not have even been tested.
At the end of the day, none of these bugs were fun to deal with as a regular player and jumping into a multiplayer session and genuinely not knowing if you’d run into game halting problems caused me to drop my DCS time to a minimum in favour of other more reliable sim experiences. So the real question then is, is that all behind us now?
…is it fixed?
Last month when it was announced that the release cadence was slowing down and that the team was going to turn all attention to bug fixes I was cautiously optimistic but also feeling a little let down by the last few months.
Enter the latest open beta patch which came out last week and I am pleasantly surprised at just how solid the sim feels again. The new lighting system that came in months ago was causing me some performance problems and most of those seem solved. The glitches on the datalink page causing a drop to near single digit frame rates on my system while flying the F/A-18… solved. In-fact my frame rate is up at levels I haven’t seen in months.
Until this update, I wasn’t able to log in to Georgia at War and sit on the ramp at Al Dhafra without seeing low frame rates. I’m talking about 14-22 frames per second instead of my usual smooth 60 fps. Now, it’s back where it should be with a solid 60 fps or even higher with Vsync off. That means smooth taxiing, no frustrating pauses, and no waiting. The new P-47 glides along brilliantly and the highly detailed Channel Map both looks great and performs great too. I am pretty happy with the result and it’s nice to see as I haven’t had this much fun with DCS World in months!
Now… it’s not perfect. People with VR are still reporting major problems on some systems and some bugs still remain such as the MiG-21’s low altitude radar returns which cause severe frame rate loss. Multiplayer network code is still hit and miss on different servers running different configurations although the last few days have felt better than they have for a while.
There are countless other bugs still in the tracker, of that I have no doubt, however, there is a change here. Most things are working again, performance is up to levels I haven’t seen in months, and I’m having fun with the sim again.
Can Eagle Dynamics can now transition back into building new content while maintaining and ensuring that current content stops breaking on a more regular basis with a less hurried open beta release schedule? If they can, I am all in! This is good progress and a step back on the path forward.