Update 2: Some time after writing this the develop finally released Strangers Wrath HD as a free upgrade to all existing customers. It still has a few bugs, but it’s a graphically updated version of the game that’s superior to the original release and fully playable.
Update: Since writing this Munch’s Oddysee has been fixed. Strangers Wrath still exhibits graphical corruption on AMD/ATI hardware as a fixed driver has yet to be released.
A year after it was originally supposed to come out The Oddboxx has finally been made available for purchase. Unfortunately, even after a year-long delay its launch was an unmitigated disaster. Widespread issues due to a lack of foresight, a lack of understanding in regards to the PC games market, driver issues and a lack of QA testing led to crashing, graphical corruption and other issues on many systems.
This isn’t meant to be an Oddworld Inhabitants or Just Add Water bashing festival; I’m simply providing an analysis of failed product launch. I am one of the people who bought it, although it isn’t coloring my opinion as I only paid $12.50 for the package during the 50% discount it had the day it launched, and technically only half of that goes to the defective portion. I maintain that in the grand scheme of feeling ripped off, as disappointing as it may be, things could be far worse and this isn’t really worth popping a vein over. I empathize with the guys over at JAW, who are currently taking all of the blame for problems they’re “only” partially responsible for. So far, they appear to show remorse and a desire to make right—whether or not they actually do make right remains to be seen, but if they care for their reputation among the gaming community and possibly the industry as a whole they will patch things to an acceptable state.
Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee
Munch was ported by a small team from some Russian company I’ve never heard of and apparently left on a shelf for six months while Just Add Water worked on the Stranger’s Wrath port. Since the contract with that studio probably didn’t include post-release support, or at least not six months after the fact, Just Add Water has somewhat adopted the game and have claimed they’ll try to fix its more pressing issues.
Of the two buggy games in the pack, I would say Munch was the most overtly broken one as the vast majority of users couldn’t get past the beginning tutorial segment without constant crashing. Thankfully, that problem seems to have been fixed by a small patch JAW quickly released after adopting the game.
Unfortunately, other issues remain. Support for the Xbox 360 gamepad is a little bugged, requiring you to nonsensically change a setting in the keyboard configuration page to get it functioning properly—a relatively minor issue with an easy workaround that nonetheless shouldn’t exist. There are also minor graphical issues such as missing dynamic character shadows and general failings with the games LOD adjustments which sometimes removes lighting calculations or bump mapping from nearby objects and surfaces when it clearly shouldn’t be. There is also an issue where the games internal timing occasionally becomes completely uncapped which causes everything to run like it was being fast-forwarded.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath
Unlike Munch, Stranger is entirely Just Add Water’s responsibility. While it technically works, it’s pretty broken for some people—primarily those of us with ATI graphics cards. Generally speaking, frame rate shouldn’t be an issue in a port of a game from 2005 which was designed for a Pentium 3-based Celeron CPU and a GPU roughly equivalent to a GeForce 3. As far as I know the frame rate issues affect all systems to varying levels, and as ridiculous as it may be that they exist in the first place, might be something certain people can contend with. However, the graphical corruption that takes place on ATI cards, which is apparently at least partially a driver issue, is pretty severe and extremely distracting. The game clearly wasn’t tested on ATI systems, and if it was then it must have been with older cards using older drivers.
Other issues include camera axis inversion settings that, at least in my experience, seem to either not work or occasionally reverse themselves when you play, a missing icon in the Steam games list (a pet peeve of mine because it breaks visual continuity) and tooltips during the tutorial that tell you to press the wrong buttons for some functions.
Both games suffer from an absolutely abysmal selection of configuration options; neither offer fully customizable controls (not through in-game options at any rate), and while the default control schemes are probably sufficient for most people it may not suit all individual tastes or lefthanders. On top of that, Munch has no resolution selection of any kind and defaults to a 1024×768, which would have been just barely acceptable if we were living in 2001. Stranger’s Wrath is slightly less egregious in that regard, offering a small selection of resolutions generically named low, medium, high and ultra high—leaving you to figure out what resolutions those designations correlate to. Stranger allows custom resolutions by way of editing a text file in the games root directory but when using a widescreen resolution the game is Vert-, making it a very unattractive option as the top and bottom of the screen lose visible area.
Being games from 2001 and 2005 means I don’t expect graphical options in the sense that I want to be able to turn off those oh-so-stressful DirectX 8-level effects, but it’s not unreasonable to expect proper resolution support and a complement of supporting visual options such as VSync, Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering regardless of the fact that the latter three can be forced via your video cards control panel.
Too Bad Life Has No Reset Button
I’m sure that JAW will ultimately recover and this incident eventually forgotten, but for the short term this incident couldn’t have possibly been good for their bottom line. They got a lot of bad word-of-mouth, which has a tendency to linger and taint the pool of potential buyers long after the issues that caused the ire have been fixed. They launched the game with a 24-hour discount of 50%, bringing the game down to $12.50 from its normal $25 price, a period where most of the people who had prior interest and had been waiting for it to release probably bought immediately (myself, for example). After that 24-hour period the discount was lowered to 25% bringing the price to $18.74. Normally, that would still be a decent price for a pack of four good games, but after the outcry from the people who bought it in the first 24-hours for less why would anybody who has been paying attention to the internet chatter want to pay more for the same game breaking bugs? This problem will only worsen when the price reverts to the full $25 after the Holiday sale officially ends. Once the games have been patched word will surely, but maybe slowly, spread and sales will likely increase, but I can’t imagine that the peak sales potential wasn’t permanently lowered due to the launch issues.
I hope that this has served as an educational experience for a small developer whose only in-house release is a PS3-exclusive downloadable game and doesn’t seem to have much experience with the PC marketplace and ornery PC enthusiasts. They may have bitten off a little more than they could chew and they’re paying the price.