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THE SIEGE OF THE CORNERED RATS [Author: Lum the Mad]

I couldn’t help but try to stifle my bout of giggling when I read that “WWII Online: Blitzkrieg” had actually gone gold, with a release date of 5th June. Y’see, I’ve been a beta tester now since early on in Phase V and consider myself privileged to see how any company can produce a game, no matter how disorganised or incompetent they may be. One of the original shocks was to discover that there was absolutely no documentation or guides available for the testers, apart from a few basic text files that accompanied the 65Mb download that informed you of the keys. New testers relied upon other testers to find out how to play the game, and to understand the systems involved.

Incidentally, this led to a breach in security at one point. The only way that testers could really provide any documentation for their colleagues was by hosting it on their own external website, away from the passworded security of the Playnet beta website. A short time later, this URL was posted in a WW2 Chat, and immediately after on the official Playnet forums. Fortunately, the host of this documentation was able to take it down very quickly, but another tester had copied the entire page and hosted it on GeoCities. There it stayed for a good few hours, allowing the public full viewing of the secret systems within WW2 Online and the bugs that it contained. The chaos that ensued after this was like a circus act of badly trained monkeys running amok.

The GeoCities site was taken down, upon order by Playnet. In some bizarre twist of logic, the Game Manager – Gryf – decided that it MUST be one of the new testers (they had just introduced 200 new testers into the game) who had leaked the URL and then demanded that the guilty person come forth and tell him who leaked it, or else all 200 would be ejected from beta forever. There was a massive split in the community by those who agreed with Gryf that this was the only logical way, and those who knew that the URL should never have been hosted publically anyway (previous requests for secure server space fell on deaf ears) and that the URL could have been discovered in any number of ways.

The deadline came, and was put back as they had discovered “new information”. The “Damned 200”, as they became known amongst the community, were resigned to their fate. However, the name used to post on the chat was eventually identified although people could create any name they liked when logging on. The enquiries continued, but it was soon forgotten. No word was ever mentioned as to whether or not the culprit had been found, and the “Damned 200” stayed on in beta. There were rumors amongst the community that Gryf had been forced to back down on his decision by upper management, and that his earlier demands had been considered rash. A secure beta site for the testers was soon made available.

Then stories started to spread that there was a morale problem at “Cornered Rat Studios”. A core number of staff who had originally designed the game had started the work on lower than normal wages, as the chance to work on the game of their dreams was enough for them to carry on with their work. However, Senior Management intervened again and decided to expand plans for the game – getting greedy after realising the potential of the game that they were making. New staff were brought in, at standard programming rates. This meant that new folk were earning a great deal more money that the original core staff, while working on a game that they merely saw as a job – rather than a dream. The office was split into 2 groups, making life difficult amongst the team.

And with release looming, and the game going gold, WW2 Online looks like another game rushed into release before money runs out completely. New builds are frantically being rushed out for the testers every couple of days. The patch utility has only just been rolled out this week, as previously a new build meant a new 70Mb download for testers every time. It hasn’t even been fully tested. The actual patch process itself (releasing small updates each time, rather than huge downloads) has only just started within the last few days. The game server itself has never had more than 70 or so testers online at the same time, and the login server itself hasn’t had any massive testing (remember EQ’s first day?). This may yet happen when CRS launch the “Open Beta”, with all of 2 weeks remaining until release. “CTDs”, or Crashes to Desktop, are still alarmingly common, as various things in game cause your client to close which normally results in you being locked out of the game until the authentication server is rebooted.

Another major gripe is framerate. It’s hard to tell if there is much network lag in the game, because the framerate is going to cripple you way before lag gets involved. Most players with high end machines (256Mb RAM, 700Mhz +) are still getting around 10-15 FPS at MOST. A framerate of around 7 or 8 FPS is more common, and makes dogfighting and ground warfare a tricky experience. The beta testers are compiling their own list of graphics and game bugs, which are currently around the 70 mark. The mission system is barely in place yet, nor are the ways in which players can advance up the ranks. Load times are becoming worse every time, and it now takes most players 5 minutes of waiting and looking at a blank screen before they can begin to choose their side and vehicle, and then a further wait as they are entered into the world.

A lot can happen in 2 weeks, but this is asking for miracles. It’s a shame, because the Rats are a great group of people and really love their game. They’ve invested such much of their time recently, with sleeping in the office becoming a regular thing. They just aren’t used to the ruthless crowd of MMORPG followers that they will soon be attracting. Perhaps they anticipated this when they named their in-house development team “Cornered Rats”, because they are soon going to feel just like them.