skyrim vs the wild
This post never made it into words when planned, so the references are a bit dated, but I think it’s still mostly relevant. (For those who are familiar with the references.) Some time ago, I saw a claim that the software developers who worked on Zelda: Breath of the Wild are much better than the developers for Elder Scrolls: Skyrim which has a great many bugs. I agree that Skyrim (and every Bethesda game) has an infamous reputation for lots of bugs, much more so than the Wild, but I don’t think we can conclude much about the skills of the people jamming code into vim or notepad++ or whatever.
First off, this isn’t meant to be a comparison of which game is, overall, better or provides a more entertaining experience. It’s about software quality, or it’s absence, and what factors may lead to it.
I won’t attempt to quantify results, but instead I’ll present a series of “Skyrim-esque” bugs which exist in the Wild, and consider how they got there. And also some ways in which the Wild probably avoided bugs. Finally, I generally say Skyrim, but much of this applicable to the newer Fallout games, etc.
Some problems in Skyrim are avoided in the Wild by simplifying or reducing scope.
A common problem in Skyrim is that a quest will break because an NPC fails to appear during a cutscene or doesn’t say their line. And then progress is stuck. The Wild mostly avoids this problem by only running cutscenes outside of the game engine. Nobody gets locked in the other room or whatever. The game state doesn’t have to progress through nearly so many transitions.
Similarly, Skyrim can break when quests overlap or interfere. But side quests, such as they are in the Wild, are all completely isolated. Every shrine is independent. The various go collect 20 forgetmenots quests from locals don’t depend on anyone being in a particular house or not in jail or whatever.
You can find Beedle in or near every stable in the Wild, but dialog aside, it’s really a dozen clones, not a wandering character. This leads to a touch of familiarity, oh hey look, it’s you again, but it’s lacking the spontaneity of finding Talsgar wandering the roads or the Companions out hunting, which you might play through all of Skyrim without even seeing.
Other NPCs are pretty damn limited in their independence. You can come across villagers being attacked in the woods, but good luck trying to drop a sword for them to defend themselves with. Leaving a pile of weapons around and inciting a riot is always more fun with more sophisticated NPC AI.
Much was made of physics in the Wild, but there’s some limits. Throw a bomb into a stable, and nothing gets blown around. The inhabitants barely react. You can tilt a guardian over by building an ice pillar under it, but only in just the right spot to tip it over. You can’t build a pillar that will only cause it to tilt up slightly.
More particularly, and to my annoyance, stasis only prevents some movement. In various shrines are piston like pillars that push and retract. Can you stop a piston by casting stasis on a ball resting on top of it? No. The frozen ball will be pushed up, then just hang in air. Completely inconsistent with your own interactions with stasis object, which absorb kinetic energy until they go zoom. Is that a bug? I’m not sure, but only allowing objects to interact in carefully controlled ways is one technique to avoid the emergence of unexpected interactions.
There are also some bugs in the Wild that sound just like bugs we’d expect to find in Skyrim.
There’s a few shrine puzzles in the Wild that consist of endless tumbling boulders and you’re supposed to devise some way around them. Or you can do what I did. Randomly stasis and bomb boulders into the abyss below while contemplating solutions until they simply stop coming. There’s supposed to be a counter of boulders in play so the generator stops when the limit is hit (or so I assume), but sometimes when a boulder falls off the bottom of the map the counter fails to decrement. I can’t think of a specific Skyrim bug this corresponds to, but it has that feel of too much is happening, so let’s just take a rest for a while.
This speedrun has a few glitches which I don’t worry about too much, except for the bullet time bounce seen at around 9:00 into the video. This is a pretty common bug class, where a stat is adjusted, then altered, then the adjustment is reversed, but the backout is applied to the altered stat. Halve your health, restore health, then unhalve your health to finish with double health. A very Skyrim bug. Also, I think, a good indicator of how seriously the dev team considers all the what if possibilities and how well they understand the internals of the game they’ve built. Avoiding this bug requires that you remember all the many ways a stat can be changed, not just in your own code but anywhere in the game.
Skyrim (and Fallout etc.) have long been plagued by a series of bugs related to inventory. Get a quest item, enter a region where all your stuff is taken, and lose, gain, duplicate, whatever the quest item. Generally, interactions with the player’s inventory outside the usual game flow are always buggy. The Wild doesn’t have many such interactions, and it has a rather simpler slot based inventory, so we’d expect to avoid this bug. And yet. If you have all 100 armor slots full when you are given the thunder helm as a quest reward, it goes... poof. That’s it, no reward. In the one place where it’s possible to have a Skyrim style inventory bug, the Wild has it. A perfect score.
I’ll admit to having preferred Skyrim, and played it for considerably longer. There’s just so much to do, even now I can start it up and pick a random travel point and wander around and find something I’ve never seen before. I came fairly close to 100% in the Wild, and it feels like there’s nothing left. But biases aside, I thought the Wild was a great game. Deserving of its acclaim.
As for development methodology and quality, the Wild does generally feel like a game where everything goes right. However, I think this is partly an illusion. Less goes wrong because less happens, but this doesn’t mean more is happening successfully. It’s really that there’s simply less happening.
Another big difference is that bugs in the Wild rarely prevent progress, while the complexities of Skyrim quests more frequently mean a reset is required. In any software program, how one escapes from an error condition is an important consideration.
I think the approach taken with cutscenes is informative. Skyrim takes the approach of setting the pieces on motion, and then letting what’s going to happen happen, hoping it goes according to plan. It’s sometimes annoying, but I also kinda love the inadvertent noise pollution of six characters trying to dialog at the same time. (Or seeing Piper wander over and start welding Liberty Prime in Fallout 4. Had to sit back and just watch and laugh when that happened. Totally unexpected.) The cutscenes in the Wild are sufficient to advance the story, however, and I’ve never seen anyone complain that they weren’t good enough. Is the Skyrim approach better? How much less enjoyable would it have been for dialog triggers to just put some character models on the screen and have them puppet along? When it works, the Skyrim technique is much more immersive, but then the immersion is broken by having to check a wiki page looking for console commands to restore order.
Software complexity adds up quickly. Users may not notice or appreciate the added complexity. But they’ll definitely notice when things don’t work. It’s perfectly possible to make software that users enjoy even if it cheats around the hard parts.