Space Tea 12: The failure of Odyssey, the rise of the Devs

Riley Thomas

The initial announcement of Elite: Dangerous second expansion Odyssey was originally met with much fanfare and excitement.  Even in the Alpha, we were all impressed and excited.  Space legs!  In Elite!  Something that has never done before.  A game basically fusing a space FPS with a ground-based FPS.  I call it space FPS because you were always essentially locked into first-person unless using a camera for photos.  You could not change to third or anything else besides first person.

However, upon the end of alpha, we were met with confusing news.  A release date.  Alpha was to end on May 5th, 2021.  We expected a beta but instead were met with the confusing part.  The release date?  May 19th, 2021.  A mere two weeks later.  No beta testing.  I predicted it would be an absolute shitshow, and man did I ever deliver on that prediction.  Odyssey launched, and all hell broke loose.  We’re going to take a look at the horribly botched launch of ED:O and what exactly happened according to the devs.  Let me preface the rest of this article by saying the devs are doing a FANTASTIC job on fixing the game.  Every single one of you are goddamn heroes.  You have taken an unplayable trainwreck and in under a month fixed it so it’s mostly playable and enjoyable again.  The fault here doesn’t lie on them, but rather, the CEO, David Braben.  

Elite Dangerous: Odyssey was promised to be amazing.  New planetary tech, new ship models to update the outdated but still beautiful current.  New everything.  It was basically a brand new game.  March 29th hit, and we who pre-ordered were excited to fire up our games and update to Odyssey Alpha.  However, the game, as expected, was unplayable for a while due to optimization.  Sadly this lasted until phase 4 when they finally addressed it after squashing a slew of other bugs and issues.  Did I expect it to be playable on day one?  Not at all.  But I was very impressed with the amount of gameplay we were given on day 1.  The content was fantastic, and as the game went onto other phases, the promise just got better and better.  I think most of us were shocked when we finally stood by our ships for the first time.  I remember doing my morning routine of watching Psykit and seeing her utterly shocked at how big the “little” DBX was.  Even I was blown away by my “tiny courier”, the ship that had taken on so many other larger ships in a battle, and I regarded it as a small ship a little bigger than an f16.  Man was I wrong.  The engine alone was about that big. We were all in awe.  But the bugs persisted.  Then the launch date came out, and we were all left stunned.  That left no time for a Beta as I said, and we were baffled, but we went on figuring there would be internal testing and a polished release.

We could not be more wrong.

Fast forward to the release date.  Chaos.  Pure and utter chaos.  What happened, we asked?  Where were all the changes?  The new planetary tech?  Where was everything?  It looked like an iron was taken to the entire universe!  Carriers were halted.  Some of us, myself included, were stranded.  The map couldn’t plot a single jump point.  Crashes for even blinking at the game wrong, though to be fair the crashes led to some hilarious bug reports thanks to CrispyTatorTot and others.  The screen was so dark even at full brightness it was hard to see.  Where were all our new changes to the ships?  The lighting was horrible, the neutrons did and still went from beautiful to a huge neutron meatball.  The players were pissed, to put it mildly.  The game’s ratings on steam plummeted to “Mostly negative”, and the final nail in the coffin is when Drew Wagner himself gave the game a solid F.  Odyssey’s launch had failed miserably.  This was a major blow to FDEV, and the developers were left scrambling, working even on Sundays to get patches out, but sadly it was too little too late.  The game was incomplete, buggy, and missing, well, everything promised.  Gone were the new updated models, gone were the beautiful plant life, the new views, gone was everything, we were back in Elite Dangerous again.  Not even Horizons, we were back to the base game looking.  Things such as Distant Worlds, the yearly massive literal star trek event, and I don’t mean the TV show, were canceled.  The devs had an absolute nightmare on their hands, and they promised to deliver, and deliver they did.  Patch after patch, hotfix after hotfix, they worked day and night, they worked Saturday, a hotfix was pushed on a Sunday, they were scrambling to fix this utter dumpster fire, and they have done a fantastic job so far of transparency and keeping us updated.

So what happened?  Why was this bug-ridden garbage pile that made these poor guys and gals work non-stop and pushed out so fast?  The answer is twofold.  Investors, and David Braben.  Oddly enough, Drew Wagner posted that Braben once argued an earlier release in the Elite franchise was being pushed out too early and should not have been released, that it was unplayable.  Then went and did the very thing he campaigned against.  Corporate greed.  There were mutterings that they had to meet the fiscal quarter-end. But that would be incorrect as the end was just a few days ago as of the publishing of this article, Quarter One was over in March so that definitely was not the case.

The case was that they set a deadline, and Braben was hell-bent on releasing on that date no matter the cost.  He had promised investors, and he was going to deliver.  What Braben delivered, however, was a steaming pile of dog crap.  Braben told investors a date, and he honored that date come hell or high water.  It was the Cyberpunk of space games.  He should be utterly ashamed of himself.  But instead of being genuinely sorry and apologetic for what he did, he issued what I felt was a half-hearted apology, and failed to take the blame for this, instead of keeping silent on it, which gave the backlash to the devs who have worked tirelessly to fix this.  His hollow apology letter was this:

Greetings Commanders,

With our first hotfix now released and another one arriving very shortly, I wanted to take a moment to address the wider community feedback and reports regarding performance issues, server outages, and bug reports within Elite Dangerous Odyssey.  

First and foremost, I would like to apologise wholeheartedly to those who have been suffering from these problems. I would like to reassure you that we take these issues very seriously and that they are our top priority and focus.  

Our second hotfix will be released very soon, which we hope will address more of the reported bugs and bring further stability improvements into the game.  We will continue to work on updates which will resolve more bugs and improve stability further.

Some of our players are reporting poor performance on machines where we would expect the performance to be good, and others are saying it is fine. We are trying to get to the bottom of this. I have been playing on my old home machine from 2014, which has an Intel i7 Extreme CPU and a GTX 980 GPU, 16 Gb RAM, playing at 1080p full screen at Ultra. I was doing this so I could have a good feel for how the game was playing on older hardware, and I used this same machine during Alpha. I have also been playing on a high spec 2021 dev machine.

I would like to thank you all for your patience and support. The Elite Dangerous community has always been at the heart of the game. We understand that there are a number of players who have had problems accessing and playing the game and I can assure you that we are focusing fully on improving this for those affected and communicating with you openly and regularly about how these issues are being addressed.  

While it is nice to know he is playing the game himself, he failed to take the blame for this botched release, which really drew my ire personally.  Braben should have owned up and admitted he made a mistake, instead he glazed over it and didn’t even acknowledge it really.  It was a short letter, following in the footsteps of the Cyberpunk letter.  I was quite unimpressed myself, but from this problems stemmed.  The community became divided, at this once proud community that stood in solidarity with all things Elite had been fractured, badly.  Sides were taken.  Some even became downright toxic.  A lot of people have left, and it shows in the twitch Elite directory where the number of streamers has dropped.

 Some commanders, however, hold out hope.  One such shining beacon of the community is the fantastic Malforthewin who did not pay me to say how fantastic and amazing he and the dogs of lore are.  They just are.  Seriously, go check him out, I did a fantastic interview with him recently as well.  I asked Mal because I knew he would pull no punches, and he is one of the most respected voices in the community.  Plus I couldn’t DM Drew Wagner.  If he doesn’t like something, he will say so, but also put it in a positive light.  So I asked his honest opinion on Odyssey and stressed this article, this final Space Tea for a while, was not to put Odyssey in a negative light but to look at what caused it all.

“Odyssey was meant to be a great adventure, and it truly is – I think even more so than originally planned. The developers and software engineers at Frontier have been hard at work on a new planetary generation tech system on the back end and adding a completely new vein of gameplay by adding an on-foot presence to a galaxy-scale AAA title. It’s a monumentally complex task. I love it for what it is, and the potential for what it will become. I honestly believe that issues aside, this is the beginning of the best chapter in Elite’s history. That said I do feel like the biggest issue has been setting expectations. Not just communications, but setting firm expectations with the community. And I think that’s driven from the top. I don’t think the devs or community team have been deliberately misleading us or trolling us. I believe the decisions on what to say and what to release, as far as information, are being made at a strategic level that is more in touch with shareholders than CMDRs. Case in point, we went from Alpha to Release – that NEVER happens. Someone wanted the game released and, more importantly to them, called “released” by a certain date. I imagine this was to satisfy a quarter-based goal or roadmap that had been presented to the shareholders. If the current Odyssey experience had been an Open Beta, with the concurrent paid release on consoles and PC later in the year, I don’t think the backlash would have been NEARLY as intense. 

tl;dr I love Odyssey. It’s rekindled my love of exploration. I feel like the current iteration is more properly labeled “beta” than release, and I think that more than the actual issues people are experiencing, is the problem. It reminds me a lot of the initial No Man’s Sky release that fell flat on its face. We’ll get to the Odyssey everyone was expecting, I bet by end of the year. But for now, I’m happy to keep beta testing this new galaxy, even if we don’t dare use the word “beta” around those shareholders. “

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  That being said, it’s caused a lot of issues with me and the way this has been handled, and I have temporarily suspended Space Tea and Space Blend as I haven’t really played much.  Perhaps next month will be better.  In the meantime, the dev team has done a FANTASTIC job with clarity, and Sally has been keeping us updated on all those pink planets, ships, guns, etc.  To the devs, you have done a fantastic job, hats off, and nothing but respect to you.  To Braben and the shareholders:  I hope you lose tons of money in the stock market because I’m not a mean person who’s going to tell you to jump off a cliff or whatever.  I just hope Odyssey was a massive wake-up call to you people who are absolutely clueless.  You’ve destroyed this community’s solidarity, and have made us a house divided.  But soon, Odyssey will be fixed, and we will be united again.  When the dust clears, the devs won’t take the blame.  You, the shareholders, will.  For making the people we respect, the people we interact with daily, laugh and joke with on social media, the devs, stressed out.  This team has done an amazing job, seriously.  I wish I could hug all of you in person and tell you what a great job you’ve done and how hard you’ve worked.  As for you people reading this, there’s an old saying.  “Shit rolls downhill” or something like that.  Shit starts at the top.  So if you want to blame people for the shit, don’t blame the devs, go straight to the top and place the blame directly there, because that’s where it starts.  The top.

I will in the meantime continue to write for CPE, however I will branch into other games, different interviews, and of course, AAW wrestling.  Don’t judge.  Ok you can judge but I don’t care.

You can catch me on Discord: Riley#8854

http://www.discord.io/spacetea

Glimesh! : http://www.glimesh.tv/riley_thomas

Twitch: http://www.twitch.tv/its_rileythomas

Twitter: @its_rileythomas

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