Frontlies (now updated)

By Alec Meer on March 7th, 2008 at 1:43 pm.

Insert 'hanging around' gag here

Update 1- “We believe it’s only affecting a small percentage of users and we are working to resolve this so everyone has a great experience,” Valve’s Doug Lombardi tells us. “That said, we’ll wait to comment on this until after we have things fixed.”
Update 2 – A new Steam beta build purports to fix the problem (thanks for the tip, Evo.)

Two posts in 24 hours about an FPS with an average rating of 74% – why ever would we do such a thing?

Well, because it turns out Frontlines’ Steam version is more broken than the hopes and dreams of Mike Huckabee.

The problem was mentioned in passing in one of our comments threads, but it hadn’t been fixed at the time. It still hasn’t, so players have found a pretty unorthodox way around it themselves. Right now, my PC is invisibly downloading over a gigabyte of extra files for Frontlines, all while Steam innocently claims the game’s 100% installed, with even its built-in bandwidth monitor pretending nothing’s currently being stuffed down the series of tubes. Tell that to the folder I can see swelling before my very eyes.

The problem seems to be that Steam decides Frontlines is ready before it’s downloaded all of the game’s 77 movie files. Mine made it to 36 before claiming to be finished, a friend was fobbed off with a mere 20, and there’s a whole bunch of similar horror stories on the Steam forums.

The solution? Change the game’s language (right-click on it in Steam, hit properties and then Language). Steam itself will still stoically claim the game’s 100% ready, but the Movie folder in the Frontlines install directory will silently start filling itself up. The game won’t work until that folder’s hit 1.82Gb. More detailed instructions here. Others have found that deleting the entire game then re-downloading all 12 fricking gigabytes of the thing solves the problem.

Bugs happen. But having to pretend I’m Spanish, and then guess at whether or not I’ve finished downloading a gig of crappy FMV by repeatedly clicking refresh on a Windows folder, before I’m able to play the game is a really pathetic bug. Worse, it was first discovered almost a week ago, but there’s been no official fix, or even an announcement/apology.

I haven’t been this angry at Steam since last year’s release of X-COM: Terror From The Deep, and its failure to mention for some weeks that the game flat-out didn’t work under Vista (a proviso which does now appear on TFTD’s store page). It would have been nice to have known that before I bought the game. Steam is undoubtedly ace, but sometimes I do worry about its customer service. Of course, the blame for this may well lie with THQ or developer Kaos studios, but this does rather seem to be a problem of digital distribution, not the game itself.

Sorry for the rant. GRRR.

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39 Comments »

  1. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    “(a proviso which does now appear on TFTD’s store page).”

    Does that mean it will never work, do you think? I was hoping they’d come up with a fix eventually. I love that game :(. Right now its 5 dollars for a pretty icon, however.

  2. Alec Meer says:

    I seem to recall a statement from someone involved, reckoning the costs and time necessary to make it Vista-friendly simply weren’t practical, so I suspect not. It is a real shame.

  3. Mark-P says:

    Ah, got to love Vista. Does it do anything positive for gamers that couldn’t be done in XP?

    Oh, on topic, I still find Steam a little flakey, even though so many people seem to have decided they love it now. It took me a while with support to get it to accept my Visa card too.

  4. Bidermaier says:

    Sorry to hear that. The retail version works perfect on my XP system.

  5. kadayi says:

    This seems like a case of poor testing by the developers when it comes to the Steam implementation. I think Valve are going to have to put a few more protocols in place regarding products when it comes to what’s ‘fit for release’.

  6. Theory says:

    This isn’t the developers’ fault. I’ve had it happen with all manner of games, Audiosurf to Bioshock, though thankfully not to the extent that they don’t run.

    It only seems to affect games that use the NCF format. GCF games (i.e. Valve’s) have no problems.

  7. Chris Evans says:

    :(

    Hate to see this happen to Steam…again :(

    Someone somewhere really needs to make sure everything runs ok before being made available for the public

  8. Crispy says:

    The Steam Store is really lacking in some areas. I think it’s basically simultaneously the best and worst thing about Valve Software.

    It’s great because of the potential it offers. The viable publishing route for indie titles, the way you can buy a game, delete it and then re-download it again when you want to play it.

    It’s bad because the interface is still lacking in oh-so-many basic things. See a game you like? Want to buy more games by the same people? Here’s how it works: go back to the main page and search by developer – now was it Relic or Remedy you wanted? Can’t remember? OK, here’s how it works, you need to search by title, search Dawn of War again, yadda yadda yadda… Surely I should be able to find out if a game by the same developer is stocked by Steam at the click of a button?

    Then there’s searching by price. There is no option to set your own price range. If I have £50 I want to blow on games, I have to search for 4 x $20-30 games OR 3 x $30-40 games. There is no option for me to see ‘everything under $50′ for example. It just sucks.

    And I also hate how laissez-faire Valve’s QA standards are with what they allow to use the Valve seal of approval. Because, that’s what it is, isn’t it? Steam games are Valve-approved games. If there were a game about raping nursery kids, I’m sure it wouldn’t go on Steam. But every time there’s a balls-up with a Steam game Valve pretend they have nothing to do with it.

    “Oh, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s buggy as crap and we didn’t bother to make sure it was patched on the Steam re-release? Erm. GSC’s bad, I guess. I suppose we could have thought about our customer base, how they’re with us partially because of the assured quality of the games we release, like Half-Life 2. And how endorsing other products is kinda like saying ‘I’d buy this, give it a try. I make games, so I’d know, right?’ But, that would have required being a Publisher, aaaand, uhm, we’re not quite there yet. I’m sorry if you mistook someone who advertises and sells games for a profit through their own distribution channel for a Publisher. Your bad, I guess. Not ours, though. We just make great games. We don’t do customer service.”

    “Oh, DOSBox is being distributed illegally? Oh, did we sell you that? No, that was id. We didn’t bother to put in place any standards process to check for this sort of thing, trusting halfwits that we are, but it’s basically 100% down to id, because we’re lazy. We won’t apologise for this somehow getting on our content delivery platform, though, because we have absolutely nothing to do with id. We don’t even have their phone number. They’re just some guys who must have got hold of that ‘release a game on Steam’ magic potion. Because we didn’t sanction any release. In fact, it never happened. Because we never talked about it. So there. Who am I? I’m nobody. I’m the wind. Shhhhhhhhhhh-the wind is blowing in the trees-shhhhhhhhhhhh.”

    That’s how much Steam pisses me off. [/rant]

  9. Alex Taldren says:

    The real frustrating part is that once you get into game, you’ll think it was developed by the Steam programmers.

  10. squerl says:

    Crispy: Games released on Steam don’t have “Valve’s stamp of approval”. If Bungie wanted to release Halo 2 over Steam, and it had bugs in it, Valve wouldn’t say “hey, your game has bugs, we’re not going to release it”. The same way Wal-Mart didn’t care how crappy Superman 64 was – it’s not their place to dictate the quality of games that people want to sell.

    I do agree that the interface and search features need work.

    It’s pretty crappy service to have this bug out for more than a week, and Steam really needs to do more to make sure these sorts of things don’t happen. I’ve never had a problem with Steam, but I understand how much that would piss people off/make them think twice about digital distribution.

    Does anyone think Steam will eventually split off from Valve?

  11. Cigol says:

    If Steam continues growing is it even legal for Valve to be so in control of it? Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

  12. TreeFrog says:

    I get the “stalled download” problem a lot, even when updating Portal or TF2. Only answer seems to be to launch the game and FORCE it to download the remainder. And this is after a Steam patch that was supposed to fix that very bug.

    I really don’t understand the level of devotion Steam seems to inspire. It’s a great idea rather poorly implemented, and if you think the QA and customer service are bad now (and they are), how bad do you think it’s going to get when digital distribution is the standard rather than the exception? Valve aren’t so much blazing the trail as stumbling down it.

  13. Crispy says:

    squerl: I beg to differ.

    When I boot up my game I have to open Steam at which point I see adverts for new games available on Steam (actually this happens when I leave a game, but that’s not important, what is important is that-). I have been brought these games by no choice other than buying a Valve product. Therefore, Valve have brought me these games as one of their customers.

    Now, the next quibble is that Valve do absolutely have every bit of control before granting distribution to a client. Steam isn’t a free service, afterall. It’s a business partnership between Valve and the owner of the game that sees both parties profit. For example, Sony and Microsoft have ‘standards’ procedures that games must pass before being eligible for sale for their platform.

    I’m sure that Wal-Mart have people somewhere reviewing all products that are to be sold in their stores (rejecting items that are bordering on illegal, in extremely bad taste, have health or safety risks, etc.). In fact, I’ll tell you exactly what happens with Superman 64 because it happens every day in the games industry: “Huh, Superman 64? People know Superman, he’s a household name. Kids want to be Superman. A game that lets kids be Superman, no matter how shoddy, will sell. Therefore I have no trouble putting this game in my store to sell many units and make me much profit.” The exact same philosophy permits bad movie tie-ins to be made; games that cash in on here-today, gone-tomorrow fanaticism. Wal-Mart just happens to prioritise cold, hard cash over quality in its standards procedure.

    There is absolutely nothing to stop Valve from developing a standards procedure other than their own reluctance/ineptitude to do so. The second there is a leading competitor to the Steam platform that either undercuts Valve or has a better interface or a better standards procedure, I will switch over in a heartbeat. Valve aren’t delivering all that they should be because they can afford to be content with underperforming against a lack of competition and because they are probably timid about expanding as a business along a tangent they don’t have experience in (in order to make Steam what it should be).

    Games can have bugs in them. But when known showstopping bugs are in a title on it’s first release. The re-release on Steam should be patched to be free of these fatal errors.

  14. Stromko says:

    What they did with TFTD and never making it compatible with Vista is even more evil than it sounds. When a service like Steam or Gametap starts distributing a classic game again, abandonware sites no longer let you download said games.

    That makes sense, let people spend money on classic games and they should get more respect.

    Trouble is, Steam and Gametap apparently feel no obligation to make sure their customers can in fact /play/ these games, and sometimes are making available a horridly inferior version. For example, Gametap’s anti-aliasing of X-Com that has its crisp and pixely old-school graphics and interface looking muddy and ugly, or their version of the Quest for Glory series where the combat is unplayably de-synced and the clock cycles are set so low or inefficient that a pixelated waterfall makes my quadcore its bitch.

    Trouble is, people used to be able to enjoy these games on DOSBox or other emulators. The emulators are maintained by people who give a damn about these old games, and allow you to customize the settings sufficiently to get damn near anything running fine.

    Now, well, without the abandonware sites nobody hosts these classic games, so if you have problems running them, well, you’re just boned. Unless you’ve managed to hermetically seal away your classic games and the original versions still work for you. I’m pretty sure every old-style disk I own has degauzed itself into uselessness.

  15. Will Tomas says:

    Similar happened to me with Steam and HL2:EP2. I had to turn the language to russian and back to English before the game would start playing any dialogue in game. The characters’ mouths wouldn’t move either. That was interesting.

    Although it pales in comparision to the infuriating Source engine stutter problem.

  16. BrokenSymmetry says:

    I’ve said it before: Steam really is great, but the support for non-Valve games on Steam is horrible. If a game that you bought on Steam has problems, Valve will point at the original publisher, and vice versa, and you’re completely on your own.

  17. phuzz says:

    Ironically, reading this made me go and by Stalker…from Steam.
    I’m one of the lucky ones, never had a problem with Steam, and re-installing all of my games on my new box just by installing one program, clicking a few buttons and leaving my computer on while I went to work was…a lot easier than some of the other bits of Vista 64 I’m getting used to.

  18. Zips says:

    1. To those complaining about adverts within Steam. You CAN disable them completely. To complain about something you can control is rather humorous.

    2. The issue with the files and game bugs in general are also happening in the non-Steam versions as well. A simple look at the Kaos Studios forums would tell you this – http://community.kaosstudios.com/forumdisplay.php?f=82

    The only reason you see it as only a Steam issue is because of how “vocal” some Steam members can be.

  19. James T says:

    To those complaining about adverts within Steam

    Nobody was.

    The only reason you see [the bugs] as only a Steam issue

    Nobody does.

    Personally, I have some patience with Valve regarding ‘lesser’ bugs — no game is perfect in our world of squillions-of-hardware-configs, etc — but OS incompatibilities like XCOM’s (among others) need a big red warning sign splatted over the ‘buy’ button from day one, and game-breaking bugs (good luck running Commandos unless you’ve still got your PC from 1998 lying around) should bar a game from being sold on Steam. As others have said, Valve are the gatekeepers of Steam, and any game sold on the service has their implicit seal of approval — no ifs or buts. Selling broken games on Steam abuses the cachet Valve have earned with gamers, and is simply bad practice.

  20. Wickedashtray says:

    For the first time in my life I went with the console version on a cross platform title.

    Glad I did.

  21. Garth says:

    I’ve had problems with Steam since it’s inception. I’ve had similar bugs to the one described, but.. well I wasn’t buying this game.

    Valve really needs to step up the QA testing on Steam. It is so riddled with bugs that many people I know simply wont use it.

    Also, yes, if you’re selling a game that doesn’t work with Vista, you need to tell people. That would be like selling a car that uses a wall-socket to power it, and not telling anyone; then when they bring it up, you tell them to talk to the company that makes the car.

  22. RichPowers says:

    Frontlines encapsulates everything wrong with PC gaming:

    Ignoring serious problems identified by beta testers and releasing with game-breaking bugs.

    Failed copy protection: Paying customers had to download a 70 MB patch to fix SecuROM. Frontlines still landed on major torrent trackers, once again proving the futility of such DRM schemes.

    Vista incompatibilities: MS sucks, that OS sucks, but games must work on Vista or simply not support it — one or the other.

    Does Frontlines on the 360 also suffer from serious technical problems? If not, then it reinforces the notion that the PC is a dump for half-rate console ports.

    These shoddy, unprofessional releases must stop, not only for the sake of paying customers, but for PC gaming’s image as a whole.

  23. hoohoo says:

    wow. last time i checked valve didnt publish this game thq did. its the publishers job to do quality control. the fact this game has serious problems across all dd services proves this. would it be better for valve to say to thq, we will not sell this game until it works? yeah, that would go over well. steam is a distributer, just as best buy, gamestop, d2d, walmart, target etc.
    this mess is just another example of publishers rushing games, releasing xplatform games simultaneously to maximise marketing exposure. this game has clearly been console focused for awhile now, since its easier to fix pc releases quickly. anyone expecting a good day one experience from a pc game is kidding themselves, especially on vista, and even moreso on vista 64.
    this ties into the pirating thing as well. many people like to try before they buy because of issues like this.

  24. Stromko says:

    Frontlines runs fine on the 360, at least in my experience (rented it a couple days ago, finished the campaign once, played a few hours more). Too lazy to test multiplayer so far. I wouldn’t purchase it, but it’s been a excellent rental.

    So yes, they screwed up the PC version.

    (edit) People can assume some measure of quality based upon where they buy a game. If you’re getting a 3rd-party reprinting or import for 10$ from K-Mart or Walmart, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t work and has no dev support or patches to make it work or defeat the broken DRM. I /was/ surprised, but I’m wiser for it(damn the Silent Storm series sure went downhill fast didn’t it?).

    People presume that Steam holds the games that get distributed to some standard. I think they show a predilection toward AAA titles and indy titles, but apparently, they don’t have much regard to quality when it comes to the former. That hurts their image, no matter whether it’s their fault or not.

  25. HyLite says:

    I’ve learned not to buy at release. I wait, read the rants, wait some more and if it appears to get fixed I’ll get it, usually at a lower price or I’ll pass it by. But what I do only really works for me.

  26. Stromko says:

    Wise words. I don’t buy things at release either, I waited on Frontlines and decided to make it a rental so as to take less of a risk. Didn’t think to hand out that advice so succinctly though.

    Like Hylite said of course it doesn’t work for everybody. I know I’ve been so hyped about some games I bought them no matter what reviews said. I feel bad for anyone who was so eager to get Frontlines for PC, and ran into this issue. Good thing there’s a workaround at least.

  27. Ging says:

    Well, seems Valve have pushed out a beta Steam update to fix the issue with this.

  28. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    Maybe it’s just me but nothing i’ve seen about frontlines makes me want to pay earth dollars for it. Just seems like a new-yet-not-as-good version of things that already exist.

    As for the bug well.. not really steam’s fault is it? They didn’t develop the damn thing.

  29. Kadayi says:

    @Crispy

    The Steam Version of Stalker was up to date at release in line with the retail patches. I’m not aware that there has ever been a discrepancy between them.

    As for QA that’s not Valves Job, that’s the responsibility of the publisher/developer whose releasing the game through Steam. If they say it works on X, Y & Z when in fact it doesn’t, it’s hardly Valves fault if the facts are wrong. It’s up to the developers to get their facts right, and I’m sure it’s safe to assume that there is a fair degree of Steam distribution testing that takes place before a release, but the responsibility to carry it out thoroughly must lie with the developer/publisher.

    If you go to a store and buy a branded washing machine and it turns out it’s broken, whose responsibility is it? Sure the store will refund your money, but it’s the manufacturer whose QA failed in the testing.

  30. Crispy says:

    @Kadayi

    Please read what I said about Microsoft and Sony submission processes. Games must pass a submission process in order to be sold for a platform like the 360 or PS3. Valve could very easily exact a similar process in order to meet the expectations of its customers. It would require on Valve’s part a team of experienced QA testers to go through the game and check for major bugs, at the very least to check functionality with Steam.

    If Steam is to grow and stay ahead of the inevitable competition in online distribution, I believe this is something Valve need to look into. It’s simply not acceptable to have Steam downloads not working for games. Valve can by all means stick their head in the sand and pretend like it has nothing to do with them, but this insistence on looking the other way won’t change the fact that shoddy Steam products hurt their name just as much as the game’s creators.

  31. Cigol says:

    I’m not being funny but Steam has gone from strength to strength in spite of all the criticism. I remember when it was foolhardy to admit to liking it on the Internet – lest you get verbally beaten to a pulp – so I’m sure these kinds of incidents will do little more than dent it.

  32. Crispy says:

    Despite my vitriol, Steam for me is still very much a love/hate thing.

    It’s true that a product can never be perfect, but when you have a product like Steam that can update all of its clients automatically without the need for manual patching by the end-user, it can be annoying that Valve are constantly working on the next big feature for Steam instead of addressing the needed improvements/fixes to its basic functionality. I firmly believe that criticism is as important as praise to a software developer, so I have no qualms in giving Valve some much needed tough love from time to time.

    I would email every time something irks me about Steam, but in the past I have never got a response, so it seems more worthwhile to put it all in a thread I already know Mr. Lombardi is aware of.

  33. hoohoo says:

    @crispy

    what kind of email are you using to contact valve? they filter out free accounts like gmail, hotmail etc. your best bet is to use an isp provided email. i have written them and gotten responses from them many times as have many others.

    as for your suggestion of certification, i’m sorry but that idea is horrendous. look how long it takes for m$ and sony to release patches. it can take months. it just isnt feasible, on a platform where you could get day 1 patches if you bought a retail version. they would kill sales if they did that.

    in fact valve has no plans to impliment this at all. look at what they say for their new steamworks innitiative;

    “Plus, Steamworks does not have a certification requirement—your game and its future are yours to control.”

    http://www.steampowered.com/steamworks/

  34. malkav11 says:

    Terror From the Deep can still be downloaded in several places across the net. If you’ve bought it on Steam, I recommend finding one of those places, downloading it, and using DOSBox to make it work.

    Same with Ufo Defense, which I recommend securing the DOS version of as the Windows version is not actually improved outside of being directly compatible with certain older versions of Windows…and forces full-screen 320×200 or something similarly unbearably low-res.

  35. Crispy says:

    @hoohoo

    “what kind of email are you using to contact valve? they filter out free accounts like gmail, hotmail etc. your best bet is to use an isp provided email.”

    Why on God’s Green Earth would they filter out the most popular email service providers on the planet? Are you sure this is true? Where did you get this information? In any case, I believe I sent half my emails from Gmail and half from a stable webmail account.

    I agree with your point about Steam’s flexibility being one of its strongest assets. Maybe Valve could set in motion some sort of internal ‘three strikes’ system to make sure that publishers/developers are ensuring a certain degree of quality. This way you still have a QA process with clear consequences to lazy sellers, it just becomes a retroactive system.

    This would probably better fit in with how Valve works as a company, as they’d only have to have a team on standby to deal with indiscretions, instead of having to deal with every single release. They’d literally only need a Steam complaints service to monitor consumer feedback (which they may already have), the production of a document setting out the expected level of quality assurance (the ‘standards’), and a small team of investigators to deal with substandard products released on Steam and uphold said Standards.

    Punishments could range from admonishments (losing a strike), to more severe actions (disabling all new download purchases until a patch has been readied), to severance (the third strike, or for gross misconduct). I may sound like a busy-body trying to come up with solutions, but it really pisses me off something royal to think that in some cases Steam is undermining the joyous simplicity and convenience of digital purchases by selling products that cannot be accessed or refuse to work. I just want to see Steam work as it should do. Some TLC and A2D, please, Valve.

    P.S. The new patch is a step in the right direction, and exactly the sort of speedy resolution we’ve come to expect from Valve.

  36. hoohoo says:

    @crispy

    “Why on God’s Green Earth would they filter out the most popular email service providers on the planet? Are you sure this is true? Where did you get this information? In any case, I believe I sent half my emails from Gmail and half from a stable webmail account.”

    i would imagine there is a varity of reasons why they would do this. its probably safer for one. its alot harder to spoof an isp email addy, since it is directly tied to your internet service. it cuts down the amount of spam. they like to try to answer as many emails as they can, so having a limiter like this makes it at least possible. i found this out by reading others responses from valve on different sites, and asking how they got a response when i wasnt getting any. all the people i asked said they used an isp email addy. another point is, what address are you sending mail to? if you are using a generic address like sdk@valvesoftware.com, it might be better to direct it to a person, like gaben@valvesoftware.com, or lombardi@valvesoftware.com. gabe is very good at answering emails, or if he cant he will forward it to the proper person. hope that helps you get in touch with them. you can also ask them to put you the mailing list, this way you can get heads up on when patches and updates are forthcomming, and valve press releases.

  37. Crispy says:

    Your comment about Gmail and Hotmail addresses is, as I suspected, unfounded. A quick look through this thread clearly shows that Hotmail account users (among others) are receiving responses from various members of Valve.

    I mailed the SDK addy and copied in Gabe the first time. Then I forwarded the previous unanswered query and some new queries to Gabe directly. Neither returned an answer, not even to say my email was received and had been forwarded on to the correct person, or who the correct person to get in contact would be.

    As a direct result of this silent treatment I’ve given up wasting my time writing up bugs, suggestions, feedback, queries and the like regarding Valve products, Steam features and mod legal queries. It kinda narks me off to see that they clearly are replying to emails concerned with trivial pursuits (“What was the name of the guy who voiced the fisherman in The Lost Coast?”) and are ignoring items that concern the core user experience (i.e. functionality or gameplay issues, technical enquiries, etc.).

  38. KindredPhantom says:

    LOL Crispy, calm calm. :P

    Good points though.

  39. fast says:

    And I also hate how laissez-faire Valve’s QA standards are with what they allow to use the Valve seal of approval. Because, that’s what it is, isn’t it? Steam games are Valve-approved games. If there were a game about raping nursery kids, I’m sure it wouldn’t go on Steam. But every time there’s a balls-up with a Steam game Valve pretend they have nothing to do with it.