"What's The Point?"
The rise of the "Point Release"
In February 1998 id released the v3.12 patch for Quake II, dubbed the "Point Release",
which added a number of features that arguably should have been in the original retail
release of the game.
The last year has seen similar point releases for Unreal and Shogo, with Heretic II and
Blood II point releases imminent. So what's going on? Why are point releases suddenly
so common, and how are they justified?
Time Is Running Out
The simple answer, according to Marcus Whitlock of Raven, "is (and always will be :))...
lack of time". Quake II was accused by many of being released early to cash in on Christmas
sales, and Heretic II, Blood II and Shogo were all developed to tight deadlines. In these
days of fierce competition, deadlines have to be met and design cycles are short - only the
biggest companies can afford to keep delaying games.
The end result is that inevitably not every feature that was originally planned will make
it into a game. As Marcus told me - "we had to stop somewhere, stop implementing new stuff
and concentrate on making everything that was already in there work correctly."
With Quake II the choice came down to single player or multiplayer... As Zoid explained to
me, "Quake II was a single player game as the main focus, with a multiplayer element added
on later into the project. This is one of the reasons Quake II as released was much more
focused on the single player aspect."
Monolith faced a similar decision with Shogo and Blood II, as Brian Goble explains - "Like most
games, we weren't able to get in every feature and every level that we had originally planned on
12 months prior to shipping. Monolith does not use the "it's done when it's done" scheduling
technique - all of our games have real schedules and deadlines."
Fear The Creeper
All companies face this at some point or other, or they succumb to "feature creep". This is
what we call it when you are continually adding in cool new features instead of polishing what
you already have.
My own company The Coven saw feature creep delay our first
project, Disposable Heroes, by at least three or
four months, and I won't be making the same mistake again! At some point you have to draw a
line and release the game, even if it means that not everything you originally planned makes it
into the final product.
This can lead to you having some material left over that gets cut from the game as the project
nears its end. Brian Goble again - "Since some of the features and levels were close to finished
(or, at least started) we felt that it would be great for the game and the gamers if we could
add in some of those features and levels that we had time for after shipping (in a patch)."
"It's fun for us because it really sucked when we had to make the painful decision to cut those
features and levels...and it's fun for the gamers because they get new features and levels to
download for free! :)"
The result? A point release.