This is, more or less, what Oblivion is supposed to look like:
And this is what Oblivion looked like for me, right out of the box:
You’re kidding me, right?
Outdoors was even worse. The ground was made of checkerboard tiles of stone and grass, making it look like a big quilt. You couldn’t even see the roads. Fog didn’t work. Shadows didn’t work. The ground was flat shaded, ugly, and brightly lit at all times. Hanging moss and cobwebs didn’t blend right, so instead of a little whisp of white hanging in the air I would see a big black billboard with a picture of moss or cobwebs on it. The distant terrain mesh didn’t render properly, and would interfere with the nearby terrain. This would result in very large flat-color surfaces sticking out of the ground which were non-solid, but would block my view.
I applied the patch. I updated my drivers. Made sure Direct X was up to date. I uninstalled, re-installed, and repeated all of the previous steps, and still the world was totally messed up. No matter what I did with the settings, I couldn’t get it to work. For all of this uglyness, the game ran painfully slow.
The game has torches you can carry. Spells that create light. Spells that give you “night vision”. I never needed any of it.
My graphics card is on the low end of the system requirements (GeForce FX 5500) but it isn’t even at the bottom. As far as I’m concerned, if the lighting doesn’t work, your entire graphics engine is a waste. Lighting is the most important thing a graphics engine needs to do. For it to fail on such a fundamental level for a machine which is fully up-to-date is inexcusable. They should have made the game work on FX cards or raised the system requirements. Note that the current patch is the “final” patch. They have no plans for any more updates, and people in my position are just stuck.
Enter Oldblivion, a user-made mod that replaces the shaders in the game with ones that work, or work better, or faster. I installed this mod and the game started working right. It’s a brilliant little piece of software. It has adaptive settings that will adjust the LOD and view distance based on framerate. It turns off the specular shader (the one that causes the largest performance hit) if the game gets choppy. It fixes all sorts of visual bugs and glitches that made the game annoying or ugly. Bethesda ought to send these guys a cut of the $50 I paid for this game. Seriously.
It used to be that developers wrote software, finished it, and then sold it. Then we got to the point where they wrote software, sold it, and then finished it. Now we’re to the point were they write software, sell it, and wait for end-users to finish it.
I imagine the next step is that devlopers will sell us their design document for $50 and let us write the game ourselves.
Later (March 17 2007): Dear kids. Make sure you read this before you go making a fool of yourself in the comments.
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A screencap comic that poked fun at videogames and the industry. The comic has ended, but there's plenty of archives for you to binge on.