More OOBE experiences – D&D Online

Back in January, I wrote about the OOBE of my iRiver H10 player, and I've got another horrid first run story today.

Daniel's been pestering us to get DnD Online, and yesterday it arrived.  I figured I'd install it for him (to save him the trouble).


Man, talk about hideous first run experiences.  First off, the CD installed SLOWLY. Now the machine I'm running this on isn't the fastest on the planet, but I can rip CDs in way less time than the game installed.  My guess is that they were decompressing data on the fly or something.  But slow installations aren't a huge issue, I know how hard it can be to copy tons of data onto a machine.

My biggest complaints came when I launched the application.

It popped up a pretty splash screen, and some status text flashed on the screen about checking for web sites, etc.  Then it hung.  I waited for about 5 minutes and no progress, it just hung.  What was worse is that the app didn't show up in the task manager list so I had to find dndlauncher.exe in taskmgr and kill it manually.

So I restarted.  This time it started and made it through the initial UI, and presented a new loader screen.  The loader started downloading two versions of the client executable.  That was wierd, the game's only been online for 7 days and there are already 2 new versions of the client available?  No big deal.  One thing I noticed was that the download was SLOW - 10KB per second according to the progress meter.  Looking at the network traffic in taskmgr, it wasn't receiving any data, the client was just slow.

And then it hung downloading the client executable.  This time it DID have an entry in the taskbar, but I couldn't right click on it to stop it, I had to go back to the task manager to kill it.

Third try, this time it got through downloading the client programs, and it started patching game data.  There were 50(!) patches available for the game.  Again, this is a game that's been online for all of 7 days, and there were ALREADY 50 patches for game data?  And once again, the launcher hung downloading the patches.  And I'm still getting 10KB/second download speeds.

Fourth try (I'm getting pretty annoyed at this point), and it starts downloading more patches.  This time, the patches came in quickly - 75KB/second.  My guess is that their load balancing solution on their patch servers doesn't work, and some of the patch machines were overloaded.

And again the game hung after downloading all the patches.

The game also installs a notification area icon, this time I clicked on it.  A menu flashed on the screen really quickly, and then disappeared.  So back to taskmgr to kill the launcher app.

On the 5th time, I was finally allowed to log in and start the game, but still....  4 hangs of the client app that required taskmgr intervention to recover?  10KB/sec download speeds?


And then there's the notification area icon.  By default, the game installs itself into the notification area, and it's set to download game patches every 4 hours.

Every 4 hours?  They patch this game frequently enough that you need to check for patches EVERY FOUR HOURS?!!



I've not played the game beyond racing through the character creation mechanism, this is Daniel's game to play, I have absolutely no opinions about the relative quality of the game (although it seemed to be very pretty for the 2 minutes I played it)

I know this is a major new game in its first week or so of retail release, so it's expected that things may be overloaded - there were 10 new characters in the entry area when I logged in, so the game servers are clearly being hammered, but still...


Comments (33)

  1. Anonymous says:

    OOBE experiences? Isn’t that just OOBE or maybe OOBEs? Just a nit…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Since it downloads and executes patches in the context of the user running it I assume this is not going to work under LUA, right? How hard is it to pop an authentication dialog and run the patch under an admin account… And no, Blizzard does not get it right either.

  3. Jerry, it should be possible for this to work in a limited user account, but you’re right, it’s likely that it doesn’t.

  4. Anonymous says:


    Apparently, you’re not the only one having problems.  See

    Man, it sounds to me like someone didn’t do any server load testing.  

    If you look through the entire thread, they actually said "it’s not our fault, the North American Internet is broken."  C’mon!!!

    They were clearly overwhelmed initially with the amount of traffic they encountered and couldn’t deal with it.  Not suprising since *every* client now checks for updates every 4 hours.  While it’s possible their "pipes" were overloaded, I find it almost laughable that they punted the issue on the "Internet being broken."

  5. Anonymous says:

    Don’t play too many PC games do you? This is normal and expected behavior. Gamers expect large games to be buggy and finicky. They expect that they will have to scrounge around looking for the correct driver set up to get their new fangled video card to work with the new fangled video game. They assume they will have to know about thread scheduling on a multiprocessors system, memory timing, video buffers and front side bus bandwidth. They resign them selves to invoking voodoo and prayer to get their system just right so they can get the latest game to work on it. And once it’s working they hope that the developer doesn’t issue a patch that breaks them.

    The sad thing is this mentality is slowly creeping into the console world. It used to be that once the game was pressed and out the door it was gone with no hope of changing anything. Now with the prevalence of online gaming patching has become easier. While this helps ensure end users that critical bugs can be fixed it also means that testing standards can slip. Why slip the ship date when we can just issue a fix online later.

  6. Anonymous says:

    If the patch mechanism is running with least privs and touches any files placed on the machine by an install running as an elevated user, it will fail miserably under LUA.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Larry says:

    And then there’s the notification area icon.  By default, the game installs itself into the notification area, and it’s set to download game patches every 4 hours.

    The time between patch changes – I’ll leave that be.

    But unfortunately they can’t be faulted for putting an app in the system tray to download patches.  They’re just following Microsoft’s lead.  I truly wish the initial OS design for product updates had taken into account that third party would need to do the same thing, and they’d be forced to follow our lead.  As it stands now the model requires every installed application to build a custom service or application that polls their custom update servers every x hours.  The platform needs a better solution.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Given that this is a MMO, I’m not *that* surprised that there are a lot of patches for it after a week or so of release. From what I’ve read, most MMOs go through a fury of patching initially, then things start to settle down. Just do some searching for the launch of Star Wars Galaxies if you want to read about a horrible launch experience….

  9. mirobin, not necessarily.  They could ACL the data files to allow any authenticated user to modify them.

    Of course that means that they’re opening up their binaries to other people patching them, but…

    Microsoft doesn’t put a notification icon to check for patches.  Windows update schedules a periodic job that runs every night to scan for updates.  There’s nothing to stop other people from creating just such a job to do their update check.  Search MSDN for WMI.Jobs:

    That means that their jobs can run every day to check for updates and they don’t bog the system down.

  10. Anonymous says:

    "I truly wish the initial OS design for product updates had taken into account that third party would need to do the same thing, and they’d be forced to follow our lead.  As it stands now the model requires every installed application to build a custom service or application that polls their custom update servers every x hours.  The platform needs a better solution."

    Installshield now sort of does this, with a central update service; the only problem is the only things I’ve seen work with it are the OEM garbage installed on new computers, so why bother at this point. Microsoft update has expanded out into Office, Exchange, etc, but still isn’t wide enough.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Virtually every massively-multiplayer online game goes through similiar growing pains at launch.  On the programming side no simulation is going to give you the true experience of what happens when you have the whole world connecting to your servers at the same time.  On the beancounter side servers are allocated based on a typical expected load and launch / big patch days are anything but.  None of this really excuses all the problems (especially since virtually every MMOG had similiar problems at launch) but it’s at least understandable.

    As for patches on day 1 – of course there are.  Marketing/management always over-promises on the RTM date.  The fact that there is a patch process in place just makes it worse because everybody always knows in the back of thier head that if a problem comes up they can just patch it.  Windows is not immune to this mentality either.

    I really doubt the programmers *expect* a patch every four hours, they’re probably just being conservative because they know all stuff above as well as everybody else.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the interval was pushed up as things stablize.  It’s actually kind of nice for players – most games don’t bother checking until they’re launched and then you have to sit there waiting while the patch downloads.  This way things are more likely to be up to date and it’s more likely the user can get into the game quickly.

  12. Rick Schaut says:

    "They patch this game frequently enough that you need to check for patches EVERY FOUR HOURS?!!"

    I think that’s called "Agile Development."


  13. Anonymous says:

    Windows Update can, depending on user options, show a notification icon. This is when one chooses to be notified about updates. As I don’t use WU I only think it’s shown only when updates available.

  14. David, the WU icon should only show if there are updates available.  The WMI job that determines that there are updates also launches an app in the context of the user on the console that enables the notification area icon.

    But the WU auto scans don’t require a long-term running process.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Game software has got to be the most horrible software on the planet.  With the exception of Blizzard and id, most other game companies just plain suck.  I don’t buy anything with words such as "Activision" or "Electronic Arts" on it.  Those words are profanity in my book.

    What really kills me is that most of my computer science friends are all dying to become game programmers despite how horrible the field is (and how much they all hate working on GUI’s).


  16. Anonymous says:

    > Man, talk about hideous first run experiences.  First off, the

    > CD installed SLOWLY.

    Let’s talk about hideous first run experiences.  Although I’ve installed Windows XP a number of times, last weekend was the first experience for a friend.  His BIOS could boot a floppy drive through USB but couldn’t boot a CD drive through USB, so I downloaded the set of 6 floppy disks.  Did the floppies install SLOWLY?  Well yes, but only until the installer finished reading the 6th floppy.  At that point it BSODed.  We never were able to get Windows XP to install using proper tools.  I managed to get it in after spending a few hours finding a sequence of hacks that could get it in (not using Windows XP to get there).

    > the game’s only been online for 7 days and there are already

    > 2 new versions of the client available?  No big deal.

    Windows XP hadn’t even been released yet when there were already 2 downloadable security patches?  Windows NT4 hadn’t even been released yet when there was already a Service Pack slipstreamed into it?

    > What was worse is that the app didn’t show up in the task

    > manager list so I had to find dndlauncher.exe in taskmgr and

    > kill it manually.

    And killing it manually actually killed it?  Compare that to the Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition Smartphone Emulator, part of one of Microsoft’s SDKs.

    Yes you had a miserable OOBE.  When you talk to the vendor, please talk to your employer too.

  17. Anonymous says:


    Of course, you’re right.  It’s very difficult to estimate what the typical load will be.  So, yes, in that sense it’s understandable.  However, you’d think a load tester would try to be optimistic in that sense and do what they can to simulate an extreme load.  At least they could get an idea of what will happen in a worst case scenario.  I’d rather hear "Hey, this game was so popular, all the players overloaded our network.  We’re working on upgrading, stand by!" as opposed to "The North American Internet is broken."  Of course, that’s assuming they did *any* type of load testing.  I can only imagine the pressure those programmers were under to ship.  It’s hard to think of all the scenarios with someone in your ear every day screaming "Ship it! Ship it!"  🙂

    I also agree that a background update is ideal for players.  For years, I had to deal with update process in Diablo and Diablo II.  Fortuneately, you could just download the patch from the blizzard site and install it offline without taking away from game time.  Note that you could not connect to the blizzard servers until you were at the latest patch level though.  

    Game programming is difficult.  Not only because of the complexity involved with just the programming of the game, but because of marketing pressures, ship schedules, etc.  I can imagine it’s very easy for a dev team to say "Bug #123 is a known issue, but we can’t fix it before ship date.  Leave it as is, and we’ll patch after it’s delivered."  That’s risky, because those types of decisions can push players away from your game.  Patching can quickly become a crutch in any area of software devlopment.  

    I agree with Larry, this game looks beautiful.  I will likely never buy it, though, because of the OOBE Larry described.  Just my $0.02.  

  18. Anonymous says:

    I do have to say that I am consistently pleased with PC games released by Microsoft.  Rise of Nations, Dungeon Siege and Flight Simulator are all fantastic examples.  The quality is high and the patches not too frequent.

    They are also about the only thing keeping me from converting to a Linux desktop 🙂

  19. Anonymous says:

    Well, it worked just fine for me… =P

    They do seem to have som trouble. They released a patch yeasterday that shut all european users out from the servers all afternoon. They accidently released a debugversion of the patch or something like it. The client keept requesting the dbghelp.dll fil in version… So I think thay are a bit careless.

  20. Anonymous says:

    "They could ACL the data files to allow any authenticated user to modify them."

    You’d have to do it for executable files as well, even Microsoft does not write perfect code the first time. And once you do that you’ll end up with no security. Everyone could modify executable files. There would be no reason to run under a LUA.

  21. ryanmy says:

    The beta wasn’t that good, so I’m sticking with EVE Online and World of Warcraft.  (Yes, I play both at once.  😛  That, and D&D seems weird without pencil and paper.  Old habits die hard.)

    And as for server load, EVE’s raised my expectations considerably for MMOs.  Rather than sharding/realming the world, they have a single server cluster that handles around 22,000 simultaneous players during peak hours without noticable lag.  In contrast, my server on WoW chugs whenever there’s more than two guilds doing a BWL raid at the same time.  😛

    [begin rant]

    As for the game biz, having come from game development to OS development, I think I could go back to it eventually, but it’d take a dream-job offer.  The large studios are generally soulless, and the small studios get ruthlessly yanked around by their publishers who are just looking for the next big moneymaker.

    Innovation has largely died in favor of safe profitable bets — popular movie licenses (how many Lord of the Rings games are there now?), sequels of previously successful titles (how many Madden games are there now?), and extremely formulaic easy bets (how many WW2-themed first-person shooters are there now?).

    To be honest, the only bright lights in the game biz right now are the few companies that have made enough of a name for themselves that the publishers can’t yank them around (Valve, id, Blizzard, Bioware, etc.) or who have been bought out and made into first-party dev houses (Bungie, Rare, Laughing Dog, etc.).  And, of course, the best part of the year for me is the GDC, because that means the Independent Games Festival.

    To be honest, most college guys continue to dream about game development because they imagine that they want to do something fun for a living, and what could be more fun than working on games?  Then they find out that game development is only fun when the ulcers heal from months of crunch time, frustrating meetings with publishers, and a target audience that is famous for merciless criticism.  In short, the work is fun, but the business is not.

    [end rant]

  22. Anonymous says:

    So what you are saying Ryanmy is that the game buisness is exactly the same as the movie buisness. No wonder Hollywood wants to get into games.

  23. Four hours seems reasonable to me.  It’s not about how often they release a patch so much as it is how long it takes to roll the patch out once it’s released.

  24. OMG the & => & bug is back.  Didn’t they fix that once already?

  25. Maurits, I wouldn’t even worry about a 4 hour update check cycle (actually it allows for some exciting dynamics) if they didn’t burn a process just to do the check.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Speaking of LUA/updating issues… Since they switched Windows Update to using BITS, it no longer works with RunAs, because of some kind of by-design "feature" where BITS only impersonates the logged-in user (or something like that).  It’s incredibly annoying having to log off and log back in interactively as an admin.

    Plus, it renders Automatic Updates’ "Download updates for me but let me choose when to install them" option completely useless, since it won’t even start the background downloading unless you’re logged in interactively as admin.



  27. Maybe the four hour update check is so that they don’t have to worry about rescheduling missed updates?

  28. Dean Harding says:

    Jerry: You’d only lose security on those files that you changed the ACL on. If you want the user to be able to patch them, then he’s got to be able to write to them!

    Another option is to install a service to do the work. Make it manual start (and change the ACL on the service to allow any authenticated user to start it) and away you go.

    There’s actually a much better story in Vista. Basically, the administrator can say "any user can install updates to Program X" and then Windows Installer handles the rest. The developer has a little bit of extra work to do (they have to sign their updates, and they have to include the public keys for the signature in the original installer) but that’s much better than changing ACLs or having to run a special service or something to do the work.

  29. Dean Harding says:

    Also, it seems very silly to duplicate the work of the Task Scheduler service. Especially since the Task Scheduler service can be set to execute the scheduled task in the context of any user (even an administrator) so then you can ensure your updates are always run in the context of an admin, regardless of who the logged-in user is.  You could even do it so that it works with the new Vista stuff I mentioned above: on Vista, run your update check as the logged-in user, on XP and below, run it as the Administrator.

  30. Tim Smith says:

    The big problem with using the task scheduler are the bugs in the system.  If two tasks start at the same time, there are cases where the task scheduler will think one of the tasks is still running after both have completed.  In our case, one was a 1-5 second task while the other was a 15+ minute task.  It was common that the 1-5 second task would stop being rescheduled because the task scheduler thought it never stopped.

    Once we shifted the start time of one of the tasks so they both didn’t start at the same time, then things were ok.

    It’s those type of nasty bugs that prevent people from using some nice MS technology for their own needs.

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