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4:14pm on Friday, 20th June, 2008:

Anatomy of a Return


I bought my elder daughter Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures to play during her long, summer break.

Hmm. Age of Conman, Highly Boring Misadventures more like.

We haven't actually managed to run the game yet. Here's what happens:

First, we install disc 1. This works.

We're then asked to install disc 2. We get this:

and then, some time later, this:

Oh, in case you're wondering the "Age" in "Age of Conan" refers to the length of time it takes to install. We're talking well over an hour to get this far.

Because of the errors, we run the handy data-fixing program that comes with AoC, and get this:

Note it doesn't actually fix anything.

Now comes the fun part! We run the game, and immediately the patcher patches itself. This is a 5M download, but it's over in a few seconds. The patcher restarts, and begins to check the files. It says that there are something like 900 of them that need to be patched (the figure varies from attempt to attempt, but it's usually around there). It begins to patch them.

Then, after guzzling through a few files, it stops:

The number of files it downloads before it sticks is variable. However, it has actually downloaded most of them, so if you restart it then it will continue downloading the rest. If this were the only issue, it would be tiresome but manageable. However, it isn't the only issue. This is because one of two things happens.

The first thing that could happen is that it gets stuck with about 94-98 files to go, and just will not download any more. It gives up after about a megabyte, and just hangs doing nothing but occupying 20% of the CPU. No matter how many attempts are made, it won't advance further.

The second thing that could happen is that it overwrites the text file for English and loses track of how many files and how much data it has downloaded:

However, if you run the SimpleConfig verify-and-fixer program at this point, it doesn't come up with an error. It does a scan and tells you this:

That's informative.

OK, so we continue to download things as before: run the patcher, wait until it sticks, cancel it, restart it. We chip away at the total number of files it wants to send us. Finally, though, we reach the same point as could have happened earlier, where no matter what we do it won't advance beyond some single file:

No amount of switching off firewalls, removing packet filtering on the router or reinstallations (thankfully, AoC uninstalls in mere seconds) has any effect. It looks to me as if there's some kind of handshaking error involved, but the bad data on the original DVDs can't help.

I sent customer support an error report, and got a vague form email in reply. There don't seem to be other people getting similar problems, judging by what search engines are telling me, but there are plenty of them with other equally debilitating ones.

I'll see what not-a-lot-of-Funcom have to say about it should a human get around to reading the message I sent, but if I don't get anything sane back from them in a few days I'll be in PC World returning the CD-ROM. Developers don't mind pissing off players too much, but when distributors start complaining about the number of returns they're getting, they do tend to take notice. Perhaps it'll turn out to be nothing more than a scratched disc 2, but if it is I can't see where it's scratched.

Maybe the certificate 18 is because younger people may be traumatised by the installation process?

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).