This post is written by Nick, our senior Narrative Designer.
A few days before every major release, there's Patch Notes Day. For the uninitiated, Patch Notes Day is approximately as exciting as Christmas and your birthday combined, if you knew all you were getting was a list of data (but you were, like, really into data). The patch notes are a culmination of the previous months of work across GGG's many employees, distilled into a few hundred sentences, belying the amount of labour and love that has gone into each update. But even the patch notes themselves have to be made by someone.
That someone is me, and the work that goes into each major patch's patch notes is substantial. Today I'm going to take you through the process from start to finish, to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the process involved here.
Step 1: AccumulationContrary to popular belief, patch notes are not automatically generated. Nor is it really feasible to have people working on a program write their own patch notes. Instead, everyone works as normal, creating monster models or tweaking skill balance or cutting exalt drop rates in half, and as they 'commit' their work to our version control system (adding it to the huge collection of game files) they ideally write a little note explaining what they've done. Every single thing someone does while working on Path of Exile is submitted to the big repository of files alongside such a note, and can be viewed in our version control software. That looks like this:
Before I can start writing the patch notes, I have to go through all of these commits and pull out the relevant ones -- things that noticeably change existing content or add new features that the players will want to know about. We have four main repositories, and in a typical quarterly PoE update there are approximately twenty thousand commits between them (at least). I take the relevant commit notes and start listing them in a document in their raw form. It can take a few days just to go through all those commits. Once I'm done, I have a stiff drink and grit my teeth for the next step.
Step 2: TransliterationThe people who work at GGG are very smart and skilled and I like them a lot. They are absolutely god-awful at writing commit notes, however. I don't blame them -- typically they don't need to think about the commit notes. A lot of people's work does not get patch-noted simply due to the nature of what they're working on (such as a new microtransaction, or incremental performance, graphical, or audio improvements). So 98% of the time, it doesn't matter that their commit notes are nonsense. But it's my job to make sure that their nonsense is either not relevant, or becomes non-nonsense. Sense.
We have a system for tracking all the work that needs to be done, and commits are usually linked to that system. So I look at the commits I've pulled out, find the 'issue' (the master work-tracker for that piece of work) and go through all the commits and comments on that thread to figure out what the heck a commit note like "Tweaked the damage" actually means.
Often it'll be for something the players haven't seen yet, so it goes into the irrelevant category. Sometimes it's for something important, like an existing player skill or boss fight, and I'll have to figure out what changed and how, and write that as a patch note.
Note that not everyone is terrible at writing commit notes, and the game designers have gotten a lot better since I started threatening to karate-chop their necks due to lack of detail. Luckily, they don't realise I am extremely feeble and my hands are marshmallow-soft. Thanks guys!
Sometimes, however, the content of the commit is no clearer even with the information in the issue. This particularly happens for pernicious bugs. For that, I have to actually talk to the person who worked on it and get them to explain what they were fixing or changing.
This whole step takes a long while, and is often happening in tandem with the other steps below. I also get bored easily, so this is the step where I will write silly jokes into patch notes to keep myself amused. It doesn't work.
Step 3: DetailsEven the best commit notes rarely contain the specifics players want to know about. So every patch I figure out which skills, items, mods and whatever else has changed and go through them one-by-one in-game to jot down the starting and new values. This is the step I dread the most, particularly because it is very easy to miss something like a mana cost change at gem level 1, and also because balance changes are frequently ongoing, so anything I note down may change the next day.
This is not helped by the fact that what many things are called in-game are not what they're called in our game files, and sometimes there are things in our game files that have the name of other things in-game. For example, if I try to spawn the Vulnerability curse gem, I will get the Despair curse gem. So, often I have to solve a little puzzle before I can unlock the "reward" of Balance Information.
Step 4: Translation and CorrectionsBy the time we publish our patch notes, they're typically somewhere between 7000 and 14000 words long, and almost certainly riddled with typos, errors and out-of-date information. Thankfully, we have a QA team who have had to manually check all these changes, and a team of translators who have to read all these patch notes for the sake of translation anyway.
Typically a few lovely people from QA will make their way through, looking for obvious errors and omissions, and leave notes for me to correct. Meanwhile, our wonderful translators are carefully going through each note and turning it into something their audience can read. Did you know our patch notes are translated into eight different languages? Our translators are also exceptionally good at checking names, spacing, capitalisation and whatever else of our myriad game terms, and leave plenty of notes for me to go through and fix up.
Step 5: PATCH NOTES DAY! Publishing and GriefBefore we can publish out patch notes, they need to be formatted. On Patch Note Day, our Community Manager Natalia spends a few hours doing this, because she's a masochist. The end result is really nice, though, so, thanks Natalia! Also, Web Developer Rieko recently made a tool to help with formatting, as well as posting massive lists of data like mod changes. Thanks Rieko!
Meanwhile, Community Director Bex ("Director", so fancy!) spends the day posting teasers, memes and generally trying to keep the community appeased, like a monkey dancing for scraps in a bazaar, except the scraps are upvotes (Bex is still a monkey).
Once all the formatting is done, we try to publish all the languages simultaneously and sit back and relax.
Because of the sheer volume of changes in each patch (and definitely not because of any amount of ineptitude on my part), we usually miss a few things, and players (and other developers!) are more than happy to tell us. So, often the rest of Patch Note Day is spent receiving messages from people who tell me all the things I've missed, and then me telling Natalia all the things she needs to update.
Step 6: ForgetWriting patch notes, like breaking a bone, or eating too much mexican food, is traumatic. Not long after each major patch's notes are published, I forget how terrible the last few weeks of combing through commits was, and continue to work on other things, blissfully ignorant of the next looming Patch Notes Day on the horizon.
From start to finish, the major patch notes for each expansion takes something around 80 hours to collate, write and publish, not including the other people involved. I've been doing them since patch 3.0.0, which means I have spent half a working year just doing patch notes.
So there you have it. Now you know what goes into the patch notes. Now, you too, are cursed.
I know there is one burning question that remains unanswered: PATCHNOTESWHEN?
January 12 PST. That is patchnoteswhen.
on Dec 28, 2020, 11:11:10 PM
Grinding Gear Games