Of course, sometimes the end of a project doesn't happen when the team initially expects it. Both BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins and Obsidian's Alpha Protocol had been delayed, and both teams had something to say on why their games were delayed and how they changed as a result.
"Obsidian did not make the decision to delay our most recent game, Alpha Protocol," says the game's Producer, Chris Parker. "That sort of decision is made by the publisher and can involve factors that lie outside of the game itself or feedback from focus groups or press. In the past we have lobbied on other games to either move them out or change the development plan, but ultimately the publisher has final say because it's their money the game is being developed with."
There are many reasons games move from their original release date, and only some of them are technical, explains Chris Avellone, creative director at Obsidian.
"Bug count, standards compliance, and media awareness (if a game needs more visibility to sell more numbers) are some that jump to mind," he says. "Localization issues may also play a part. There may be legal issues or a lingering approval process with a franchise or license as well. The release schedule of similar titles in the same genre (both within a publisher and from other companies) may also impact a title's release."
"Basically there were two main reasons why the PC [version] slipped from March," says Ross Gardner about Dragon Age. "One is that the PC was done by March and we could have shipped it, but it wouldn't have been as polished as it could have been. We said that with a few extra months we could make it a much better game, and fix a lot of the problems.
"The next thing was that if you're pushing it out two months, you might as well push it out to align with all the consoles. I know that a lot of people were upset that they have to wait for the PC version, but there are a lot of really good things about having all SKUs come out at once.
"For instance, you spend a lot of money on marketing. When you try to stretch that between two different dates it makes it much more difficult and much more expensive. So having them all on one day from a marketing perspective is definitely the best.
"At the same time, then some gamers don't feel left out; they all just get it in their hands at the same time. It's kind of a myriad of factors, but the truth is that the PC version is a much more polished product because we've had some time to sit on it and cook it.
Dragon Age: Origins
"Before we made the decision to push it out, we were in a mindset where we were like 'okay, we don't have time to fix that,'" Gardner continues. "So basically what the delay allowed us to do is go back and look at all those things that we thought we didn't have time to fix and bring them forward.
"Before we went into that last phase, it was almost like going back to an earlier time on the project. We kind of had a second alpha stage. For instance, we were able to balance the economy a little bit better, we balanced some of the fights and some of the combat better. We were able to fix some of the problems with areas that likely wouldn't have gotten fixed. Pathfinding problems or exploration problems, that sort of stuff. That was probably where the biggest win was."
Video games are complex, time-consuming projects often involving hundreds of people and millions of dollars, so it's not surprising that there's no simple explanation for what defines polish in a game. In many ways, it's easier to spot where polish is lacking in a game rather than where it is present, as some much of polish is about preventing the player from noticing technical issues. Perhaps Dragon Age lead designer Mike Laidlaw summed it up best by when he said polish is when "You take a game from 'this is functional' to 'this is art.'"