Saturday, 19 March 2016

Rant No. 9 Certain Popular Indie Games

Today, Steam brought me to the attention that Robocraft had had a fairly large update, and having not played the game in about half a year, I decided to load it up, just to see what had changed since what I remembered the game being like, and to see what new (and hopefully exciting) features had been added. What I found was not what I wanted, but, I suppose, I should have seen it coming.

Loading up the game revealed that many of the features that I had invested many hours into (such as upgrading my armour) had been completely removed altogether in favour of painting your robot with a paint gun. While this may seem like a good idea (more customisation without sacrificing protection), and this is how I assume the devs saw it, this completely broke half of the progression and the many thousands of in-game 'robocash' (which I had spent many hours gaining from battles) were lost. But did I get any of this refunded? No, I did not.

The tech tree (which was a tree the last time I played it) was also completely gone, in favour of a single, linear spiral, which gives the player new items every level, but not much else. What they have succeeded in doing here is taking an original design, which worked back in the days where tech points existed (they were slightly broken too, in terms of having masses of them left over by playing lower tiered battles, but not as broken), and turned it into an overall much less user driven system, where rather than saving up your points to spend on a specific part you want, and only really getting the parts you want, you just grind away at battles until you level up, then rinse and repeat until eventually you get to the level which unlocks the next tier of the specific gun type you wanted.

Tiers are another thing that helped progression which are gone, replaced by the underlying values that created them. Whilst this means that different tiered robots can go into battle together in platoons, it completely broke the progression, and meant that there are now ridiculously low level bots in high level battles.

Another thing that seemed like a good idea is healing in cover. It again, seems like a good idea, but is extremely frustrating, and basically invalidates two types of bots, medics (as they're now completely useless) and snipers (as a bot can just hide in cover and the sniper can't chase). This means that you lose many interesting playstyles, for example, my 'MediCopter' - a helicopter medic that would take out the tops of the towers and heal players below me. However, this style could be performed much more effectively with SMGs if it were to be useless for healing, meaning I may as well rebuild my bot from scratch.

The problem with these changes is that they're not just limited to Robocraft. Similar things seem to happen to a lot of consistently updated indie games. They start off small, and gain a dedicated fanbase who enjoy the game for its uniqueness and its complexity, which causes the game to become popular. This fanbase deals with the potentially game-breaking bugs because they get fixed in a timely manner. Then a YouTube celebrity plays the game, the popularity increases massively, and the devs get cocky. They decide to expand their fanbase, making the game 'better' in their opinion, and making it potentially more accessible. However, what happens instead is that these changes cause the game to become horrendously unbalanced, introduce game breaking bugs, or both. But instead of putting the effort in to fix these things, they just fob it off by introducing flashy new features, or they make an attempt to fix it and get it wrong, causing either another, potentially worse, bug to appear, or breaking the balance in the opposite direction. The latter causes a 'yo-yo' effect, where between updates, certain things will go from ridiculously OP to hilariously underpowered and back again.

Space Engineers is a game that has suffered from this cockiness when it got big, adding flashy new features like cyberhounds instead of fixing game-breaking bugs such as planet holes; but have finally listened to their community and decided to go back and fix what they broke. I just hope that Robocraft can find a way to pull themselves out of the hole they dug themselves into, but as is the plight of multiplayer progression games, they can't just reset the server and expect everyone to start over without a lot of upset.

This has been a rant from Thomas (The Stacinator). I hope you enjoyed it.

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