Electron Dance
19Jun/216

The Update Patch Fairy

Hey, remember SNKRX (a327ex, 2021)? SNKRX has been modestly successful but it is not the same game I cackled about a month ago. SNKRX has changed.

Hold on. Let me download a patch for that sentence: is changing.

Because SNKRX has developed a proper fanbase, developer a327ex has got busy with weekly patches. Initially, upgrades were about game robustness and UI tweaks, but then the changes became more significant. Some changes were easy to applaud like being able to sort the order of heroes. Others...

Many heroes have been tweaked. That old staple, the Wizard is no longer an old staple, but has been promoted to “tier 2” so it’s now unlikely to pop up in the shop until further into the game. Some heroes like the Bard and Lich have been mothballed. And the shop is awash with all-new heroes; in fact, two whole character classes have been added: Sorcerers and Mercenaries. And just today a chunky patch dropped which overhauls the bonuses (items) you earn every few levels.

After the first couple of major patches, I found I could barely make it past the first boss on NG+5, so I moved back to NG+3 - I did better, but finishing the game was out of the question. My superhero snake couldn't wipe out the beefed-up final boss in microseconds, which was the traditional result with SNKRX Version 1.0. Now I got to experience its attack which was to ram my snake and obliterate half of the heroes in one strike. I didn't scream when this happened but silently picked up the keyboard and threw it through the nearest window. (Aside: you could try a forcer-class hero to push it back or a fully upgraded Squire to give team snake a speed boost, but I fucking hate forcers which scatter the enemy and it’s not easy to upgrade a Squire to the max.)

However, in the last week, I’ve found some balance has been restored as I’ve finally been able to progress through both NG+3 and NG+4 again, although I haven’t mastered NG+5 yet.

We’d briefly discussed in last month’s comments that SNKRX showed promise but low agency and dependence on luck held it back. The stream of patches show that the developer obviously wants SNKRX to be more tactical and thinky than the original release was. You can even pick up gold on the battle arena with the right heroes on the team.

Do I miss that crazy and random first incarnation? I guess I do. The odds were in my favour rather than against it. And when the patches started coming through, I absolutely hated what SNKRX became: unfair and frustrating. It’s better now but it still has UI issues and also feels like the shop is stuffed with too many heroes, making upgrades extremely hit-and-miss. Shop rerolls can easily gobble 40 gold towards the end of a run without offering the characters I need. Yet I’ll still throw time at SNKRX as it has earned the title of “comfort game”.

It was back in 2013 when I wanted to write about the rise of constant iteration in game development after videogames became processes instead of products. But once constant iteration became the new normal, it felt a bit pointless to bring it up.

However, No Man’s Sky (Hello Games, 2016) aside, I’ve never experienced so much design upheaval in a “fully-released” game before. I avoid Early Access as I prefer to judge a game when it’s capital-D Done but I got royally Trojan Horsed: SNKRX twists into a different shape each week, behaving just like an early access title. Any reviews, LPs and streams based on the initial release are now out of date. I can’t even guarantee what game you’ll have next week.

This isn’t the same conundrum as a multiplayer game service like Fortnite. The end point for Fortnite’s constant change is death; the servers will be shuttered when Fortnite no longer holds the attention of its audience with new updates. When that happens, no one will be able to play Fortnite again. In contrast, the end point for SNKRX is stability.

While you cannot stop Fortnite’s changes because everybody has to be on the same page with an online game, it doesn’t have to be this way for an offline experience. Although you might point towards leaderboards and achievements acting as an online component that enforces all players to engage on a level playing field, major upgrades can often damage the symbolic nature of achievements. My old SNKRX achievements have nothing to do with this week’s SNKRX.

But through Steam and other portals, upgrades have become automatic and non-negotiable. Your purchase was actually a contract with a developer to play whatever they served up as “the videogame”. You could argue that nothing has really changed because, surprise, 30 years ago there was only one version you could play, the one on the cassette, floppy disk or cartridge you bought. But it’s not the same at all: today The Update Patch Fairy sneaks into your bedroom at night and swaps out that floppy for a newer copy. You boot it up the following morning and wonder what the shit happened to the game.

It isn't an issue for most players because patches, on the whole, serve the betterment of videogamekind. But continuous patching presents videogame preservation issues. And, occasionally, I wish I could use the Wayback Machine somehow to access an older version of a videogame: how about the original maligned release of No Man’s Sky? It’s not impossible for most titles. Paradox allow you to play earlier versions of their strategy games and some heroes have figured out how to turn back time for PAYDAY 2.

Still, I shouldn’t moan too much about SNKRX. If I want an older release, I should probably just build it myself.

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  1. ‘Trojan Horsed’ is the perfect phrase for this! I had to stop playing it because it was shifting around too much, which is a shame because I like what’s (currently!) there. I don’t like to grumble for a couple of quid but when my head is telling me to stop playing it because it’s in a state of flux and not capital-D Done yet (when so much of my backlog is!), that’s a problem, especially when it’s not in Early Access. I want to say it feels cheeky but, again, two quid.

  2. I’m trying to wean myself off it. It’s become a bit Death Crown for me – it engages when I don’t know what else to do. But I’m in a rage every single time I lose because it always seems unfair (oh you’ve spawned 10 tanks, yay, and now most of my heroes are gone and there’s still 5 waves?). I just have to quit this game.

  3. Yeah, that’s another thing: there are so many runs I’ve started where I’ve been like ‘This is it! This is the one! I’m so powerful! MWUHAH–‘ and then the game spawns six white shooters at once and in one barrage I’m down to my healer who can… bump into things. That was actually my last attempt and, yes, it was very frustrating!

  4. You dismiss it for online experiences but I think they have the same problems. The difference is that there’s an obvious and easy solution for offline experiences.

  5. That’s a good point, ThatScar. I had to acknowledge the online situation because arguing “it doesn’t have to be this way” prompts “what about online games?” and with online it’s simply not practical to offer multiple releases (fracturing your players & maintaining multiple code bases). But it doesn’t mean online games are immune to the same disintegration of experience through upgrades.

  6. The only online game that comes to mind that was significantly worse at the end is Evolve because they ripped the guts out of it (whole maps and modes gone) and rearranged its innards (like making all hunters trappers) to ‘address’ problems some players were having. It went F2P and was closed down not long after and now it’s unavailable on Steam. If you own the original game, the only way to access it (the full fat ‘Legacy Evolve’) is by opting into a beta through Steam which, mercifully, you can still play with bots or peer-to-peer with others. It’s cool that that option is there but it’s still grim, and sad to think that most multiplayer or online experiences will eventually go that way or just be wholly retired. This is why being a fan of online games is a curse: there’s a time imperative to playing ‘at its peak’ before you’re never able to play it in the same way again.

    Huh, I just remembered my ‘When Online Multiplayer Games Die’ article. http://tap-repeatedly.com/2013/06/when-online-multiplayer-games-die

    (God, those DOTA 2 numbers seem quaint now!)


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