Making whacking great changes to a game is risky at any stage of its development. Once the earliest of early access enthusiasts have wired their brains to take advantages of a game’s mathematics or physics – choose your scientific class wisely – the spectre of player resistance is present.
But updates are also welcomed because they offer something new to see, to explore, to learn.
Although my love for Minecraft had withered over the last six months, I was excited to find out what was in Minecraft 1.9. The last update introduced stained glass. What would this one bring?
It brought us beetroot, a major retooling of The End and the worst Minecraft session I have ever experienced.
My wife and I rejoined the action at a new village we’d found while extending the yellow Mine Line. It looked familiar and I believed it was the first village I’d ever found, discovered during my early wanderings far from home when I would inevitably get lost and die. Of course, I hate villages.
Villages are Minecraft’s implementation of the observer effect as your very presence puts them in peril. When you’re not nearby, villages are kept in stasis out of harm’s memory. Get too close and the village becomes active and night can bring the zombie hordes down upon them. Although you can make golems to protect villages, they tend to spend most of their time holding out little poppies like they’re collecting for charity while villagers get chewed to shit behind their back. We always wind up spending an hour making a stupid cobblestone wall around the village and planting torches on every available space. They go from villages to micromanaged fortresses.
Night fell and suddenly the village was beset upon by armies of creepers, skeletons, spiders and zombies. Now I don’t know if the spawning algorithms in Minecraft 1.9 had changed but we were overwhelmed with digital violence. What I did know was that combat had changed. Armour was weakened and attacking was now a little more sophisticated: out went the machine gun clicker, in came the “charged” attack which made attacks a game of timing. Wait… click!
Being assaulted by several creatures at the same time pushed us into fight-or-flight mode so our long-time conditioning took over: we kept hacking away at enemies in fear, unable to charge up an attack. We had equipped ourselves with the all-new shields, but holding up the shield for protection turns the ground to glue which makes retreat horribly slow. And a shield isn’t going to protect you or the village houses from creepers.
I was utterly shocked when my wife died, leaving me all alone in the night. I was desperate to save all the stuff she had been carrying, now sprinkled around like gibs, but I was already overloaded. Not expecting to die so easily, she respawned a bloody continent away. She told me there was a chest I could use put her stuff into but couldn’t find it anywhere. It was like being pinned down in a warzone. “Alpha Charlie to Control, repeat, we request evac and location of chest to secure munitions. Oh my God! They’re everywhere! They’re—-zzzzk.” The penny dropped. The chest had been disintegrated by the creeper that had killed my wife.
While bobbing around the village taking pot shots at the hordes, I made a large chest and threw all my stuff into it so I could collect my wife’s belongings. But it was too late, half of her stuff went to inventory heaven. Vanished into thin air.
After day broke, I took stock of what had happened. Somehow I’d gorged through half of my food reserves to stay alive. My diamond sword had been heavily damaged and I’d lost my favourite enchanted helmet which allowed me to see under the sea. I’d even lost my temper with our children who were watching this carnage play out and asking questions – “why aren’t you killing them daddy” – while I was trying to retain my sanity.
Originally we were trying to do a little bit of exploration and construction, but we seemed to be spending all our time fighting and worrying about fighting, racing to the nearest bed at the first signs of twilight. Our session was over after two hours: I was glad to quit out of the damn game.
Our initial impression was that the game was ruined. There was only one thing we could do to save it. We made the sad decision to reduce the difficulty.
I wondered if the 1.9 release was going to pull me back into Minecraft’s thrall, but it turned out to be the final nail in the coffin. I had become accustomed to the nice balance we had between fighting for resources and building. I didn’t want to go full creative, because that was a world devoid of functional purpose, but neither did I want the night to become “Minecraft set against the DOOM soundtrack”. My wife, on the other hand, has persisted and enjoys it despite still finding the combat a little on the stressful side.
Of course, I could retreat to the 1.8 build as I’d backed up the world prior to trying out 1.9. But if you’re playing a game through a digital portal like Steam or the App Store, you don’t have that choice any more. If you don’t like the changes being made, tough luck. Join the future. A simple example: it’s no longer possible to watch the Portal ending before it was retconned for Portal 2.
In our brand new game-as-a-service world, there is no fixed product but a continuous, fluid experience on the other side of a Steam client. Steam will update games whenever it can and you might not know the game has been updated 15 times since last time you played. Everything has been done to make the action of playing a game as frictionless as possible.
If anything, it should act as another reminder that players have lost control of software; you only get a promise of access to something. A something that may not even be the same something you played yesterday. Our rights to time travel back to a version where something was gloriously broken or simply glorious have been revoked.
Any games you wish you could downgrade today? Please share your story in the comments.