Early Access Woes and Pros

Sometimes, nobody wins.

Let me start this article off by saying – I know what it’s like to be there; putting a lot of time into something, a lot of my creativity, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears into a project. I know the feeling of wanting to release a tidbit of something before it’s ready. There is nothing wrong at all with being eager and proud of your work, but developers: please control yourselves. It is mutually beneficial to both yourselves and your customers.

Terraria

About 4 years ago, in 2011, a game released that ticked every box on what I was looking for in a multiplayer game at that time, and that game was Terraria. I grew up with a poor family and little opportunity, so I didn’t have a great PC at that time by any means. Terraria’s awesome resource-lite pixel art and incredibly fun gameplay occupied well over 200 hours of my life around that time. So imagine my excitement when some of the developers left Terraria to work on Starbound, which was announced in Februrary 2012. It sounded amazing! You could explore multiple planets with different biomes, share those planet coordinates with friends, fight alien creatures, make alien friends, construct amazing buildings which had way more variety, fight with better combat, penguins… and the list goes on and on.

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Starbound is an incredibly ambitious game. In 2013, Chucklefish released Starbound on steam, and once again, you can imagine my excitement upon hearing about it. After waiting almost 2 years, I was so ready to get in and explore these incredible worlds and see how all their features played out. That was until I found out that not all of the features had been implemented yet. Or that our characters weren’t permanent… and would be deleted with the next patch…

Starbound had been released in Early Access.

Now, this wasn’t something that was completely new at the time, but this was the very first game that I even considered buying in early access. The premise of the system makes perfect sense – it’s essentially paying to be a beta tester, and the user is encouraged to give the developer feedback about the experience. But Starbound’s early access left me with an incredibly poor taste in my mouth after I learned that my character wouldn’t be permanent, and there was no way to save it. It made my personal adventure essentially pointless to me, as the locations I would explore, and the character that I developed would just be lost in the aether once the new patch rolled in. And if I wanted to see any new endgame content, I’d have to start over from square one.

I can fully understand why Chucklefish chose to go ahead and release in early access – they are gaining valuable feedback that will help them make the game better. In retrospect, I could have just avoided buying it and kept my distance until the full release. But unfortunately, I had no idea about the character wipe prior to handing over my money, and for my particular play style, that was an absolute deal breaker.

And that would be fine if it were only me. I’m sure that a sizable chunk of people have my same line of thought about it, though. A game based around exploration and character development, where your save gets deleted randomly. That was truly a horrible flaw in their ongoing design. I have since been entirely uninterested in the game, and my excitement may have been permanently killed due to how they are handling their early access. Now, if I were talking only about games with poorly executed Early Access, we’d be here all day.

Enter Brawlhalla.

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Oh my God. Brawlhalla is a PC brawler title currently being developed by Blue Mammoth games. They have released their game to early access at a stage where it could actually be considered a full release. I have never seen such a polished early access title. The characters (while not a huge roster, and admittedly a little stereotypical) all have cool unique skills, the weapon system is well-fleshed out and really interesting, and best of all, there is BARELY ANY LATENCY from Australia to the United States, which is kind of amazing. I am able to play with the PixelFAQ crew and only teleport halfway across the stage sometimes. The only real thing the game lacks is more variety in the stages department, but the developers are actively working on that.

Brawlhalla is the perfect example of early access done right. They’ve laid out the mechanics of their game exactly as it’s going to be on full release (I assume, anyway), and now they are just simply fine tuning details and adding content. Already, they are being met with overwhelming praise, and the game isn’t even fully released yet. Now wouldn’t it be a real drag if they decided to completely remove a character or 2? Maybe they do a complete rehash on the weapon system, maybe even abandon it entirely? It’d be 100% their choice if Blue Mammoth decided to do so, but it would really generate salt for the people who’ve already taken the time to learn their favorite character, just for them to be completely removed or whatever. It would be similar to how I felt with Starbound: the time and effort I put into my character was wasted, and that wasn’t a good feeling at all. So kudos to the team at Blue Mammoth games for such a fun and well-made game. The collective PC gaming community can also thank them for finally ending Nintendo’s monopoly of the brawler genre.

Now I can throw out my Wii U.


What is your favorite early access game you played? Let us know in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “Early Access Woes and Pros

  1. Yuri says:

    Airmech started as an “almost release-ready” early access (OBT) title when I joined, but became increasingly muddy/bloated over the time. It’s considered “released” on Steam (not early access) despite being an OBT title, and getting worse.
    Then there’s a DROPPED early access title, DF-9.

    Like

    • Shphrd says:

      Man I haven’t played Airmech in forever! Sad to hear that it has gone downhill. It was a lot of fun at the time. Early access is such a weird creation. There are some gems to be found, but just like the internet as a whole, a bunch of crap is always floating around.

      Thanks for the comment Yuri!

      Like

  2. Lonk says:

    Damn, dude.
    I gotta say, I wholeheartedly agree with your opinions on Starbound AND Terraria.

    I mean, I sunk quite a bit of time into both of these games, albeit less in Starbound, and I have only found full satisfaction in Terraria.

    I was quite disappointed to learn that my saves would be deleted in every major patch, which slightly turned me away.
    So I suppose I’ll just play Brawlhalla until Starbound comes out of Beta?

    Anyway, good review, brother!

    Like

  3. Black Iron Diggle says:

    @Yuri: I can only hope Brawlhalla doesn’t go down that same path. It really doesn’t look like it at this stage though. It’s truly awesome.

    @Lonk: That sounds like a great idea! You can join the PixelFAQ steam group and you’ll probably always find someone to play with you.

    Thanks all for the comments!

    Like

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