It wasn’t all that long ago, that when you got a new video game, you got the game as it was, and as it was going to be. If the game was on a disc or especially on a cartridge, you weren’t going to get anything different. If there was a really big problem, a re-release of the game might happen, but patches weren’t a thing. Even as video games started to move into the realm of the internet, updates (which not all that long ago could still be purchacsed on disc) didn’t really do anything. You might get a few more maps for multiplayer, or an expansion, but the base game was still basically the same. But in the past few years, all that’s changed.
Take EU4. One of the biggest complaints among the Europa Universalis community, and to an extent a lot of Paradox Interactive ‘s games, is the quantity of DLC. That’s started to slow down a bit, with the last expansion over a year old compared to an average of about two large expansions a year, plus a multitude of smaller ones. If you want all those expansions, it’s going to cost a lot. Hundreds of dollars, in fact. And while none of the expansions are in any way necessary, it can get annoying to see something new constantly coming out, and be overwhelming for new players to see the price of the “full” game.
But, one upside to all these expansions is that it keeps the developers in the game, and keeps money flowing into the game. All of the EU4 expansions also come with a free update, in addition to fairly regular free updates that make both small and large changes to the game. We’re coming up on version 1.30 of the game right now. The game is about seven years old at this point, and is coming up on its thirtieth major update. Some of them were released alongside paid expansions, but they’ve all had free stuff in them, which have made a lot of balance updates to the game. That’s…pretty cool, and to a certain extent, probably couldn’t happen without all those paid expansions. Thirty updates over nearly a decade with only money from the base game, or maybe one or two expansions, seems a lot less likely. And while the number of updates, and weight of some of them, makes some in the community wonder why we don’t just get EU5, the fact that the developers still have their eyes on the game after all this time is something I can appreciate.
This article was originally going to be about Europa Universalis IV, and my conflict between “thanks for the free stuff”, “why all the paid stuff?”, and “why not just make a new game?” that I mentioned before. Then, something happened that I never thought would happen. The 1.1 update for RimWorld was announced by creator Tynan Sylvester. While Sylvester did hint at updates to the game, about a week and a half before launch saying that “[he] can think of a variety of interesting directions to go with the game”, we haven’t really heard a lot in the slightly over a year that’s passed since the game released. There have been a couple updates, but they’ve pretty much just been small things like “resolution is better on Macs” and “mods interact with each other more smoothly”. Sylvester’s blog went from fairly regular updates during the alpha and beta years to pretty quiet after launch. And while updates were hinted at in that post before launch, each quiet month that passed made me less convinced that any changes to the base game were going to happen. Then, on February 17, 2020, exactly sixteen months after the full version of RimWorld was released, Sylvester made a blog post announcing a major update to the game.
RimWorld version 1.1 is currently in an unstable beta, not fully finished but available for those who want to test it. There are some things coming out that I’m pretty excited about. Changes in trade price will be shown directly on the trade screen, for example. Before (if you cared all that much) you’d have to check your trader’s skills, head to the wiki to check out what that meant, toss those numbers into a calculator or spreadsheet to figure out the differences…I like spreadsheets more than I have any right to, but I never bothered to do any stuff like that. Now, you’ll be able to do things like sending your second best trader on a trade caravan, because your best is also your best cook, and the monetary benefit you get from sending them isn’t as good as the benefit you’d get from keeping them home to make food. Or, the addition of a smoke grenade launcher and an enemy who fires smoke grenades. Smoke defence was…kinda useless before, the character wearing a defensive belt and to be hit for it to activate. So if a pawn got shot, they were less likely to get shot a second time, but also less able to aim themselves. Yeah…great. But being able to fire smoke grenades a long distance could really help deal with raiders who set up a temporary base with mortars and sniper rifles, giving you the upper hand while they’re coughing and unable to see. Or, that could get flipped, and your perfectly-planned defensive measures could fall to pieces while you can’t see. This is far from everything I’m excited about, and far from everything in the update, with the list being about 2,200 words long. And even if some of those updates are minor, it’s really cool to get them.
Beyond all that, when is a game like RimWorld even done? I’ve never been all that big on mods for a lot of my games. Yeah, maybe I’ll grab a player-created civ in a Civilization game, or something that changes the UI around a bit, but never anything particularly big. Except for RimWorld. RimWorld is a game with thousands of different mods in the Steam workshop, and I’m personally subscribed to more than a dozen of them, not to mention the ones that have been lost to time as the game has been updated. And, among the RimWorld community, that makes me a bit of a mod newb. Seriously, some people go absolutely crazy with mods. Some of them are fairly large, while others are a lot smaller. One I personally don’t use, but is insanely popular, allows you to play the game multiplayer. A smaller one that I do use allows you to make blueprints out of buildings, and rebuild them in both your current and future games. Even smaller ones simply do things like giving characters in the game additional clothes to wear. There are loads of mods out there that can do pretty much anything you’d ever want, from major (sometimes cheesy) changes to stuff that’s just fun to have.
Does that number of mods mean that a game isn’t finished? No. I feel confident in saying that RimWorld is a complete game, both before and after the release of 1.1. Well…I haven’t actually tried 1.1 yet, but I do feel that 1.0 is a full game, so I can’t imagine 1.1 isn’t. So, what’s so good about updates? What does any of this have to do with mods? Well, the fact that a finished game can have all these changes made to it by the community means that it can be more finished, if that makes any sense. A single-player game like RimWorld doesn’t need a multiplayer function, and I don’t think anyone would blame Tynan Sylvester for not having an option to make everyone in the game look like anime characters. So, the big and small mods can be pretty easily brushed aside as something that vanilla doesn’t need. But what about something like the blueprints mod? Or one that lets you ride large animals? Mid-level mods like those are probably not needed in the base game, depending on how you feel, but they’re cool to have. And if we’re to look at it like a graph from needed to unneeded, we’d probably get a bell curve with the middle ones closer to being needed than the small or big ones. Not to mention that when updates do come out, they often have a lot of the stuff these mid-level mods provide. The 1.1 version of RimWorld, for example, is adding new animals, new weapons, new defensive structures, and new traits, just to name a few. Loads and loads of the most popular mods contain this kind of stuff, and it’s pretty cool to have them in the base game. Many developers even work with modders to integrate modders’ ideas into the base game, although I don’t think this is the case for Sylvester and RimWorld. At any rate, I’m comfortable in saying that a game can be both done and not done, for whatever sense that makes.
Lots of people complain about updates, and yeah, things like day one patches are annoying and often used to fix bugs that couldn’t be fixed by the time the game went to print. Or, fixes are locked behind a de facto paywall, where you have to buy the latest DLC in order to get them, though those are a lot less common as gaming has moved away from hard copies. And a lot of people say that updates and fixes never used to exist, so why should they exist now? Well, like I mentioned earlier, bug fixes before the internet took over gaming were a lot more difficult and expensive, and made it a lot less likely to get to people. Not to mention that, if your game can fit on a few floppy discs, it’s way easier to find and fix most of its issues during development. If it’s a few dozen gigabytes, that’s much harder.
RimWorld has been going on for a long time, despite only having a full release about a year and a half a go. When a game spends a lot of time in the alpha and beta stages, it can quite often spell doom. But if a developer cares about the game, and about the people playing it, that time can be used to make the game a lot better. Let’s not forget that one of the most popular games of all time, Minecraft, had a healthy amount of playable alpha and beta years before launch. That’s not to say you should go out and buy an pre-release game without thinking, of course. But a game being playable to the public before it fully launches doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to never launch, or be trash.
Those alpha and beta stages are (hopefully) full of regular updates to the game, so why not after launch? Why should a game stop as soon as it hits 1.0? It’s worked for things like EU4 and Minecraft, and it looks like it’s going to work for RimWorld. Especially the updates that are free. A lot of the stuff in the 1.1 version of RimWorld I could easily seen in a paid DLC, even if the game’s ease of producing and downloading mods would make few people actually want to buy it. All in all, I’d like to thank the developers out there who continue to work on their games. Modders might be doing it as well, but it’s really nice to see the people who originally worked on the game to continue to do so. It almost makes old games constantly feel new. So thank you, devs. Thanks for hanging around.
EDIT – Even with the surprise launch of the paid DLC RimWorld – Loyalty on February 24, I still feel it’s the kind of thing that adds side stuff, and am more okay with it costing money. Things like RimWorld 1.1, which improve the base game, are still awesome to have. Not everyone will even want the kinds of stuff in Royalty, but the kinds of in 1.1 benefit everyone who owns RimWorld, and it’s awesome they’re free.