Risk of Rain: A Story of a Bug

So the funniest thing happened recently: Risk of Rain, a well-acclaimed video game, has received an update 1.2.1 that introduced a silent bug that has significantly affected the gameplay. The circumstances are more than entertaining.

The Facts

The bug basically causes the player to need much more experience points to advance to the next level (to get more health and bigger damage). Instead of reaching the second stage of the game in level 8 or 10, the player would likely be level 2 or 3, being more fragile and dealing much less damage, thus rendering the game super-difficult and near-impossible to complete.

Of course, any player who plays the game would notice this sudden spike of difficulty immediately after updating. But what if most of the players would be seeing the game for very the first time with this inhuman difficulty setting? They would probably assume the game was designed this way. This means a lot of surprise and a mix of disappointment and stubborn teeth-gnashing.

This is of course very unlikely to happen. One possibility is if the update would exactly coincide in time with some great marketing campaign that would bring a huge influx of new players to the game world. A campaign like, say, Humble Indie Bundle 13, which just happened to include a copy (well, 4 copies - "invite your friends") of Risk of Rain.

So RoR suddenly gets a ton of new players, and every single of them receives a buggy version. No, it's even better - the players have no clue that the version is actually bugged, and mostly consider the flaw to be something intended, a part of design! I'm quite sure this event unleashed a rainbow of emotions in Cuba^W Washington, where Hopoo Games originate.

That said, they reacted quite fast, [releasing the fix] like 2 days after the bug went live. This is also where Steam proved to be super-helpful, delivering the patch to the players automagically. (Lesson learned: automated deployment rocks!)

The Experience

The fun part is how many players just instantly assumed that this high difficulty level is here by design and were like "oh, okay". I can relate to that because that's exactly what happened to me. Here's how it looked like for me, including all the justifications and conclusions I jumped to during the gameplay.

  • Let's try normal. Okay, let's try again. Okay... Hmm, it's quite hard to survive longer, every enemy is difficult! But it's a roguelike game, so I guess I'll learn it eventually.
  • No, this is super hard. I guess I should try Easy first and go back to Normal when I learn how to deal with particular enemies?
  • Wow, still a lot of shooting needed to kill something on Easy. But I have more HP and I can survive longer. That's okay.
  • Wow, the first level-up is fast but then it barely advances. Maybe I'm supposed get exp from stronger mobs or bosses from now on? Maybe it's not really important and I should focus on advancing by collecting gold and items? Sounds legit.
  • Okay, I can't kill anything in Stage 2. Why? Maybe I didn't collect enough items in Stage 1 and I'm undergeared?
  • Oh, this time I collected some damage dealing items and I kind of can kill stuff in Stage 2 if I try hard and there's not many of 'em.
  • It's still super hard... So this game has a Time component, right? The longer I play, the harder the mobs become, understood. Maybe I'm just supposed to finish Stage 1 fast enough?
  • Wow, I can survive in Stage 2 if I consequently run from hordes of enemies and only engage from safe distance, or if I isolate one of them. Is this what I'm supposed to be doing?
  • Hey, I even earn cash this way and can steal some more items as I'm running from overpowered enemies. I'm a bit stronger now, let's try going for the boss.
  • Wow, that was rough, the Stage 2 boss is down somehow; managed to run from the other mobs and take him on 1:1. Now I have to kill what's left.
  • Right, if I use the terrain correctly, I can nail every group without going into danger... But why does it take SO much time? My main weapon is pretty much useless by now and I spend most of the time waiting for the 30s cooldown of the special weapon.
  • Okay, made it to Stage 3 after 20 minutes of finishing the mobs off... But the same tactics won't work here anymore, mobs now spawn faster than I could possibly kill them.
  • How about I run towards the teleporter like crazy and wait for the 90s timer to finish so that they stop spawning?
  • Phew, made it, now what to do? I'd need more than a hour to finish these huge groups off, even though they don't respawn any more.
  • Dang, that didn't work, the group was so large that it took me down in no time. How do the other players manage...?
  • Hey, this youtube player is already level 11 in Stage 2 and he kills everything so easily! How on earth did he do that?

This is more or less when I started googling and discovered the bug thread on Reddit, which gave me a hearty laugh.

The Big Conclusion

The whole experience I went through was very engaging. I enjoyed discovering this 'nightmare mode' of Risk of Rain and learning to overcome the obstacles tossed at me. And this - I emphasise - this is BIG. Look at it: My copy of the game was broken in an unpredictable random way, but instead of being unplayable, it actually delivered a coherent experience that I enjoyed. This is a great achievement of Hopoo Games: Risk of Rain is still fun when broken.

What about all the players that started the game this way? Will they miss the mode? Will they be disappointed that the real Risk of Rain is much easier? I think that the redditor Awes0mesaucer summed it up the best:

The training weights are off now, guys.