Being able to play early access games is a good time. Buying the games early helps provide the developer money to keep making and improving the game, while also allowing you to enjoy the game now and playing up all the way until the 1.0 release. What is most interesting to me is something that has been mentioned when discussing No Man’s Sky: updates creating artifacts.
Since archaeogaming encompasses the physical and digital game spaces, as well as the media and objects created from or about the game, the continued updating of a game, especially one that has Let’s Play videos or streams of the content, leave artifacts of previous iterations of the games as a sort of archive. This can be discussed in the context of many digital games, but I will focus in this post on Satisfactory and Valorant. While these two games are two different genres, they are games that I have put a significant amount of time into—both in game and in watching streams and videos.
Satisfactory is a first person factory building game by Coffee Stain Studios.More specifically, Satisfactory allows players to drop onto an alien planet to use its resources to create different building items and factories. Unfortunately, the story has not been released yet, an aspect the developers want to keep a secret until the full 1.0 release, which makes it a little difficult to describe the game other than you build factories to build more factories with production chains of increasing complexity and size.
The game has been in early access for several years and, for a while, it was only available on the Epic Games store. I first encountered it when Jacksepticeye played it upon initial early access release. Since the initial release they have provided significant updates and changes to the game. Currently, the game is on Update 4 which added new buildings and tiers. But Update 4 was light in change compared to Update 3. Satisfactory Update 3 fundamentally changed the game. Basic building costs and workflows changed on every tier of the game. Streamers and YouTubers who were making playthrough or tutorial videos had to completely start over their worlds since production chains were no longer optimized. Enthusiastic community members who published mods and production chain help websites (like Satisfactory Calculator) had to completely redo and update their algorithms and models to reflect the new game state.
This is the most stark example of artifacts of the game and gameplay footage. While the game’s wiki is slowly being updated by the community, I find that it is difficult to be able to reference a lot of information about production output and production chains with certainty while playing the game. Certainly the wikis and websites are artifacts in the internet archives like the WayBackMachine. Let’s Play videos on YouTube are video evidence of previous iterations of the Satisfactory game. Each iteration of the game creates new artifacts and documentation of the archaeogaming landscape for the game.
The community of Satisfactory fans also likes to share their world states and factories, whether that be a copy of the save file or screenshots and videos. These are artifacts of the human built environment in the digital space. They can (and should) be explored archaeologically both as individual world states but also a digital culture since many of these landscapes likely have similar features. There is a bunch of different types of cultural studies of the community that could be explored in Satisfactory and the built digital environments and landscapes. Additional study of the community documents, wikis, and collation of knowledge could be explored.
Valorant is a 5v5 online first person tactical shooter by Riot games. The esport had its 1.0 release last year with a previous period of closed beta before that. The game has evolved with each patch released by Riot that are both technical in terms of scoring, ranking, and gameplay mechanics as well as cosmetic. The game runs in episodes and acts. New game content is released constantly in terms of cosmetic changes, like weapon skins, while the addition of new characters (agents) and/or maps are specific to each act. The constant updates to the systems and the addition of new content provide hype to the game as well as a way to prevent the game from becoming too stale for older players.
Fortunately for archaeogaming study, the consistent updates and changes provide artifacts for study as well as cultural changes to the environment of the community space. The easiest changes to spot are the cosmetic changes which have been documented in Let’s Play videos, streams, and esports tournaments. Some are smaller to notice, like advertising for esports event streams on the in-game billboards, or the change in the color of shipping crates on a map. The latter, for those interested, is that the dubbed “yellow box” on the Icebox map is shown in older videos to have yellow on the concrete slab under the box with the shipping crate itself being grey while currently the map shows the opposite color scheme. These smaller changes are relatively inconsequential in terms of game play but act as a way to date videos and screenshots as well as provide digital artifacts in the content made surrounding the game. Larger changes, like the addition of new characters and maps or updates to the game systems, serve as larger updates and artifacts to be explored.
One particular interesting note is the updates to character lines and lore that is released by Riot with each update. Rather than providing a lot of lore for the game outright for players to read, the lore is being released incrementally, forcing players who have questions about the game’s story to piece together the backstories of the characters and the story of the Valorant world. This way of asking players to figure out the story based on pieces of lore and environments is not unlike what archaeologists and historians do with historical documents and ancient artifacts.
In terms of archaeogaming, both games are leaving a trail of artifacts with each update. The documentation of the periods before and after the updates provide interesting ways for archaeogamers to study these two games both in the game and in exterior community spaces. These two games provide two interesting looks at the artifacts of game updates being generated and documented by the game community and fans. They provide interesting changes and new ways to explore the evolutions of culture in gaming communities, while producing artifacts of the build digital environment. The documented updates in not only developer videos and information but also in the Let’s Play videos and built worlds are artifacts of the changing digital built environment. In this context, Valorant and Satisfactory are similar. In terms of studying culture in these digital spaces, Satisfactory’s intangible player culture is largely on other platforms while Valorant’s is within the game space as a multiplayer game.
Archaeogaming, 18 September 2021