[Every so often, you may see some of these mini-features appear on the front page. They are just short editorial thoughts meant to start an interesting conversation in the comments and c-blogs. Enjoy! Now get to discussing!]
Growing up, the games I played were filled with bugs and glitches. Thing is, we didn't always know that these "mistakes" were unintentional. World -1 in Super Mario Bros. is a perfect example. When the neighborhood heard rumors of this super secret, unbeatable level, we scavenged hard throughout the entire game to try to find it. There was no Internet, no reliable videogames news source, or any other means to discover what these rumors were about. The only way to discover if they were "real" was to look for them ourselves. It felt like we were hunting for chupacabra or some other mythical beast -- except in a virtual world, where the unnatural and the unexplainable are potentially real.
When we finally found that level, our minds were completely blown. Seeing World -1, in all its useless glory, is definitely one of the high points of my lifelong gaming career.
If Super Mario Bros. had come out today, that level may have been seen as a "bug" by Nintendo, which would result in it getting patched out of existence before I ever saw it. Same goes for advanced Super Smash Bros. Melee techniques like wavedashing and L-canceling. The removal of these "exploits" in the jump to Smash Bros. Brawl from Smash Bros. Melee are one of the chief reasons why so many competitive Smash Bros. players loathe Brawl. What if Melee had come out on modern consoles, that allow for post-release patches? If so, wavedashing and L-canceling might have never been discovered, let alone embraced as the game changers they're perceived as today.
Then there's the Kara throws from Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike, and the sequence breaking in the early Metroid games, the "unique" saving system from Bit.Trip BEAT, and the innumerable other glitches, bugs, and exploits that gamers have craftily transformed into features. They all may have never been discovered if they were released in the modern era of post-release patching and fixing.
As great as post-release patching can be, I wonder if it's worth the price of potentially losing out on all the happy accidents that have helped to make videogames such unpredictable, mysterious works of art. With Ed Boon already planning to patch Mortal Kombat in ways that the player may not even be aware of, it's enough to convince me just keep my consoles offline to avoid these uninvited alterations to my games' "junk." That in itself is a bit of a nuisance -- the need to be afraid that my game might change itself for the worse when I'm not looking. Add to that the need to be diligent about keeping up with what these patches are with online research and opinions from those who have already downloaded the patch, and you have a situation where "fixing" the game might lead to more hassles than it might solve.
What do you think? Should developers be patching our games without telling us exactly what these patches do first? Should they give us the option to opt out of a patch if we don't like the changes they made? Have you ever patched a game only to find that you preferred it before it was "fixed"?