It’s like clockwork. Every year, around the end of March I wait for the announcement that Super Adventure Box is returning to Guild Wars 2, along with a little cheeky April Fools gag from the folks at ArenaNet.
2013 was a new and exciting time for Guild Wars 2. Living World Season 1 was in full swing, Scarlet Briar was just a figment of a designer’s imagination and we were still getting wiped on the reg by Lupi. The world was a bit grim with Braham’s moody sullen-ness and Rox’s abandonment issues, so we needed something to brighten up Tyria.
Along came the Super Adventure Box. Designed by Josh Foreman in his spare time, it quickly became some of the most beloved content in the game. Somehow the colourful, casual nature of this time limited content grabbed every single Guild Wars 2 player. For two weeks, it’s the only new content that I can think of in the game that captivated the entire player base and was all but universally mourned when it was turned off. The fortnightly content cadence of Living World Season 1 was a flawed system of content delivery; if only for the massive amounts of stress it placed the developers under.
Summer began to transition to autumn and with it, the exciting news of Super Adventure Box returning. Back To School brought in a new world, three new dastardly tricky levels that would push even the most hardcore of Nintendo luminaries. What’s more, a new difficulty level arrived in the form of Tribulation Mode – a hardcore setting where even breathing wrong seemed to invite instant death. For a great deal of the player base, it refreshed and revitalized content that had been completed earlier that year. It brought new challenges, new rewards and a reason to go back into content that had been wholeheartedly embraced. “I can’t wait for World 3” cried players, eager to dive back in Moto’s mad realm of excitement.
Sadly, it was not to be. April Fool’s 2014 rolled around and there was no return of the Super Adventure Box, let alone World 3. 2015 came and went with nary a bauble bubble to be seen. However, in 2016 Super Adventure Box returned with the news that it would be back every year for players to transport themselves away from dragons, Mordrem, and Taimi into an 8-bit extravaganza.
NOSTALGIA AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE
Despite the rewards and achievements added over the years it somehow felt…lesser than it had been. Furniture coins had been added which allowed players to decorate their guild halls with Super Adventure Box scenery, there was another new color scheme for the weapon set which by now had become account bound. But somewhere, that nostalgia and engagement with content that I had felt needed to be added back into the game had gone. And I couldn’t think why.
It got me thinking about how the episodic content had become part of the life cycle of Guild Wars 2. The original Living World run had a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ mentality to it, that each piece of that first evolving world is now, for the most part, unavailable to players. Some moments have returned in the form of Mai Trin and the Molten Bosses in Fractals, Guild Wars 2’s piecemeal endgame content. But some of the big set pieces like Battle For The Breach Maker or the Marionette fight are still stated by large swatches of the community as fact that it’s the best content and needs to be back in the game. If such a departure from the day to day of Guild Wars 2, something like Super Adventure Box, has lost its veneer then how will content that was inserted as part of an experimental narrative run have aged?
As a long time player I’m very aware and very proud to have been part of the community during its formative stages of narrative development. In July 2013 my PC blew up because The Witcher 2 asked too much of it. While it was being repaired, I missed the only Living World Season 1 content that stares at me incomplete from the Historical Achievements panel; Cutthroat Politics. From what could easily be construed as a cynical take on modern politics, no matter who you voted for and who won, nothing changed in the game. True, it might not have been the most engaging content, unlike Queen’s Gauntlet or Nightmare Tower but it was still a valid part of the game and rightly deserves to be remembered.
DOES THIS MAKE MY CONTENT LOOK FAT?
So, are all game updates created equal? Perhaps. But when the audience tied an emotional attachment not just to a single entry in 15-month content release cycle, it’s unreasonable to think there won’t be highs and lows. Season 1 itself didn’t get off to a fantastic start, Flame & Frost: Prelude giving you the highly unenviable job of repairing road signs and in the process getting the highly-lauded but laughable title of Volunteer. Season 1 didn’t really have a stride to hit; the highs were exceptionally high and the lows delved down into a deep abyss that should never really see the light of day. Questionable design decisions were made, like the reworking of the beautiful Kessex Hills from a green, verdant pasture (mostly) to large swathes being poisoned grey by the Toxic Alliance.
Super Adventure Box initially fit into that release cadence but as time has passed and it comes back to use every year it’s now fit into the festival release cycle which now brings its own set of problems. Halloween, Wintersday, Lunar New Year, Dragon Bash and now Super Adventure Box all sit within an established realm of content that appears for two weeks during the year and then disappears. Halloween has significantly redeemed itself in the last two releases by offering new skins as well as the chance to earn old ones that hadn’t been seen in the game since 2012, by reintroducing cut content in the form of Reaper’s Rumble PvP and adding a race for the newest mount in the game, the beetle. Halloween even got its own major update in 2013 with the Labyrinth added, as well as story instances for the Bloody Prince.
Wintersday, on the other hand, got gutted. Once, Tixx travelled across the major cities spreading good joy wherever he went, is now confined to a corner in Lion’s Arch that is barely used for the rest of the year. The little bits of story were cut, and Dragon Bash is now just an annoying PvP arena that serves barely any purpose other than to annoy.
It might not be the fault of the content itself; there is only so much you can do to make a Captain’s Council election seem integral to the story but at least there is the notion that temporary content to Guild Wars 2 can receive regular updates.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Or, there was. In February 2019 ArenaNet was hit with layoffs that reportedly cost them a third of their workforce. Two unannounced projects were cancelled, and perhaps most tellingly for the future of Super Adventure Box, Josh Foreman was one of the unlucky to leave the company. The implications of the layoffs have far more wide-reaching consequences than updates to a part of the game that was already incredibly well received. However, this set back hit a company that has a single active product on the market. Innovation and expansion is the future not only for Guild Wars 2 but for ArenaNet as a company and no amount of re-releasing periodic content is going to change that.
In a recent interview with Linsey Murdock, she seemed to imply that the recent shake ups had caused them to revisit some of the ways that ArenaNet worked when it came to delivering content:
“We had to make some adjustments, and really those were about saying, ‘You know what? This is an opportunity for us to assess whether we’re just doing this because we always have – or because this has been the pattern for the past two seasons – or shall we refresh things a bit and do something a bit different?’
“Our fans have been asking for that – for us to do things a little bit differently and not be formulaic, so we took this as an opportunity to do that, to assess and make the right decisions for the game.”
It’s not an unfair assumption to make that Season 5 of the Living World and other future updates could see a change in the rollout pattern as well as a deviation from the ‘map-currency-story’ package that’s been delivered ever since Season 3 launched after Heart Of Thorns in 2015. And this does affect our seasonal content, including our beloved Super Adventure Box. The focus for ArenaNet now is to take the core game, the essence of Guild Wars 2, and continue to deliver the high-quality content that they so obviously can produce. 2017’s Path of Fire expansion was a glorious return to form and is hands-down the best package that the studio has delivered in its existence.
Unfortunately, that does mean there’s going to be less time for World 3 to be developed to completion, let alone World 4. But, Guild Wars 2 prides itself on episodic, accessible content. Super Adventure Box will be back next year if you’ve missed it. And just maybe, you’ll hear that 8-bit soundtrack and get lost in the primary colors of yesteryear for a few hours.
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