Special: I can quit anytime I want, I've only been playing for 33 hours. Wait, that's a lot of one-minute rounds...
On December 20, 2008, PopCap Games launched the Beta version of their Facebook application, Bejeweled Blitz
. Billed as a timed alternative to the company's more full featured Bejeweled 2
, the game was a huge smash (mirroring the rise of the downloadable version of Bejeweled and other "match-3" puzzle games) and it quickly raised the bar for all future Facebook games.
Fast forward six months to June of 2009. PopCap releases the full version of Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook. The beta version of Blitz was little more than Bejeweled 2 with a one-minute time limit. What would become known as Version 1 added an updated graphical look to the game along with Blitz-specific features such as the Star gem (created by making an L or T match of gems), Hyper Speed mode (which turned every gem into a flaming gem after making 25 matches in a row) and the Last Hurrah (which awarded points for any bonus gems that are on the board when time expires). The beta version of Blitz was gone for good, but the game that replaced it felt superior in every way.
Fans agreed as Blitz had five million active users when the beta rolled over into the full version, making it one of Facebook's most used applications. When Version 1 gave way to Version 2 on January 28, 2010, that number had jumped to over nine million users.
Version 2 looks more or less the same as Version 1 (in fact, they're so similar that officially it's known as Version 1.3), but adds "Coins" and "Boosts" to the game. No longer a self-contained one-minute round of Bejeweled, Blitz now allows players to purchase powerups (Boosts) between games to remove some of the randomness of the game. Some of these Boosts include putting a random special gem on the board at the beginning of the game, scrambling all of the gems on the board and most egregious of all, adding five seconds to the timer.
Bejeweled Blitz: Beta (left) vs Version 2 (right)
Coins are earned by matching the coin-infused gems that appear at random. The Coins are then stored in a bank where they can be used on Boosts at any time, even days apart after they're earned. Coins and Boosts make the new version of Blitz very far removed from the original version. The application has morphed from being a self-contained sixty-second session of Bejeweled to a game with its own unique rules and strategies.
In some ways, this was a good thing. For people who want to play a "regular" game of Bejeweled, PopCap offers that. And for those of us who'd rather play in one minute bursts using specialized rules and strategies, PopCap offers that too. But the game everyone fell in love with back in December 2008 is gone. And even the game that replaced it is gone as well as Coins and Boosts change the way you view each session of Blitz. The goal has become earning enough Coins to buy the Boosts needed to create an "ultimate round". Which is a wholly different game than the self-contained rounds it used to be.
This is most evident in the personal scoreboards the game uses. Every time you pass a new 25,000 point threshold, Blitz awards you a medal. Even though the scoring was changed between the beta and Version 1 and then again between Version and Version 2, the scoreboards include every round a player has ever played. The scoring was changed so radically that PopCap added a whole new tier of medals in the 250,000-500,000 range.
Sadly, PopCap seems uninterested in preserving any of the previous versions of Bejeweled Blitz that captured the public's fancy. A company spokesman told me this likely comes down to the community aspects built into the Facebook application: "I doubt that we'll ever make older versions of Blitz available in some archival form, but it's not out of the realm of possibility... however, as more changes occur to the game, those playing the earliest versions would be at something of a disadvantage, as new features and functionality enable somewhat higher scores and new achievements."
It's funny that today marks the beginning of PopCap's celebration of the 10th anniversary of Bejeweled, but the only version of Blitz available is one that is barely ten days old.
Without the cooperation of the publisher, these types of games will continue to disappear. It's hard enough to deal with archiving physical games that use hardware with constantly changing controller inputs/accessories, not to mention the five-seven year cycles of obsolescence. Throwing web-based games into the mix is many times more difficult as changes can be made to the game without notice and storing the games without express permission of the publisher would likely run afoul of various copyright laws. David Carter, a Video Game Archivist at the University of Michigan's Computer & Video Game Archive, called it a "Problem We Have Identified But Is Currently Beyond Our Means to Deal With." While Eric Wheeler of the National Center for the History of Electronic Games told me that archiving web games (and cell phone games for that matter) is something they'd like to do, but haven't focused on just yet.
Bejeweled Blitz isn't the only game we're in danger of losing. And some have already disappeared. The DSi, PSP, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 all have online storefronts where gamers can purchase downloadable games. But did you know the original Xbox had a proto version of the Xbox Live Arcade as well? Ultimately, 27 XBLA games on the original Xbox were made available, but unless you downloaded them then, they're gone now.
And with the DRM attached to downloaded games from the new XBLA, the PlayStation Network, the Wii Shop Channel and the DSi Shop Channel, this cycle could continue again. Like the early motion picture industry, the video game industry was not focused on preserving its history in the early days. Thankfully, this has turned around for disc-based games and organizations like the UoM Game Archive and the NCHEG are ensuring future generations will get a chance to play Super Mario Bros.
on an original NES. But with web games and downloadable console games, we're right back to where we started, history is repeating and history is disappearing.