Thursday, 29 January 2009

Episodes in gaming

Is episodic/modular gaming the future?
Short games for lower prices which come out regularly like episodes of a TV show seem to be appearing. Half Life 2 is using this technique, along with the Adventure Games by 'Telltale', such as 'Sam and Max' and 'Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People' (best title ever).

Up until now, we have thought of games as being like films. They are long and even when part of a series, come out generally at a rate of less than once release per year. Series which run past three installments tend to accumulate scorn from reviewers. But hang on, you wouldn't scorn a TV show that runs past four episodes, would you? TV shows may well run for 12 episodes per season for about four seasons. Doctor Who has about 12 episodes per season and has been running (with a 19 year gap just where my childhood was, thanks a LOT! Grr!) since the 60's!
So why not release small games as episodes which are all part of a running storyarc (season) for download and a small price as Telltale do, then when a season is complete, you can buy the whole season of games on a single DVD or 'full download' at a slight discount on the price of buying them individually.
People may well pay the higher price to get the games as they come out. It's like with comics, I pay the £2.50 for an issue of Runaways every month, while with other comics, I may wait for the trade paperback and buy a year's worth for about a tenner.
If you have a distribution system like 'Steam', downloading the latest installment could be really easy. Hey, wait! You could even subscribe, like a podcast, and your computer would automatically download the new episodes when they came out and pay the subscription fee, then notify you it was ready to play.

This not only changes the way we buy and play games, but perhaps the way we make them.
If we assume a game is episodic, we can make it like a comic series, sitcom, soap opera or ongoing drama, with recurring characters and perhaps locations.
Things that wouldn't perhaps work so well with episodes:
-RPGs where you level up. Though the 'Neverwinter Nights' games are sort of released episodically and allow you to import your character from a previous game and some are stories which deliberately follow on to allow this, such as 'Shadow of Undrentide'>'Hordes of the Underdark' and NWN2 Original Campaign> 'Mask of the Betrayer', which assume the same character and continue at a starting level around the character's ending level, this can be a game balance nightmare. The more linear and predictable the item and skill accumulation is, the easier this would become. NWN's Dungeons and Dragons based ruleset comes in handy here because balance is worked out with 'Encounter Levels' and 'Recommended loot per level' tables.
-Sandbox games. Episodic gaming works much better in linear games, because we can predict better what level, ability and storyline points a character has reached at the end of an area if the area is scripted to give x items, experience and exposition.

No comments: