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Episodic Gaming Changing Gamemaking? 63

Chris Morris, of CNN's Game Over column, talks this week about how episodic gaming may be changing the way games are made. He explores the possibility that, with the success of GTA and Half-Life 2, developers may start looking towards more of a 'Saturday Matinee' approach; shorter individual game units, but a longer story overall. From the article: "Whether Valve will continue with episodic content after "Episode Three" hasn't yet been decided. The company knew its fans would likely buy the first installment regardless. But they don't know if players will stick with the formula. 'So far the feedback has been really positive and led me to believe we'll be continuing to do this in the future,' acknowledged Newell. 'But we want to get these three out, then sit back and do a post mortem. ... We're really interested in trying this, then sitting down with some customers and asking them, Do you want a TV series or do you want movies - or a mixture of both? It's like they've had a diet of feature length experiences for a long time and this is their first chance to try something different.'"
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Episodic Gaming Changing Gamemaking?

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  • Movies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tarun713 ( 782737 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @01:41PM (#16279667)
    I'd rather have longer games released less frequently. TV shows are aired once a week, whereas episodic content still takes a long time to produce. I'd rather wait 2 years for an entire game rather than 6-12 months for episodic content where I forget what happened in the previous episode in between. I feel episodic content really loses a game's momentum to keep you gripped and involved.
    • What about monthly, as Telltale Games is doing with Sam & Max?
      • do not confuse what valve has been doing with what could truly be done with 'episodic' content. if it takes them a year to do an 'episode' then their processes and or technology is broken. ie source is too difficult to use, they need to streamline how their games are made. talk to any modder that's used source (or in particular, their editor) and you'll get an earful on how this is true.

        based on the MMO model, an ideal episodic series would have updates around every 3 months or so. just long enough to gen
        • Not sure where you're getting your ideas about how much it would cost to produce a single "episode", but you've got to remember that the majority of development cost on episodic games is going to be up front. All the engine work, all the recurring graphics, sound effects, music, etc will have to be made for release in the first installment. The opportunity for savings on development will come from reusing these resources in addition to the added revenue from charging more than the standard $50 for the who
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mendaliv ( 898932 )
      Right- episodic content does take longer to produce than an episode of a TV series. I would argue that each episode of a game is more equivalent to a full broadcast season of a TV show.

      This analogy carries, in that, if a TV show has a bad episode, it might not get cancelled (think The Haunting of Deck Twelve [startrek.com] from Voyager). On the other hand, if a TV series has a particularly bad season, it might get cancelled. Likewise in gaming, we could see the death of a series if a particular "episode" is not well reci
    • I agree with you, when episodes on TV come out weekly, you're not going to really forget what happens inbetween. With games, it could take a substantially longer time, maybe even a year or more. How many people honestly remember anything more than the general plot (if even) after a year of inactivity? The general plotline is one thing, but a lot of the cool parts of a TV show and/or game, do not come with the general parts, but with the more specific parts of the plot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      If the games were closer together I'd rather have the episodic games. If 6months was the high-end of the wait period, then great. But 12 months is too much. My problem is some games start out great, but after a while they sort of taper off. It's almost like the writers/level designers ran out of imagination or got bored and start throwing repetitive garbage at us, or just some horrible gameplay. Look at Halo, with the whole repetitive-loop Library maps and such; almost like the writers were really strug
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mikeisme77 ( 938209 )
      There's no reason they couldn't do weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly releases. Most TV shows are filmed all in a large block and then they release the episodes through out the season. There's no reason that the game creators couldn't produce a "season" worth of episodes and then release them weekly. Not all episodes would necessarily be ready when the first episode comes out (just as not all episodes of the TV show are ready), but the story should all be there and all of the art should be created. It should ju
  • At first glance, I like this idea, mostly because they're suggesting lowering prices. That's always nice to hear, even knowing that the episodic games might end up costing the same or more overall. Obviously, having to buy 3 games at $20 each costs you $60 for the whole story, but with the episodic plan you might buy the first one, decide you don't like it, and save yourself $40. If you do like it, plenty of games start retailing at $50 or $60 as it is, so it's not like they're cheating you out of money. F
    • by Cheapy ( 809643 )
      $60 bucks plus the $50 (or $60) you payed for the base game? Hopefully this isn't the case, but if Half-Life 2 is any indication......
      • by eln ( 21727 ) *
        Half Life 2 was a full-length game in its own right. The episodes really should be considered an entirely separate game for the purposes of calculating value.

        Personally, I enjoyed Episode One, but I do agree with others that it's kind of lame that we spend time getting through a third of a game, and then have to wait another year to play the second third, and probably another year after that for the final third. It really kills the epic feel that Half Life 2 had. I would have rather they just spent 3 yea
      • $60 bucks plus the $50 (or $60) you payed for the base game? Hopefully this isn't the case, but if Half-Life 2 is any indication......

        It's not. Go read the box for HL2:Ep1, you do not need to own HL2 to play Ep1.

    • Unfortunately the prices aren't that much lower. HL2 Ep 1 had about 5 hours of gameplay, and cost 19.99USD. It took me three hours to download it off steam, and had I bought it retail here in the UK it would have cost at least 15.99GBP, more likely 19.99GBP - a considerable amount more which is difficult to justify through taxes. On top of that there are rumours that Ep 2 will be more expensive (I can't remember where I read that but it may well have been a /. article), and they are pushing it back to Fe
      • Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of more frequent releases, but the prices must reflect shorter games. 1/3 of the gameplay at 2/3 of the cost with no new multiplayer options is a bit of a rip-off IMHO.

        Second that. $20 per installment is probably too much for episodic content. I'm the patient type, so I don't usually mind waiting for a game (also lets me hear what the public has to say before I waste my money on it too). I just bought Far Cry (unopened retail) for $10 a couple weeks ago, and I'm fee

  • I really wasn't that impressed with the story in HL2 to begin with so I never even considered getting EP1. Hell, the only reason I'll get EP2 is because of Team Fortress! Having episodic games means having a good story to begin with.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I don't think HL2 in itself had a great story line. I do find it more appealing if you followed the with HL1, opposing forces, and blue shift. Also there's a great site here http://members.shaw.ca/halflifestory/ [members.shaw.ca] that sums up just about everything. If you single out HL2's story though, it is kinda boring.
      • Re:HL2 (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Ford Prefect ( 8777 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @02:25PM (#16280573) Homepage
        The actual storylines of Half-Life and its sequel are practically non-existent. The worlds are brilliant, however, as is the manner in which they are presented to the player. And to be honest, I'd prefer that to a typically bloated game story with endless cutscenes and exposition getting in the way of the actual gaming; being immersed in a realistically portrayed world where everything has its place is much more interesting to me.

        • I wouldn't say non-existent. They weren't spelled out for you though. If you just fly through the game they are nonexistant. It is kinda a trade-off between cut-schenes and set beginning and ends to levels (example: Halo). I prefer both, but the HL type of investigation to get the whole story many times isn't fun and can be confusing. HL can pull that off, but i wouldn't want many games like that. Just my 2 cents.
        • Nah, come on. I think the storylines of HL and HL2 are about the level of depth appropriate for that type of game. The storyline is consistently maintained and slowly expanded throughout the games, without getting in the way of the fun. I think that is key -- HL isn't an RPG, it's FPS, and I feel it has a very appropriate story for what it is.
          • Oh, I just read the rest of your comment and we're pretty much in agreement except on semantics, it seems.
          • by grumbel ( 592662 )

            HL isn't an RPG, it's FPS, and I feel it has a very appropriate story for what it is.

            One thing I found hugly lacking in HL2 in terms of story was goal-orientation. The first few hours in HL2 are spend for nothing that matters, first you have to walk a way that you normally should have been teleported acroos, then you have to run through Ravenholme since a few lausy stones blocked your path. Later on when trying to free Alyx father it finally gets somewhat more goal oriented, only to then turn into kind o

    • It's not so much the quality of the story that attracts, it's the quality and showmanship of the storyteller, which Valve appears to do very well.
  • I recall reading about Nintendo saying that with Wii, they are going for shorter and simpler games that cost less. They consider that the future of gaming and thats very similar to the episodic gaming that is striking the PC market.
  • I doubt it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by O'Laochdha ( 962474 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @01:59PM (#16280067) Journal
    The stories in GTA were mostly self-contained, and barely interacted. Think about it: which was the most popular in the GTA3 series? San Andreas...and this one unquestionably had the deepest of the storylines, on its own. It tied back to the other two, but that was it. People wouldn't have played Half-Life 2 if they hadn't already gone through the first. No one's going to pay $60 for a "to be continued" marquee.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    it all depends on the *quality* of each episode/arc.

    When the Timothy Zahn "Dark Force Rising" Star Wars books came out they were well crafted and captured the essence of the 'original' 3 SW movies. Each title was an engrossing story and could stand on its own but when combined they crafted an even better, more involved story. I looked forward and kept track of each book's release date (probably the single thing I've ever done that made me feel like a nerd the most).

    The second series of books I tried was t
    • The storytelling in Descent 3 is far better than in Descent 2... the plot actually evolves and changes as you play through it. I enjoyed it much better than the classic Descent games in a way (but I will probably go back to play them someday, they were still fun in their own way too). I encourage you to go and try it (the Mercenary expansion pack is neat too, although I don't think I ever beat it).

      Here's some examples of things I liked in D3 that D2 could never have pulled off: In the 4th level in the b

  • I think both ideas boil down to the same thing. Overall in any givin game, more specifficaly PC games (as that's what valve mostly makes)have a tedency to have a good beginning, and great end.. but a more or less mediocre middle. I think what episodic content does is give them more time to focus on each peice so it seems more or less great all the way through. I feel that most "Movies" or full length games theese days are mostly boring filler, and should probably be cut down a little anyway. Episodic conten
  • The main problem is going to be the frequency of release. I'm really not interested in purchasing a 3-6 hour game every year or more. If they want to make this an effective strategy, they need to stick to a 6-8 month time frame.
  • What, like the way iD would sell story/level packs for Wolfenstein 3D or Commander Keen as separate episodes, back in the days of shareware? No. If anything, this is just the evolution of developing extensible engines and licensing them out, or even just a new spin on the old expansion pack routine-- a handful of new levels, maybe a new unit or two, plus a lot of clever scripting to cover up the flaking paint on the parent engine.

    And so far, how many companies have hopped onto this apparent bandwagon? Va

    • Hmm, Emergence didn't pull me in like the HL series has. Honestly, i haven't played the original, but i think you need to have a very strong beginning if you're going to run the episodic path. It was fun, but i feel as it was lacking a deep storyline and my favorite, multiplayer. I'm in your boat where i'm not feeling so great about buying the next one. HL2:E2 on the other hand, already has a deep storyline before it even comes out. I already know i want to find out what happens at City 17 and the broad
    • Agreed. Whether we're talking about an episode or an expansion, these concepts have been around for a long time. I'm not sure why anybody would think that something new is happening. It would simply be a throwback to the old days if companies started producing cheaper, shorter "episodes" instead of one big game with cheaper, shorter expansion packs.

      While you might sell more units initially if you release a short single player game for $20, it gives players a whole lot of gameplay to decide that they don'
  • Welcome to 1991 - (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RoffleTheWaffle ( 916980 ) on Monday October 02, 2006 @02:20PM (#16280477) Journal
    Who here remembers the Shareware boom? You know, back when studios like Id were still in their infancy, and Apogee and Epic Megagames were big players in the PC game industry? Back then, not only were games released in episodes, you got the first one for free. Each successive episode was about $15 to $20, or you could get hard-copies of all three games and some other goodies for $30 to $35. Sound familiar? It should.

    While I'm thinking I might not be reading enough into this, it really looks like that business model is making a return, but with one big catch. You have to pay for the first episode now, and it's usually the biggest and most expensive of all the episodes. This is the only difference I've seen thus far, and it really wouldn't surprise me if game studios reverted back to that old model of 'episodic content' now that it's become the in-thing to do again. I'm not complaining, I'd really like to try a game before I wind up wasting my money on it. I'm just wondering why they're treating it as though it's some big, new thing, when not only is it an old practice, it also hasn't been in style for about ten years. Just my take on it.
  • ...they are a staple of other medias?

    Would it be terribly bad for a quarterly or twice yearly video game that continued and expanded over time.

    One benefit I can see (and have seen over the Xenosaga through three episodes) is that people get better over time with the practice. Each of the three games have had their own problems (X1, too childish characters, X2 had an overly-complicated complicated combat system, X3 is actually a much better, scenimatic story with just a few glitches in combat
    • Would it be terribly bad for a quarterly or twice yearly video game that continued and expanded over time.

      Would you watch a quarterly or twice-yearly TV series? No, a TV series comes at you in one hour chunks once a week for three months -- regular as clockwork. The delay between episodes is small enough that you get to keep the story in your head. Would you buy a game that you played for only an hour or two in a week? Increase the episode size and the delay between episodes will go up, because dev time

    • I think episodic content on TV shows may be driven by medium. Each station can only carry one show at a time, and most people can't (or won't) spend 26 hours in a row watching a full season of the show all at once.

      Games are different, you can pause (save) your position in a game and return to it later, something you can only do with PVR or "On Demand" television. My experience is that people tend to play one game to the exclusion of others, and then when they've completed the game they move on to other ga
  • Interestingly enough, CNNMoney is running an independent story on the same topic. Episodic Content: A Survivor for Gaming [cnn.com]
  • I hope Valve will make a trend of their idea to put out a major blockbuster followed by little spinoff episodes. It gives them a chance to wow the world with an impressive major release with all kinds of new technologies, scenarios, and gameplay mechanics, and then nurture the technologies a little bit further with subsequent optional continuations. The Half Life Episodes give even more bang for the buck since each is only $20, is optional, and works standalone in case you'd prefer a $20 "full demo" befor
  • I don't really like that terminology, but I like the idea of shorter, cheaper games, that come with more regularity.

    This not only gives me something new every couple of months, but lowers the risk of purchasing an "over-rated" game. At the same time, it gives developers a little more leeway to take risks. If a small "episode" flops, it's $5 million instead of $40 million. (Or whatever your numbers may be.)
  • The mmporg Runescape already sticks to a strict 'new quest every week' schedule, and it seems to be working very well. There is generally somewhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours of new content that can be played each week (if you have high enough levels), which really helps break up the 'grind' of levelling up.

    This approach seems to work really well, and the fact that it's a low-spec java based game means that the cost of developing the extra content is not prohibitive, and when the users have a problem wi
  • by abes ( 82351 )
    I like the idea of an episodic model, as I'm more likely to actually finish an installment. Additionally, with larger games, you need to constantly increase the difficulty of the levels because the person feels like need ramp up to something better. I feel like with installments, the person is going to have some off time, so you can keep the difficulty curve more flat, allowing for more people to get in on the fun.

    Someone mentioned previously that it's the difference between movies and TV shows. It could be
  • I can see where they get the fresh urge for episodic content, but I really don't think it'll work. They're looking at MMORPGs and the way they keep adding content a bit at a time. The problem is, MMORPGs start out with an established game world (most of the developers trying the 'episodic' trend have to create entire new maps and levels for each new episode), and most of the new content is relatively easy to add in for the time it takes to design and implement it. For episodic content to work well it's goin
  • I think "episodic content" is a horrible idea for the consumer.

    It's great for the devs and publishers. They get to finish a game at their leisure, releasing small pieces at a time for a higher overall price than if they had finished a complete game and sold it for $50.

    The biggest problem is that they are getting a positive response from people who are just too stupid to see where this is going to lead.

    How are you going to feel when you're half way through a "game", I use quotes because it's just episode 3
    • How are you going to feel when you're half way through a "game"...and the company then decides not to finish it because not enough people bought the last episode?
      The same problem is faced by TV studios, but that hasn't stopped them producing quality TV. (Better than movie writing anyway.)
      • by rabbot ( 740825 )
        I don't see how any comparison can be made to TV...last time I checked you don't pay per episode of any show. You pay for channel.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I don't see how any comparison can be made to TV...last time I checked you don't pay per episode of any show.

          Think of Firefly. Canceled mid-series because it wasn't earning enough revenue. Much of the time, TV series are paid for one season at a time. Think of a season as an 'episode'. One of the trickiest aspects for scriptwriters is to work with the constraint that they don't know how many 'episodes' there will be. For example, Babylon 5 was conceived as a 5 series story. But apparently, due to threats

          • by rabbot ( 740825 )
            You're right. That's anothe great reason not to support episodic gaming. I prefer well thought out stories written by people who know what they want out of the game from the start, and know where the game is going at the end.
  • One thing I'd like to see is ultra-short episodes. Say, they mostly reuse assets from earlier episodes, and you distribute one or two every month for five or ten bucks a pop. This would be better-suited for an RPG engine: add a single dungeon, or a single quest, and add a few new monsters or items throughout the other episodes.

    Maybe the first episode contains the start and the end of the game, and a single quest and dungeon, and subsequent episodes expand the game from the middle, so the game is complete fr
  • Waaaaay back in the early 90's, games like Duke Nukem started appearing in episodes. In fact, I am quite sure this was a practice common back in the late 80's too if not earlier, but I don't have the time to track it all down. Where is the sense of history anymore? Why does each generation think they "invented" everything? This is not new at all.
  • The big thing for me is content.

    Let's look at video. How many 'epic' tv shows can you count? How many movies? I'm betting you have a lot more movies on the list than tv shows, and I bet the tv shows took a LOT more time to get to that status for you.

    The same applies to video games. You get a 5 hour game every month for 6 months and it'll just seem ho-hum. If you get a 30 hour game with the same plot, it's a lot more dramatic. Why? Maybe because of how it has to be written. The 30 hour game doesn't h
  • For all those people saying "Oh noez!!!1! The developers are being cheap, and trying to give us less for more!", then you obviously don't have much faith in those who build these worlds that you enjoy. Developers don't go out of their way to specifically develop less content, in fact you'll find that if you add up all of the content in the episodes it is much more than a full game would be. Further, because the content is released episodically, the developer can do a post-mortem after each release and analy
  • I originally typed "buy it" in the subject line, but remembering back to slate's article http://www.slate.com/id/2149694/ [slate.com] on this very same topic, decided it wasn't necessary. One of the examples given there was Kuma\War, which is a free to download FPS based on current events in the Middle East. I haven't played it, so can't vouch for it, but it seems to be doing pretty well, and although I admit that the screenshots are pretty lame compared to the average FPS, I've read that in March the company signed a
  • Honestly I prefer to buy a game and having a consistent story; Begining, Middle and End. Half-life 2 and Halo 2 were anticlimatic for this reason; they both end up feeling incomplete. (Like buying a full price demo.)

    Episodic Content Fails when you release each episode for $20, knowing that you'll lower the price in 6 months. In this manner it fails because people will hold out for the 3 announced episodes so they can buy it in a bundle at a cheaper price ($40 vs $60 {$20X3}). In the end when you pay more fo
    • Game developers do not use episodic content as external beta testing. Game developers will developer their titles like they have always been developed, but with episodic content there is always the ability to refine the gameplay experience, rather than having the whole title just suck. And because they can keep improving each episode, you can guarantee that the final episode(s) are going to be incredibly entertaining. Episode 3 is probably going to be of a quality no other game has ever matched, because the
  • When I was a kid, the only video game episodes we had were photosensitive episodes [microsoft.com].

    And we LIKED IT.
  • Here's my concept: a multiplayer game, like SOCOM or Counter-Strike. Instead of playing the same map over and over, they release a new map every so often, and set it up like a TV show. You could easily create a "24" like series within SOCOM or Counterstrike, where every few weeks you get a new mission. Right now, after a few weeks of play you learn all the maps and it gets boring. But imagine if you got not just a new map but a new story every once in a while! The excitement would be awesome - a new epi
  • After a review of the facts and consulting my 18 years of experience playing games and watching styles of game making rise and fall, my answer is:

    It won't change the way games are made nowadays, but rather will add in a new avenue for people who have content they'd like to make into something, but don't have enough to create the 10-20+ hour game that some people expect.

    Would Descent 2's ending have been so awful had it been part of an episodic series that only cost $5-10 a game?

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN