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Monday, June 19, 2006

Wired On Episodic Content

A good TV series is a well-honed machine. This is particularly true of a mystery or action series like 24 or Lost: Each week you get fiendish plot twists, Elizabethan character conspiracies, hinted-at clues -- then an agonizing cliffhanger. No wonder we wind up planning our schedules around these shows, plunking down on the couch to get our weekly fix.
What if video games worked that way too?
-- Tune in Next Week for Gaming Fun

A well done episodic game seems to almost be like that elusive "convergence" device that dominated gadget talk for so long -- everyone is certain it's a great idea and yet nobody seems to be able to make it work really well. Half-Life and Sin episodes seem to have both been met with a resounding "meh". Not really bad, but not really world blazing either.

Course, no big surprise since the gaming industry still seems to be unwilling to take steps to integrate really good storylines. Not to sound like an English major snob or anything, but even the heralded Indigo Prophecy left me much wanting in terms of a decent narrative. I'm moving through Resident Evil 4 and while it's a great game, I swear this is the same storyline they've used in a dozen other Capcom games.

It coincides with my argument about interactive lit. There's a lot of theories about how to make the mechanisms for computerized storytelling more complicated, more in-depth, more feature intensive. And yet, we've barely been able to get up to steam with the basics. Take Max Payne. Payne had a pretty decent story ... and most of it was told through nothing more than comic style panels ... which virtually any game could utilize. Great storytelling doesn't actually need anything more complicated than text.

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Unknown said...

Ok, I'm sorry in advance but I'm going to hijack this a bit.

You said: Take Max Payne. Payne had a pretty decent story...

I've heard people say that MP1 and MP2 had great stories and/or great storytelling. (Yes, you didn't say "great". Bear with me.) I'd like to know what precisely was so great about them? I thought they seemed ham-fisted and pedestrian.

Not being confrontational, mind you. I just never thought they were as deserving of the story-telling praise as they've received.

Josh said...

I haven't played MP2 ... so I can't defend it.

And yeah I was specifically using "pretty decent" as in ... relatively three dimensional characters, something resembling a plot, cohesive narrative and at least enough depth to pay attention to ... but I certainly wouldn't want it taught in English class.

By comparison, I found Indigo Prophecy's story to be haphazard and disconnected, with a string of cliches posing as characters. They're not really night and day, for sure, but I liked Max Payne's story in a pulp novel kind of way, as compared to Indigo Prophecy's "huh, what the sentient internet?" kind of way.

I wouldn't necessarily disagree though, I'm not sure it deserves praise per se for storytelling. Rather, the industry needs to be able to sift through these examples and poke for what worked and what didn't. If Max Payne had used the exact same mechanics to tell, say, an Alan Moore graphic novel ... well ..... can I say drool?

xenon said...

I don't think that episodes is a good idea for games. The game industry is trying to make interactive movies rather than fun-to-play games!

Some budget or independent games (like Eets or Gish), which at first look dumb, are more fun to play than these multi-million budget games.

Mind you, I like playing HL2 and the such, but now all FPSs are getting quite repetitive. The technical detail they are achieving each year, is amazing but they are going round the same elements of gameplay.

xenon said...
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lordxixor101 said...

Let's not forget my publishers like episodic content. They can say whatever they want about the ability to tell a story and blah blah blah, but it's a way to sell the game piecemeal as they finish it. So, instead of having to create 12 levels to ship the game, I can finish 2, call it an episode, and sell it. For those that sell well, more episodes. For those that don't, more stories left open for those few fans (think of Shenmue, that is left wide open after 2 games, and its fans may never know the ending).