April 18, 2008 3

Episodic Content

By Deepak in Games

Reflecting on one of my many random conversations with Tony, talk on a recent one landed on Mass Effects release of a few missions over Xbox Live, and well episodic content in general.

First things first; Mass Effect, brilliant game that it is, really doesn’t lend itself to episodic releases considering the scope of the actual game. Don’t get me wrong, its open game path makes it very easy to tag on a whole new star systems and a bunch of planets with more Mako drudgery and pumping yet another alien species with plasma without really interfering with the flow of the game, and well you wouldn’t mind chasing the damn slave traders on your obligatory second run through for achievements anyway but then this really brought into question the context in which developers and bloggers alike use the words ‘Episodic Content’

Personally episodic content strikes me as one of those painfully obvious concepts that was only held back by bandwidth limitations, the media’s equivalent of web 2.0. The name/hype/usage really is just a marketing tool to add a little polish in a very competitive market. This we already see with everybody struggling to add a new twist to content delivery … but I recall when unboxing our first 360, coupled with the perfunctory ooo’s and aaa’s (that may have been more to do with Gears of War than the 360 itself) there was also plenty of speculation about the limitless potential of Xbox Live Marketplace. Here is a network dedicated to game content delivery… with XNA we expected it to soon be saturated with indie games … everyone agreed it would be pointless to expect to be downloading DVD length games… the file size limit made that obvious, but we expected tiny games, not mini games, but games with a gimmick that affords relatively complex game-play, on par with the normal ones, but with episodic releases, we were so sure of people creating actual franchises, short development cycles, if you created a buffer and stuck to a schedule there is no question that people would be more than happy to pay five to ten dollars a level. Even Gears of War could have done that with each chapter, this even gives you the flexibility to add new chapters anywhere along the story line. Those new chapters made for the PC could just as easily be incorporated. This at least is my understanding of episodic content.

Actually on that count, Bioware really should not call their releases episodic … mostly because it didn’t contribute to the actual game in anyway. The game play wasn’t so engaging that it alone could justify the content, of course they already knew that which is why they absolve themselves of any of that responsibility by hiding behind the RPG categorization and don’t we all love side questing just because we came across an NPC … with out question, but then they add a level cap and random items … so you have to settle for a few titbits that you know mean nothing because it doesn’t even have the remotest link to the core story. It really just came off as an afterthought to an otherwise great game.

Now games like Splinter Cell, there is a game that really was built for episodic content. I especially like how Double Agent has gone through to the effort of adding character development and dimensions beyond just motivation to obliterate the enemy. Anybody that chooses to end a game with a ‘To be Continued…’ deserves to be probed with a branding iron… but then with episodic releases they could have a coherent story sans the version 1 and 2 nonsense. Each mission could be downloaded of Xbox Live, it fits the concept thoroughly.

I think developers should really go through the effort of properly utilizing episodic releases. There already are sufficient platforms for delivery… its not like they don’t have the means. I suppose some people are coming around to it, Steam has offered a platform for a while now… I also noticed the Penny Arcade people have this. It’s theoretically perfect (because of the mac support). Why just leave proper content expansion to the MMO games? Nowadays when everybody expects story arcs and character development, developers should really look at keeping up.

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3 Responses to “Episodic Content”

  1. Jon says:

    I want more HL:Episodes already!

  2. Jon says:

    http://www.parayanken.net/services/ is broke and the website hasnt really taken off….

    Either your busy or just really lazy…

    Now you have 2 comments to show off about!

  3. Deepak says:

    Its broke and I am too lazy to fix it … in fact the whole site has been a bit of joke … though I guess boredom has finally got to me ^_^

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