I was at the movies the other day (Charlie Wilson’s war – excellent film!) with my fellow “game design student” friends, and we were so enthralled by the movie’s quality that we started thinking about ways to translate that kind of experience to games.

We talked about a self contained narrative and systemic “unit”, lasting no more than two hours (and costing no more than a movie ticket?).

I mean, you don’t have to sit through a tutorial at each new movie you go watch to understand the plot or the camerawork or whatever, the story just picks you up and takes you for a ride. Granted, games have different requirements and may have not yet reached the level of popular penetration movies have achieved. I’m sure people didn’t “get” what was the deal about those moving pictures that made them better than theater, but once everyone had some notions of cinema language, people stopped worrying about it and just accepted it. I’m sure a person from the 1930’s would be able to understand a film made now with no problem (I’m not saying he will like it, though…)

My thought path is this… instead of making episodic games, that is, long games chopped up in short chunks (eg: Sam & Max), why can’t we have episodic gameplay?

With the advent of casual games, we have learned that there is no need to have an overly complex gameplay detailed in 40+ hours of play and 300+ pages of manual to be fun. Generally, it’s the opposite: those games end up feeling less like fun and more like work. Long books are not necessarily better than short ones.

I believe that some form of episodic gameplay could be achieved, you just need to set some codes with the “pilot” of your series (for example, the way to use the controller, and that’s it) and then achieve complete freedom over how you take the player hostage and carry him into your little system, for one to three hours. When it’s over, make sure you have taken him trough every aspect of the gameplay, so he can feel he had a “complete” experience. As a bonus, you also get a concentrated narrative, with less repetition and backtracking.

I don’t know, maybe what i’m just saying is that I would like to see “lightweight” games, bigger than a minigame, smaller than a AAA title with a real sense of completion and unity at the end. I’m thinking a lot about Shadow of the Colossus, for example…

Or maybe I should shut up and make one, it’s my job after all…

3 thoughts on “Episodic games vs episodic gameplay?

  1. I don’t exactly get your idea of “episodic gameplay” instead of “episodic games”.

    A game is basically gameplay (or should be). So what’s the difference? I haven’t played the games you refer to, and this should help understanding. I’ll try anyway.

    Do you mean that all the episodes share the same basic gameplay, but that each episode is then built on its own specific gameplay? Must be what you mean by Shadow of the Colossus I guess.

  2. Episodic games as for now are built exactly like a TV series: same characters, same setting, and for games, same gameplay. Think about Half Life ep 1 and 2, Sin, Sam&Max… Every episode has a different narrative, but the gameplay stays generally the same.

    When I talk about episodic gameplay, I’m trying to think about a series of games where we recognize that the gameplay is at the core of the game, and not the story.

    You could even think about an episodic game where the story is always the same, and it’s the gameplay that changes from episode to episode, which would probably change how the story is perceived anyways.

    That’s what I tried to call episodic gameplay… I have to admit that it’s very new to me too, but I believe that there’s something there…

  3. That’s way more clear now… and very interesting! I already thought of this with the movies: take a rather short story, and make the film done by different directors, each with his own vision, his own actors. We could apply this to video games and compare the visions of different designers… as an exercise of style.

    What about the economic side of episodes? So far, Sam & Max seem to be the only ones able to follow a real episode format: quite cheap (10$), released regularly and with a satisfaying length.

    How long would it need to get one hour of new quality gameplay?

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