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Balthazar Auger

Episodic games vs episodic gameplay?

game design2 min read

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…

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