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Rancor avatar 1:02 PM on 01.29.2010  (server time)
The Future - Episodic Games

1st off I'd like to thank Rev for giving us these Monthly Musings, i'm sure it must be hard to come up with valid topics each month and you have not disappointed yet. They are such a great platform for discussion about gaming's intricacies and give us much fuel for thought. Too good for me as Im usually too busy reading all the great submissions to actually post something. . . Eventually i would like to revist all the topics just to catch up, but also to share my views on so many topics dear to my pixeled heart.

Now to get to it, I've seen some pretty hate filled comments about the concept of episodic games, expansion dlc in general, but as a gamer i have a hard time believing that the point they are trying to make. I will focus more on the episodic argument more than the dlc part of it, but to me they are very similar concepts which i will refer to as content expansion, and the question is why all the hate? Are we really saying we don't want more, cheaper, and probably more meaningful content? And what do we really mean by episodic gaming/are we even there yet?

Now i think all of us can agree, the goal of any business is to make money, and all the time/effort/art/programming/design/marketing necessary to sell games is one hell of a business. A business which doesn't see a return on any investment it makes for 2-3 years in most cases. Thats a lot of money to put up for any kind of venture. . . Most AAA games have crazy budgets, and content expansion is a nice way for them to squeeze a little more from all that up front investment. The great Tycho of the great PA put my feelings best when he said that he viewed things like avatar clothes, themes and whatnot as a "tip" to the designers of his favorite games, something i had felt the same way for a long time, but expansion content is different, because at least to me it feels a bit more necessary. Allow me to elaborate. . . As gamers i feel the most important aspect of our sub culture is the experience. . . You can watch essentially every game out there being played from start to finish on youtube, but that will never match up to your experience with the game (the player narative is part of this concept but not entierly). So much so that when a game you want is coming out, its no good if your friend gets it, it doesn't help to read all the reviews/previews/impressions and whatnot, no. You have to have it in your hands, or in your console with your controller to actally "have" the game. No other medium defines itself in that as much as gaming. . .hell they should just call the hobby experiencing.

To be "current" in gaming you have to get all these experiences, so you can talk about them, strategize about em, geek/fanboy out, hate on and all those things we do as gamers about our beloved games.

Now times are tough, and games are pricey, pricey to make, pricey to buy, and pricey to play (given time=money friend) I can safely say i'm missed out on alot of key experiences as a gamer this holiday season and i will be missing many more, none of us can say we've played EVERY game out there worth playing (i never played any of the snes final fantasies for example, even missed out on chronotrigger 1st time round, shocking i know), this directly correlates to the high concept of piracy in our medium too, but thats a whole other can of worms and i'll leave it for a later date. I do what all of us who aren't McDucks and prioritize/sacrifice get what games most call to us, and miss out till a couple of months later and troll the bargain bins. However i can't imagine this being anywhere close to the ideal business situation game companies want, why would anyone want that? We, as gamers, complain about staleness of ideas, yet when new ip's and new gameplay concepts come out, the majoirty of us go and plop down our limited funds on the games EVERYONE is playing (im looking at you CoD:mw2) and the smaller studios are left eeking out what they can from the few that have more gaming budget than the rest or the "hardcore" who were going to buy it even if they had to give blood/semen/extra organs.

So now alow me to present to you. . . a different picture.

Instead of mass effect 2 coming out in regular and collectors editions, they add a third, an Episode 1 version if you will. . . Costs 20 bucks and is ends just after the 1st 1/4 of the game. At which point you have the choice of spending the next 5-10 bucks for the next part, and so on. . . in the end the full game costs the same as the original version, just not all at once, and bioware, instead of loosing my sale of mass effect 2 now, to say Tatsunoko vs Capcom, gets my money and my attention, and probably the rest of my cash eventually. Fable 2 did this already and i believe its how it should work for at least most games. Darksiders came out and i hear its awesome and whatnot, but its competing with so much more, then i read about how the portal temple didnt get the dev time they wanted and so on and so forth and i just have to ask myself why? why didnt they release it with half the content at half the price, get a return on their investment, and give themselves breathing room to produce more, high quality content for their game? This great engine with great combat and awesome graphics and details gets shoehorned into having to be this 10-16 hour epic. Now i also understand that we as gamers have a pretty limited attention span, but is it really that bad, we cant wait 6 months to finish a game? Let me ask you this, How many games are on your "backlog" and how long have they been there?? Beat demon's souls yet? Get that epic you've been raiding months for? Downed all 3 ultima weapons on your nth playthough of ff7? I'm pretty sure for the majority its a resounding NO!!! Hell i can go to your gamercard, see what mission finally bored you indefinitely in assassins creed 1 & 2, and you plopped down your 60 bucks, wishing you had enough to get it and that fun looking indie pc game thats pushing all the right envelopes, or that beautiful hand drawn wii game. Sound familiar?

Now dlc is another part of the same picture, in mass effect 1 we got 2 bouts of extra content. One was this well executed mission with new characters and tough moral choices, the other was a pretty tepid arcade style arena matches. They cost the same, and when compared content wise, well they dont compare. One is loads better than the other and i'm pretty sure anyone whos played either can agree with me, and i think the second is the clear case as to why people hate on dlc, but lets turn back the clock to the 16-bit golden days of gaming and what i like to beleive was the real 1st expansion pack for a console, Sonic and Knuckles. For those of you that don't know, sega release this gem of a cart towards the end of the genesis era, and it had the really new feature of being a cart with a cart port on the top. Such that you can plug any other genesis game into it, this to be used to plug in any older sonic game into it giving you access to Knuckles in any of the original sonic games. This was, to me, the coolest concept ever. Imagine, if you will, a cart that let you play as okami instead of link in the twilight princess, or bring in ryu from sf4 into the newest kof, madness?? And i challenge any gamer who calls himself thus to have complained if they would have announced a similar cart for Super Metroid that would have allowed you to play as zero suit samus or original in an all new mission? Or added co-op? See the problem isnt the concept of expansion content, its that they're taking it on to already bloated games, and they do nothing to expand upon the core mechanics introduced in the game.

Now in closing, (for those of you still here) i have another concept i would like to throw out there, what if episodic games, and television episodes managed to bridge that great divide. Now stay with me here, lets pretend they syndicate a halo series. . .we see the spartans go from galactic hot spot to hot spot and take down their enemies in weekly adventures, now lets say tonights episode ends on a cliffhanger, our heroes are about to drop onto a battlefield in corvus 8(w/e) and are hearing about some new covenant monster the people on the ground are having trouble with. That night bungie releases the corvus 8 pack, and at 240 ms points you and your friends can drop in and crack your shot at the new covenant behemoth. You drop into your game seamlessly after the credits right into the drop pod. You make an awesome snipe and make an elite drop his grenade in his own squad coming out of the pod and set out to win the day. Now in next week's episode, imagine if the team sniper recreates that shot you made, in a series of great shots that show the impression you made on the enemy, now imagine if while that shot is playing a little xbox achievement box pops up in the corner of the screen (whichever one they dont already have random ads and tv logos) with your gamer tag. Thats right, they can already see your replay data, and they just used you as their badass for the shot. . . In this type of concept the sky is the limit, make it so that the squad succeeds this episode or not depending how good the players did against the behemoth, would only be the surface of what creatives could do leveraging the power of the medium.

All in all i do have high hopes that the industry can realize it needs to lighten up the load of our game time and budgets, and stop gutting itself with needlessly bloated titles and poor expansion content. They want this new casual crowd to come in and save the day but very few i know casually plops down 150 bucks to get 2-3 games they might or might not finish and those people usually pass up the new envelope pushing games they would really enjoy. Those are also the people i usually hear complain the most about lack of innovation, uninspired dlc, and general state the game industry is in today. So i hope if you are one of those people you think twice before bashing the concept of getting more games to play for less, and having those shorter games be more meaningful in their execution. -g

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