In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
Way back in the early 00ís, developers became enamoured with the idea of episodic content. It was a dream everybody could believe in. Well, believe in more than, say, the VR storage system in the Michael Douglas/Demi Moore turkey, Disclosure.
Skip forward to the 10ís, and the dream has become something of a struggle. Itís still alive, but entangled in a conundrum. Its realisation is a stylistic approach, at best.
By now, weíre aware that videogames aim for a visual acceptance through the cinematic portrayal of events, but structurally, they share more in common with long form television shows. Alan Wake has become the poster boy of episodic gaming, with its ďTV box setĒ style. Yet, itís certainly not the first. As weíll see, itís just one example in how television has been increasingly influential, even so far as overtaking cinema, in that area of storytelling.
Whilst developers set their sights on the big screen, strong narrative titles do tend to suffer from a ďdead airĒ syndrome. The length of game, and its need to constantly engage, far surpasses the run time of your average cinematic experience. It cuts off when the player has decided to have enough, rather than when an act, or a break, dictates such actions.
Episodic gaming is a strange beast that, once employed correctly, delivers an intensity that wouldnít normally be there. A perfect example was having to wait mere weeks for the resolution to Alan Wakeís predicament in The Signal.
Telltale Games have done a decent job with its monthly narratives. Sam & Max: Season One is a far cry from The Devilís Playhouse, where the later disposed of the tenuously connected mini-adventure format, in favour for the ebb and flow dynamics of one larger arc, peppered with cliff-hangers and call-backs.
The reason why The Devilís Playhouse works so well, in that regard, is because Telltale Games plan entire seasons, in advance. They dedicate themselves to reworking minor issues, rather than total reinvention; all confined by a monthly deadline.
Itís a balance of feedback and self-imposed restriction; a working approach that was mishandled by the original champions of episodic gaming, Valve.
Seeing the Half Life 2: Episode trilogy as a scheduled series, like The Blair Witch Project before it, probably would have made a huge impact on our gaming habits. Instead, it shook faith in what episodic gaming could achieve.
Episodes wasnít to be because Valve had approached each instalment as separate entities, influenced by their improvements to the Source Engine. They failed to think like real show-runners; people who have entire seasons planned out before production. Valve gave up on the idea, and reminded us that to emulate outside media, you have to treat your own in a similar fashion.
Luckily for Valve, theyíre the popular choice; an ideas factory that gets by on constant innovations. The same canít be said for Ritual Entertainmentís SiN: Episodes, though.
SiN never had the popularity of Half Life, and to buy into a similar episodic fashion was a risky business. It bombed; not enough people were interested in seeing the vision through to the end. Maybe, David Cage realised such risks, after consolidating his episodic vision for Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy into an interactive movie.
Itís hard to test the waters if nobody is willing to take the plunge, but thereís nothing that says developers/publishers canít treat the selection process like television executives, either. Going back to Telltaleís successes, it was fascinating to see them set up a ďpilot seasonĒ; the end result being the deliciously surreal Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent.
Obviously, the digital domain is the right way to go, and faith on both sides can get a product a long way.
Sony bungled it with Siren: Blood Curse. It had the suitable narrative, but it was never immensely popular. It didnít help that Sony released the entire game as a hard copy within months; defeating the entire point, and losing face in the process.
BioWare had hopes for building small bridges between larger titles. Yet, they never ran with it after Mass Effect: Bring Down The Sky. Accessibility was probably the major factor; a sequel had to involve everyone, including those who didnít buy the DLC.
Money does eventually play a big part in how seasons and episodes are formed. After the initial sales figures, Remedy were reluctant to refer to each Alan Wake game as a ďseasonĒ, but theyíre still more than happy to use the medium for their storytelling gains; as weíve seen with American Nightmare. As it should be, episodic gaming is not solely about buying instalments, but how we assimilate that structure, be it one game or a series.
Episodic gaming works, and not just for the television tie-ins of 24: The Game, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary/Judgement Rites, The X-Files, and Lost: Via Domus.
Deadly Premonitionís narrative plays heavily on shocking conclusions, recaps and ďPreviously...Ē montages. Despite being a bad game, Alone in the Dark 5 circumvented its problems with DVD menus. L.A. Noireís cop drama was akin to Dragnet, or to some, a mini-movie marathon.
It doesnít even have to end in specific genres, such as survival horror or adventures.
Resonance of Fate is an underrated tactical JRPG that deserved a little more recognition on release. It shares more in common with Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo and Outlaw Star than it ever does with its RPG peers; focusing on characters and relationships in a tightly directed fashion. It shouldnít work, but it does, railing against the predictable conventions of the epic quest.
There was a time when television played fast and dirty; still does for the majority. Recently, shows become more sophisticated, with an understanding that viewers wanting to invest in more than one-shot tales. Itís now working towards its potential, increasing its advantages over Hollywood.
Video games have taken televisionís old mantle. The industry finds itself filling a hole, hungry to prove itself, before it implodes.
Whilst, itís not a case of following in exact footsteps, or having an all-encompassing outlook for every title (that would be strange), if it strives to understand the beauty of the small screen, and not be strangled by money, then video games might just have a better chance against the critics of narrative, and create better immersions in the process.
And who wouldnít want to be on the edge of their seat, week in, week out, when that debate gears up?