Be honest, have you ever been happy when you learned a game's release date? Unless you discovered that game the day of its release, I'm guessing your answer is something along the lines of "No with a capital n." An innovative new IP can never come out soon enough, and none of us can wait for the sequel to that series we just found either. As despairing as these situations are, they're nothing compared to the bittersweet ride of following an ongoing episodic game.
Before I start fuming, let me put this into a perspective that I'm sure everyone can understand. Imagine for a moment that the latest entry in your favorite franchise has just been released. When you finally get around to playing it, you become absolutely enthralled with the game; the characters are funny and likeable, the world is beautiful, the dialogue is witty, and the gameplay is downright addictive. But just as things are heating up, right when you finally beat that quest or boss, the screen fades to black. Wait, there's no cutscene going on. Instead, you're just staring at a title screen—stricken with disbelief and frustration—with a mockingly simple "stay tuned for more" message emblazoned upon it.
No, you're not having a nightmare. However, you are now wearing the shoes of someone following an episode-based game. Congratulations, and welcome to Hell. You now get to experience the gnawing sense of curiosity inherent in being forced to wait to continue a game that you were thoroughly enjoying. I can practically imagine the production team cackling away in a dark spire: "Oh, that plot you were developing? Yeah, the resolution is weeks away. If you're lucky, that is." "What do you mean you were finally unraveling the protagonist's past? Well, you'll just have to wait."
The ways to verbally punch players in the face are infinite, but the bottom line is always the same: Having an involving game torn from your hands just plain sucks.
This is especially true for episodic gameplay because of how specialized each section is. Length and style will obviously vary from game to game, but most episodes are fundamentally the same: be specific, be meaningful, and draw the player into the game so that they want to see—and pay for— the next bit. That sounds well and good until you actually finish a section and have nothing but a cliffhanger to go on for eight weeks (I'm looking at you, Telltale Games). Then again, that's the nature of episodes; get your audience hooked. And damn, is it effective.
Anyone familiar with episodic gaming will tell you that having a gap between episodes is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Obviously, that doesn't make it any less annoying, but you can get used to anything, right? So what can you do? Get angry with the developers? Struggle to occupy your time with something else? Stare menacingly at your calendar for weeks on end? (In my experience, this last option is particularly ineffective, despite my best efforts.) Sadly, short of busting out your flux capacitor, there's not much you can do. After all, as consumers, our only trump card is the inevitable hate-mail Armageddon that will follow even the mere mention of the phrase "pushed back." But at least we've got that going for us. Oh yes, be afraid, developers. Be very afraid.
Don't get me wrong, I believe episodes are some of the most effective tools to emphasize the importance of story and cast rather than gimmicky action. But why, oh why, must they always be paired with the horrible little factor of time? Does that grueling waiting period really add value to the next portion of a game? Why not just release all 'x' sections of a game at once? They're still episodes, right? Is a game "episodic" when it's divided into sections, or is it defined by release gaps? Hopefully you readers can help me on this, because I can only get so far on my own ravings.
Anyway, I hope that the plot you fell in love with is edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting, tear-jerking good, because you're in it for the long haul. Release dates are always an unpleasant gamble, but when it comes to episodes, you're playing Russian roulette with six bullets. Seriously, developers, I thought there were laws against "cruel and unusual punishment."
Date: October 23, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*