GWJ Conference Call Episode Fifteen

Conference Call

The Burning Crusade, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Episodic Gaming, Your Emails and more!

Cory "Demiurge" Banks joins the crew to talk about the Burning Crusade, his abiding love for Sam and Max, the future of episodic gaming and much, much more!

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The Links
WoW: Burning Crusade
Gametap
Sam And Max

Thread of the Week: Loads of emails!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"Terra" - Chico Correa & Electronic Band - 0:27:54
"Impeller" - Ian Dorsch - 1:01:14

Comments

Certis wrote:
Why draw the lines in the sand that allow for careful categorizition when it's just so much easier to evaluate each product individually as they come out?

If you're going to discuss something, you have to define terms so everyone is on the same page. It avoids a lot of misunderstandings.

In this particular case, why not just ditch the terms entirely? Aside from the full-game / not full-game distinction, these terms appear to have little correlation with the actual content of the product.

Staats wrote:
Certis wrote:
Why draw the lines in the sand that allow for careful categorizition when it's just so much easier to evaluate each product individually as they come out?

If you're going to discuss something, you have to define terms so everyone is on the same page. It avoids a lot of misunderstandings.

In this particular case, why not just ditch the terms entirely? Aside from the full-game / not full-game distinction, these terms appear to have little correlation with the actual content of the product.

Yay, Staats! That's what I meant to say.

Staats wrote:
Certis wrote:
Why draw the lines in the sand that allow for careful categorizition when it's just so much easier to evaluate each product individually as they come out?

If you're going to discuss something, you have to define terms so everyone is on the same page. It avoids a lot of misunderstandings.

In this particular case, why not just ditch the terms entirely? Aside from the full-game / not full-game distinction, these terms appear to have little correlation with the actual content of the product.


The episodic format defines how the content is structured and delivered to the player. It plays a huge role in how the content turns out and I think it's an important distinction to make.

Certis wrote:
Staats wrote:

In this particular case, why not just ditch the terms entirely? Aside from the full-game / not full-game distinction, these terms appear to have little correlation with the actual content of the product.

The episodic format defines how the content is structured and delivered to the player. It plays a huge role in how the content turns out and I think it's an important distinction to make.

HL2:Ep 1 is billed as "episodic," but in actuality is more what we'd traditionally consider to be an expansion, sans the requirement to own HL2. Guild Wars releases full-size stand-alone games that all interconnect like expansion packs. Sam and Max actually does release episodic content, and BF2 released regular "booster" packs with content falling short of what we'd generally call an expansion. A host of other games are prepping "episodic" content that will all be released on differing timetables, further diluting the meaning and expectations derived from the terms.

Point is, the format the game is developed and released under is important, but the terms used to describe this - episodic, expansion, full-game, etc. - imply distinction where a gradient now exists. Sure, you can draw lines and define terminology, but when that becomes difficult to do, when defining a game as episodic or an expansion is a matter for debate, why stop with just a single word?

This reminds me of the discussion you had a few episodes back on what qualifies as an RPG and an FPS. If categorization becomes so nuanced that misunderstandings become common, it is no longer useful.

HL2:Ep 1 is billed as "episodic," but in actuality is more what we'd traditionally consider to be an expansion, sans the requirement to own HL2. Guild Wars releases full-size stand-alone games that all interconnect like expansion packs. Sam and Max actually does release episodic content, and BF2 released regular "booster" packs with content falling short of what we'd generally call an expansion. A host of other games are prepping "episodic" content that will all be released on differing timetables, further diluting the meaning and expectations derived from the terms.

These are all points we made in the show, yes.
Point is, the format the game is developed and released under is important, but the terms used to describe this - episodic, expansion, full-game, etc. - imply distinction where a gradient now exists. Sure, you can draw lines and define terminology, but when that becomes difficult to do, when defining a game as episodic or an expansion is a matter for debate, why stop with just a single word?

We were defining what "episodic" meant to us relative to what games like Half-Life 2 have been trying to label their expansions as. By defining episodic as a weekly/monthly release of game content, like Sam & Max, when we discuss it in the future we'll be clear what that means FOR US. You can't discuss the value of an approach without defining what that approach means to the group first. This isn't a matter of putting games into neat little boxes and categories, it's about furthering discussion.
This reminds me of the discussion you had a few episodes back on what qualifies as an RPG and an FPS. If categorization becomes so nuanced that misunderstandings become common, it is no longer useful.

So next time we discuss Deux Ex, we shouldn't call it an FPS because someone may consider FPS to mean something else. Instead, we'll say "I like Deus Ex, it's an excellent game that you shoot things in and acquire new skills and has story based elements along with some horror" instead of "I like Deus Ex, it's an FPS with RPG elements."

Quite frankly, the notion that we shouldn't attempt to define what episodic content is because it's hard and developers will approach it different ways is completely beside the point. By defining what something means for us, we reveal a lot about our personal views and how we think about the industry. That's WHY we define things, we're not trying to put everything nice and neat on the shelf, we're examining the broad scope of what it means to us and what the future may hold. All this hand-wringing about how definitions keep changing, so why bother, is completely counter to how human beings communicate.

Certis wrote:
By defining episodic as a weekly/monthly release of game content, like Sam & Max, when we discuss it in the future we'll be clear what that means FOR US. You can't discuss the value of an approach without defining what that approach means to the group first.

Certis wrote:
By defining what something means for us, we reveal a lot about our personal views and how we think about the industry.

Total agreement on both. However, as for this:

Certis wrote:
So next time we discuss Deux Ex, we shouldn't call it an FPS because someone may consider FPS to mean something else. Instead, we'll say "I like Deus Ex, it's an excellent game that you shoot things in and acquire new skills and has story based elements along with some horror" instead of "I like Deus Ex, it's an FPS with RPG elements."

I think you're being sarcastic, but I'm behind that approach 100%. Same for content release schedule: "It's released in chunks of 4-6 hours of gameplay once a month." "It's about 5 hours of really fast paced gameplay that's a stand alone product. The second one'll be out whenever they get it done." Both avoid any preconceived notions that may exist and get right down to what the game is about and how the release is structured, without being overly long.

Certis wrote:
That's WHY we define things, we're not trying to put everything nice and neat on the shelf, we're examining the broad scope of what it means to us and what the future may hold.

In this case, or in general? Because generally I think of definitions as tools to communicate, defined to encapsulate concepts and objects concisely. Otherwise, sure, I could see the definition as the coffee table around which everyone talks.

I think terminology is only useful if there is a well defined meaning amongst the group using it. Our groups is gamers, and right now, the terminology for release schedules is fuzzy. I don't think it brings anything that couldn't be better accomplished with a game-by-game discussion of the release schedule. In the future, that may change and "episodic" will have some meaning as standard as "TV season", but not yet.

To sum it up: I agree that talking about these release content terms and phrases bandied about by developers and such is a good way for everyone to hash out what they think of their products/schedules. That said, I think things lie on such a gradient that these terms' usefulness is minimal and more importantly, the meaning behind the terms will vary substantially from person to person and group to group. When someone says episodic or expansion pack or whatever, I need a follow up description anyway, so I'd just assume they skip the label. I think that seems reasonable.

Staats wrote:
Certis wrote:
By defining episodic as a weekly/monthly release of game content, like Sam & Max, when we discuss it in the future we'll be clear what that means FOR US. You can't discuss the value of an approach without defining what that approach means to the group first.

Certis wrote:
By defining what something means for us, we reveal a lot about our personal views and how we think about the industry.

Total agreement on both.


How you can agree with the above statements, and then go to the following is mystifying. I honestly don't get what you're driving at. Is it as simple as "don't say episodic since you'll need to qualify it anyways"? That seems REALLY nit picky to me and not really all that useful to help along discussion.
I think things lie on such a gradient that these terms' usefulness is minimal and more importantly, the meaning behind the terms will vary substantially from person to person and group to group. When someone says episodic or expansion pack or whatever, I need a follow up description anyway, so I'd just assume they skip the label. I think that seems reasonable.

Running. In. Circles. I understand what you're saying, but I think now that we've sifted it right down to the bare essential here, it seems incredibly pedantic. As good an exercise as trying to define "episodic", I suppose

I'll leave you the last word, if you'd like to have it. I don't think we have much further to go on this one.

Certis wrote:

How you can agree with the above statements, and then go to the following is mystifying. I honestly don't get what you're driving at. Is it as simple as "don't say episodic since you'll need to qualify it anyways"? That seems REALLY nit picky to me and not really all that useful to help along discussion.

No, no, no, it's not so crazy, I promise

Originally my thought was "The definition of these words varies substantially from person to person and group to group, and the release content schedules are graded such that it's hard to draw lines. Rather than bother with a definition, I'd rather see the focus move on to what these schedules mean." That was all, and in retrospect I reiterated and rephrased it unnecessarily; I think you basically got it the first time.

I'm not trying to be nitpicky - just the opposite, I'd like to see the focus where it really matters. You listen to other gaming podcasts, right? The word "episodic" comes up, a long discussion on what "episodic" means ensues (generally without agreement), but by the end, little to no discussion on the merits and downsides has occurred. You had a solid discussion on the value of these release schedules, but often times in the process of defining nothing worthwhile is mentioned.

The rest was a reflection on a really good point you made - discussing the definitions can allow everyone to hash out how they feel about the release schedules, what these differing methods of delivering content means to them, etc. It establishes a dialog about episodic content and its ilk. The definition you come up with may only work in small circles, but it's the exercises, not the result that matters.

Gimme one more reply and I'll let it be: does the above make sense - that while I think these release schedule definitions are likely to cause misunderstandings and discussion on the topic is best served by avoiding them, I agree that defining them for the sake of examining the issue can be useful?

Gimme one more reply and I'll let it be: does the above make sense - that while I think these release schedule definitions are likely to cause misunderstandings and discussion on the topic is best served by avoiding them, I agree that defining them for the sake of examining the issue can be useful?

That makes much more sense, and it brings us back to the actual show no less! Yes, I don't want to get bogged down in constantly rehashing the question of what "episodic" means every time a new game comes out either. I think you can trust us not to do that, since we got it out of our system. Maybe

Demiurge wrote:
I do this at the risk of sounding like even more of a Telltale fan boy, but have you Episodic Game detractors tried Sam & Max yet? It's perfectly suited for this model, really.

I think adventure and somewhat casual games are perfect for episodic content. I love the Sam & Max episodes-- it's a fun diversion, and I don't mind waiting for the next episode. I can see how some people would dislike having to wait for the rest of the game, but for my part it keeps Sam & Max fresh.

Maybe it's because I'm wearing a suit today, but I think that the appeal of an episode/expansion vs. full sequal depends on the price and how many game options I have at the time.

3 episodes @ ~$20, released each year = 1 game for ~$60 every 3 years. I'll find things to do in between, I promise.

Maybe it was a typo? Using Word 2007 beta has known to cause issues.

Funny, I looked up the definition of "episodic" in the dictionary and it doesn't mean what I thought:

episodic |ËŒepəˈsädik| adjective containing or consisting of a series of loosely connected parts or events : an episodic narrative. • occurring occasionally and at irregular interval. broadcast or published as a series of installments. intermittent, sporadic, periodic, fitful, irregular, spasmodic, occasional. antonym continuous.

Certis, something I don't remember hearing in the podcast is the impact of episodic content on developers. The development of full games begins in a nebulous stage as technology and game ideas are fleshed out. Teams get more productive closer to the release date. In the final stages you usually find the best work done as developers have mastered their game and that game's tools. So the idea of episodic content is to capitalize on that period. With modern technology, developers can learn how players interact with their game, what works and what doesn't, and thus improve even further.

I think the only successful way of introducing episodic content is the WoW method - introduce 1 gigantic game that delays players long enough to sink into until the episodic content rolls out in fits and spurts. I resist the idea that episodic games = episodic plots. Game episodes don't need a regular schedule, just something often enough to keep you playing.

The trick is that with developers focusing most of their time on the programming side, it's made for making big games. Episodic structures almost force developers to spend more time on narrative structure and plot design, because all the "hard" stuff is already done.

The topic of episodic content was in a few shows but this was the first with it mentioned in the story lead that I could find while skimming through past shows.

When you were discussing episodic content, Valve was criticized for promoting the concept heavily with the Half-Life 2 episodes but then releasing only one so far with the second more than a year later. Well, Doug Lombardi agrees. I can't find it but another site had a longer quote where he said they're stuck with calling the episodes when the trilogy is actually Half-Life 3.