Episodic Games

in Tips and Tricks

Something I’ve seen a lot of recently, and have seen done especially often with RPG Maker, is taking a game, and splitting it in to bit sized episodes for release.

There are plenty of upsides to this. It gives you smaller goals to works towards. It lets you get feedback on one episode while you work on the next.

But there are plenty of mistakes that people make when writing an episodic title. The structure of an episodic story has to be told differently. You can’t just cut up a longer game.

One episode is just his right leg.

One episode is just his right leg.

If you take a single long game, that is structured cinematically: set up==>conflict==>resolution, and try to cut that into episodes, it just doesn’t work.

The structure will be completely wrong. You will have episode after episode of set up. Then conflict, and then probably a single episode or two of nothing but resolution. The episodes won’t have enough pay off for someone to want to come back to the game for an episode 2.

Episodic content relies on EACH episode having a set up==>conflict==>resolution structure. You have to break down your story into bite sized pieces, that tell several stories, not just one story, that all tie together.

The best example of this is the game Dragon Quest IX. Despite not being released episodically, it was STRUCTURED very episodically.

Still the best RPG on the DS.

Still the best RPG on the DS.

In the beginning of the game we get a goal of collecting benevolessence: Basically building up goodwill and happiness for something good happening. That meant we got to travel to several towns, and solve the problems that people have there there. Each problem was its own little self contained story.

Then after we do that, we are tasked with recovering the Fyggs, the fruit from the Yggdrasil that fell to the planet. You travel to an abbey to learn the abbot has ingested a glowing fruit, then follow him to an old tower to fight the Fygg possessed version of him to recover it. Then travel to a town where a young girl is suddenly able to summon the Leviathan and find out the Leviathan is actually her dead father with the power of another Fygg trying to protect her.

I’ll try to hold off on too many more to prevent spoilers, but the point being: Each of the parts of the game is its own story. They have their own characters, each with their own struggles that you see unfold. They all fit into the central plot, but they have their own plots.

Each time you finish one of the stories, you feel a sense of closure. THAT is how an episodic game should be structured.

Have you ever made an episodic game? Do you plan to? What advice do YOU have for people who are attempting to break their game into smaller pieces? Join us in the comments below.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Peace Boy

    I think a good example is the Ace Attorney series, except it’s not an RPG. I don’t know any RPG episodic games except I have played DQIX, but I didn’t think of it as episodic.

  • Cloud_FFVII

    Release an episodic game is not an easy task, I’m living that with my game: Empty Soul (www.emptysoul.clorithapps.com), like it says, you need to develop a small story in every chapter and give it a good conclusion, it’s something that keeps the player connected and interested in the game.

    It’s not simple to keep the atmosphere when telling a story, and the characters and the time-line. You have to be able to bring something new every episode and, at the same time, don’t repeat the old stuff (unless it’s part of the story itself).

    I think it’s a good experience to do this kind of games, you learn alot, you bring new surprises and twists to the players, it gives you the time to experiment what people like and you use that feedback to improve the future development.

    With all that, if you plan to develop the game in both languages, well, add alot of extra work there….but trust me, worth the time when you see the final result.

  • Christina Freeman

    Most tabletop RPGs are very good examples of content demonstrating the episodic structure you are talking about, Nick.

    Good campaigns tend to have linked themes, that often revolve around the episodic structure. Such campaigns feature modules and adventures that also follow this process. Adventures are often broken down into sessions, which are themselves ideally turned into episodes. In addition, most encounters are also episodic in nature.

    That is, the set up => conflict => resolution cycle occurs right down throughout the entire process, from the overarching campaign right down to the encounters themselves.

    One key bit of advice to bring players back to the game – don’t end on the resolution of the cycle, but on the set up of another cycle. This creates a cliffhanger that can be used to get players anticipating what is to come.

    Closure is good, but full closure gives players an exit point – if they feel resolved or burnt out, then they can leave satisfied that they know enough about the story to leave it. But by only closing some of the more pressing threads, and even opening new ones, the players can be drawn back into the world to allow the story to continue.

    Just remember that if you start a plot thread, you are promising to close it. Players get bored if the same plot threads are left dangling time after time. Having the main villain escape repeatedly becomes stale, and gives the sense that they will never be caught and permanently defeated. If the players never get to discover “the truth”, then they will stop caring about looking for it.

    Instead, try to design things so that closed plot threads instead end up opening new ones. Defeating the villain to discover that they are part of a bigger organization, having a henchman break off to become their own villain, and having the players have to deal with the aftermath of their actions are all classic ways to achieve this.

    • Joshua Warhurst

      Even for the players who aren’t burnt out, if you don’t provide some clue that there is more to come, they might think that you actually haven’t planned anything ahead or that you have nothing else up your sleeve.

  • Joseph Sanz

    i made the first chapter of my game just recently 🙂 and yes i tought in being a game for itself, even when the episode one is only the introduction of the story and only covers a less than 3 hours on the world time of the game, still tell a complete story with introduction to the world, basic data and enviroment, intense battle section and then a hard final boss, leaving you with an ending of all that intro full on drama, and ending exactly at the moment of the reborn of the character, leaving what i think is a good cliffhanger of wanting to know in what the protagonist has become and what will happen next 😀 the demo is only fully made on spanish by now, but if someone want it in the official page is the link https://www.facebook.com/groups/ia2061/

  • Dominic

    I very much like the idea of an episodic Format for a game.
    I have one question though. How do you make sure, Players can continue in Episode 2 where they left in Episode 1? Having the same amount of items, money, skills, XP and so on? Did you use a plugin or program this feature yourself?

    Sadly, I have minimal skills in coding with Javascript. =(
    Thanks for the great read and your inputs!

  • Luis Ferreira

    My advice is that you don’t use 3 acts (set up-problem-resolution) but instead use 5 acts MEETING to show your world and characters to the player
    Followed with PROBLEM where you present the problem that is going to be there until the end of the game or just the episode
    Then COMPLICATION a change on the hero situation or some event that make things even harder to the hero
    And then what the ACT CURTAIN as a final situation where the hero is left in a state of despair as far as the player can tell there is no more hope for the hero
    Finally the RESOLUTION where somewhat of a miracle may happen and the hero prevail and everyone is happy ever after
    These is a difficult method but makes it for a more emotion game if used right
    An extra note on the subject of story creating.
    If you ever get stuck and can’t think of a way to progress your story
    Stop thinking from the hero side and think
    What is the villain going to do now
    I find that going into the villains mind help to move forward when stuck