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.
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.
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.