The Strength of Episodic games like The Walking Dead
Episodic games have become highly popular recently with Capcom jumping into the fray with their Resident Evil: Revelations 2 episodes finishing up last month. But the developer that has mastered the art of episodic gameplay is easily Telltale Games. They’ve been developing episodic games for years, but in 2012, they seemed to reach their stride when they adapted the popular post-apocalyptic television series The Walking Dead into an episodic video game. The episodes sold millions and defined what episodic gameplay looks like. Season Three of The Walking Dead video game is set to release sometime later this year, and in light of the anticipation that fans are experiencing right now to play the game, it’s worth noting what makes this game and episodic games in general so popular.
Episodes imply some sort of narrative structure. Many of the most popular games have story at the heart of them. Games like Final Fantasy, Destiny, and even the last several Call of Duty games have featured a complex storyline that is a primary element of the game. Players aren’t just playing a game that is fun; they’re going on a journey with characters who are often deep and complex. Some games feature branching storylines, which could go in a number of different directions depending on player choices, but ultimately end up with the same ending. Developers have begun to see the appeal players find in being able to shape a game’s narrative by their choices. Episodic games are the perfect opportunity to take players on a narrative journey that is structured somewhat like a television series, and yet give players control over what happens. Imagine being able to influence what happened on your favorite TV show. That’s the power that some episodic games give to players, and The Walking Dead is arguably the most successful at it.
The Walking Dead begins with an announcement that the game adapts to the choices a player makes throughout the course of the game. The first season began with Lee Everett, a convicted criminal being transported by a police officer. The player controls the choices about what Lee says in response to the officer and what Lee does once the car crashes and he discovers that the cop has been turned into a zombie. Of course, player choices are limited. Unlimited autonomy for a character in a game would be impossible, but Telltale has created plenty of threads that could go in a variety of directions, and and these little choices along the way really do impact the way the game is played later on. Situations are brought about by what happens earlier in the game, and this gives the game replay value because you can make different choices and bring about different situations each time you play the game.
Not all games follow the branching storyline format, and those games tend to feel more rigid. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is a fun game as far as episodic content is concerned, but many players would argue that the game would be even more fun if it followed The Walking Dead in giving players more choices to shape the storyline of the game.
Episodic games give developers the opportunity to offer players the chance to try out a game for a lower purchase price instead of buying the whole game. If a player ends up liking the first episode of The Walking Dead and wants to continue, then they can decide to buy the next episodes in the series. Of course, if you buy the episodes separately, you may end up paying more for a whole season than if you bought the complete season in one purchase. Still, it’s a relative low risk to just try an episodic game out. If you don’t like it, you can stop there.
With Season Three coming out later this year, one of the aspects of the game that players look forward to is the anticipation for the next episode. It’s been that way for the last two seasons, and Season Three will once again give players that experience. It’s unclear on what the storyline will be in the third season, or whether or not we’ll see Clementine, but if the success of the previous two seasons is any indication, fans won’t be disappointed by what Telltale comes up with in their version of what happens in the world of The Walking Dead.
Be on the lookout for Telltale to announce more details about The Walking Dead: Season Three.