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Valve may reconsider episodic games

Valve may reconsider episodic games

After Half-Life: Episode 3, gamers will have a say in the future format of the series.

When Valve first announced that Half-Life 3 would be made out of three smaller, episodic games, nobody really knew what to think at first. Sure, episodic games sounded good in theory, but it was a risky strategy and whether or not it was worth gambling with one of the best games evar was something that polarised gamers into distinct sides.

My opinion on episodic games has been well known for a while now, but one thing nobody has ever really clarified is just what the honchos at Valve think of how episodic gaming is working out.

Do the advantages of staying closer to evolving tech and to the consumer’s desires win out over the disadvantages of a constant pressure on developers and more strict release schedules?

In a recent comment to CVG, Gabe Newell has cleared that up just a little and has said that, if the market wishes, Valve may reconsider continuing with episodic games after Half-Life: Episode 3.

"I think what we really want to do is have a couple of examples out there - Episode One, and how long it was to play and how long it took to develop, Episode Two, Portal and TF2 and then the third part of the trilogy; and then sit down with the community and say, 'OK, so what do you want?"

With any luck then, those who hate episodes won't have long to wait until the idea gets canned. The Orange Box is out in a few weeks and, judging by our recent hands-on preview of Portal, the package is shaping up nicely.

Personally, I think episodic gaming is a great thing but it just isn't well suited to the FPS genre due to the traditionally long development cycles. What do you think? Let us know in the forums.

35 Comments

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Fod 26th September 2007, 10:53 Quote
tbh it takes them so long to release a single episode they might as well move to a full release thing once more - at least my PC will be up to date by the time they have the next one out!
riggs 26th September 2007, 11:00 Quote
Well, I only got around to playing Ep1 the other week...played about 2 hours per night and finished it in 3 nights. I actually didn't mind the limited length of the game - the last year has seen my spare time diminish, so shorter titles are good for me.

The problem I've got is that there's still a long wait between episodes. 1½ years to develop a 6 hour(ish) game seems a bit too long imo...especially since most of the work had already been done (engine, character models etc).

What's the estimated play time of Episode 2 then? I'm assuming it'll be similar to Ep1?
Paradigm Shifter 26th September 2007, 11:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fod
tbh it takes them so long to release a single episode they might as well move to a full release thing once more - at least my PC will be up to date by the time they have the next one out!

Fully in agreement. For time taken on each episode, and the TCO greater than that of a single game, I don't really like episodic content - I can see why people might, but I don't. And that isn't even taking into account the possibility that if one episode is unpopular, that the whole thing gets canned.
steveo_mcg 26th September 2007, 11:01 Quote
With the development cycle of the HL episodes i thought it had already been canned for short expensive games which bore only a passing resemblance to an episode :p. Seriously though if TV took this long to make Jack Bower would have very very long days. I think the only game which comes to mind as working episcopally was Sam and Max but i never got into them.
Veles 26th September 2007, 12:12 Quote
Wasn't HL2 only like 8 hoursish anyway? Admittedly the big chunk of time for HL2 was spent on the source engine, but the episodes still keep building on the engine, adding new feature and the like. We're getting near HL2 length games for less than HL2 cost, and a lot quicker than HL2 took to make.
p3n 26th September 2007, 12:17 Quote
evar? Your spellcheck is seriously dusty :)

Loving the episodes so far, HL2 was an utter anticlimax being a whole 4 hours of gameplay, with episodes each are this sort length along with all the other goodies like engine upgrades (multithreaded source) that will hopefully allow ep2 and/or ep3 todo some crazy stuff with physics and/or graphics.

After all SP games tend to have their place on my steam list, back to the 'normal' section once they're done, whereas the MP version that I would see as an extra (and excellent value - orange box) lives on to fulfill 'everyday' gameplay (TF2 is awesome, espcially in competative games)
Zut 26th September 2007, 12:35 Quote
Nah, get rid!

When I first heard about episodic games, I thought 'Great! That means we can carry on with the story pretty soon!'. I envisaged that with the source engine done (lest we forget how long THAT took!), they could now bang out a couple of new hours of gameplay every couple of months, with maybe 6~10-ish in total. Very short, but frequent, like a TV show.

But rather than re-using the engine to extend the story, they're re-using the story to extend the engine! HDR lighting and fancy cinematic physics (or whatever it is coming up) are all very nice, but its the story and the freaking GAMEPLAY that I am bothered about!

Lets have HL3 as a proper game, please!
Darkedge 26th September 2007, 12:37 Quote
Eps1 was rubbish, more of a retarded platformer than a shooter, intelligent or otherwise.

I hope after eps 3 they do go back to full games as even waiting 3-4 years is better than dripfeed delayed short pap
will. 26th September 2007, 13:11 Quote
You kidding. Episode 1 may have been short, but it was not in any way rubbish and it was definitely not a retarded platformer. It introduced a far more in-depth character to the mix and you played along side in cooperation for a large part. The simple action of shining your torch on enemies so that Alyx could see them was brilliant.
naokaji 26th September 2007, 13:21 Quote
seeing how long valve takes between the episodes it is questionable if we really want to wait till 2013 (or so) for HL3... so maybe better stick with the episodes...
E.E.L. Ambiense 26th September 2007, 13:57 Quote
I still remember, as many of you do, that feeling and rush of playing HL2 for the first time and being totally blown away by the excellent in-depth thorough story, and the sheer volume of coolness that oozed from the game. Ep1 added to that, but I wanted more. More!

I really think I'd prefer them to just work on a full game. That way you'll have everything in one big awesome package, instead of having a 'fix' with episodes.
fargo 26th September 2007, 14:36 Quote
episodic gaming was a good idea but has become a dud. I expected at least two a yr but valve has
dragged out episode2 way too long I think they should have put all this time into hl3. I think their
intentions were good but just could not pull it off complete games are the way to go
knowyourenemy 26th September 2007, 15:00 Quote
I believe gamers are patient enough to wait for a long-lasting and memorable game... the episodic content is not necessary, to put it simply.
Redbeaver 26th September 2007, 15:37 Quote
i for one arent that patient. 1.5 year for a 3~4hr game? that sucks. really suck. especially when there are better games out there. i luv HL series, but the waiting in anticipation is getting frustrating. i wont even buy Ep.2 just coz im sick of waiting.
[USRF]Obiwan 26th September 2007, 16:02 Quote
I think of episode content as a 2 hour game progressing every 2 oe three months. Although i loved EP1 in the playing, i was somehow diseponinted in the shortness of it. I wanted to play more, longer. If the mod community can make a a nice singleplayer mod in 5 months. Why does it take valve 2 years to make a episode?

Ok, you have to work on the storyline, but they must have worked out the whole universe in storytime by now since the HalfLife universe started a decade ago. Damn i'm getting way to old for this sh!t What i miss from the original HalfLife is the puzzle solving involved, or am i the only one who loved that? I say bring back the puzzles and do less shooting. This way it will take me more time to play the game to!
proxess 26th September 2007, 19:50 Quote
If you think about it, HL2 game-play was 10h. It took them 6~7years. HL2:EP1 was 4h, it took them 2 years to make it. If you think carefully, they gave us more content in a smaller period of time. If HL2 was episodic, you'd have roughly 3h game-play every 2 years. TBH... as long as I can play Half-Life, I'm more than happy, I'm wetting myself in excitement! HL series <3
Crazyglue 26th September 2007, 20:10 Quote
im pretty sure the reason it took ep1/ep2 so long to come out was because for ep1, they had to come up with a new story to continue form hl2, and ep2 was probably done a long time ago, except they wanted to add tf2 and portal to the package, and those took a while to develop, etc...

so the time between each episodic release is justified, and for $45ish, getting 3 games (2 are single player, ep2 is prolly 5-6 hours of play, and portal could be up to 10 hours of play! i rly dont know :-/. and tf2 is multiplayer, so it will last as long as you feel like playing it, and from playing the beta, its pretty awsome.)
2JSC 26th September 2007, 20:28 Quote
I'd really, really like to see valve set aside 2-3 maybe even 4 years to develop a MASSIVELY long game, but chunk up the end as maybe a second episode. Instead of 1 game with 8hrs of play & 3 extra "episodes" with 6hrs... makes 2 episodes of like 8-9+ hrs each. I'm more than positive if they are working on the 2 as a whole game and then just splitting it, it could be out in 3-4yrs. And make for one hell of a story.
completemadness 26th September 2007, 20:35 Quote
the nice thing about episodic content is it has allowed valve to update the source engine for each engine, keeping a pretty outdated engine near the forefront

the downside, the engine is still cruddy and flawed, and their just milking it really, the games are far too overpriced (we payed almost as much for E1 (and/or E2) as we did for HL2, and E1 didnt come with CSS, etc etc), and it still takes them forever to make them
CardJoe 26th September 2007, 20:38 Quote
So many things wrong.

The plot for the episodes was laid down as far back as Half-Life 2, it just had to be broken up in the natural places. Marc Laidlaw did it all.

Ep 2 is taking just as long to develop because the engine difficulties of making Source do open spaces and cinematic physics. Portal was finished a while back IIRC. It's TF2 and Ep2 which are slowing THAT down.

Ep 2 is going to be 5 hours maximum, the same as Episode 1 (which took me 3 1/2 hrs). Portal has been completed by FPS noobs (literally, mums who've never played a game took part in the testing) in under four hours.

That's $45 for maybe 8 hours of gameplay and TF2, which shouldn't have taken so damn long and was bundled in to make up value.

Bear in mind that in the time it took Ep2 to be made, a single guy called Garry made all of Garry's Mod and progressed it from a community mod in version 8 all the way to a retail product called GMod 10. Then amateur modders used that to make SWEPS and replicate all of Portal that they could in a mod, whilst also developing dozens of multiplayer game types. They did that in their spare time.

I'm not saying Valve are lazy or anything, but the don't fully understand what episodic means. It should be closer to 4 hours of gameplay every two or three months with just a single game that costs a proportionate amount. If 10-12 hours of HL2 cost £30 then Ep1 and 2 should cost about a tenner each and they should be regular, say 3 a year.

As it is, they cost closer to £15 at start and then drop in price very fast, are very short and take far too long to develop bearing in mind that most of the textures and engine work is already in place. A company the size of Valve should be able to do things faster, IMO.

They need to remember it was never the tech which pushed HL forwards (Hl1 was on the Quake 2 engine practically!), it was the story. Stop fiddling with the engine and give us more Freeman, more regularly.
completemadness 26th September 2007, 21:02 Quote
I would like to see something like this

You pay £50, and you get 1 episode everyone month/4weeks/whatever for a year, that would be quite fun :)
CardJoe 26th September 2007, 21:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by completemadness
I would like to see something like this

You pay £50, and you get 1 episode everyone month/4weeks/whatever for a year, that would be quite fun :)

Unless I was getting a fixed amount of reliably good content, I'd never sign up to that. I doubt I'd do it even for Valve. They can't even deliver on current release dates, so I'm not risking cash.
Hamish 26th September 2007, 22:17 Quote
episodic gaming could've been great if they'd chucked out a new episode every few months for relatively cheap
ie, if it has been properly episodic as opposed to being expansions in all but name
Bungle 26th September 2007, 22:26 Quote
I doubt Episodic content will take off on Computer games. The industry is too inconsistant with titles of the same series let alone ones that would continue a story. The best we can hope for is maybe games that play from a different perspective within the same storyline. Something like what Starcraft did.
completemadness 26th September 2007, 22:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Unless I was getting a fixed amount of reliably good content, I'd never sign up to that. I doubt I'd do it even for Valve. They can't even deliver on current release dates, so I'm not risking cash.
even if they only delievered 2 epsidoes, it would still be better value then the current system, plus valve gets to sit on our money for most of a year
Bladestorm 27th September 2007, 10:00 Quote
At least as for why they did it, my understanding went as such :

They spent most of 10 years making HL1, at the end a lot of the staff decided they would retire/move to easier jobs instead of starting from scratch and grind away to make a sequel.

They then spent most of another 10 years making HL2, including building the team back up, making everything from scratch again.

After HL2 they decided they really didn't want to start from scratch, throw away the tools, engine they'd spent 10 years on and lose a part of the team again to start over and spend 10 years making HL3, so they went for the more relaxed option of making HL2 episodes where they would get to keep using the engine and tools they had, presumably they relaxed the staff hours and such at the same time - sort of a valve developer's semi-holiday if you will ;) (Where holiday means not having to work 16 hours a day to try and get something out anywhere near a release date)

For myself I'm susprised at the time numbers being thrown out, HL2 took me some 20 or so hours and Ep1 something like 6 (maybe 7/8) hours I think, though I am the sort of person that investigates every nook and cranny and sight-sees a bit along the way.
Da_Rude_Baboon 27th September 2007, 10:37 Quote
I agree with Joe completely. There should a steady stream of short episodes at a lower cost. As well as advancing the main story it would be nice to have short episodes were you play as Alex, Barny or even Dog which fill in the parts of HL2 when you were separated from them.
DXR_13KE 27th September 2007, 21:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Da_Rude_Baboon
I agree with Joe completely. There should a steady stream of short episodes at a lower cost. As well as advancing the main story it would be nice to have short episodes were you play as Alex, Barny or even Dog which fill in the parts of HL2 when you were separated from them.

i agree with him

edit: just want to add, what about sin episodes? they were episodic and now they are gone.... can anyone make a game using that story and idea?
CardJoe 28th September 2007, 07:50 Quote
Sin Episodes was one of my fave games - I loved how accessible it was and how well the dynamic difficulty worked. I was constantly in the sweet spot of gaming.

Unfortunately, since Ritual was bought out bu MumboJumbo it means the copyright is still owned but that the project will not be completed.
Bungle 28th September 2007, 09:35 Quote
Do you think Episodic gaming is best suited to RPGs? Would help the emersiveness if you could continue your character through to the next chapter. Guildwars is something along the lines of what I'm thinking. Extra titles that expand the story but allow you to revisit the begining should you have missed something (or forgotten due to inactivity). Seems to me RPGs are the way to go with this type of content.
Silver Shamrock 28th September 2007, 09:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bladestorm
At least as for why they did it, my understanding went as such :

They spent most of 10 years making HL1, at the end a lot of the staff decided they would retire/move to easier jobs instead of starting from scratch and grind away to make a sequel.

They then spent most of another 10 years making HL2, including building the team back up, making everything from scratch again.

I'm sorry, but you're saying they stated work on HL1 in 1988? And they then started work on HL2 four years before HL1 was finished?
Bladestorm 28th September 2007, 11:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Shamrock
I'm sorry, but you're saying they stated work on HL1 in 1988? And they then started work on HL2 four years before HL1 was finished?

Looks like I've mis-remembered the dates, it's probably just that they reckoned that an all-new HL3 would take 10 years, after (having now looked it up) the first took them almost 3 years and the second 6 years. I'm fairly sure I remember the reasoning right though, including a lot of team members quitting after the first, including one of the co-founders/lead developers.
woof82 28th September 2007, 11:08 Quote
Quote:
the episodes still keep building on the engine, adding new feature and the like. We're getting near HL2 length games for less than HL2 cost, and a lot quicker than HL2 took to make.

I agree with this.

Personally I really like the episodes. I don't want to see "hl3" on the same engine as hl2, that's not right. I want hl3 to come out in 2012, to be brand new, to be, once again, revolutionary in FPS, pushing the 3d world to its limits. I'm so fed up with manufacturers pretending to have produced a new game but it's just the old engine with a few extra features and slightly more progressed story line. (re: GTA which got more and more boring after GTAIII until it was unbearably bad).
woof82 28th September 2007, 11:30 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Redbeaver
i for one arent that patient. 1.5 year for a 3~4hr game? that sucks. really suck. especially when there are better games out there. i luv HL series, but the waiting in anticipation is getting frustrating. i wont even buy Ep.2 just coz im sick of waiting.

If ep1 took you 3 hours you CLEARLY weren't playing it right.
Quote:
Originally Posted by [USRF]Obiwan

Ok, you have to work on the storyline, but they must have worked out the whole universe in storytime by now since the HalfLife universe started a decade ago. Damn i'm getting way to old for this **** What i miss from the original HalfLife is the puzzle solving involved, or am i the only one who loved that? I say bring back the puzzles and do less shooting. This way it will take me more time to play the game to!
Everyone likes the puzzles, that's what made it so successful. Did you even play ep1? It was mostly puzzles ya'know...

Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe

As it is, they cost closer to £15 at start and then drop in price very fast, are very short and take far too long to develop bearing in mind that most of the textures and engine work is already in place. A company the size of Valve should be able to do things faster, IMO.

They need to remember it was never the tech which pushed HL forwards (Hl1 was on the Quake 2 engine practically!), it was the story. Stop fiddling with the engine and give us more Freeman, more regularly.
Ep1 cost me £9.99
They add bits to the engine, it's not like they're just pumping out maps with predefined AI and generic story lines. HDR? yeah... and new challenges models and textures.
If they gave you more freeman more regularly there would be nothing exciting and new and you would whine about it being bland and boring.. "too much of the same," etc. This is what I like about valve so much, they don't release crap, they have the stones to make us wait until they have finished something GOOD. Think about how much they scrapped from hl2 beta. Yeah, it wasn't good enough, so they made us wait. And guess what? It was amazing.

It is not possible to have a good game that comes out quickly and doesn't cost much. That's like asking for a new ferrari for £29,995 and you want to pick it up tomorrow.




Quote:
Originally Posted by Bladestorm

For myself I'm susprised at the time numbers being thrown out, HL2 took me some 20 or so hours and Ep1 something like 6 (maybe 7/8) hours I think, though I am the sort of person that investigates every nook and cranny and sight-sees a bit along the way.
He's playing it right.
CardJoe 28th September 2007, 12:07 Quote
The puzzles in Ep1 were ridiculously easy for starters and the point about the tech is that it isn't needed. If they want to fiddle with the engine then they should give it a big overhaul and make a big game. If they want to make small, regular games then they need to see that they'll have to leave the engine as it is for a bit and not try and advance it in a load of small areas. The commentry section I can forgive, but parts like HDR add essentially nothing to the game.

As for the whole "releasing it regularly would make it less exciting" thing, well if that were true then it would be fairly indicative of a bad story and bad game. There are plenty of regular, timed and similar releases in all media (especially tv series and comics or books) that continue with the same limited budget and are still utterly enthralling. Have you watched Lost or Heroes?

For the record, I look in every nook and cranny too. I play my games to death, over and over again and with a great deal of attention. You don't want to know how long I spent on Deus Ex. As it is though, there's very little hidden extras in a game like HL and a lot of the story is actually told outside of the game and HL doesn't tell you a lot of the story at all (why are the combine here, what relation was Nihilanth to the combine, why is Gman not in Ep1, why are the vorts now free, etc). I know the answers to these questions, but a lot of it didn't come from the game.

In fact a lot of the extra stuff is hidden where everyone finds it easily anyway. The clipboards in Elis office and clicking again and again on the Vortigaunts and Barney.

The only thing I can think of that I had to go out of my way to find was the hidden vortigaunt in HL2 and even then he doesn't say anything new.

I spend ages admiring my games and I love HL to death - but I still did HL2 in 9-10 hours (2-3 hours short of the expected time, even on hard mode) and I still finished Ep1 in 3 hours, an hour shorter than most.

As for the textures and new models etc, a lot of that was just reused in Ep1. Ground textures, character anims etc are mostly the same. That's why there's only two new badguys (stalker and Zombine) and no new weapons to balance. With that in mind, the dev time should have been dramatically less.
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