Episodic games, when done right, can be a terrific treat. In short 2-3 hour bites, a $20 purchase can last upwards of a meaty 10 hours. The most successful episodic games of late have probably been Telltale‘s Monkey Island and Sam & Max series, combining terrifically-written plots mixed in with memorable characters and settings.
Notice something about those successful picks? If you guessed “they’re all adventure games,” then pin a rose on your lapel.
Want to know another incredible adventure game? Heavy Rain.
Over the last few years since I’ve been married (and especially since my daughter was born) gaming has been relegated to short bursts of 1-2 hours at a time, much like my TV viewing habits. Episodic and casual games have been a terrific way for me to continue to play what I like, especially when divided into chapters or include save-anywhere features. Episodic adventure games fit my lifestyle perfectly.
When Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain released a couple months back, it was mostly treated to general praise from critics and gamers alike. The visuals border on Hollywood-level realism, the writing can be measured up against any cable crime drama, and the characters are memorable and involving. Built around a linear story-telling mechanic (even with some of its branching plot points) it was able to keep the us, the players, feeling as if we had emotional ties invested to the story. Playing with a virtual son never felt so… redeeming. DLC has even been released recently that fills in some of the back story of character Madison Paige.
So it can be natural, then, that an episodic Heavy Rain “series” be released to PSN. Much like the aforementioned Telltale games, this can be released on a regular basis. The difference here is that HR is much more a parallel to prime time television than to traditional gaming, and much more able to appeal to a broader audience than just the core.
Here’s the pitch:
- Six monthly episodes, starting in May and by-passing the typical TV sweeps, complete one full “season” of the show.
- A consistent story arc with enough optional choices to make each episode play-through seem fresh. These choices are reflected in subsequent episodes, via commentary by the characters or actual storyline changes.
- Revel in the uncanny valley. Visuals that rival TV and movies will continue to make headlines, especially when trying to compete with the Summer blockbuster months. Heck, 3D might even be an option.
- Sci-fi? Suspense? Action? While any genre may work, keeping to the Suspense of the original game may be easier to swallow for the potentially increased audience. Remember: we’re not selling incredible action or point-totals, but a complete story and the game mechanics that support it. And speaking of story…
- Story story story. Heavy Rain had a lot of “fat” and slow points within it that either taught mechanical aspects or allowed for pseudo-sidequesting. A series would need each episode to be to-the-point, yet as easy to control as possible.
- Slightly simplified controls. The first 2 hours of Heavy Rain were used as a tutorial, before building to an emotional twist. An entire episode devoted to tutorial could turn off newcomers to the game before the series even begins. A built-in tutorial would have to be more emotionally engaging from the onset, and perhaps provide minimal interaction options as its introduction. No, not FMV. The game should be fun to watch AND play.
- Professional actors as the voices. The voice acting in HR left much to be desired. Going directly to Hollywood for voices may also bring some character legitimacy in the eyes of the player. It worked for Mass Effect 2, right?
- Previews, commercials, proper marketing. If this is going to be sold as a rival to TV shows, it needs to act (and be marketed) like them. Including the popular style “next time on Heavy Rain” closing preview bumper at the end of each show, as well as “previously on Heavy Rain“, will keep gamers excited about future episodes and create a recap for new players. Don’t forget commercials for each episode, spread across our actual TVs and PSN.
- Encourage social media. Part of the popularity of shows like LOST is the social media coverage that has sprung up around it. Twitter conversations, podcasts theorizing about story arcs, and Facebook groups are only a small amount of the way that the show stays in the public eye. Grassroots is key here, so this series would do best to follow suit.
- Accessible price point. Absolutely no more than $8/episode. Competing with TV that can be free over the air or on Hulu, a value-hungry consumer would pass up the game if its episodes reach double digits in cost.
- Season finales are a big deal. Encourage viewing/playing parties, tie up loose ends, and push for a date that will allow people to talk about the game the next day at work. This could be valuable if a second season is ever discussed.
- Box set. Sell the game as a box set the day after the finale “airs”. Have it available in stores with plenty of additional content, such as biographies, collectibles, and director commentary tracks. Maybe even include a voucher for the first episode of season 2.
Heavy Rain is screaming for some type of continuation. Even if the characters, story, and setting are different than the original, the base mechanic is strong enough to build several iterations upon.
Sound off! Tell us your thoughts about what an episodic Heavy Rain game could be like, and if it’s a good idea or bad.