February 10, 2013

Resolution #5: Episodic Problem #1: Content

The first problem you are going to encounter when developing an episodic first person shooter is the variety of settings.  Even if you have all the code done in advance, building the art assets for the constant variety demanded by today's consumer takes a significant amount of time, effort, resources, and money.

You end up with a choice: either keep your episodic shooter in a small, enclosed area so you can reuse most of your assets but everyplace has that "samey" feeling, or go big, but lose the economies of scale that most other forms of episodic gaming get.

Take the following (now hypothetical) location lists, for example:

SiN Episodes 0: Deception

HARDCorps Headquarters
- Office/Meeting Space (Cutscenes only)
- Training Center
- Medical Bay (Cutscenes only)
Abandoned City
- Hospital Interior
- Street
- Destroyed Warehouse
SiNTek Office
- Mutagen Lab (Decrepit)
- Blade injection room
- Lobby
- Straightaway
- On/off ramps

SiN Episodes 1: Emergence

SiNTek Office
- Blade injection room
- Lobby
- Exterior
- Sewer
- Lighthouse
- Dockhouses
- Craneyard
- Warehouses
U4 Labs
- Dilapidated Sub
- Lab equipment area
Construction Site
Office Building
- Lobby
- Cube Farms
- Maintenance Area
- Building Exterior

SiN Episodes 2: Freefall

Forest (Limited locale)
Abandoned Aquarium/Zoo
- Tanks
- Caged Areas
- Maintenance/Vet Areas
Dam Under Repair
- Tractor beams
- Equipment railway
- Lab (Decrepit)
HARDCorps Headquarters
- Medical Bay (Cutscenes only)

Not much in the way of potential asset reuse here, is there?  Even if you are able to find pre-built assets for your game, assets are going to be a huge cost center for each new episode you choose to build.

Even for smaller games, the costs to create the worlds easily trumps the costs of creating the gameplay elements.  Take a look at "Defense Grid: The Awakening."  (No, seriously, take a look at it.  The game rocks.)  The basic elements of the game are rather straightforward: less than a dozen upgradable turrets and fifteen enemies that are reused on every single level, and a series of about fifty canned vocal blurbs that are used based on certain tower/enemy death combos.  However, each level has a unique look and feel (20 different environments), plus there is custom spoken dialog on every level.  The extra effort used to keep the same elements (enemies, weapons) from feeling "samey" costs a significant amount to create.

Telltale does a great job with their adventure games, but look more closely at how they construct their episodes the next time you play.  You spend a long time in each individual location and will often revisit locations between episodes, making it easier to justify spending the effort on the location.  They'll also do lots of modular work within an area so they can swap out, add or remove props to give an environment a new feel (Sam & Max's office, for example).

I'm not saying that this problem is insurmountable, but I am saying that this is a problem that will need to be solved before episodic first person shooters can truly become "episodic."

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