The gaming trade is an industrious little entity. It exists as a unified ensemble derived of many fluctuating components, that can adapt to survive in any hostile environment. Striving even when creativity fails. It can also be a stubborn and devious little miscreant, undermining it’s own utilities by adhering to the conformity of what’s popular. As such games with similar concepts, configurations and general imitation saturate the increasingly polarising market with derivative emulations of the same game. Yet in some rare circumstances developers manage to convert a once reviled method of player interaction such as QTE’s into a beneficial resource. Context sensitive game-play has become an incredibly lucrative source of revenue for the likes of Telltale games, generating a substantial profit annually, with “The Walking Dead” accumulating 1 million units in sales in its first 20 days. The simple yet dynamic choice function is accessible to casual gamers with the episodic continuity providing prompt and compelling excerpts that can be completed quickly, even over the course of a weekend. Making these kind of expedient, straightforward games particularly attractive to gamers with limited skills or time. But the rise of content with such gameplay latency does leave you to wonder if episodic games are the future or merely a popularised convenience for lazy developers? When you think about it creating compelling content structured as interactive entertainment with finite elements of actual game-play is incredibly difficult to accomplish. So to ratify this a game needs to expedite game-play with a captivating narrative, something Telltale has successfully achieved with many licence properties, including securing the high profile content of both “The Walking Dead” and “Game Of Thrones.”
Being much more a fan of the latter you’d assume that I’d assert preferential bias towards the “Game Of Thrones” game, yet it was “The Walking Dead” that precipitated my immediate praise. Perhaps it was because I was unfamiliar with the overall affrays in the television show or graphic novel, but there was something odd about the Game Of Thrones game that never really appealed to me. In fact I really struggled to get any distinguishing features that provoked any enamoured response from either Game Of Thrones or The Walking Dead really. Though the art design was intentionally rendered as some sort of oil painting effect, it never really appealed to me. I struggled to form any kind of affinity with the characters which diminishes the intended peril if you don’t care what happens to them. Arguably the games most distinguishing feature and one it prides itself on, is enabling users to dictate characters reactions to potentially hostile situations which I found surprisingly restrictive. During an episode of Game Of Thrones I was instigating a rather hostile negotiation to parley the release of my brother in exchange for the kidnappers son, who’d been incarcerated at my behest. After some verbal pandering and general meek capitulation by my character an option appeared that basically prompted the death of practically everyone in the room, including myself! Now I’ll admit that I was riled into a petulant retaliation after enduring protracted smugness from my accuser, yet felt rather satisfied with the resulting provocation of swords and arrows piercing his and my own body. “Meeting adjourned” I quipped with contented glee. I thought it was the perfect representation of many a Game of Thrones meeting. Telltale appeared to disagree with this conclusion, immediately placing me back to before I had gone full Tarantino.
“I don’t think enough games promote the fun of walking.”
If you’re supplementing game-play for story, then it needs to be engaging. The game-play limitations should allow for a greater emphasis on story, depth to characters and the way that individuals perceive them. For instance if there is a character you’re not particularly fond of you can be more aggressive in conversation or just aloof by not saying anything. Yet the games reliance on 2 pivotal decisions belies the dramatic tension that has been steadily progressing through conversations, especially if a decision you make is wrong. Every conversational response you make prior to these affirming decisions are negated to mere subsidiary dialogue with little consequences other than a character remembering something you said. There shouldn’t be a wrong answer, no prohibitive penalties for fallibility. I’d like to feel that all of my decisions have implications, whether good or bad and aren’t simply hinged upon 1 vital decision, but a series of lesser compartmentalised resolutions. It’s also jarring when a button prompt you’ve initiated leads to a hostile response, yet seconds later they automatically revert back into passive tolerance? As such the dynamic feels very procedural as if you’re just going through the motions of a largely limited format. QTE’S and button prompts aren’t particularly riveting to me as I feel as though I’m participating in a vaguely pliable television show, which I guess is the point. There’s a catalogue of conventional games that lack any real narrative depth, but can compensate that with entertaining game-play. Here, if the stories or characters fail, then the game fails. I just don’t believe that you can adequately convey an interactive story with only partial intervals of actual game-play elements. I mean it’s likely you won’t remember events anyway with the interceding months between episodes you’re once again be establishing a connection with these people, identifying who is reliable or potentially dangerous.
“Where’s the button to look back wistfully?”
Of course this adaptive industry, again I’m referring to it as one objective entity, episodic formats aren’t exclusively limited to QTE’s as the primary source of interaction, with more contemporary games such as Resident Evil or Hitman adhering to the same structural partitions. Dividing content out over a period of months rather than all at once. Arguably having such elongated interludes creates disruptive coherency for players as they once again establish the controls, but these concepts are flourishing. Perhaps this is merely another stage in the evolution of gaming that I won’t entirely embrace. Not that I’m criticising the principal behind it. The whole point of a game being episodic is to create the illusion of a television show. To have each episode conclude with a cliffhanger that leaves you begging for more and encouraging players to participate in games that technically haven’t been completed yet. But there’s a huge difference between QTE driven exposition, relating behavioural decisions through negligible button prompts that can get decidedly monotonous and a horror, action adventure like Resident Evil that requires the ability to harness and progress a specific set of skills as you proceed, that will invariably be compromised by vast interludes between missions. How many times have you had to reaffirm you’re dominance in a game due to an absence? Of course I could be completely wrong and many of you may feel compelled to disprove my opinion, but as of right now I’m not convinced that the industry has actual evolved into something better.
What do you think of episodic or even QTE games? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers.