Ritual Entertainment and Valve have been making headlines lately for producing $20 game "episodes" rather than full games. However, according to Epic Games VP Mark Rein—one of the heads behind the Unreal game series—this episodic approach is a "broken business." During a keynote speech at the Develop Conference in the United Kingdom, Rein made the following statement:
Customers are supposed to buy half a game for $20, then wait six months for an episode? When I put a game down, I want to try a new one. Episodic games that offer faster turnaround will inevitably be using a lot of recycled content, walking through the same environments and shooting the same enemies with the same weapons.While Rein was called a "dinosaur" for his allegations, his concerns over content repetition do make sense. Half-Life 2: Episode 1 recycled its fair share of assets from Half-Life 2, for instance, and altogether shorter development cycles for game episodes do give artists and designers less time to vary content. This limitation could be remedied on the programming front, though. As an article on About.com points out, a technique called procedural synthesis lets developers replace some art with algorithms. Setting aside the article's questionable claims about "games that never age," procedural synthesis can serve to intertwine art and code in order to vary game content.
The technique is already used to some extent in games like The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, where trees are generated dynamically to ensure that no two are alike, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. Will Wright's upcoming title Spore seems to really demonstrate how procedural synthesis can be used to make game content completely variable. In a presentation titled "The Future of Content" earlier this year, Wright showed off how Spore allows players to shape game content thanks to elaborate "building blocks" and the game's procedural synthesis algorithms. If such techniques were implemented in episodic games, could they help provide sufficient variation to keep episodes fresh without requiring mounds of new art? Thanks to Joystiq and Shacknews for the links.
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