Video games could kill the TV star

0
Brian Crecente
Alan Wake

As game consoles become more like cable television
boxes, maybe it’s time for video games to start becoming more like cable
television shows.

Earlier this year, major cable providers Comcast and
Verizon both announced that they’d start delivering some of their
programming directly through the Xbox 360, forgoing the need for a cable
box for at least some of their channels.

It’s a move aimed directly at erasing the line
between television and gaming and how people consume their
entertainment. And it’s not just television making that move — the video
game industry too is looking to blur that line.

Last year, Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment
wowed gamers and critics with a narrative-driven action game that was
broken down into episodes like a television show. The biggest
difference, besides having control of the story you were watching
unfold, was that the entire “season” of “Alan Wake” was delivered on one
disc.

Last week, Remedy began showing off its visit to the
world of “Alan Wake” and took a bit of time to talk about the challenges
of creating video games that are like television shows.

Last year’s “Alan Wake” told the story of the titular
author slipping into a self-created world of horror and mystery
inspired by the works of authors like Stephen King. “Alan Wake’s
American Nightmare” is a standalone American Gothic tale inspired by
shows like “The Twilight Zone” and urban legends.

It’s also delivering on a promise made by the original game: It will be a download-only, self-contained “episode.”

While Matias Myllyrinne, CEO of Remedy, declined to
verify that “Alan Wake 2” was in the works, he still talked about its
hypothetical potential. He thinks, for instance, that it still might be
too soon to release an entire game as a series of downloadable episodes
over the course of a “season.”

“I’m not totally convinced gamers would be quite
ready for ‘Alan Wake 2’ as single chapter download,” he said. “From a
production point of view we would still need to have the entire game
done, even if doing weekly installments. But it’s certainly an
interesting line of thought and we’ll see how the future unfolds and
where ecosystems, gamer preferences and the market as a whole go.

“Personally, I think this would creatively be an
awesome move and would allow people to share these ‘watercooler’ moments
after an episode is released. And it could be an awesome way to pace
the narrative.”

In general, Myllyrinne added, today’s gamers are
becoming more accustomed to the idea of getting games in a variety of
ways for a variety of reason.

“‘Alan Wake’ was a perfect fit for episodic delivery
but ultimately it’s about what gamers are ready for and what they want,”
he said. “For the original ‘Alan Wake’s’ narrative, we went as far with
that as we felt comfortable — for now, we’re excited to change gears
with the property. We’ve always wanted to entertain the broadest
possible audience in the best possible fashion — we’re passionate about
that and it has fueled the development of ‘Alan Wake’s American
Nightmare.’”

Unspoken is the notion that “American Nightmare” is a
way for the developer to safely test the waters for big games delivered
in tiny pieces. Pacing a game through weekly deliveries of chapters
could do a lot for the industry. It would, for instance, deal with the
issue of a portion of the gaming population that struggles to fit their
hobby into their lives.

Games like “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” can take up
hundreds of hours of a person’s free time. While certainly entertaining
and an entertainment bargain, the idea of buying a game that can take up
so much time can be a turn off to some.

The original “Alan Wake” delivered a page-turner of
an experience, neatly tying up each of its chapters with a cliff-hanger.
It kicked off each new chapter with a television-esque round-up of what
had happened earlier in the game.

I’m certain that delivered weekly, such a video game
could not only entice an audience eager to more easily limit their
gaming time, but also drive interest and buzz much like a popular
television show does. It could also allow for experimenting with lower
costs games backed by commercial breaks.

Episodic gaming isn’t the entire future of video games, but it needs to be an aspect of it.

———

Brian Crecente is managing editor of Kotaku.com, a
video-game website owned by Gawker Media. Join in the discussion at
kotaku.com/tag/well-played.

———

© 2011, Kotaku.com (Gawker Media).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Distributed by MCT Information Services