By BigBob 1 Comments
Recently, Steam had the two Penny Arcade episodes for sale. Being a longtime fan of the webcomic, and never having played them, I figured it was a no-brainer to grab this deal. And it turned out to be well worth my time. The games were funny, clever, with an interesting battle system and fun adventure game-style puzzle solving. It's a shame that Hothead games decided to ditch episode three in favor of doing their own thing in the form of Deathspank, but I'll live.
However, the game do raise a curious question: how the hell are you supposed to make a video game based off of Penny Arcade? The comic strips are gag-a-day, with no overarching storyline. There's no adventure, no combat to speak of. Most of their jokes are based on licensed material. Since the Penny Arcade guys really wanted to make a game, they did the wise thing and figured out what their game would need most would be to feel like a Penny Arcade game. The art, the character design, the dialogue and the rapid-fire jokes...those are all in there. The gameplay makes callbacks to other video games, while still able to distinguish itself. While Penny Arcade will occasionally write a serious storyline just for a change of pace, the game is firmly self-aware and does not take itself seriously in the slightest. You can argue that the comic strip does not feature player characters hitting mimes with a rake, but all in all I think they nailed the experience.
It does make me think about other licensed games I've played an enjoyed, regardless of the source material. Aside from watching the two Batman movies in the last decade, I've never cared for him. Yet I played Batman: Arkham Asylum, and thought it was fantastic. Even for someone unfamiliar with the franchise's lore, I still felt right at home without the need to look up online to see who the characters were, and the gameplay itself was fantastic. A couple other licensed games come to mind, such as Astro Boy: Omega Factor for the Game Boy Advance. I have never watched an Astro Boy cartoon in my life, but that game is one of the most unappreciated gems of the GBA library, because it uses the Astro Boy license as a launching point for the gameplay, not just a tacked-on layer of paint. And of course, back in the day, Goldeneye was one of the greatest games for the N64, because it worked well with the source material.
Of course, there's a clear and obvious problem with licensed games: they're made just for a quick buck. It's easier to sell something with an established name on it, regardless of quality. The result is terrible games based off of movies, rushed out because they're the equivalent of action figures to the marketers. Tie-in merchandise with value only to the brand name. It'd be nice to just say "Marketers need to learn better so their games will stop sucking!" but that's been the advice for as long as games have been around, so this post isn't going to change anything. If anything the general public needs to learn better. I'm still amazed that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II was so hyped, considering the first wasn't even that good, and the fact that the Star Wars brand has been going downhill for a while now. It's all about getting the name out, I guess. That's why Call of Duty has been outselling each installment, because the simple fact that people are playing it means more people want to play it.
Which kind of leads into my next point, which is Episodic Gaming. Going back to Penny Arcade Adventures, Episode 3 was cancelled pretty much because the second game sold like crap. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. The first episode was just that: the first installment. The idea of a webcomic making a video game was pretty cool, and everyone wanted to see how it would turn out. Episode 2 wound up just as good as episode 1, but sold only a third as many copies. It's an ongoing storyline, and there were supposed to be two more episodes after this one, so Episode 2 just kind of fell by the wayside due to a lack of hype. The gameplay was different, but not radically altered in any way.
This isn't the first time this has happened. Xenosaga was meant to be a six-part series, but after episode 2 bombed, the developers quickly skipped to episode 6 just so they could "conclude" the series properly, which was probably a wise idea on their part. In the same time period, I've got to hand it to the developers of the .Hack series. I've never played the games, but they brought out each new installment on a timely schedule and finished the series the way they intended. Valve managed to avert this problem by distributing Half-Life 2: Episode 1 digitally; it was available to pretty much everyone who played Half-Life 2. Additionally, they packaged a bunch of games in The Orange Box, just so people could play the first games before Episode 2, the latest in the series. Though I have no idea where Episode 3 went...
A novel idea is the way Telltale games have been handling their adventure games lately: offer the entire season for a base price, and put out the games as needed. It worked well for Tales of Monkey Island, and a couple more episodes down the line, I might look into the Back to the Future games they're releasing. It's still too early to say out well this will work, but it's an interesting idea, at least.
Anyone have any ideas of how they would like to see episodic gaming implemented?