The whole idea of episodic stories was born in the 19th century when the printing press made cheap magazines possible. Writers like Charles Dickens hit upon the idea of delivering a big story in weekly chunks, each with a cliffhanger to keep the audience in anticipation. (The cliffhanger is essentially a technological invention — a direct result of the movable-type press.)
Dickens soon discovered that he could now do innovative things with his story. His characters’ personalities could be developed not through single, central scenes, but through a dozen glimpses over a long stretch of time. Serial narrative also changed the way audiences relate to characters. When we focus on movie characters for two solid hours, they become epic heroes; when we encounter TV characters every week for years on end, they become old friends. There’s an intimacy to episodic stories, and it’s all the more intensified in a game because you literally go through hell with these folks. —Clive Thompson —Tune in Next Week for Gaming Fun (Wired)
I’m watching this closely. Last summer I had time to play a whole bunch of video games (well, four or five commercial titles, which is a lot for me). But I got stuck in HL2, and though I’ve read few walkthroughs that tell me what I should do, I just simply haven’t felt motivated to get back into the game. HL2 taxes my computer system pretty heavily, and although I want to use the HL2 mod creator as part of my “New Media Projects” course this fall, I’m worried that the hardware requirements will make the project more stressful than it should be. (While I definitely want to use the HL2 engine to create my own educational mods down the road, I’m still not sure whether this is the 3D platform I want to introduce to my students.)
Because Valve is experimenting with selling games online, bypassign the retailers altogether, I’m not surprised that the company is putting out more frequent episodes.