The amount of new maps and mods has taken a dip recently, although there seems to be a few good ones on the horizon, that didn’t stop me from wondering…
Is the lack of new mods due to episodic content?
I’ve been a vocal opponent of Episodic release for Half-Life 2, especially for mods, right from the beginning. I’ve published a few rants before and I want to publish another one.
I know that it’s probably a waste because Valve have already said that they are reconsidering the concept with regard to HL4, (Remember Episode One, Two and Three are consider Half-Life 3 by Valve) but I still need to write it.
Perhaps my problem lies in how I define an Episode. Maybe you define it differently but here is mine:
An episode is a short, self-contained release, that allows the viewer/player the opportunity to watch/play the episode without having to have prior knowledge of any previous work. The episode will probably also contain a deeper, longer running storyline.
Now that may seem overly defined but to me it’s very important. Otherwise what you release are Parts.
What’s the difference? Well, I say a lot. A part requires the previous releases to have been seen/played to get the most from it, not always but generally. Can you imagine watching The Matrix Trilogy or Lord of the Rings out of order? I can’t. They are not episodes but parts.
Let’s use TV for some other examples. One of the few TV shows I regularly watch is Scrubs. I can miss an episode and watch the next one and still enjoy the show, it’s better if I have seen the previous one but not essential. There’s a longer running story that is referred to but again not knowing the details doesn’t spoil the show.
However, another TV show I watch is Stargate Atlantis and whilst this is also released in episodes I feel that the long term story has greater emphasis than in Scrubs. I never watch an episode out of chronological order.
Clearly episodes can have different forms but they still stand as individuals.
Episodes have been compared to magazines and full-length games to novels. I like the comparison because it gives me the feeling I can dip in and out of the episodes without becoming too immersed. Perfect for when I have an hour or two to kill. However, if I want something I can really get my teeth into then it has to be a book.
Regarding the definition of the term perhaps George Carlin explains it better (Warning, strong language in that video!)
One of my biggest problems with episodic releases is that mod teams suddenly decided that this was fantastic and perfect for making mods. Many quickly decided that their mod was perfect for episodes and changed their release schedule.
I have a number of issues with this. Firstly, to my knowledge no SP mod has been released in real episodes yet. Don’t even think of mentioning Minerva, which I’ll discuss in a moment. Some are close to releasing the second episode but most of the advertised episodes seemed to have disappeared. So the widely heralded benefit of being able to make smaller releases just hasn’t happened.
Most mods don’t have enough professionalism to hold groups together for long periods of time. The team members just can’t do it. Some of the best mods released recently have been one or two man affairs. (Union , Offshore, Forward Motion etc). Sure there are some mods teams that release great work, but that’s not related to the episodic release model at all. They would release great work whether or not they followed that idea.
Now, the next issue I have is with the storyline. Suddenly splitting your story into parts doesn’t make it an episode. An episode needs to be carefully written and each should really form a whole not just neatly cut sections. Now, most mods rarely tell a good story anyway so splitting the story into pieces doesn’t help at all. Mod teams still need to understand that writing a mod story is a specialist field and requires specialists. The problem is that everybody has an idea but not everybody can map or model. Therefore everybody thinks that can write a story. Another problem is that most SP Stories are not stories at all, just situations, but that’s a whole new article!
Minerva, is a fantastic piece of work in three PARTS. Yes, parts not episodes. I can’t play the parts individually without playing the others, well, technically I presume I can but who would want to? Another point is that each part isn’t a standalone work. The screen going black in an elevator doesn’t make it an episode. Now you may disagree and I am sure the Minerva fanboys won’t be happy. But I stand by my viewpoint. Whatever my opinion of the complete work, it shouldn’t be described as episodes.
Adam foster, the author of Minerva, has said, and I quote from memory here, “that any modder that doesn’t release in episodes is an idiot”. I believe that any modder that releases in episodes without first really understanding what they are doing is an idiot. Not all mods should be released as episodes (I’m not saying Foster said this) because not all work is suitable. Doing it just because other people are is just “The Emperor’s New clothes“ for modding!
Some mods are better as short single releases. Just the same as some stories require 500 pages and other make great short stories.
One last point before I move onto my latest grievance, and that is What did mods do before episodes? They released PARTS of course. You only need to look at my list of Half-Life mods to see a number of releases in this format. What’s wrong with the previous method for mods? How in fact is it any different from releasing in parts the way mods used to? For normal mods NONE. For new games or total conversions with a whole range of new assets to create a lot.
Has the gaming community succumbed to falling for using words or phrases just to sound cool? (Actually I suppose we have been more guilty of it than most other industries or areas, with the exception of “Management Speak“)
Actually I would argue that the releases so far that have been called episodes have in fact been parts not real episodes.
You could also argue that if something continues from exactly the finishing point of the previous release it’s a part not an episodes, but perhaps that’s just my personal definition.
I can definitely see the possible benefits for new IP games but for established developers I think it brings negative aspects. Which brings me to now. Why have I written another article? Well, besides making me feel better, I feel that Valve has damaged the modding community by deciding to release HL3 as the three episodes.
Damage is perhaps too strong a word for it, maybe “deincentivevized” the modding community. They have removed, or at least not added, the incentive to make new mods with the new episodes.
Putting aside any financial implications and other issues of their episode releases, let’s look at the mod releases. You only need to view the list of Episode One and Episode Two mods to see that there really hasn’t been that much released. At least in comparison with Half-Life 2. I believe the reason is that there is not enough new content in each episode to convince mappers to make new mods. Whilst you could argue that the lack of releases are due to the time scale involved I believe that would be taking the easy way out. That could easily be countered by arguing that the familiarity with the editor should have compensated for the low number of releases.
Episode Two has more chance because it introduces something new, but Episode One hasn’t received much attention. Now, as much as I have faith in Valve releasing an absolutely stunning Episode Three, I am seriously worried that unless it offers a huge load of new content then modders won’t start making mods for it.
I worry that many have moved onto newer engines, Crysis being the main one. They have almost split the modding community and made it hard to choose which game to mod for. I guess that if they hadn’t released the episodes we would be closer to a full HL3 than we are to an Episode Three. Perhaps the timing would be exactly the same, who knows but I am convinced that if Episodes One, Two and Three would have been released as a full game then modders would be as excited about it as they were for Half-Life 2!
I truly believe, and it seems you do to, that Valve should have released HL3 as a full game and maybe sub-contracted some side stories as episodes, just like they did with Opposing Force and Blue Shift.
One last point is that not everybody who owns Half-Life 2 has bought HL2: Ep1 and Hl2: Ep2. Now, that was probably never going to happen but why would modders build mods for games that don’t have the same market/community penetration as HL2?
What motivation is there to move onto the new game? Just a few new assets, is that really enough? I don’t think so.
Perhaps you think I am worrying for nothing and you are probably right, but in the short term things have gotten a little quite on the modding front and since Episode Three probably won’t be released until late 2009, things could get worse. We are due a few long-term projects but not much specifically released for Episode 2.