Spanking Death: Ron Gilbert Goes Episodic... And Loves It
June 30, 2008 Page 3 of 7
As someone who covers the industry every day, it's sort of remarkable. When a publisher announces its initial release timeframe, it really is sort of a given that it's going to end up being one, two, maybe three quarters later. I mean, I always wonder why publishers don't just automatically assume games are shipping six months after they're announced - and then I think, "Well, how do I know? Maybe they already are taking that into account."
RG: Well I could tell you. I could tell you exactly why they do that.
RG: They do that for financial reasons. Because they're trying to put together financial plans, and they have a board of directors, and they have budgets, and they have earnings, and they have all these other things.
So, I think a lot of them take that whole philosophy that it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. It's easier for them to put together a budget and a bunch of financials that look positive and aggressive, even if in the back of their head they just know the stuff's going to slip.
So this is the machine you were up against for the last couple years.
RG: Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
So you spent some time sitting at a desk at Double Fine, working on your pitch, and your design; what exactly did that entail?
RG: Well I spent two periods at Double Fine: I spent a period, maybe I think it was two or three years ago, where I worked out of Tim [Schafer]'s office for a few months; and that was really putting together the initial design in a sketch. And this actually wasn't for DeathSpank. This was for another game with the same gameplay, the same melding of RPG and adventure, but it wasn't the same story. I started just putting together a lot of pitches - you know, setting up meetings with publishers, you know, doing that sort of thing.
Then I went off and I worked on some casual games for a while with Clayton, and then I did some consulting jobs, and then I came back to Double Fine just a couple of months ago. But at that point I knew I had to deal with Hothead, so that was a much more focused thing, where I really wanted to get the design of the very first episode of DeathSpank completely done.
So I was very, very focused during the last few months that I was there, just cranking away on this design, getting the story written, getting the puzzle structures done, getting the RPG stuff all figured out, and I also wanted to write a couple other episode stories. So that's what I was doing the last few months, when I was working in Tim's office.
Obviously you're positive on it, but what are your thoughts on this whole episodic gaming thing that's happening? People seem to be cautious in getting into it, because it does seem to be a difficult schedule to maintain.
RG: Yeah, I think it is. And I think there are a lot of positives to episodic gaming. I think, for me, as a designer and a storyteller, I like being able to tell a lot of little stories. Being able to take a character like DeathSpank and just put him in many, many different situations, to me, is a lot of fun. And so, to me, that's one of the things that I really like about episodic gaming.
I think there are some other very positive things about episodic gaming. I think a lot of gamers are getting older, and they don't have as much time to spend on [gaming]. They're having families, and wives, and kids, and all these other things, and they still love gaming but the thought of picking up a game that's going to take them, you know, thirty or forty hours to finish, can be a little bit daunting and intimidating. So I think what they do is, they play games and then they never finish them.
So I think episodic gaming done right, like what Telltale, and the way that I want to do it, I think you can give these people very rich, deep experiences that are just shorter. And one nice thing about doing the episodic is, when I do a DeathSpank episode, I'm pretty damn sure that everybody's going to see the ending. Which means that I can actually focus effort on the ending of my game. When you're building a very large game, you put a lot of your effort into the beginning, because maybe only 20% of the people will ever see your ending.
So I think those are some of the things, to me, that are very interesting about episodic. I think the distribution is an issue; I think we're just starting to get really good digital distribution, and I think that's key to the episodic stuff being successful. So I think those are some of the hurdles.
I think some of the other hurdles, I think a lot of gamers still think that episodic is taking one big game and just hacking it up into pieces and then selling it to them. And I think that's just one of those things that time will fix, and when people start to play really good episodic games, they'll realize that it isn't a large game hacked into pieces, but they're actually short little games, and it's a very different structure; not only for the game, but the story.
It's a lot like television and movies, you know. A television series is not a movie hacked into twenty-two pieces; it has its own structure, its own way of telling the stories. And I think people will slowly realize that about episodic gaming, and they'll start to appreciate what it can give them from a gameplay and a storytelling standpoint.
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