Episodic Games and Comics

Sam & Max, Penny Arcade Adventures

by Phil "Ralphedelominius" Comeau

We had some free time in our schedule, so thought we'd drop in on some panel discussions that looked interesting. "Episodic Games and Comics: Made for Each Other" featured a great lineup of talent that included Steve Purcell (creator of Sam & Max), Vlad Ceraldi (Joint CEO, HotHead Games), Dan Connors (CEO, Telltale Games), and other members of the HotHead and Telltale crews.

What's an Episodic Game, you ask? It's a game designed to be played in a relatively short amount of time, compared to the traditional model, with new installments released on a regular schedule. In the case of Telltale Games' Sam & Max series, they're running in a monthly routine. HotHead Games' upcoming Penny Arcade Adventures will likely be quarterly to start, with a possibility of more frequent updates later down the road.

In Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness, players will be able to create characters to represent themselves as they battle evil alongside Gabe and Tycho. The game will be rendered in 3D, with 2D cutscenes in the style of the original comic. Luckily, the team at HotHead is no stranger to transitioning comics and animation to games - many of them have previous experience working on such past hits as The Simpsons: Road Rage and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.

HotHead Games' Joint CEO Vlad Ceraldi explains.
HotHead Games' Joint CEO Vlad Ceraldi explains.

Sam & Max will also be in 3D, and builds on the amazing gameplay first featured in the original Sam & Max Hit the Road from LucasArts in 1993. Later on in the day, I was able to see a bit of an episode from Season 1 at the Telltale booth, and it has the same quirky, funny feel to it as the original.

It's worth noting that this isn't Telltale's first foray into this new genre of gaming; they have previous experience with an episodic release of "Bone", based on the comic book series of the same name by Jeff Smith. "We see episodic games as the core business of Telltale games," said Connors, and the Sam & Max series lends itself to this process perfectly. Ceraldi of HotHead Games sees Telltale as a good template for how they approach Penny Arcade Adventures, where they plan to develop high-quality game episodes while refining the content with full attention paid to feedback from the Penny Arcade fan base.

The captive audience.
The captive audience.

Both the Sam & Max and Penny Arcade franchises have rabid followings, and both teams understand the importance of staying true to the original. To that end, all the respective creators (Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik for Penny Arcade, Purcell for Sam & Max) are intimately involved in the creative process behind the games.

In some respects, we've already seen some movement towards episodic gaming in MMOs - take Guild Wars, for example. Here's a game with a large following, no monthly subscription fee, and the development team at ArenaNet are able to produce new expansion packs - you could easily consider them Episodes of a larger story - on a regular basis. With Factions and Nightfall already out the door, Guild Wars: Eye of the North is set to launch next month on August 31st. OK, the timelines between 'episodes' in this example are a fair bit longer than monthly or quarterly, but you get the idea. Even Everquest 2 has an episodic system of sorts with regular releases of Adventure Packs that subscribers can play for a nominal charge.

The key to episodic gaming is to give players a compelling gameplay experience that, at the end of each installment, "has to leave them wanting more," as Vlad puts it. "Statistics show that only 15% of players finish [traditional length] games." Episodic games aim to break that trend.

Can it work? You only have to look Telltale's way for the answer; Sam & Max: Season 2 is coming your way this Fall.

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016