If developers want to win big with episodic gaming, they need to do more than merely dice up pre-existing genres. They need to think episodically from the start. In short, they need to become more like TV producers.
Telltale Games, for one, is trying to do just that. The company focuses on character and narrative, facets of design that are often neglected in games. In October, Telltale will release the "pilot" of Sam & Max, a humorous romp about a dog-and-rabbit detective team adapted from a Saturday morning cartoon. (Six episodes are planned for "Season 1.") If the first two episodes of Telltale's other game, Bone, are any indication, the pilot will play like interactive animation. Bone, a puzzle-solving choose-your-own adventure, is full of puns, veiled references, foreshadowing, and dream sequences—all traditional cinematic storytelling tools.
People get hooked on TV shows like Lost and 24 because of character and plot. My guilty pleasure each week is Entourage. For a while, I resisted the show's pull, but then, it reeled me in. Would Drama flub another audition? Would Turtle land a record deal for his rapper? If game developers can pull off the same feat, someday soon I'll be jonesing for a weekly fix of Halo 3. Let's just hope I've got time for it.