Why Games Sequels With Continuity are Hard

I love a good book or movie trilogy. Seeing the same characters go through different adventures and watching their character arcs unfold. It isn’t something you see in video games very often, though. Certainly, there are long games that have a series of side stories and game series that often have similar themes or are set in the same world, but it is rare to see the same characters hold real continuity across games. Why are games sequels with continuity so hard? Let’s have a think, shall we?

Firstly let me start by saying games like Uncharted where the main protagonist the same and they go on different adventures don’t count. This is because each game is like a stand alone story – there is no trilogy effect. Dragon Age gets close with its unfolding world events, but since you play as a new hero each time it’s still not the same. The Witcher series are probably the closest games that get the best of both worlds – real continuity, but players can jump in on any game.

Two games that stand out as shining examples are Mass Effect and the .Hack series on PlayStation 2. Both series let you carry forward progress as you play through their games and have a steadily unfolding story throughout. It is clearly a really interesting and fun idea, but it isn’t done very often. How come?

Firstly, when a company starts to develop a game they have to consider its scope. By presuming they are going to even be able to complete any number of subsequent games prior to completion of their current project is dangerous. You only need to look at Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to see that. They had this entire world planned out, but Reckoning didn’t do so well so all their plans were for nought. Often getting one success is difficult enough, let alone banking on two other ones.

Developers then need to consider how they are going to let player carry through their progress and how ‘needing’ to play games prior to their current release will affect their sales. If your game requires people to play a previous 20 hour-long game first how likely are they to jump into this one? If I told you that to enjoy Star Wars Empire Strikes Back you first need to watch New Hope the equivalent of 15 times how likely do would be to laugh in my face? Like I said before The Witcher games nail this. You can play the previous titles, but you don’t need to enjoy the game, but for people who put in the time they can carry forward their decisions. Dragon Age do this, but to a much lesser extent.

The other thing that need to considered is how to make it worth while. Think of the Assassins Creed games. They have a ‘plot’ that supposedly continues from one game to another, but it is so confusing and convoluted that it can no longer be managed properly. If you are going to add this into your game you want to it be really good and make sure it’s done right. One of the clever things the .Hack games did was that they carried forward your level. Literally game one was levels 1-20, game two 21-40 and so on. You can sort of easily see how an RPG could mimic this system, but again if people miss a game or jump in on number three – what happens to them? There experience would be dampened by this. Where as in The Witcher 3 example all that people really bring from one game to another is knowledge – and this can be gain through playing the current game.

Knowledge of a game’s world is an interesting way of having continuity in a game series and nothing accomplishes this as well as Monster Hunter. There is never a story that carries you from one game to another, but there are the hunts. Learning a monsters patterns and attacks will help you face it in later games and so will honing your skill with specific weapons. So the Monster Hunter series has a form of continuity, in a way.

While I would love to see more games that let me have that ‘trilogy’ experience I understand why they are a rare beast. There are so many series that I would love to have this treatment, but again I understand the reasons why they don’t. All I can do is hope that as the face of the games industry shifts there are more people like me who want these kinds of games and somebody takes that risk and it pays off.

This article was originally published on GamerTimeUK but unfortunately, that site no longer exists, so I’ve republished it here.

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