Untold horrors lurk in wait in Penumbra: Overture, Frictional Games' first-person adventure game set in a dark and gritty world that's being developed for PC and places heavy emphasis on storyline and puzzle solving. Inspired, amongst other things, by the works of author HP Lovecraft - the horror writer and creator of the Cthulhu Mythos - the title is to be released in three episodes, the first of which is due early next year.
Penumbra: Overture is actually the commercial version of Frictional's technology demonstration Penumbra, which showcases the developer's physics engine that is integral to Overture gameplay and that allows users to employ mouse movements to interact with the game world. Thomas Grip, programmer and project leader at Frictional, tells us more, while also offering opinions on the episodic gaming scene...
In what ways does releasing a game episodically benefit you the developer and the gamer?
Grip: The largest benefit for us is that we can split the work burden into parts (three in this case) and be able to get paid in-between. This allows us to put more work and effort into the parts than we would have managed if we made a full game from the start. This is something that the gamer will benefit from as well. Each episode will be able to have higher production values, which in turn should make the whole game much better. Also, we will be able to get feedback between episodes and can make sure that any problems with the first episode will be gone and rectified in the following. It will also be possible for the players to come with suggestions on what they would like to see in the next episode.
To sum it up, the episodic releases will allow for a richer game and make the gamer part of the process.
What's your opinion on games being released in episodic form on console - do you think it's viable?
Grip: It is not impossible and should work well on Xbox Live, for example. The upcoming consoles are going to be just about as internet connected as the average computer, which will give new opportunities for upcoming videogames. The internet connection is already used to release updates for games, something that used to be available only for computer games. This is most likely just the start and is probably going to be followed by things like episodic game releases.
Valve Software, of course, has chosen to release Half-Life 2 instalments in episodic form - what did/do you make of that?
Grip: Well, the problem I have with almost all current episodic games is that they do not seem to have a limited scope. By that I mean that it is not entirely apparent how many episodes there will be or how long you have to wait for the next to be released. Right now it just seems like an excuse to release shorter games and reuse content.
I think that the episodes will become a lot more fun when you can release the games on a more regular basis and also make it clear to the player how long the series will last. This is something that we are trying to do with Penumbra: Overture although our model is closer compared to the Matrix trilogy or Lord of the Rings. We are only going to release three episodes and will release all these in the same year. I am not saying that our way is perfect but we think it is better than previous episodic releases.
What set you on the road to Penumbra development and what are the game's key influences?