Reborn: Dreamfall Chapters Split Into Five Episodes

By Nathan Grayson on June 30th, 2014 at 9:00 am.

Fun fact: when it was first conceived, Dreamfall Chapters was going to be an episodic series. Thus, the name Dreamfall Chapters. Before long, however, man of so many yarns that cats are magnetically drawn to his face, Ragnar Tornquist, decided the plot necessitated “one big meaty game with a fully story and a full conclusion.” Apparently, though, the game outgrew that model too, so now it’s back to episodic. I know, I know. Let Tornquist explain it below. It makes a lot more sense when he says it, that linguistic Viking demigod.

First things first: if you backed the game, this changes very little aside from when everything will come together. You get all five episodes free of any additional charge, each one as it’s released.

So then, why the sudden change? Basically Red Thread started running low on time and money, and the team realized it’d either have to make big cuts in order to just barely cross the finish line or pace things out a bit. It chose the latter. The result:

“We could have made deep cuts, removed a lot of the characters, story-lines and locations – but we would have ended up with a different game than the one that’s played inside our heads for the better part of a decade, a different game than the one we’ve promised our backers. We would have lost much of the magic and narrative depth. And we would’ve still had to delay our release into next year.”

“We’ve also realised that while, as a small studio, we are capable of producing a massively ambitious game like Dreamfall Chapters, we’re not satisfied with our ability to properly finish, polish and bug fix the whole game in one go. The amount of work that goes into every chapter of every book is enormous, and we do not want to compromise on the quality of our game and our story.”

“By releasing Book One this autumn, we hope to start generating income, all of which will go right back into improving the quality and scope of subsequent books. And by dividing our work into five standalone releases, we’re able to give each book the focus, polish and attention it needs.”

Tornquist and co are adamant that this will not in any way change the story, and they hope to have new episodes out as quickly as possible. Apparently Book Two is already in alpha, and Book Three will follow in short order. On the upside, Book One: Reborn will actually be out before Chapters’ originally planned November release date.

So yeah, this is kinda a shame in that we were promised one thing and then got another, but it seems like Red Thread is doing everything in its power to make the change as low-impact as possible. Tornquist fully admitted that this constitutes “breaking promises and letting our supporters down,” which is something you rarely see owned up to, even when That Unpredictable Hydra, Game Development rears its seven million ugly heads. Even if there is now cause for concern, that’s certainly better than making the announcement and pretending like nothing happened, like this is still exactly what people signed on for.

Here’s hoping the end result is all worth it. Adam got to try (pre-episodic) Chapters’ first few hours, and he came away quite impressed. That’s probably a good sign, given that Adam’s opinions are fierce and decisive, like a tiger on the prowl. A really well-read tiger who went to a great university and can sew a sentence like a surgeon knits skin. You know, that kind of tiger.

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22 Comments »

Top comments

  1. Fomorian1988 says:

    Way back, shortly after Dreamfall came out and before Age of Conan premiered, Dreamfall Chapters was already intended as an episodic game. And if the story already had time skips inbetween individual chapters, like The Dark One mentions above, then it’s just a return to the original concept. Back then I was pissed, because I bought the original copy (Funcom cited piracy as the reason they were going episodic with this game), there weren’t as many good episodic titles as they are today (Sam & Max was fine, but The Walking Dead? Dream Machine? Kentucky Route Zero? Yeah, they are way above its level) and, least but not least, at the time I, alongside other Poles, wasn’t used to the idea of online game purchases.

    Now? I’m kinda bummed that I won’t experience the game in one go, but if their resources allow them only to either episodically release the game or cut content, that I’ll gladly take the former.

    I mean, hell, we’ve waited since 2006 for this game, and at least we get the first episode earlier than anticipated.

  1. Premium User Badge

    Bradamantium says:

    Gosh I abhor the whole episodic thing. I just don’t get the logic of it, especially not when the logic’s “We’re gonna do this now because we need the bank to fix it up nicer!” So then people are expected to purchase the unpolished first part, hoping that the rest of the game comes along nicely enough, or even at all? Of course, best case scenario, a dozen or so hours worth of content is suddenly spread out over the space of a yearish, and cliffhangers are an awful business when you’ve got any more than a week to wait for the next part.

    This stuff irritates me more than early access titles.

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      JiminyJickers says:

      Yeah me too, I never buy episodic things until the entire series is released.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Episodic is indeed a crock.

      Kentucky Route Zero is another example of a potentially decent game largely ruined by the idea.

      Complex characters and subtle nuance are poorly served by long pauses between episodes, where everything other than big themes and archetypes disappears from short term memory.

      Episodic also hamstrings a developer’s flexibility to return to earlier episodes to fine tune. First flush levels often look fairly shoddy in hindsight after the team continues to refine and improve quality over later sections. Broken Age more or less redid the first few levels from scratch as they were getting to the end of episode one. Splitting into five will make this even more difficult, and potentially lock in some poor design choices that may only become obvious after the last episode is close to finished.

    • megazver says:

      It’s a production thing, not a story thing.

      • qrter says:

        Sure, it’s a production thing in origin, but it has an effect on the story thing.

        Personally, I’d wait til the whole thing is done and available. Having had to wait for years and years for the new parts of the game has soured me quite seriously on the series.

    • JFS says:

      Just look at George Martin. Episodic is even shitty for books ;)

    • derbefrier says:

      Yup that’s why I wait for the full game before buying these. There’s no reason not to wait. You get all the episodes and usually by the time they are all out the game can be easily be found on sale. I have been patiently waiting for walking dead season 2 and wolf among us to finish up and I am thinking the steam winter sale will be a good time to get both games. I imagine I will do the same with this.

      • rustybroomhandle says:

        There is very good reason not to wait. You can buy early to help support the developers. You’re still free to wait till it’s all done before playing.

        Episodic is the only way story-based games can really do an “early access” model, and some games are not likely to ever get made without these types of funding models. So yeah, your good-hearted nature might compel you to buy an episodic title early and then wait on it till you feel ready to play it.

    • dsch says:

      ITT: People who don’t know how the episodic format will affect the game, but are bravely making definitive judgments anyway.

      • Premium User Badge

        Bradamantium says:

        “Episodic format” in itself tells just how it’ll affect the game. Released in chunks, months apart, growing either more polished or more rushed. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of leeway within that format for something exciting. It’s purely a production choice, not some exciting artistic implementation.

    • yonsito says:

      Especially since the maker of Dreamfall is the King of Cliffhangers.

  2. satan says:

    Sounds like Nathan is buttering up Adam for a favour…

  3. The Dark One says:

    They mentioned in the Backer update that the narrative already included jumps in time between the individual books, so I’m not worried in that angle. I am a bit concerned, though, that I could lose track of the choices I’ve made, or the things I’ve learned.

    • orient says:

      That’s why it rarely makes sense to play episodic games as they come out. I made that mistake with Broken Sword and it just diluted the narrative for me. I’ll definitely be waiting (as painful as it may be) until the whole game is out.

  4. Fomorian1988 says:

    Way back, shortly after Dreamfall came out and before Age of Conan premiered, Dreamfall Chapters was already intended as an episodic game. And if the story already had time skips inbetween individual chapters, like The Dark One mentions above, then it’s just a return to the original concept. Back then I was pissed, because I bought the original copy (Funcom cited piracy as the reason they were going episodic with this game), there weren’t as many good episodic titles as they are today (Sam & Max was fine, but The Walking Dead? Dream Machine? Kentucky Route Zero? Yeah, they are way above its level) and, least but not least, at the time I, alongside other Poles, wasn’t used to the idea of online game purchases.

    Now? I’m kinda bummed that I won’t experience the game in one go, but if their resources allow them only to either episodically release the game or cut content, that I’ll gladly take the former.

    I mean, hell, we’ve waited since 2006 for this game, and at least we get the first episode earlier than anticipated.

  5. Artea says:

    Sounds like another case of Kickstarter mismanagement, though perhaps not as disastrous as Broken Age.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Excepting that Broken Age only needed two episodes…

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        Rikard Peterson says:

        …and that it’s far from disastrous.

        • KevinLew says:

          Broken Age’s Kickstarter was a disaster indeed. Let’s recount the facts. Double Fine asked for (x) amount of money, and when they got over 800% of that amount, they proceeded to burn through all of the money and was forced to go to Steam Early Access to basically pay for the rest of the game. No matter how you frame it, that’s gross mismanagement and/or terrible financial planning.

  6. Curratum says:

    This is basically like buying into Early Access and it’s not something I’ll ever do again, no matter how much I love a franchise, developer or game character.

  7. Josh W says:

    Another way to think about this is that if you want to play the full game, you’ve got a quite significant delay while they drum up some additional pre-orders.

    Backers still get the full game, and some people will be willing to buy it in sections. I do personally prefer getting whole games to episodic ones, because it means I can play through it at my own pace, not someone else’s. It’s the same reason I tend to watch big dramas more on DVD than on TV. I might still put big gaps between sections, but they’re my gaps, suited to how I want to absorb it. But I can still do that whenever I get around to buying this game.

    A more significant concern to me is that this is including risk into a development process that didn’t have any before; it used to be that they already had a known budget, and everyone who had already paid knew they were going to get the game. Now they are expanding based on their own market predictions, and those could easily be wrong, opening backers up to risks of not getting the game, or getting a dropoff in quality in later episodes if people don’t respond well enough, which is a shame.

    On the other hand, I wish them the best with this, and I hope they do get enough cashflow to sort it all out to their satisfaction.