Do we all agree with the definitions here? I would say that Dreamfall Chapters as it exists today is serial rather than episodic, as defined in this thread by tummy ooh aah, since the episodes build heavily on each other, has a much greater focus on the overarching plot rather than an episode long plot, and can't be played out of order. While time passes in between many of the instalments, they do feel to be like they're intimately connected to one larger story.
Exactly, and I welcome the distinction serial / episodic, which we didn't make in former discussions.
It may be a bit mean to have Ragnar talk at panels about episodic games while we declare Chapters to be non episodic in its narrative nature, but there it is, not for the first time.
When we look at Chapters, there simply are different principles at work. The narrative guides the characters into static situations at the end of the Books in order to justify leaps of weeks and months. That's why we see Zoë rescued from the explosion rubble at the end of Book 2; we already know she got out of this alive. That's why we see Kian go on a long trip at the end of Book 3. The immediate, precarious situation, what makes the cliffhanger, is explicitly avoided.
That may be among the central reasons why, although the Books are delivered like episodes, I don't think the narrative is really episodic. A quick comparison to Telltale's games shows a completely different concept of the episodic. At the end of those chunks of game, one of the protagonists may have an unknown attacker's sword at his throat, get his brain stolen, transform into godzilla or may be bitten by a fucking zombie. THOSE are core cliffhangers!
The relationship between individually contained narratives and overarching plot has always been ambivalent with Telltale, yet at least back then, the ideal was always clear. Back in the day, the individual chunk not only had to be satisfying, but also develop an individual atmosphere, be its own thing. At the same time, cliffhangers always were aimed at by Telltale, and cliffhangers only work well if the overarching plot is strong.
It could not be any different: The more intriguing the segue, the weaker the segmentation.
Tales of Monkey Island was already very, very strong in that kind of 'dual' philosophy, but Telltale's peak eventually turned out to be The Devil's Playhouse – which really did communicate a different kind of narrative genre with each episode, yet still featured an ongoing, cliffhanger rich narrative over five episodes.
Change has occurred since then though, that's where McDonell is right. The Telltale of today often deals with franchises which, in themselves, carry a philosophy of serialisation that doesn't allow much for the kind of clearly segmented story entities. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones can not develop the kind of epic continuous story feel if the narrative feels too, well, episodic. Maybe we find the same development in TV series – whenever those wanted to convey an 'epic' feel to the story, it became a two parter with a cliffhanger in the middle. I think that's what we're seeing in episodic games today.
In the same vein, Dreamfall Chapters may suggest to us the individual narrative chunks with the term "Book" per episode, but in fact, the continuous epic narrative that the 13 chapters structure suggests is the feeling that the game is actually going after.
First of all, Book 1 was not a "complete, meaty experience" in a narrative sense. The entire part was expositional. The stage is carefully set, the characters are carefully introduced, the story ahead is foreshadowed; but not really anything happens in the story. Zoë wakes up and the rest of the Book is spent meeting a few people and trying to understand what kind of person Zoë is right now or wants to be. Not that this isn't extremely well done, far from it. But it hasn't really got much to do with episodes.
In actual episodes, there is an individual arc of suspense. No such thing in Reborn.
In actual episodes, there is at least some kind of cliffhanger at the end. No such thing in Reborn.
The ending came extremely sudden for me because by then I just wanted to play 'until the story starts', and that didn't really happen.
So, no, Book 1 wasn't really an 'episode'. It was just a 'chapter'. Imagine a TV series starting with an episode like that - "what was that show about again?". Not a question you'd be able to answer if the TV series was Dreamfall Chapters.
My outlook here is positive, nonetheless: It's not as if TLJ saga fans weren't used to a sizable overload of character exposition at the beginning of these games. Future Books might actually adhere to an episodic structure (we were at least 'promised' cliffhangers after all).