Me, I think that a major new game style is going to be episodic games. But I also think that virtually every game a decade from now is going to be built around player-generated content. Frankly, the two don't mix too terribly well.
(Edit: by which I mean, having one shared world in which episodes are written by different authors using different characters. Think of the Star Trek universe. And that had lots of editors!)
But it gave me an idea.
What about an episodic game where there are a dozen - or two dozen, or ten dozen - writers? They write episodes, you download and play them. But they are in a shared universe. Could you make the universe stable without a giant overlord editor putting the smackdown on authors?
Well, say you let players download whichever episodes they want. If they think Arnold is a bad writer and Boba is a good one, they can download all of Boba's stuff and none of Arnold's.
But what happens when Carrie makes an episode which uses content from Arnold? You download that and - wait a second! What's with this integral character you've never heard of before? Wait, Arnold's episodes are all high-power and your character is low-power!
Ah-ha! Ah hahaha! I have a solution! And here you didn't even realize there was a problem!
If you remember, a few posts ago I wrote a little essay on a possible metalanguage called Perkplot (or Plerkot, or Plotz, or whichever, I don't really care). This system represents the game's relations to other parts of the game, allowing it to judge how difficult it will be for players to get from one portion of the game to another. Then, it can modify the relationships to make it easier or harder on the fly.
What if we apply this to that! Or that to this!
What we end up with is episode maps. Think of them as a kind of outline. Each part of the outline is linked with some writing. Played alone, the map is traversed with ease like a regular game. However, it establishes a metamap containing what boils down to "the current state of the game". For example, an episode ends with Diedre in love with Egon. Until something changes that, Diedre and Egon will be in love in all future episodes, rather than having a scene written by another author in which they are neutral.
In addition, the episode provides element maps. Element maps are little fragments of map that can be used in other episodes to bridge connections that rely on something that doesn't exist in this player's particular metamap.
For example, if an episode has a villain, Frogenheimer. The way it's written, this villain's defeat is led up to by Egon and Diedre's hatred of each other. Obviously, having already played the Egon/Diedre love episode, that would be a rather shocking change.
So, the engine goes and looks for a way to make it work. What it does is it tries to fit an element map into the episode map to route around that node. Exactly how this works depends on the episode map, and I'll explain that in a bit.
If the engine has no suitable element map or if the number of patches required is higher than the player's "patch" threshold, the engine uses a different element map to change the metamap to match what the episode needs. IE, it plays through an element map which makes Egon and Diedre hate each other. (The player may have to actually track that down, a kind of sidequest in the game.)
In addition, an episode can include element maps to patch itself if there are other, popular episodes you want to take into account.
What this ends up meaning is that if you want Diedre and Egon to be in love throughout all episodes, you write element maps to route around every conceivable situation which might include them not being in love any more. However, volume does not always outweigh quality, and certain authors can be considered to have dramatically more "weight", leading to their episodes ignoring your element maps.
What does this mean?
Aside from meaning that poor Egon and Diedre are likely to have a tempestuous relationship, it means that you can have episodic games with dozens - or hundreds, or thousands - of unedited writers. A player can download from whoever, play it, keep it in his universe or uninstall it, change their opinion of the author...
It comes at a price. This isn't simply scripting. It's one level higher. There would need to be a tool kit to help.
The amount of stuff you would need to produce in an episode would be higher, but the amount of exactitude required would be lower. You don't have to do stats, for example, simply relative power levels. Of course, you would have to have several axes of power, and understand the RPS of the game - it would have to be carefully designed.
The episodes would functionally need to be written twice. Once for humans, once for computers. Transitions from one constraint to another would require you to mention the method of the constraint change. For example, our heroes teleport across the world to a far off land. If your player's world doesn't have that power level, the engine needs to know it can replace "teleport" with "boat" and shorten the distance considerably.
There could also be "stealth" episodes - episodes which inject themselves into the slack created by other episodes. If they are boating across the sea, a stealth episode could happen at that time which has little to do with the primary plot.
The system would be complex, but with the right tool, it could be managed. Combining the map-routing system I just explained and the difficulty-monitoring system I explained in the original Perkplot post, your episode would fit itself into the world delightfully, neither too easy or too hard, and not breaking much...
There's so much you could do. If you're playing an episode by a weaker writer, you could have it more likely to be patched with an element map from a stronger writer than if you were playing a stronger writer's episode and considering a weaker writer's element map.
People could post their versions of what happened, and the episodes they used to "seed" the situation.
If you don't want to play the episode, you can just have the system take the episode map into account without actually running through it.
You could have different paths through any given episode, resulting in a different metamap of how the universe is. You could save different paths through all the episodes as a whole. The "Egon/Diedre love path" vs the "Egon/Diedre hate path", for example. Save them as pieces, so you can add in one of those two paths to any other set of paths...
You could play an episode in the past, forcing the engine to recalculate the metamap leaving out episodes past a certain date. Or you could run an old episode as a current episode. Imagine watching an episode from Buffy or something, where the episode plot and dynamic is the same, but the episode airs in the wrong season entirely! Totally different power levels and character dynamics.
Of course, the engine would be... yow.
Maybe the engine could also be open sourced... hm...........
Anyhow, comments appreciated.