Back-Linking and Dormant Content

At Comic-Con, Cliff Bleszinski revealed that Gears of War 2 would feature linked Achievements, or special content that is unlocked only if you’ve earned a specific achievement in the original Gears of War. For example, if you’ve completed Act One in Gears Of War, you will unlock a playable Anthony Carmine in Gears of War 2. This is similar to what Peter Molyneux is doing with Fable on XBLA, i.e. enabling you to win currency that can then be spent within the world of Fable 2.

I suspect that this sort of thing will become increasingly popular with developers, some of whom will do it simply because it’s cool, and some of whom will do it because it can be useful for promotional purposes. (Use the earlier release of “Game A” to help drive interest in “Game B.” Or alternatively, take “Game A,” which isn’t expected to be a huge hit, and link it to “Game B,” which is expected to be a huge hit, in hopes that “Game A” benefits — a potentially more subtle or interesting version of the “bundle Game A with a demo or beta of Game B” strategy.)

Back-Linking New Games to Older Games in a Franchise

There are probably a thousand interesting ways to link games, in general, but the Gears announcement got me thinking: what other ways might an old game be linked to a new game released several years afterwards? Is there a way to link back, as opposed to link forward? The idea that jumped to mind was something I’ll call “dormant content.” Basically, when developing a game that is likely to have a sequel, developers could create a small amount of content that is not exposed until a trigger event occurs in a future game. (Some games already do this on a much simpler level, hiding content until a time noted by the system clock. “Be here at noon three days from now to find the hidden treasure…”)

So for example, imagine playing a game and encountering a flashback scene. The flashback might begin with recognizable footage from the previous game, but then transition to something that the player never actually experienced. An achievement might then be awarded, containing an unusual message instructing the player to load Game A. So you load “Game A”, and lo and behold, the hidden content has been unveiled. Perhaps the content is an area behind a mysterious door that had previously been locked, and is now finally unlocked. (You always wondered what was behind that door!)

And to complete the loop, the player’s actions within the dormant content of “Game A” might result in the awarding of an achievement that affects the outcome of “Game B.” (Failure to complete the hidden content in Game A should not result in penalty, as the player may no longer possess Game A, but perhaps they’d miss out on a cool reward or cut scene in Game B.)

Back-Linking with Dormant Content or PDLC?

Developers that are interested in this idea, but are unwilling or unable to create content that will remain hidden for so long, might accomplish the same thing with downloadable content for Game A, created shortly before it is exposed, instead of years before. That certainly reduces the risk of wasted effort, in the event that Game B is never made (or proves to be a commercial failure.) But discovering long-hidden Easter eggs might be really fun… people get a kick out of time capsules, after all. (Can you imagine how the legions of Final Fantasy 7 fans might react if they learned that, all this time, there was a little more original FF7 content waiting for them? That might be reaching a bit too far back, but you get the idea.)

I certainly wouldn’t call this a revolutionary idea — it’s basically a gimmick — but it seems to potentially be exciting for players. And, as more developers are turning their eye towards episodic content, this might be another way to increase motivation for late adopters to go back and try earlier episodes in the series.

PS. The photo is of a dormant volcano erupting. Metaphor meets pointless eye candy. :-)

10 Responses to Back-Linking and Dormant Content

  1. Peter Hatch

    Banjo-Kazooie had a link back planned, though changes to the N64 hardware meant it wasn’t implemented. See this Wikipedia article for details.

  2. same thing with Rainbow 6 Vegas 2: if you had a save for Rainbow 6 Vegas, you got additional content and you started with a level 2 character I think.

  3. Peter – There are no original ideas, eh? :)

  4. Page – That doesn’t sound like the same thing — it sounds like another example of linking forward. Many sequels have rewarded the playing of a previous game by, for example, letting you carry over your saved character with better stats (as opposed to unlocking content in the previous game.)

  5. Nick Ferguson

    Banjo-Kazooie’s infamous “Stop ‘N Swap” will FINALLY be put to use, this time between the upcoming XBLA re-release and the new 360 game.

    Huzzah for Rare!

  6. David, I think the process in Rainbow 6 Vegas 2 was a mix between what is described for Gear of War 2 and what you mentioned: it did unlock content in the sequel based on your progress in the original in addition to the “better stats” feature. The only difference is that in GoW2 it’s achievement-based, probably because it’s a X360 exclusive, which was not the case for R6V2 :)

  7. Right — you’re talking about linking forward (content in a sequel is unlocked via actions taken in an earlier game.) I’m talking about linking backwards (content in an earlier game is unlocked via actions taken in a sequel. The reverse.)

    Thus the emphasis on dormant content. Make sense?

  8. Right-I just meant to emphasise that the Gears of War 2 linking forward process is only new because it’s achievement-based here. As far as linking backwards is concerned, developers could consider adding content by patching the game (or at least free DLC…) instead of PDLC.

  9. I assume that you’ve played the DS brainteaster game “Professor Layton and the Curious Village “, which has one section explicitly locked until the sequel. (At least, this is true in the US version of the game.) I believe the extra content is unlocked with a passcode (which means it would technically be possible to access the content before the sequel without hacking the game, but oh well).

  10. Hey Tim — actually, Professor Layton literally just arrived at my doorstep. It’s in my DS but I haven’t played it yet. Lovely coincidence I’ll look forward to checking it out. :)

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