The Châteaux Marmont is one of those nondescript hotels that you need to know where it is to find. Fortunately, it’s across the street from larger than life Rocky and Bullwinkle statues, so my cab driver was able to drop me right at the entrance, which happens to be a steep cobblestoned driveway that leads to a glass door.
Once inside I wait for the Rockstar folks to collect me at the front desk. They lead me back to the driveway and through a tall wooden gate which opens to a steep set of meandering cement stairs that cut through tall bushes, grass and towering walls of living bamboo.
Finally, we come to a clearing, a small yard and a long bungalow with a front made nearly entirely of glass doors. Inside is a small living room, a television, a couple of Xbox 360s and controllers.
But before dropping into the game and the play session I’ve read about on half a dozen other sites, I decide to quiz Jeronimo Barrera, Rockstar Games Vice President of Product Development, about episodic gaming and the nature of video games.
I float my theory of big games to Barrera. Call of Duty 4 was such an enjoyable experience, I tell him, because it was a game that, in theory, could be enjoyed in one sitting. It was designed to be experienced like a movie, without breaks, I think. But what about longer games that can’t be enjoyed in one go, what about games that, like GTA, could take weeks or months to play through? I think, I tell Barrera, that they should almost be designed like novels, rather than like books.
“Or like a soap opera,” he says, seeming to agree with me.
“In terms of story telling, (Grand Theft Auto IV) is incredibly compelling,” he says. “Niko is a strong character.”
But the Rockstar folks still know that when it comes down to it, Grand Theft Auto isn’t as much about the story as it is the experience.
“In games like Metroid Prime if you lose your concentration, what’s happening in the game you can’t get back into it again.In the case of this game you are jumping into a world not necessarily a storyline.”
Barrera says he sees the gaming industry going in two distinctly opposite directions: One direction includes games like Call of Duty 4’s campaign that deliver a single play-through experience which is almost movie-like in its delivery. The other includes games like Grand Theft Auto which delivers more of a platform for experiences, rather than just a game.
Intrigued, I ask Barrera about Grand Theft Auto IV’s episodic content. Why can’t Rockstar use GTA as a platform, I ask. Why bother coming up with another GTA for this generation of consoles, couldn’t the developer just create episodes for the game and live off that?
“We are calling the downloadable content (coming to the Xbox 360) episodes,” he said.
But it’s “an experiment” they’re quick to add. Right now Rockstar doesn’t seem sure that there are enough users with access to online content on the 360 to make it worthwhile for them to continue pumping out episodes.