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Continuity Lock-Out

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"Ben and I decided that we needed more strips and punchlines that only make sense to hardcore readers. Look forward to jokes so inaccessible even we, the authors, don't get them."
Lewis, Terror Island #200

Continuity Lock-Out occurs when it becomes impossible for someone to get into a series or franchise in the middle, because the story to that point has become so thick and convoluted that a newcomer will have very little chance of understanding the significance of anything.

Whether or not this is acceptable practice is a matter of debate. On the one hand, you want a story to be accessible to people without them having to dedicate a lot of time to consuming it from start to finish. On the other hand, you want to reward viewers for sticking with the work and allow them to continue enjoying the story they were into all along. Indeed, this is one of the main bones of contention between creators and executives — executives want every installment to bring in a new audience, whereas creators generally want to entertain the audience they already have. This is therefore one of the few problems that the creator forces on the executive.

In many respects, it really depends on the medium:

  • Television series, both live-action and animated, are one of the trickiest because of their scheduled nature — if you're trying to attract people to watch a TV show, you have to get them interested in whichever episode is on that week. That's okay if the show is very episodic in nature and light on the continuity, but not if the show has a significant Myth Arc. People are going to be less likely to tune in if they know they're lacking important information because they missed the previous episodes. Network schedulers and executives tend to consider arc-driven shows like this risky because of this phenomenon. Sometimes the fanbase you get from the start is so dedicated that it becomes worth it to them, but even then there's a risk of burnout if the fans have to schedule time every week to see the show rather than watch it at their own pace.
  • Certain Comic Books have a tremendously hard time with Continuity Lockout because they're Pandering to the Base — hardcore fans tend to delight in being able to recognize something that happened several issues previously. Some comic series are extremely Long-Runners — for instance, Superman has been consistently in print since the 1930s — and the decades have built up a lot of continuity around them. This is why some people claim they can't get into American superhero comics. On the other hand, the problem might not be as bad as it's perceived — comics have been known to do several Continuity Reboots, switch to new writers who barely know the continuity themselves beyond the Broad Strokes, and take advantage of the Fleeting Demographic Rule to recycle their plotlines. And writers who know they don't have to pander to the base will try to limit the "continuity" bit to a Continuity Nod — something not actually essential to understanding the current story.
  • Film series are weird, because the film itself has more time to get people up to speed, but given the nature of film production and distribution, it relies even more on people just picking up and watching whatever installment is in the theaters now. There's a much greater expectation among the film-going audience — who are now dedicating a whole chunk of their day to sit in the theater and watch it — that the movie is going to hold up on its own even if it's part of an overall series. Movies generally don't end on Cliffhangers, and if they do, they force the audience to wait what could be years for the next installment — if it even happens at all, because many times interest in the current installment is the only thing that draws interest in the next installment.
  • Literature tends to just accept it. For the most part, you can pick up and put down any book you own at any time, and most book series are planned in advance. Therefore, most authors will tell you that if you start reading what you know is a seven-book series at book five, and you're hopelessly lost, you have only yourself to blame. The same applies to things like Web Comics, and indeed any medium where it's easy for you to choose when you can start. It's only a problem for people who want to know now what the latest developments are, or people who are intimidated by the size of the previous continuity.
  • Video Games (insofar as they have a continuity to follow) can be started at any time but may require a significant time investment. And it's not as easy to dip into the back-catalog to play an older game in the series, which is often on a different platform which you'll have to procure separately (are you really going to find a secondhand NES just to catch up on Metroid's story?). Older games may also be more difficult to play through a lack of Anti-Frustration Features that people expect today, like saving or viewing a map. A Let's Play can explain the plot of an old game, but at the expense of the immersive element of actually playing it yourself. An occasional Compilation Re-release may be the best way to do it — a way to play the older games on the newer system — but these are also just as likely to be locked to the platform they released on, invoking this trope all over again.
  • It can happen across media, when a story is adapted from one medium to another. Especially with a Compressed Adaptation, it's entirely possible that one cannot understand the adaptation without having seen the original. This is especially a problem with The Movie and The Film of the Book, one of the rare instances in which Executive Meddling causes Continuity Lockout — they seem to be marketing the film at people who have read the book or seen the show already and are just curious what it looks like on the big screen. In other cases, the story might be covered through several different media, making it quite frustrating if you want to consume the story in a single medium; if you're playing a video game, you don't want to have to read a book to catch up on the story.

There are a number of ways to try and prevent Continuity Lock-Out:

  • The Previously on… segment. It's been a mainstay of television for decades, but it has its drawbacks — not only can it be Spoiler-heavy, it can also get impractical the longer a show gets. After a while, it becomes impossible to recap everything a newcomer needs to know in 60 seconds.
  • Strategically airing reruns. This can help, but again, it requires some skill in choosing which episodes are relevant. You could even piece them together into a Recap Episode. And the other problem for TV schedulers is that reruns tend to get a bigger audience if they're more popular episodes, and popular does not always equal relevant.
  • Working in a Jumping-On Point, or several — a point in which several plotlines (but not necessarily all) are wrapped up, and newcomers can start watching from there. The hardcore fans will generally be more understanding of the show slowing down and reintroducing everyone and everything at that point.
  • Interspersing standalone episodes among the Myth Arc episodes. Therefore, people have at least a selection of episodes that they know they can watch without needing to know anything from the previous episodes. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is probably the most explicit with this, in its distinction between "standalone" and "complex" episodes.
  • Write glossaries, appendices, or guidebooks for the viewing public to check on their own. This means that they don't even have to watch the previous episodes to know what's going on. It still has substantial Spoiler risk, but it can be useful. Most content creators don't really have the energy to do this, though, especially given that enthusiastic fans will do it for them for free and compile it all together on the Internet in wiki format. It doesn't reflect very well on the creators, because it's effectively putting the onus on the fans to organize all the continuity. If those fans are sufficiently dedicated, they might end up putting together textual Recap Episodes for you.
  • Restricting the Expanded Universe. Imposing some rules on licensed derivative media can do wonders on literally tearing down the problem in little bits. The expanded universe can thrive under the attention of hardcore fans but is kept optional for casual fans who just enjoy the original work or saga.
  • Good writing. While it cannot avoid lockout completely, a story can be written to include past characters and events without relying too much on knowing them beforehand. Rich characters can stand out on their own, and their Character Development over prior installments will be obvious by how they behave in the current one. In those cases, it just takes a quick reminder or two (well-written, to avoid sounding forced), and you clue in the audience without alienating them in the process.
  • A strategic Sequel Gap. If you space out the time between installments, audiences will have ample time to catch up on the story up to that point before the next chapter unfolds. But don't wait too long, or the audience might forget that there's something to keep up with.
  • Go streaming! A lot of the problem with lockout has to do with the viewer being forced to start from the middle. On-demand services like streaming platforms typically allow viewers to watch the entire back-catalog and start from the beginning. Moreover, programming is adapting to streaming services and being especially made for them. These shows tend to have shorter seasons all released at once, making the show much easier to digest and allowing the viewer to go through it at their own pace. The rise of digital services starting in the 2010s has done wonders to reduce the impact of Continuity Lockout — but it hasn't gone away completely, in part because the digital age also makes it much easier to accidentally catch a stray Spoiler and more or less forces you to binge-watch.

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    Audio Plays 
  • Several of the Big Finish Doctor Who releases circa the late noughties / early tens, to the point that once they managed to wrap up all the major ongoing story arcs they decided not to start any more and focus on stories that worked as standalones. Perhaps the worst offender is the Forge / Hex story arc: The trilogy of "Protect and Survive", "Black and White" and "Gods and Monsters" requires you to have heard the preceding trilogy of "Project: Destiny", "A Death in the Family" and "Lurkers at Sunlight's Edge", and that also needs the previous two "Project" stories ("Twilight" and "Lazarus") plus "The Angel of Scutari", "Arrangements for War" and "Thicker than Water" at the very least (you would ideally have also heard as many of Hex and Evelyn's previous stories as possible). Plus there's the Companion Chronicle "Project: Nirvana", which should ideally be listened to between episodes 1 and 2 of "Black and White".

    Comic Strips 
Nearly every comic strip in existence is written under the belief that not everybody either gets the newspaper every day or reads the comic section, so most of them are of a Gag-a-Day format to avoid this. However...
  • Modern newspaper strips with running plots generally get around this by decompressing the plot so much that every minor detail happens over at least 3 days. This also means you have to read several months' worth of strips to get anything meaningful out of it.
    • However you were on your own with regards to older-style serialized stories that offered little by way of recaps or "previously ons". If you didn't follow a story from its beginning, you often had a hard time figuring out the plot. This was intentional as the purpose of the comic strip serial format was to sell newspapers.
  • Both Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse daily strips and Ward Greene's Scamp daily strips began as essentially one continuous story, but both eventually shifted to gag a day formats.
    • That also makes them particularly tricky to separate into individual stories for reprinting in comic book form (besides the obvious fact that they have to make up a meaningful name for the story arcs), for example, Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse as the Monarch of Medioka (printed in WDC #593-599) starts off with a conversation referring to the immediately preceding adventure, and the plot is set in motion by spending of the money they made off of said adventure. The preceding story, In Search of Jungle Treasure was printed in issues 4 and 5, so unless you have a complete collection, you have to take their word for it.
  • Fleep was an Ontological Mystery, so the entire story was progressed through clues slowly gained over the various strips. It was canceled for being too confusing.
  • Candorville is doing its best to avert this, sometimes filling a panel with As You Know dialogue, but it's been steadily failing ever since it started introducing monsters and prophecies. Now there are 2-3 factions trying to Take Over the World, and a new reader may not initially realize that any of them are present.
  • Bloom County hangs a lampshade on the concept in this strip.
  • Doonesbury is a victim of this. 40 years of strips with close to 100 characters, around 30 or so who appear on a regular basis.
  • Gasoline Alley may be the king of this trope. It began in 1918 as a daily serial chronicling the lives of the Wallet family and has continued this saga for over 100 years and five generations of the family.

    Fan Works 
  • Various Fan Games for hololive tend to feature lots of in-jokes and memes related to the various talents. While that works fine enough in the context of being Fan Games; intended to be played by the fans or even the talents themselves, certain fan-games based on/built off other separate gaming media results in outsiders checking out these games and being lost over what's presented:
    • For those searching solely for a freeware Vampire Survivors clone with no hololive knowledge, HoloCure's various weapons can seem incredibly random and bizarre; the Cutting Board especially, what with its relation to flat-chested characters — including a size and damage bonus for the related characters. There's also the Collab feature, where two weapons can be combined to create a more powerful weapon, some being based on actual collaborations between the VTubers. How many people outside of hololive would know "Lava plus Axe equals Comet" or why that makes sense for a combination?
    • HoloFunk, an overhaul mod for Friday Night Funkin', can have its presented story be enjoyed by average FNF mod enthusiasts without knowing about its source material, but they'll only know about the characters at a surface-level, with other nods and jokes flying over viewers head. This goes double for the now-defunct 5.0.0 story; certain details such as Daddy Dearest's motives for hounding Aloe and the mysterious figure who works for him are generally exclusively told by the former dev and other related media. And there's Mano Aloe herself: a former talent of hololive whose early stress-induced retirement spurred the creation of HoloFunk, with the intent to serve as a tribute for her. Though, to the average viewer (or even a hololive fan who joined long after the debut of Generation Five), Aloe is first introduced to them in the mod.
  • Infinity Train: Blossomverse:
    • Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail:
      • The story assumes the reader not only knows what happened in Infinity Train (particularly Books 1 and 3) but also goes through mentions plenty of events in Pokemon Journeys (with most of the focus based on Episode 11, Chloe's first focus episode) and from the Pokémon anime in general.
      • Margaret's appearance near the end of Arc 3 only makes sense if you read the prequel story, Knight of the Orange Lily where she tried to drug Gladion to being her replacement son.
    • Infinity Train: Voyage of Wisteria is a sequel work, so this is kind of expected. However, the moment in the montage of what everybody's doing on the Train, on the Cyan Desert Car, is a notable example: unless you've been refreshing your mind, you're unlikely to know who the heck Miraj is.note 
      • Unless one was actively reading Infinity Train: Knight of the Orange Lily, you're wondering who the heck London is.note  The Intermission even notes that it's mostly about catching people up with Knight of the Orange Lily.
  • Nobody Dies was a tricky beast to get into. Not only was it only one-hundred chapters in length, it was a fan fic with Expanded Universe material with half a dozen canon side stories.

    Films — Animation 
  • Explicitly lampshaded in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters. The opening musical number tells you upfront that the movie is celebratory affair with a lot of Continuity Porn, so if you haven't watched the show you'll be totally lost. It also gently deconstructs this a bit, pointing out that if you're jumping in this late and skipping all the previous episodes, you really have no one to blame but yourself for being confused.
    "Do not explain the plot! If you don't understand, then you should not be here!"
  • In a bizarre instance where the first sequel has Continuity Lock-out, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is nearly incomprehensible unless you've played the game.
  • Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie is very heavy on continuity, even picking up from where the intended finale of Hey Arnold!, "The Journal", left off (granted in a dream, but still). Longtime fans enjoyed all the call-backs and the resolution to a cliffhanger over a decade in the making, but everyone else was completely lost, especially since the show's only recents airings at the time of the film's airing was a late-night retro block on TeenNick. Many viewers credit this trope as the reason for the television movie's middling ratings, as well as the subsequent move of fellow continuity-heavy throwback specials Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling and Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus from planned television airings to streaming.
  • Ralph Bakshi's take on The Lord of the Rings seems to assume you are already familiar with at least the bare bones of the story, since they refuse to explain anything beyond "And so it was that..."
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie takes it as a given that viewers are already familiar with the games, and therefore it doesn't expend much on explanations and worldbuilding. The expectation is that if you're watching a movie based on a massively popular, 40-year-old multimedia franchise, then you're already a fan and it's on you to know what the heck's going on. Tropes Are Tools, though, since the setting more or less runs on both Rule of Cool and Rule of Fun, so it's not as though attempts at verisimilitude or loads of backstory would make things any less confusing for a total newcomer.

  • Averted with the Sorcery! books, which is a spin-off from the Fighting Fantasy franchise. While the quest spans across 4 books, each book can be played as a standalone adventure and can be completed on their own without relying on the previous book, although players who embarks on the adventure separately might miss out certain items / bonuses from previous books which could make their current quest easier.
    • The Seven Serpents can be completed without relying on the previous book, Cityport of Traps, but players who chose the warrior's path will be in for a harm time, because the most powerful weapon against one of the serpents can only be found in the previous book (the tinder-box, for fighting against the Moon Serpent), making the combat extremely difficult for warriors with lower stats.
    • The Crown of Kings is Nintendo Hard as a standalone... unless players have completed The Seven Serpents and have killed six or seven of the titular serpents. With the serpents dead, players have their stats maxed out and have all the essential clues to any puzzles the book might throw at them.
  • The gamebook trilogy, Cretan Chronicles is pretty bad at this. All three books shares very tight inter-continuity, and reading from the second or third books would make the adventure near-incomprehensible.

  • Any band that's been around more than five years or so. You can get into and like the music with any band, but if you're seeking to get into the fandom side or be seen as anything but a noob, much less knowledgeable and intelligent, if a band's been around longer than five years, you'll need to check out all of their work, engage with active fans that were around from the beginning (or at least, themselves read up on the fandom lore) and be a lurker until you know what you're talking about to avoid Flame War.
  • Influences and inspirations for songs, lyrics, stage presence, or more, which can change your opinion or liking of a song or even a band.
  • Go on, try to understand what's going on in a Coheed and Cambria song if you've never read the comic books.

  • The Black Guy Who Tips: Since all but the last ten episodes are behind a paywall, most of the show's injokes and references are lost on newer listeners. (Example: You would have to be a regular listener since 2013 to know what "The Dudebros" is all about). Though Rod and Karen will occasionally re-explain some things (Like what "Bulletball" is).
  • The Magnus Archives embodies this in its later seasons. Seasons 1 and 2 are, for the most part, episodic, with each episode consisting of a standalone horror story and a few minutes of commentary at the end. But starting with season 3, the show begins to embrace an intricate Myth Arc and focus more on a recurring cast of characters, and by season 4 it's nigh-impossible to know what's going on in any given episode if you haven't listened to all of the previous ones. (Each episode still includes a standalone horror story, but it's usually a backdrop to whatever the main characters are doing that episode, and will probably reference characters and events first introduced tens or even hundreds of episodes before.)

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Usually avoided in pro wrestling, since most wrestlers and such (at least if they fall between the two extremes of "irrelevant" and "universally popular") will switch from Heel to Face and back again (or vice versa) quite a few times over the course of their part in an angle, with their contemporaries all but forgetting about the bad deeds they committed as Heels or the good deeds they committed as Faces (unless a wrestler is explicitly confronted with his/her past). However, since World Wrestling Entertainment has a video archive going back to the 1960s and everything (or almost everything) that occurred since 1983 is regarded as Canon, it often becomes helpful to play vintage video clips in the montages in order to bring everyone up to speed. (Anything that happened in the 1950s or earlier is, for the most part, written off as being the province of the wrestling "territories", ultimately embodied by the National Wrestling Alliance, which has an ongoing history dating back to the late 1940s — and yes, all of those 60-plus years are NWA canon — but from which WWE's original incarnation, Capitol Wrestling Corporation, broke away as early as 1953.)
    • Incredibly, there was at least one WWE personality whose exploits stretch back all the way to the outbreak of World War II, well before the beginning of WWE or NWA: Mae Young (1923-2014), the former United States Women's Champion (a now-defunct title) who appeared on Monday Night Raw as late as March 2013. With an in-ring career spanning literally six decades, Young was generally referred to in Broad Strokes whenever WWE programming discussed her incredible history, usually being hailed as the first nationally prominent female wrestler (not true, although she was alive when first nationally prominent generation was active) and a morale-booster for Americans on the home front during the war in the 1940s (true this time). Attempts have been made to construct a title archive for Young, but so many of her victories happened so long ago and were so spottily recorded that this task has proved frustrating; indeed, it's doubtful if Young herself could remember everything.
    • WWE fired their continuity editor for pointing out the millions of continuity errors. His job was specifically to point out and edit "storylines" to make sure the continuity worked.
    • This has increasingly become an issue in the 2010s, when WWE started signing more wrestlers who first achieved popularity in the independent/international scene. The rivalry between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, for example, takes on greater depth when one is also familiar with their previous backgrounds in Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerilla. And while WWE has done a good job so far establishing the relationship between AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, to casual viewers the connection between the three men and Finn Bálor is not readily apparent unless they also looked into the history of the Bullet Club, a heel stable that was created in a completely different promotion on the other side of the Pacific.
  • WWE onscreen commentators both past and present (Matt Striker, to give one noteworthy example) can boast an encyclopedic knowledge of 20th-century wrestling lore, being able to cite references to things that happened long before they were born - and since there isn't time in the middle of a match to bring everyone up to date on what all these references mean, anyone who happens to be casually tuning in to WWE programming is certain to be all but lost, even when it comes to references to events that happened as recently as a few months ago.
  • This was a problem for IWA Puerto Rico's English feed on Fox Sports Net. While cutting out all the promos and video packages and going straight to the matches was refreshing in a way, it was hard for someone casually tuning in to know exactly who everyone was or appreciate their motivations, which was a problem because IWA's big angles at the time revolved around abuse of power, attempted corporate takeovers and their rivalry with WWC, which anyone not up to speed with IWA would know even less about. Competing directly for viewership with TNA Impact, who happened to be signing names already known to the English speaking audience such as Samoa Joe while similar such names like Bison were leaving IWA gave people even less incentive to sit around and figure out what IWA was all about.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is a general property of Tabletop Role Playing Games. Most have highly detailed universes which are contained in Door Stopper books. A good Game Master and group of players will help a new player considerably. Put succinctly, a new player has to learn the mechanics of most games (crunch) as well as the setting (fluff). Despite the name, learning the "fluff" is not always easier - some games have really simple rules and terribly complex ideas behind them. Smart companies design their products around this problem.
  • Additionally, a new player joining a game that has been in progress for months or years can find themselves not only lost in terms of the core game, but in the no doubt hundreds of clashes, allies, enemies and in jokes a group will have created over the years.
    • Dungeons & Dragons and by extension Pathfinder get a bit of a break, as D&D has fertilized so many video games and other fantasy works that some of the material comes off as a cliche within the genre. Despite this, there are literally hundreds of books for the various D&D settings, optional guides, and so forth, spread through so many editions, that without a patient group it can be very overwhelming for a new player.
      • Forgotten Realms alone published dozens of books and boxed sets with every edition.
      • Paizo's Pathfinder Adventure Paths try to get around this by offering free books which brief the players on the adventure to come and what to expect. They're "only" roughly 15-30 full-size pages, and they still require a decent knowledge of the rather complex Pathfinder setting.
      • D&D and Pathfinder have the Continuity Lock-Out problem in their crunch as well. As they constantly release new books with new mechanics, a new player can have five to ten rulebooks of material to sort through. For example, Pathfinder initially had one Core Rulebook, but by mid-2013 now has expanded to include dozens of minor splat books and at least seven that could be considered "options for players." The Core book is about five hundred pages, and each other major book is about two-hundred and fifty.
      • Wizards of the Coast tried to avert this with 5th Edition, by sharply limiting how many books are published each year and making most of them game modules.
    • The World of Darkness, Old and New, were prone to this. The typical rulebook was 250 pages of fluff, 50 of mechanics, so a new player would have an immense buy-in in terms of learning the game's feel. Additionally, there were multi-year long metaplots, constant expansions, and a splat book for everything. And the lines all overlapped at least a bit. Fortunately, playing someone brand new to the supernatural world was pretty much the norm, so the characters would be unlikely to know much about the setting.
      • The New World of Darkness shies heavily away from the dense metaplot of the Old World of Darkness, where sourcebooks were like comic book issues: collect them all to have a hope in hell of understanding anything that was going on. While the New World of Darkness does have some metaplot elements, they are dramatically toned down from previous iteration.
    • Shadowrun requires a pretty good grounding in Urban Fantasy and Cyberpunk, plus is full of its own quirkiness. It's not the easiest setting to initially buy into.
    • Call of Cthulhu is a bit difficult to follow if one isn't overly familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos.
      • This is a problem of many games which license another setting, such as Star Wars, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Dresden Files, and The Wheel of Time. Presumably, someone wanting to play these games wants to enjoy settings from other media they like. If they invite other friends who aren't familiar with the setting, the new player has to adapt to all the new rules, mindset, and the setting.
      • Star Wars games often use the Expanded Universe. Given how much of it there is, that can really be overwhelming if all you know are the movies.
    • Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 are fairly approachable as straight war games without any over-arching fluff, but their various role playing incarnations like Dark Heresy require a massive amount of detail about their settings. The war games do a fairly good job of giving a feel for their worlds, however, with rule-books that are about a hundred pages of rules and three hundred pages of fluff and model galleries.
    • Paranoia subverts this. You're neither expected to know the rules nor the setting going in. If you are caught knowing the rules or setting, it's treason. Friend Computer assures you that knowing the rules or setting are not vital to your success in this mission. Report immediately to Brain-Scrub Room Zeta 462 to have this treasonous information purged from your brain or be executed for treason. Have a pleasant daycycle.
  • All the above problems apply doubly-so for the Game Master, who has to know (or fake) the setting to the satisfaction of the players.
  • Many games release a "beginner's version" to try to compensate for this problem, allowing new players to sample the game at a minimal layout before deciding whether they want put down their hard-earned money and then spend time working through the game at all. Sample adventures which hold the players' and GM's hands a great deal are also used to this effect.
    • Making many new characters naive about the setting is another effective tool to combat this problem, since the player and their character learn together. This is very effective in Unknown Armies, World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu, and other settings where there really isn't a good reason for the character to know much about the setting. When The Masquerade means new characters are naive, the player can be almost as surprised as their character when they discover something new.
  • Averting this trope is why Catalyst Game Labs released a new introductory box set for BattleTech that took things back to the Succession Wars (where the game originally started) following by a kickstarter for more box sets focusing on the Clan Invasion.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner. It's not a very continuity-heavy site really. But there is a large reliance on in-jokes and running gags. The toons are sorted into different categories so you're not even sure where to start. However, it has a wiki that is so helpful and comprehensive... it's a little scary. This is the only place you'll find a chronological list of the toons and games.
  • The Transformers: Combiner Wars manages to do this despite being set in its own exclusive continuity and only a half hour long. It constantly flings about references to prior Transformers lore without ever stopping to explain what it all means. Even worse, Transformers is a franchise that relies heavily on alternate universes and continuities and elements vary greatly from series to series, meaning even hardcore fans had trouble telling what was supposed to be going on.
  • The Most Popular Girls in School: The number of views of each consecutive episode on YouTube decreased sharply because of this trope; this comedy series had evolved into a plot-heavy Dramedy by the start of Season 3.
  • Dr. Havoc's Diary: Just like Mark and Carlo's first show, you really need to keep track of the continuity regarding Dr. Havoc's misadventures, or else the plots and jokes will make little sense.
  • Shrapnel: A minor example regarding a past project of Moonshine Animations, with some episodes of Moonshine Reviews (in which various members of the Shrapnel cast review various figures and toys) hosted by Cecilia that reference Off the Grid, a stop-motion webseries that Moonshine made for Stikbot Central. If viewers aren’t familiar with Cecilia’s counterpart in Off the Grid, then some of her comments and interactions with the stikbots lack a bit of context.
  • While Sonic for Hire was far from serious like most works with tight continuity, the series featured various characters, plot points, and even minor jokes from as far back as the very first episode that tend to be revisited or alluded to in future episodes. The extremely serialized nature of the show didn't help, as each episode picked up directly from the previous one with virtually no explanation of the events that occurred beforehand. The only counteraction to this is that each episode has incredibly short run-times, usually ranging from between 2-3 minutes.
  • Pokémon Rusty, despite being a Black Comedy parody series of the Pokémon franchise, had virtually no standalone episodes whatsoever. Each episode was a continuation of the previous one, with little-to-no explanation regarding any events, plot related or otherwise, that happened beforehand.

  • Sluggy Freelance. Trying to understand the significance of things without going through an Archive Binge... just doesn't work. Sluggy Freelance may be the only webcomic where the creator forgot his keys and locked himself out of his own continuity. In his defense, the writer has become aware of this trope and provides relevant links at the bottom of the strip for anyone who hasn't gone through the eight plus years of continuity.
  • Megatokyo. If you haven't read it from the beginning, you can forget about understanding the story. This is largely due to its character driven nature. If you haven't witnessed every second of Piro and Kimiko's courtship, or taken notes on each tiny nuance of the Piro/Miho dynamic, you aren't going to have any clue what's going on. Even then you might still have trouble, but that's another trope entirely
  • Dominic Deegan grew into this around the time of the "Storm of Souls" arc, which was the first storyline to build off of all that had come before it. Most plots since then generally came about as a result of the actions of previous plots. Characters would also make reference to these events, even making a joke about events from the first year up to the very last story. The frequent use of Chekhov's Boomerang and Magic A Is Magic A meant you could expect details and spells from previous events to return in one form or another. The sequel works well enough as a stand-alone as a big part is learning about how the world changed alongside new protagonist Snout, but there's just enough bits referring to the old characters that knowing the previous story helps you learn what happened to them or catch a few key points early.
  • Penny and Aggie is a tapestry of numerous characters and subplots and overarching plots and rivalries... just read it from the beginning and you'll understand it better. The website now attempts to help those not planning on an Archive Binge by displaying a summary of the current plotline and the characters involved. The reader is still missing out on a wealth of backstory and characterization if they rely on that alone.
  • Scary Go Round was brought to an end due, in part, to its massive archive keeping new readers at bay. The following strip Bad Machinery is set in the same world, but with new characters, two supporting characters, and some other characters from Scary Go Round for which backstory is not needed to understand their new role.
  • Girl Genius has so many characters who can be summarized as "Mad Scientist", many of whom disappeared for several years and then resurfaced, that even after reading the entire archive it's hard to keep track of what's going on now.
  • Gene Catlow has spent many years on a single, complex arc that seems to have important roles for dozens of characters.
  • Any MSPaint Adventure, but particularly Problem Sleuth. Even people who have read every single page in order occasionally need to sit back and think "Wait, what's going on?" If you have a good grip of the story, even skipping a few pages will mean you won't understand a Call-Back or five.
    • Generally, webcomics having call backs isn't so rough because of their archives, but MSPA is one of the few webcomics (except, perhaps, the Walkyverse) that requires you to read unrelated webcomics to get all the jokes. Want to understand why Jade is making jokes about pumpkins in Homestuck? What's up with Ace Dick's extended sideplot in the Game Of Life? Well you had better read every badly-drawn, nonsensical corner of Jail Break!
    • The author acknowledged the need for think-time during Problem Sleuth by having not one, not two, but three recap comics throughout its run, the first of which is simply devoted to explaining where everyone is and how many versions of each character exist.
    • Homestuck, Problem Sleuth's successor, has a very very very very very convoluted plot. One can spend hours trying to fit all the pieces together, and chances are that you've probably still missed something that the fandom hasn't. And then there's the tangentially related pages such as the Midnight Crew and Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, which somehow weave through and permeate the entire plot even though they're in rather... inaccessible locations.
    This link is the in-comic recap of the first year.
  • Eerie Cuties/Magick Chicks:
    • It was originally intended for newer readers to be able to follow Magick Chicks without it being necessary to read both comics. But between their Shared Universe, two major crossovers, along with several cameos and certain events overlapping, they became so intwined that it was no longer possible.
    • The writers eventually realized it themselves, which lead them to do a "soft reboot" of both series, to make things easier to follow.
  • The Order of the Stick is not quite long enough to invoke this yet, but it's well on its way there, as any strip past the 300-strip mark has a 80% chance of making no sense whatsoever to anyone who hasn't read through the whole archive. It's exactly like joining a RPG campaign in the middle: you'll still get the gamer jokes, but who are all of these NPCs?
  • Occasionally there are Arthur, King of Time and Space strips that don't make sense unless you know the running gags and continuity points. As with many meta-concepts in AKOTAS, Lampshaded via Arthur's webcomic.
  • Unwinder's Tall Comics: author Eli Parker calls attention to it in The Rant for page 121. "I was doing such a good job of producing comics that were newcomer-friendly, and then I had to go and do this. I apologize to any newcomers who showed up and saw this."
  • El Goonish Shive: Author Dan Shive tries very hard to avert this but he has lampshaded it in the past like in this comic's title or this one's commentary. Like Sluggy Freelance, he has taken to providing relevant comic reference links at the bottom of the strip just above the commentary for anyone who hasn't gone through the ten plus years of continuity recently.
  • Wapsi Square has been running since 2001, has over 2000 strips, and has heavy enough continuity that you can't merely skim read if you want to be able to understand what is going on.
  • Given the sheer amount of content within Endtown, this is bound to happen. Fortunately, you can go on an Archive Binge, but a person who starts reading now would be most likely confused.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Events connected to each other can happen real-time months apart, to the point that even some of the regular readers can forget a given event happened by the time it gets a follow-up, so things can be even harder to understand for someone just jumping in on the latest page. This comes with the fact that some basic information given about the characters upon their respective introductions is both very seldom mentioned afterwards and relevant throughout the story. A lot about the background has also been filled in by Word of God in the page comments themselves, resulting in statements pre-dating the time at which one has started reading sometimes ending up buried in hard to find places.
  • Nineteen-Ninety-Something spawned over 1000 strips in a span of 2 years, and despite being an homage to Newspaper Comics of the 90s, it's jet-packed with tight continuity that would only make sense if you've read the previous story arcs.
  • Housepets! is a webcomic that's been running since 2008 and barring a hiatus in 2021 that lasted a few months, is still going with a lot of strips that reflect it's lengthy run. While it initially started as a comedic strip that wasn't reliant on continuity, it later started several subplots involving major characters and only a rare few of them received any conclusion, and even then sometimes may either be brought up again later or replaced with a different subplot almost immediately. Some of the subplots are also considered extremely convoluted (especially when the Celestial Bureaucracy gets involved) and reliant on hefty amounts of exposition that some readers found them difficult to follow even if they got far enough to where those subplots began.

    Web Original 
  • Given the vagueness of the plot and the fact that all the episodes are online, lonelygirl15 would probably not be an example of this, if it wasn't for the tendency of seemingly irrelevant, blink-and-you'll-miss-it background details to become crucial Chekhov's Guns several hundred episodes later.
  • Happens in Survival of the Fittest a great deal. Sometimes, even starting at the beginning of the current version/season isn't enough — references will be made to scenes or characters in previous versions. It's often very bewildering for people seeing the RP for the first time.
  • The Whateley Universe consists of over a hundred stories, most of them novel or novella length. Every major protagonist has a backstory, and girls of Team Kimba all have Backstory novels. Diving in with current stories means you may not get the in-jokes, or the references to prior stories, or what's going on with recurring characters, or some of the ongoing plotlines, like Ayla's blackmailer or Jade's quest, or the people who may be after Toni. It's assumed that you already know what the main characters' powers are.
  • Channel Awesome, has many multi-video running gags, crossovers, story arcs, and callbacks to past videos. Most hardcore fans of the site were lucky to find the The Nostalgia Critic's stuff on YouTube before it grew into a critic community, so they have a leg up on knowing each Running Gag. Watching individual reviews on the site, it seems fairly accessible, but understanding something like Kickassia is impossible unless you have a good understanding of the group's dynamic, and the use of past characters.
    • Linkara is definitely one of the worst with his ongoing story arc, but to his credit, he has posted on his own website every arc-related episode in chronological order. There's also a more recent recap video. His storyline being intimately intertwined with Spoony's doesn't help.
      • Made even worse by Spoony no longer being on the site. Newcomers won't be able to follow it anymore unless they do some off-site research.
    • Suburban Knights was specifically written to avoid this, however. You'll definitely get more out of it if you're a fan of the site (especially regarding the use of Ma-Ti) but the story is perfectly comprehensible to someone coming in cold.
    • To Boldly Flee wasn't shy about being a Continuity Porn send-off for The Nostalgia Critic, but you needed to know his issues and backstory, Spoony spooning everyone, Linkara's running at the time Story Arc of getting worse as a person and the Psychotic Love Triangle between Chick, Todd and Lupa.
  • Ostensibly, one of the reasons Rooster Teeth ended Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles at Episode 100 was to prevent Continuity Lockout. While they succeeded, the series from that point forth became more plot based, and a good number of the Call Backs still require familiarity with all the older episodes (as opposed to just episodes from the most recent seasons). Even two miniseries that were only available on the Xbox Video at first (both were later added to RT's website and the series' Youtube channel), Out of Mind and Recovery One, are required to understand the season right after The Blood Gulch Chronicles, Reconstruction.
  • The Slender Man Mythos is slowly becoming this, particularly Everyman HYBRID with its Alternate Reality Game elements and the miscellaneous Core Theory blogs. Aggravated by the occasional Dead Link.
  • The Unshaved Mouse's love of Running Gags and story arcs can cause this for new readers who don't start reading from the very beginning and wind up scratching their heads over why "Bahia" is mentioned so often or why there are all these talking maps of continents around. He lampshaded it in his Fantasia 2000 review in which a lengthy sequence of him being put on trial by a vengeful Comrade Crow with Antarctica as his attorney (a subplot that was set up two reviews earlier in Mulan) was followed by a photo of a confused reader with the caption "I just came to this blog because I was told there were Disney reviews here and I have no fucking idea what all this bullshit is."
  • Discussed Trope in The Comics Curmudgeon, where Josh criticises a B.C. strip for being totally incomprehensible to new readers, before realising that he came into BC late enough that the Running Gag in question was never actually explained to him either, but he picked it up somehow. He then follows it up with "a couple of comics and commentaries thereupon that probably won’t make any sense if you aren’t a regular reader of this blog!" (One about Kaz's "sex dojo" in Gil Thorp and one about "Finger-Quotin' Margo" in Apartment 3-G.)
  • Trying to explain something that happened in a recent chapter of The Jenkinsverse to someone who hasn't read any of it often involves lengthy explanations of - for example - why Julian has two girlfriends and hangs out with alien monkeys or exactly what HEAT is. Jenkins himself hasn't been a player in any storylines for a while now.
  • Renegade Rhetoric, a Character Blog for Cy-Kill from Challenge of the GoBots, had many posts that consisted of the Renegade leader describing the events of episodes from a fictional second season of the cartoon, a fair number of them requiring the reader to have seen the original cartoon and the movie GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords to fully understand.

  • BIONICLE eventually got this way, especially after the introduction of the on-line serials. The main story arcs tended to avoid this, but when former main characters that had been cast aside for years got back on stage, even that went messy. The whole storyline balanced on a thin line between trying to please the older fans and bring in fresh blood. This was probably one of the main reasons LEGO decided to put the line on hiatus and bring in Hero Factory, which was much lighter on the story and had little to no continuity; and when it was brought back it was given a Continuity Reboot to help clear things up.
    • An additional problem was that much of Bionicle's story was told in a multitude of media, comics, films, books and online content ranging from games to animations to web serials (written or read as audio files). LEGO almost never marketed the books (which told the majority of the story) and only kept other story sources archived for a limited time, meaning much of the media was either not available for new readers to catch up on or they plainly had no idea that it existed to begin with. Some story info was not published in any media, only in posts by the writer on multiple separate websites, most of which can't be accessed anymore. This was remedied by fanmade archives and wikis, and as of the late 2010s and early 2020s, all the story has been digitized and made easy to find... a decade after the franchise had already ended.
  • Kagerou Project: The franchise's beginnings as a series of character-driven (and seemingly unrelated) songs - with only minimal information released by the project's creator - has led to a lot of new fans feeling alienated due to the complexity of the whole plot (made worse by the fact that the songs don't have an official order), and the large number of characters contained therein. Even the series' other adaptations provide issues, as the manga is still incomplete and the anime (while complete and comprehensive) leaves significant gaps and relies on viewers knowing at least a little about the project and its characters before viewing. The late-game revelation that all 3 branches of media are actually time loops, and that the light novels utilize this plot point from 2014 on, end up retroactively making the rest of the franchise required reading to understand how the books end.
  • This can be a problem with online roleplays that have gone on for years. When a new member wants to join up they have to verse themselves in everything that's happened before.
    • Glowfic likes to make its characters explain their own backstory and universe to other characters who they meet for the first time, as well as playing with this trope in-universe because new characters constantly join an organisation/group/collective and have to be caught up, and (sometimes) they are caught up onscreen, via some old character explaining it to them in conversation.
  • Depending on the extent of Fanon, this can happen - a lot of fandom members tend to assume everybody is on board with their fandom lore, the running gags, the personalities invented (and accepted) by them or have read all the popular fanfiction recommendations. This can lead to some new fans wondering where on earth this is coming from.
  • Many films based on a TV series fall into this trap, as they continue from events in the TV series and assume viewers are already familiar with them. How severe this trope can be depends on its connection to those events, as well as the setup of their respective series: a film with a self-contained story can easily be enjoyed by unfamiliar viewers as a standalone work, whereas one with a complex mythos and already-established characters will leave them completely lost.
  • Pinball is an entire medium that has fallen victim to this. Every pinball machine released since The Addams Family has assumed the player knows how to start a game note , pushing the Start button multiple times will begin multiplayer note , what locking balls do note , how the ball count works when you win extra balls note , what the loud knock from inside the cabinet means note , what "VUK" means note , how many balls are in a standard game note , what a "ramp" is and what makes it different from a "lane" or an "orbit" note , what a "bonus multiplier" is note , the existence of match games note , that most modern machines will give you a free ball if you drain too quickly note , what it means when the "Shoot Again" light is flashing and what it means when it's continuously lit note , and that "Score #1" is actually the second-best score after Grand Champion note . People who have been playing pinball for years will know these things, but a beginner likely won't, and will instead do things like mash the Start button to begin a game, as that's how it's done in video games, and unintentionally and unknowingly start maximum-player games.
  • Forgotten Realms is so densely filled with history that it's virtually impossible to find any location in the world a character can be from that doesn't have five thousand years of history, collected local prejudices about the surrounding towns, cities, and countries, accrued reputations with those surroundings, and so on. This is a big part of the world's appeal - Ed Greenwood and many after him have made the world incredibly rich. On the other hand, it makes it very hard to place a character and not feel like you're swimming in an ocean of things you don't know about "yourself".


Video Example(s):


Catching Up On the MCU

Like a new MCU fan, Eddie decides he needs to catch up on everything about this new universe before he can act. By the time he understands everything, the battle with the villains has already concluded and he is sent back home.

How well does it match the trope?

4.95 (43 votes)

Example of:

Main / ContinuityLockOut

Media sources: