Telltale Is Shaping the Future of Gaming

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Posted January 15, 2014 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Comic Books

Over the course of the past couple of years, gaming has been falling into a series of deep, dark holes, with only a couple games managing to scramble out of them. Some make it out, and stand victorious on the edge of one of these holes, looking out at a swarm of gamers who can’t contain their joy at the fact that this game managed to escape the fall. Others fall all the way to the bottom of the pit, hit the ground, bounce a few times, and then are either devoured by the casual gamers who continue to dig the hole before being thrown out when the next yearly title comes out, or simply left to rot, and are entirely forgotten about.

destiny pit

No, not this pit you guys…

Some developers, however, have found their way out of the hole, and now stand at the edge, looking down at the myriad of developers who work in the slave pits of publishers like EA or Activision, with sad, pitiful looks on their faces. But then, they turn, and march out into the world, ready to create stellar games for the gamers to devour. One such developer is Telltale, a developer that wallowed at the bottom of the pit for so long, and now, miraculously, has made it out. With games like The Walking Dead, and now, The Wolf Among Us, Telltale has redefined themselves, putting themselves at the forefront of story based game developers – possibly at the top rung of that ladder, with developers like Irrational and Ubisoft, two developers that have taken huge leaps forwards in terms of story driven gaming.

They are one of the few developers that act as a light in the darkness, putting story, and the experience of the game, over everything. Sure, they aren’t reinventing the wheel, but they’re reminding us that the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented. They’re reminding us that there was nothing wrong with the way games used to be, before the only games that could really sell were the yearly first person shooters. What Telltale does is strip games down to their core – an interactive experience that makes people feel like they are truly a part of some other world, in a way that no other form of entertainment is able to do. These games are essentially point and click adventure games, and yet, they received immense praise from the community and critics alike. This isn’t to say that the gameplay in any of Telltale’s games is boring in any way, in fact, it’s thoroughly enjoyable, but it isn’t necessarily what the games are about.

Walking Dead Telltale

Possibly one of the best games of the generation.

With The Walking Dead, there was never a time when I didn’t feel like I was Lee Everett, the games protagonist. There was never a time when I didn’t feel responsible for Clementine, and there was never a time when I didn’t feel guilty about the death of a friend. Some people may find this to be sad or pathetic, but playing that game, I felt like I knew the characters. This can – and does – certainly happen when I’m reading a novel or comic book, or watching a movie or TV, but none of them made me feel like I was actually living the experience in the way that The Walking Dead did. I’ve never been as attached to Rick Grimes, or Michonne, or Tyreese, or Andrea, or Glenn (who actually shows up in the game, which is pretty amazing for fans of the comics or TV show) as I was to Lee Everrett, and I’ve known those characters for years.

Walking Dead Telltale 2

Almost a year later, I’m still worried about Clementine running into some walkers…

That’s what made the game such a great experience. I didn’t feel distant from the protagonist. I felt like, not only was I the protagonist, but there was a reason for what I was doing. It wasn’t like in other games, where there’s a very loose thread that makes an attempt to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing, to rationalize it to me. And still, it feels forced. Other games don’t have the emotional highs and lows that The Walking Dead did, and the way The Wolf Among Us started, I’m sure it will attain the same heights as The Walking Dead did. My choices mattered, and whenever I made a choice, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the right one, and when the game came to a close, I was left wondering if I could have saved all the people who I lost over the course of the game.

One of the great things about Telltale that allows them to do this is that, unlike other developers, they don’t care about appealing to every single person who has ever played a video game. Rather, they care about crafting a good story, a story that the gamer can attach to, and roll with every step of the way. Not that these games shouldn’t appeal to a wider demographic, because they should. Every gamer should be playing Telltale’s games. They should be the games that everyone talks about, the ones that everyone gets super pumped for. However, in terms of the excitement level for them, they’re practically indie games at this point, but that’s changing. The paradigm is beginning to shift, even if it shifting slowly. People are leaning more towards quality games, like the games that Telltale puts out.

I guess what I’m saying is this: Telltale has shown us that you can make a great game – an amazing game, even – based solely around the story and the interactive experience that the game provides. You don’t need big explosions, meaningless plot twists, and every athlete who’s ever touched a soccer ball to make your game good. You need a set of characters that the gamer will care about, and a story that engrosses them, taking them across the emotional spectrum to the point that they end up in the fetal position after one character death, before going back in and doing everything in their power to prevent it from happening.

Wolf Among Us 1

More of this? Hell yes.

 

And Telltale is showing no signs of letting up. Season two of The Walking Dead will be hitting us soon, and that game is already looking to be at least as good as the first season. There are still four episodes left of The Wolf Among Us, and it will probably only be uphill from this point. On top of that, they have a Game of Thrones game coming in 2014, as well as a Borderlands game, neither of which I can wait for. It’s astounding that a pre-existing game studio is entrusting Telltale with their own franchise, but it’s really not a surprising. Borderlands and Telltale’s games have a same visual style (which is stellar), and it makes sense for the story that the game will probably be telling.

Both of these games are going to be undoubtedly stellar games, that tell engrossing stories in worlds we’ve already come to love and make the gamer feel like they are living the experiences of the protagonist, not simply an omniscient being who happens to be controlling a series of characters that there is no reason whatsoever to care about. Instead, Telltale creates new characters, or uses pre-existing ones to tell great, character driven stories, ones where everything the gamer does matters. The player feels like they matter, and not like they’ve been thrust into a world dominated by scripted sequences and huge explosions.

Wolf Among Us 2

Even though I know where this is going, playing it all the way through is going to be a much more rewarding experience.

Telltale is an example of a game developer managing to turn themselves around completely. It took them a while to hit their stride, and a couple of franchises suffered from it. But the Telltale we’re seeing now isn’t the Telltale that made Jurassic Park or Back to the Future. No, the Telltale that we’re seeing now is a reformed Telltale, one that managed to break its fall and scramble back out of the pit, ready to produce more and more stellar games for an audience of gamers that is beginning to care more and more about story – and less and less about senselessly slaughtering thousands of faceless people for seemingly no reason. This is a Telltale for the thinking person, and that’s what gamers are. This is the future, and I, for one, am extremely happy about that.

game of thrones

Who will sit this throne next? Probably you, actually.

 


About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.