A Lament for Telltale Games
Today’s news of Telltale Games’ dramatic (90%) downsizing and all but inevitable, eventual closure, has really shaken myself and Mai to the core. We’re both huge fans of their output, holding the first season of The Walking Dead in the highest regard to this day. In fact, that game, as well as reviving the adventure game genre, arguably spearheaded the rise of episodic narrative games, and so many games, Life Is Strange included, owe a lot to it. Rightly winning the 2012 Game of the Year at the Video Game Awards, it is a true masterpiece. What follows is our own individual thoughts on our history with Telltale Games.
I remember playing the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead with my friend Matt back in 2012. The first 3 Episodes were out by this point and we were hooked within minutes of the first episode, binging on all 3 episodes over 2 evenings, and eagerly awaiting the final 2 episodes. We talked about the game constantly, fell in love with Lee and Clementine, quoted the game often and it also got us into watching the TV show. The shocking plot twists and split decisions we needed to make elicited a visceral impact, the kind that makes you stare at each other wide-eyed or swear out loud. And once we got to the end of Episode 5, I can assure you, we proved that two grown men can get choked up by a videogame.
While it might be true that subsequent seasons of The Walking Dead never quite matched up to the first season’s towering achievements, they each still had moments of brilliance in their own right. And while I only played their Game of Thrones series and Guardians of the Galaxy series besides The Walking Dead, I appreciated their dedication and the unique flavour each series brought to the table. Guardians in particular, is the most fun I’ve had playing any game in recent years. A perfect blend of the movie’s tone and the comic’s style.
Mai insists that their The Wolf Among Us is among their very best. It’s been sitting in my game library for some time. I now have a poignant reason to finally get around to playing it, but no matter how great it is, the feeling will be bittersweet, knowing we will likely never see the formerly-announced sequel from this landmark studio. Thanks for the memories Telltale. Good luck to all those affected in finding new professional homes.
I was never big into narrative games. Aside from some specific sagas like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, I felt like the genre wasn’t the best at the time. Many adventure games were forgotten, and no new ideas or mechanics came in the later ones. Until Telltale showed up. I saw The Walking Dead: Season 1 as one of the same kind of games that tried to bring back a dead genre to me, so I didn’t give much thought about it. Until The Walking Dead actually won Game of the Year at the VGA’s. I was surprised and sceptic, because I didn’t expect that at all. An episodic narrative game winning such a prize when, as far as I knew, the public was more focused on other type of games, made me curious. And even if I didn’t watch the show at all at the time, I gave it a try. And it hooked me forever. It had all I’ve always loved of the genre, with the beautiful twist of the choice-driven mechanic. My choices actually shaped the story, the characters and the world around them. I fell in love with Lee and Clementine to the point I’m sure I will never forget about them. And that got me into trying other games of the genre. It was actually what made me play Life Is Strange for the first time, despite feeling the same weird mix of things.
Telltale not only revived the genre for me, but also gave it an artistic direction I loved; the idea of making games comic-like, but with the advantages and freedom of the 3D environment and simple controls. I agree it’s a genre that is not for everyone, but to me it meant a lot to see it actually having success, motivating people and connecting with a story in a deep way, like when I was playing any of Bioware’s big titles.
Not to mention, the fact that Telltale at the time was an indie studio, at least in size. A small team accomplished the equivalent of making your fan-fiction canon own the fictional world you loved and that is something that stuck with me. It reminded me why I wanted to make games in the first place. It’s the narrative potential and the ability to put the player in a tough spot, emotionally speaking, that always resonated with me. The fact that we as the players have a choice to make too. We are no more following the already-scripted narrative in the way we used to, but we were living our own adventure. With limitations? Yes. With illusion of choice? Yes. But at least in the moment it didn’t feel like it. It felt like the chance to make the characters my own and it definitely made me rethink the way I thought games could be used to send a message; to tell a story; to leave mark. You don’t need a triple-A photo realistic production to provoke empathy, you just need a good story.
Seeing Telltale go out with the final chapter of the story that got me into them is pretty bittersweet. As a developer, as a storyteller and as an artist, I am heartbroken. And I feel like the industry has lost something very valuable, despite the political implications and the bad choices that have been made over the years. Despite the fact that the industry itself seems to have swallowed the studio whole and spat out its bones.
I just hope someone out there sees it the way I do. And for me personally, I will always remember what it meant for me, and what it means today. As much as LIS pushed me to view things differently on a personal level, Telltale’s stories made me rethink many approaches as a developer. And I hope one day I can create something that makes the players feel the way I felt every time Clementine smiled because of my choices, every time I cried over a bad call, and every time I felt empowered to reach the finale of a very emotional journey.
To everyone who participated in this: you may never read what I’m writing but thank you. The best of luck to every single one of you.
We strongly urge all fans of Life Is Strange, and narrative games in general, to dive into Telltale Games’ impressive library, if you haven’t already. Witness the rebirth of a once-dying genre, and hold out hope that it will be rekindled one day soon; by the same wonderful souls who lit the beacon in the first place, but with some new voices coming along for the journey too.
Adventure games are not dead. Someone just accidentally turned off the lights.
Chris Anderson is the creator of Life Is Strange Fans. He is interested in all things creative, be that Film Making, Digital Art, 3D Art, Graphic Design and Video Game Development.
He is also an aspiring Writer and has been developing a fantasy series for over 10 years.