Thoughts On: Telltale Games

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I am currently playing through The Wolf Among Us from Telltale Games, and here are my two cents worth on the first episode. For someone who hasn’t read the comic book series this game is based on, I really enjoyed the first episode. I was intrigued by this world the game gave me, and I liked the characters, along with the subtle and not so subtle vibes they gave off. I am interested in checking out the comic book series this game is based on, but I want to take my own guesses with what might happen with the characters in the game’s story. I am not going to review The Wolf Among Us until all five episodes are out so I can review the entire experience and not just the individual episodes. I will say this though, get the season pass for this game. Now then, I thought this week I would also talk about the company that made this game since their second season to their Walking Dead game is coming out soon. I also want to talk about them because they are slowly becoming one of my favorite developers, and are filled with ex-LucasArt employees. Anyway, let’s get started on talking about Telltale Games!

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Like I said, Telltale Games was made by a bunch of ex-LucasArts employees in June 2004. Knowing what was going on with LucasArts during that time, and knowing what they have done since, I don’t blame them for quitting that company, due to how much of a flop the studio would be in the 2000s and since. Moving on, Telltale Games released their first game in February 2005 and it was called Telltale Texas Hold’em. It was obviously a poker game, and that got them some positive reviews. Kind of weird to start off your legacy as a company with a poker game, when in the future, you would be known for your high quality adventure games. It is just interesting to me, personally. Their second game would be their first official adventure game, and it was based off of the comic book series Bone. The game was called Bone: Out from Boneville, which was based off of the first volume of the Bone series. It was released on September 15th, 2005. It was met with mostly positive reviews, but was criticized for its simple gameplay and short length. In March 2006, they released an adventure game based off of CSI called CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder. It was met with mixed reviews. In April of that same year, they released Bone: The Great Cow Race. Just as with the first Bone game, it was also met with positive reviews. Telltale Games is now known for releasing their games episodically, and their first episodic game was Sam & Max Save the World. Critics and gamers loved the humor, graphics, and gameplay. However, it was criticized for the simple puzzles and the overall repetitive design. It was a very successful game for the company and cemented their legacy of releasing their adventure games in episodic formats. 2007 saw the release of CSI: Hard Evidence. It garnered a mostly above-average response, but it was definitely not their best game. Since CSI: Hard Evidence was not a huge success, they went back to the drawing boards and made another Sam & Max game called Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space in November 2007-April 2008. It was once again well received by critics.

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Their next episodic adventure game would be rather different, and tackle the popular Homestar Runner online series. It was called Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, and was released from August 2008 to December 2008. It was well received, but was criticized by claims that consumers who haven’t seen the online series wouldn’t understand the overall experience, and that there was a lack of ambition in most of the episodes. I haven’t played this game, but it looks fun, and I was a huge fan of the site a long time ago. Their next game would be based off of the stop-motion Wallace & Gromit franchise called Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, and was released in March 2009. It had a positive reception, and is a pretty fun adventure game, but it is distracting that they had to get Wallace’s stand-in voice actor instead of the original one. The stand-in’s voice is obviously very different than Wallace’s original voice. Their next game would bring the ex-LucasArts employees back to the 90s, when they were still a part of the LucasArts family, since their next game was Tales of Monkey Island. They even got Ron Gilbert, who was one of the original creators of the franchise to help with the game. It was highly praised, and I have played a bit of it. It is a fun game, but the controls are wonky. It was released in July 2009. Once again, they made another CSI game in October 2009 called CSI: Deadly Intent. The only thing that really stands out about this game is that the DS version has four unique chapters that are not in the other versions. April 2010 saw the release of the developer’s most recent Sam & Max game called Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse. Once again, it was well received, and it just seems like the Sam & Max games are now one of the most consistent game series based off of a licensed property. Telltale Games would be the publisher of a three episode adventure game called Hector: Badge of Carnage, which was released from June 2010 to September 2010. It was highly praised for its humor and being a well-designed game. If you have played this game, tell me your experience with it, and I might try it out on my iPhone or computer when I get the chance. June 2010 saw the release of Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent. It was a collaboration project with Graham Annable, who was the creator of Grickle, and is a very talented animator. For some reason in 2010, they released another CSI game called CSI: Fatal Conspiracy. Big surprise, it didn’t get good reviews. Their next game would actually not be an adventure game. Understandable, since I would think after so many adventure games in a row, they would need to take a break from the genre. They then made a poker game that was called Poker Night at the Inventory. It was, for the most part, a simple poker game, but was popular due to the cast of characters you played poker against. The game was known for starring Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, Max from Sam & Max, and Tycho from Penny Arcade’s webcomic. It was well received, and seems like a popular game, but I am not much of a poker player, so the game doesn’t really interest me.

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On December 22, 2010 they released their next adventure game, Back to the Future: The Game. This game was unique, due to the story taking place six months after the original trilogy, and they even brought back Christopher Lloyd to reprise his role from the movies. It was a popular game, despite some criticism due to technical issues seen throughout the five episodes. I have only played the demo of the first episode, and it is interesting, but I didn’t really grow up with the Back to the Future series, so the game didn’t really grab me. After making a Law & Order game, and a solo episode puzzle game, they released their next adventure game based off of one of the more popular movie franchises, Jurassic Park. The plot of the game took place during and after the first Jurassic Park film, which is nice, since the other two films in the franchise…yeah, forget about those. It was also noticeable for originally being released in April, but was pushed back to November of 2011, with all four episodes released at once. Its reward for the delayed release was mixed reviews with critics and gamers complaining about bland story, forgettable characters, and weak gameplay. Yeah, when your characters and story are the weakest part of your adventure game, you did something wrong. After making another episodic adventure game based off of Law & Order, they then got to work on what I consider to be their best game. In April 2012, they released their next episodic experience, this time based on The Walking Dead. The story was an original story following a convict named Lee Everett and his relationship with a young girl named Clementine during the zombie outbreak. It was critically acclaimed and won the developer multiple Game of the Year Awards. It is my favorite game from the developer, and is one of my favorite games of all time. They just showed that the game industry can have good storytelling. They released an expansion to Season 1 called 400 Days that will hopefully expand into the recently announced Season 2. After that money train came through their doors, they released a sequel to their popular poker game in April 2013 called Poker Night 2. The cast this time was definitely one that I never expected to see. The cast this time includes Brock Samson from The Venture Bros. TV series, Ash from Evil Dead, Sam from Sam & Max, and Claptrap from the Borderlands franchise with GLaDOS from Portal being the card dealer. I don’t know if this game is more popular than the last game, but I wish these Poker Night games were real, since I want to be a witness to the conversation these characters would have with each other. Currently, they are working on The Walking Dead Season 2 and their newest adventure game, The Wolf Among Us.

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So, what do I like about this company? They basically brought back the adventure game genre. For several years after the genre died down, this company came out and started making adventure games again for the newer and older generation of gamers to enjoy. By the time they started releasing their adventure games, gamers were more interested in action games, shooters, and RPGs than point-and-click adventure games. It would have been looked at as a risky investment, but since most of the developer were made up of ex-LucasArts employees, I think we were in pretty good hands. I mean, in this day of gaming, would we think a licensed game like Telltale’s The Walking Dead would get multiple Game of the Year Awards? That is just amazing to think about. It is also nice that they haven’t had to go back on old point-and-click adventure game mechanics that would now look like utter tedium, topped with a spread of frustration. And again, they show that games can have engaging stories.

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Now then, what would I like to see from this talented company in the future? For the most part, I don’t want them to tackle other genres. I think since their strength is in cinematic adventure games, they should stick to that, while innovating and improving on the format. Where I would to see them change is in tackling an adventure game not based off of an already existing IP. I love how they are making good licensed games like The Walking Dead, Back to the Future, and their recent adventure game based off Fables, but I would like to see what they can do with their own unique ideas. I mean, am I the only one who would like to see them tackle an original adventure game IP? I also think they need to tackle the technical issues that plague their games. I know this is like asking Rockstar or Bethesda to not have any technical issues in their games, but it wouldn’t hurt to put some of their resources in making sure there aren’t any minor bugs that detract from the experience. I also think some minor art design tweaks are needed, due to some of the character models that are in their games having rather weird facial expressions. I don’t know if it is the art style that does this, but I feel like there needs to be some tweaks to the art design.

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In the end, Telltale Games has some incredible promise as a developer and will hopefully be getting stronger and better in the future. They just need to change a few minor things to be truly great. For now, I anticipate The Wolf Among Us Episode Two and The Walking Dead Season 2. What would you all like to see from this company? For now, it’s time for my third playthrough of The Wolf Among Us Episode 1.