Telltale “Interactive Story Experiences”


I’ve been thinking of how Telltale Games does things lately. It’s very much treading the line between “game” and “show”, but not a game show. Not yet, anyway, they seem to be taking any idea for a game show. Ever since probably the Jurassic Park series, but especially since the first Walking Dead, they’ve gone from point and click adventures and such to what is essentially a long cutscene with occasional quick time events, dialogue choices, and dialogue which is timed so that’s kind of a QTE as well. And they’ve been doing almost nothing but those. Maybe the occasional poker game since they know how to make those also.

Most of the time, except for the Minecraft ones because I guess they aimed those at kids a lot, they also get pretty high ratings, mainly on the story, because the interactive sections are typically walking around an area to get to the next scene, as well as the aforementioned QTE parts as well as dialogue. The rest of the time you can just sit back a bit and watch. You almost forget that you sometimes have to input a button or several depending on just how weird they’re going to make the QTEs this time. I once figured out the “Telltale position” on an Xbox 360 controller due to how the first Walking Dead controls until they started mapping gun actions to the trigger, essentially using the D-pad as the action keys since those also map appropriately.

I find QTEs generally just filler, they can make the actions mimic certain actions on screen, but you typically don’t have buttons mapped to these actions outside of the cutscene. The thing being that Telltale things mainly have their action in QTEs is a bit off-putting. Essentially these mainly depend on their story and not constantly crashing as well. Generally speaking, I would probably find a stream of these about as entertaining as actually playing through them. And sometimes I’ve just gone and watched those when someone I don’t mind is doing them.

I have played more than the first Walking Dead as far as the “new” Telltale stuff. I’ve played demos of other series, like Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones, The Wolf Among Us, probably others. Whenever they do the thing where they make the first episode free, I check it out just for fun, because it’s free. See just how much I’d like the setting. And how much I can stand the playing through. I’d say the one I liked the most was Borderlands and the least would be Game of Thrones. The former is comedic and makes fun of itself, even the whole “they will remember that” popup, and the latter is paced slowly and the setting isn’t exactly interesting to me. The same type of setting thing goes for Walking Dead, though going through that was all right, because for some reason I got the whole season and the extra add-on which was supposed to lead into the next season that I didn’t play. I don’t really intend to play the rest of the seasons. Or much of other Telltale things lately. Or Telltale-likes as I’ve taken to call them.

Yes, other games are definitely showing influence from Telltale. You have things like King’s Quest and Life Is Strange from companies who aren’t Telltale, and dialogue systems such as Fallout 4’s where you have four choices mapped to four buttons because that’s just how many there are. I feel like while it’s helping narrative in places, it’s also somewhat limiting game design, and to see things embrace more of the Telltale-like style or even “walking simulators” may be experimental and cool, but it can get old if it’s done by everyone without too much of their own take on it. They also seem to be in demand as well, which might lend to them getting older faster. It’s a bit concerning to see reviewers demand even less gameplay from games, to the point where you’d think they just want to fire up Netflix and watch the latest weird show that had all of its episodes just dumped out all at once and are of random lengths because it doesn’t have to conform to TV standards, all instead of doing something interactive.

It’s also strange because considering Metal Gear Solid 4, a game mocked for how many and how long its cutscenes are, yet also loved by many as well, features a lot of gameplay as well in the series style, with more twists and turns and weirdness because it’s a Hideo Kojima game. Then here comes Telltale deciding to make their products into even more cutscenes and even less gameplay. They used to make point and clicks in a fairly traditional sense, and I enjoy those from time to time. I’ve played the Strong Bad game and the Sam and Max trilogy of many episodes from them, plus the original Lucasarts Sam and Max. I enjoyed those and their strange humor and also logic for puzzles. The last ones that may have been in that style could either be Back to the Future or Puzzle Agent, from quite a ways back.

With the Telltale method of making officially licensed “games” of some kind, I feel like I’m going back to my point on Pop figures. Other forms of licensed games have often fallen apart and been of low quality and possibly rushed to meet the release of the movie or whatever, usually a movie, so they see the Telltale solution as the golden answer. Essentially licensed game deals become either some random mobile tie-in/cash-in or a Telltale story. Take the Walking Dead again. It has mobile games, Telltale stories, and its own licensed attempts. Guess which was the most successful. Essentially the only one I’ve played, that’s what. One of the licensed games was so weirdly put together they even forgot to take the mouse cursor off the screen when making the intro video. Of course the fourth option is to make a Lego game, since those have also become a bit formulaic since TT Games started making them, but at least those have gameplay and Legos. Lego Worlds was at least a bit of a break from that, actually letting you build and wander as you please with a world actually made of Legos this time.

Anyway, while you can get a good story out of these Telltale things, that would also be the point of the movie or show or whatever, ideally. They’re going to continue to branch out as far as licensed properties as well, with no signs of stopping, because people love a good story. I do too, but when I play games, I usually want to play a game. I’ll make some exceptions for “walking simulators” and such if they’re done pretty well, but I don’t do many of those.

Even the case for visual novels, which is pretty much the most game-like thing I could compare a Telltale product to, though visual novels tend to branch a bit more. I’ve noticed Telltale stories have a lot of choices in them, but some may come around in a big way and others more subtly, though when it comes down to it, you typically have one of two or so outcomes for each story, looking at it. And this can happen multiple times in a season, with some way to tie them back together afterward so they’re not making infinite games. I can understand not doing that considering these are fully animated and voice acted and the episodes would get increasingly large in download size to account for all the possible outcomes. Then again game install sizes are getting pretty gigantic outside of the indie games. And those often end up big because they turn out to be FMV games. I’ve seen FMV games have more of a branching set of paths than Telltale, but those are typically a single game and Telltale spans several episodes per season. They even name their structure as if it was a TV show, to show just how far they’ve gone down their own path.

Speaking of paths, they love to emphasize that CHOICES MATTER in games now. There have been situations like these in games for quite a while, they were just a bit more on the experimental side back then instead of being pretty up front and out there these days. Moral choices are the big thing. Mass Effect is full of them. You could think of Telltale stuff as Mass Effect minus most gameplay, it has paths and dialogue and occasionally QTEs. Also a lot less alien sex. Or sex in general. And more items that you can examine and feel an emotion, maybe. Just throwing emotion booths at your face. Push button to feel sad about things. Someone may or may not remember that. I was going through a lot of that when I was going through the first Walking Dead. I’d even put it aside for a very long time because of the pacing. In the first episode. The one that’s supposed to grab you and not let go. Long story short I don’t think I’ll be playing Telltale stuff for now, but I still wouldn’t mind watching it.